Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Etiquette and harrassment

It's tough being a Russian woman - especially if you work. Sexual harassment is more common here than it is in the UK (to put it mildly - in a 2008 survey, 100% of female professionals in Russia said they had been harassed by their bosses). Out of a group of eight or so women I discussed this with, all of them either had personally experienced it or had a close friend have to deal with it. And before anyone starts thinking that they are being unduly sensitive, we're not talking about some offhand comment that was taken the wrong way. One example: a woman went on a business trip and found out that her boss had booked the two of them into a double room together. Or another example: a woman's boss when drunk can't keep his hands to himself and makes obscene comments, even in front of his own wife. And unlike in the UK, suing is not an option. Well, technically it is an option, but only two women in the entire history of the country have won sexual harassment cases (not an exaggeration. Literally two - one in 1993 and one in 1997).

It's very strange, because in some ways, men here are more stereotypically gentlemanly than guys in either the UK or the US (the two places I have the most experience of). Men routinely stand up to offer their seats to women on the tram or the metro (which I have seen in London, but not as frequently), help old ladies carry their bags up stairs, and guys have frequently offered me their hand to help me get out of cars/trains. On the other hand, several men on the Transsiberian this past summer were extremely aggressive in, shall we say, pressing their suit, and on one occasion, a guy tried to illustrate the worthiness of him and his mates by informing me that they "don't even hit" their girlfriends. I mean, what can you say to that? Er, well done?

Although those men may well have been drunk and/or mad, overall gender roles are very traditional here. I have no idea if this has anything to do with the higher incidences of sexual harassment and domestic violence, but it is interesting. Men are expected to pay the bill in restaurants, bring a girl frequent presents, and give her a ride home after a date. One guy told me that if you don't like a girl you just give her the money for a taxi home - but I just can't imagine how this could possibly work in practice. Perhaps most bizarrely, some men here (mostly older ones) still bow and kiss a woman's hand, which I have never seen in my entire life in the UK. My understanding of how it works there is that the guy is supposed to OFFER to pay the bill, and then the girl says oh no, I couldn't possibly let you, and then the guy insists, and then they have a contest of politeness until one of them backs down, but in principle, either one of them is allowed to back down depending on how broke they feel. And as regards transport, you're on your own.

There isn't really a conclusion to any of this, it's just one of those interesting things about living in another country.

Source for statistics: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/2470310/Sexual-harrassment-okay-as-it-ensures-humans-breed-Russian-judge-rules.html

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