Me too and not once

Marcelino Vespeira. “Parque dos Insultos”. 1949

By Mariya

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
If you’re a Soviet woman
You may not hashtag “me too”.

 

“In the Soviet Union there is no sex,” went the famous misquote. Sex and sexuality were not discussed in the USSR, unless someone was telling a lewd joke. Mental illness was also a taboo topic. Sexism and misogyny did not exist. Women worked equally alongside men (and then cooked, cleaned, and cared for kids while their husbands relaxed or watched TV). And sexual assault was out of the ordinary, perpetrated by the criminals, sickos, and social outcasts. While the USSR is no more, many of these and similar dispositions — along with good old Soviet cynicism — are alive and well throughout the diaspora.

For proof of this, you don’t have to look farther than any one of the parenting or other Facebook groups for and by former Soviets. There you will find rape apologists, slut shamers, PC resisters, and glass ceiling deniers proudly throwing their often-malignant ignorance in everyone’s faces under the guise of being honest.

It’s not shocking to encounter men, American or other, who #notallmen every misogyny post, mock every “rape culture” observation, and question the motives of every female sexual assault or harassment victim in high profile cases. But, I am not talking about men. I am referring to the multitude of formerly-Soviet women who do all of those vile things and more to their fellow women.

I recall a particular recent discussion thread in a Russian-American parenting group on Facebook in which more than a handful of women — from a variety of professions — claimed that there exists no wage disparity in the US and that women have achieved equality. These working female commenters referred to the small handful of us with a dissenting opinion in very unkind terms, calling women who get paid less than men spoiled and lazy, and proclaimed the gender wage gap a non-issue.

There have been similar threads on sexual harassment in the same group and others in which the majority of female participants basically claimed that it is an issue invented by the “PC police”. The so-called victims are either being overly sensitive, don’t know how to take a compliment, encourage certain behavior by dressing or behaving provocatively, or simply don’t know how to assert themselves with men.

I guess it does not dehumanize a person when a complete stranger calls her a “fine piece of ass.”  And, maybe, she should be flattered that her boss pursues her so aggressively despite having been told repeatedly that she is not interested. I guess we have it all wrong! We have been ungrateful for all the compliments and attention men give us. Because how else would we assess our own self-worth?

These attitudes are so normalized that hundreds of thousands of teens are subjected to sexual harassment and assault yearly at their first jobs, but only a small percentage of them report it. They seem to have an incomplete conception of bodily sovereignty. Rather, they internalized the lessons that it is normal for women to be objectified and for older men to lust after teenage girls. And apparently, many people in our community are teaching their kids the very same lessons by ridiculing and questioning victims of harassment and sexual assault, by excusing men who treat women as nothing more than sexual objects, and by quashing any attempt to discuss these issues publicly.

After seeing several women on my timeline posting their stories (or simply #metoo), some quite unexpected, I wavered about outing myself on Facebook. Once I did, I felt relieved and oddly empowered. As more women posted and men shared their “mea culpas” I felt more and more hopeful.

The biggest disappointment of this campaign has been the pushback from our community — women who have not only called the campaign silly and useless but have also questioned the motives of the women who choose to participate. One particular post from a typically cynical former Soviet woman said “You too? All of you?” and went on to suggest that maybe the women posting are just doing it out of solidarity.

How can we hope to raise awareness and change the minds of men when so many women question our motives, invalidate our experiences, and sabotage our efforts?!

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