Most Women Like Sales

There was no shopping in the Soviet Union. Shopping – “wondering around shops” in Russian – was not what we did, men or women. When I was growing up, shops were not a place to wonder around or meet friends. One would go to buy a pencil or a pair of shoes (if one is lucky, a nicer pair). I always knew what I was going for and where to buy it. Parents would send you to get some bread and butter after school, while they were at work. The only shops that were open till late (rarely later than 8pm) were food stores. A pair of shoes, unlike bread, can wait a month or a year. Certainly, we had our beautiful arcades in Moscow, but we were no flâneurs. It took me a while to understand the English expression “window shopping.” Why would someone look at windows of those shops, what’s so interesting about them?


It was easy. There were only white panties for girls when I was growing up. My mother had them, my sister had them, and I had them, different only in size. There was nothing wrong with having white panties of the same style your whole life. I did not think about it much until I saw other kind of panties. They belonged to one of the girls I stayed with at my summer camp. They were drying up on a laundry string. Those panties… They were dark pink, with a rim, with some small pattern in a different color, and they were so well put together. They were clearly trying to seduce me, those little beautiful things, to steal them. No one was around, so I had to make a decision to take them or not. I had not yet heard of the law of consumption: once you have something, it loses its magic. You want what you do not have. That’s how consumption works, we were taught, in capitalism, fueled by advertising, which we also did not have. To be a “thing” or to be interested in “things” was deconstructed pretty well. They did not stand far apart, in my mind.


All of that is gone. Today the Russians shop as if there is no tomorrow, often at night. And I do not mean dinner time. The traffic in Moscow and long working hours transformed the midnight hours into the most convenient time to buy panties, bread, and shoes, all in the same place. There are huge new arcades where people wonder around, eat, talk on their cell phones, meet with friends, children play, young people hang out, and it is as bright as a daylight. Large shopping carts are filled over the top with all kinds of stuff. Things are in fashion. Wanting or being things is no longer a taboo.

Most women like sales,” claims one of the English language exercises designed for American children. “They have no idea,” I think, and smile.


Feminism as Sin

Just as I contemplated my atheist childhood in the previous post, busy representatives of governmental and religious institutions interrupted the flow of my memories. First, the head of Russian Orthodox church declared feminism to be a very dangerous “phenomenon.” He was speaking to a group identified as “Ukrainian Orthodox Women’s Union,” and his comments about feminism, arguably, responded to the actions of Ukrainian feminist performance group Femen (see my previous post about their latest action). Patriarch Kirill said that “I consider the phenomenon called feminism to be very dangerous, because feminist organizations proclaim a woman’s pseudo freedom, which is to be primarily realized outside of the marriage and family. At the center of feminist ideology is not the family and education of children, but the other function, which is often opposed to family values. It’s not by coincidence, arguably, that the majority of leaders of feminism are unmarried women.” His comments in English are interpreted here:

One of the most famous statements during the Pussy Riot trial was “feminism is a sin.” The prosecution lawyer declared that “(F)eminism is a mortal sin because it is an unnatural phenomenon in relation to life,” and “the word feminist is offensive and indecent for an orthodox believer.”

The dangers to Russian homeland, however, are not coming exclusively from feminism. One just needs to start looking. This week the purification of Russian society from dangers of free expression continued with another law (very Soviet in nature), that would outlaw cursing in media. Thus, when Femen wrote “Putin, go f”’ yourself” on their backs, they could also be charged for public cursing. Gone are the days when post-Soviet leaders could be overheard swearing, seen as an expression of their manliness and passion for the country.

But make no mistake: Russian women find ways to say the same thing, being resourceful as they are. Thus, two Russian retirees wanted to express how they feel about their recent raise in monthly pension. The raise was about 10 dollars. They promptly decided to share this good news with Putin. They sent the money back to him, as a postal check, thanking him for his generosity, and saying that they could not possibly accept it, suggesting that he should keep it instead. Go, so to speak, use it yourself.

Their letters were not accepted, and returned back. Then they refused to take it back, with the money left uncollected at the post office. Slowly, their actions were classified as a form of protest, a civil disobedience, by town administrators. A 64-year old woman was called by the vice-mayor. They both knew each other well, and used to teach at the same school during Soviet times. Now, the vice-mayor threatened Kosolapova, this newly minted post-Soveit rebel, with offending a civil servant. There is another law (yes, so many laws about being offended!) that prohibits offending a “representative of power,” and, Kosolapova was informed, carries a fine of over a thousand dollars, and / or one year in prison. Kosolapova asked if the charges have been filed already. Her 62-year old friend was also called in for a discussion by another representative of power, but she did not go. The two women are getting ready to start raising awareness about ecological and health problems in their region through lobbying elected officials.

Maria Alekhina (Alyokhina), who is still in prison for her Pussy Riot action, had been a Greenpeace activist before her arrest. She also writes poetry. All these women engage in what Patriarch Kirill called “the other function,” – being citizens, poets, community organizers and activists.