Despite 70 years of Soviet propaganda about the equality of the sexes, Russians cling to their traditional belief in a limited role for women. On the public stage, they're expected to be seen and not heard; in the home, to be subservient to their husbands.
"Feminism is not a popular word anywhere in Russia," said Irina Korolyova, director of a women's radio station in Moscow known as "Nadezhda" (Hope).For most women, in fact, the entire concept of sexual equality was discredited long ago by their former Soviet bosses. Obsessed by their drive for industrialization, the Soviet rulers gave women a double burden: They were obliged to toil at back-breaking jobs on factory assembly lines to "fulfill the plan," while still having to take care of almost all the family and household duties.
Yet women were excluded from the highest echelons of power. There were no women in the Soviet Communist Party's Politburo, where all the key decisions were made.
Since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the backlash against communism has helped to drive women out of the labor force. At the same time, Russia's traumatic shift to a capitalist economy is producing a rapid increase in unemployment, and women workers are seen as the most expendable. In most factories, women are the first to be fired. More than two-thirds of Russia's unemployed are women.
The average woman now earns only 40 percent as much as the average man, compared to 75 percent in 1991.
In Russia, a new book on the society of the 1990s, by Canadian scholar Marika Pruska-Carroll, says the younger generation of Russian women is going "forward to the past."
In conversations with 18 female university students, Pruska-Carroll found that the students had little interest in independent careers. Most wanted to find a rich husband, stay at home, have babies and help keep life comfortable for their husbands.
They also believed that women had no place in politics. It is not in the Russian tradition for women to rule, the students said; a strong woman should be smart enough to be weak.
It's a belief that goes hand in glove with reality, both in Russia and China. The highest-ranking woman in the Russian government is Tatyana Paramonova, the acting head of the Russian Central Bank. She's widely praised for her tough economic policies, which have stabilized the Russian ruble for the first time in many years.
Yet the Russian parliament has refused to ratify her appointment, and Russian men seem unable to take her seriously. Male bankers have criticized her as "emotional."
Profiles of her in the Russian media have focused on her weight, her cooking skills, her evening dresses, her relationship with her husband - everything except her policy decisions.
Violence against women is soaring, yet the police pay little attention to the rising number of rapes, assaults and murders of women.
In Russia, official figures show that 14,000 women were killed by their husbands, boyfriends or ex-partners in 1993. This was more than double the number of victims in 1991, and about 20 times the equivalent number in the United States.
The official number of reported rapes was 13,956 last year, but the actual number is believed to be much higher. Less than 10 percent of rape victims go to the police, researchers estimate.
For the younger post-Soviet generation of Russian women, there are other problems. Sexual harassment in the workplace is so common that it's not even recognized as a problem, and young women are regularly pressured into sex with their employers.
In a desperate attempt to avoid sexual propositions by their bosses, women sometimes specify "intimate relations not to be suggested" when they're placing classified advertisements seeking jobs.
Other women, however, include the phrase "open-minded" in their advertisements to signal they'll tolerate the abuse. Employers often place advertisements saying they want women "without inhibitions."
"There's a market here for women," Vandenberg said. "Women are for sale. It's the biggest market in the country."
There's virtually no legislation to protect women from sexual discrimination. And even the Russian language reflects the widespread ignorance of these issues. Western terms such as "sexism" and "sexual harassment" have no Russian equivalents.