The men and women of Moscow


On my walk around the hotel in Moscow last night, I happened upon a couple of students who turned out to be women of surpassing beauty, strolling together, deep in conversation, passing groups of men as they went.

The men reacted not at all. Not so much as a raised eyebrow or a murmured comment.

In Manhattan, someone would have leaned out the cab, banged the door with the palm of his hand, and shouted his admiration at the sheer wonder of this aesthetic event. In upstate New York, beauty of this order might well move a small town to run riot for a week or two before burning itself to the ground.

But here, things play out differently.  Spectacular beauty apparently goes unacknowledged.  I do not have an answer and post this observation as a useful little conundrum.

Some interpretive possibilities.

1) The men of Moscow are creatures of deep discretion and delicacy. The North American stereotype, most probably driven by a long standing ideological hostility, likes to cast the citizens of Moscow as unsubtle and unsophisticated, trapped by a numbing ideology and a command economy.  This was the first fatality of my last trip to Russia.  There are subtleties and sophistications here I did not expect. 

2) There are so many sensationally beautiful women in this city that these two were really not all that very remarkable. Roll up the window. Put down the torch.

3) The men of Moscow are having a harder time adjusting to the demands of the new Russia, as a result of which the supposed ratio of women to marriageable men is 25 to 1.  It is hard to imagine that this figure is accurate, but it is argued that many men have been made unmarriageable by drink, an inclination to domestic violence, and the stress of an existence less scrutable and less tractable.  From this point of view, non-responsive men (non responsive at least by the standards of voluble New York taxi drivers) is perhaps in fact a message well formed and well sent.  It says, "We’re the attractive ones, not you." 

4) Perhaps this is an accomplishment of Communism, the one that insists on gender equality and a non objectifying view of women.  Maybe, but this great objective of North American feminism failed, as we know, utterly.  A change was accomplished.  Something like equity was put in place.  But we managed this not by relinquishing the notion that women are sexual objects, but by insists that men were too.  Perhaps Communism accomplished what feminism could not.  I don’t know but I find this implausible.  After all, in the syllogistic language of everyday speech, "guys  will be guys," and "all men are dogs," therefore all guys are dogs.

5) Men are noticing and gratefully so, but there are general prohibitions on the public expression of inward sentiments of all kinds or those of a sexual kind.  These are private matters not to be advertised.  No banging the door of your taxi.  No shouting your appreciation. 

The women of Moscow are beautiful beyond any North American standard, and the men of Moscow by North American standard utterly unforthcoming with acknowledgment.  Go figure.

7 thoughts on “The men and women of Moscow

  1. dilys

    I noticed in the 90’s in former-Yugoslavia that young men, though obviously liking to have pretty girlfriends, were not the 18-karat idiots on the subject of female looks that American men are. Gorgeous women were treated as you describe; and homely women didn’t walk around hangdog and apologetic and falsely perky.

    I thought it was the extent to which media imagery did not invade every crack and cranny of the formation of children. And, not least, noting your graphic, the extreme sensory richness of Christian Orthodoxy, which, even if people are not devout, pervades the rites and underpinnings of people’s experience in those countries.

    After you’ve pondered an authentic, say, Icon of the Holy Virgin, women’s faces per se are in a different perspective and on a different continuum.

    Less true, but still sort of the case in Western Europe, which also has roots in a richer visual iconography, than here.

  2. Tom Guarriello

    Grant, your post vividly reminds me of a Russian woman I worked with…oh, more than 20 years ago now…who was so stunningly beautiful that I, verbal acrobat that I am, was reduced to stammering idiocy in her presence. What a smile! There also was a fragrance about her that I remember still…ah, but that’s a conversation for another time. Thanks for reviving those wonderful moments.

    Great, great post.

  3. jens

    – i think it is number three.
    beautiful post.
    a shame that you are only travelling with one suitcase – you could bring much more stories home otherwise…

  4. Overworm

    As with Tom, this post reminded me of a Ukrainian woman with whom I once worked. I was part of a team that interviewed her, and I have to admit that when the hiring decision arrived, her beauty was the deciding factor in my vote. It wasn’t her Master’s degree or her experience (both of which were more than adequate), but rather her beauty that moved her a micrometer ahead of the next closest candidate, who was also suitable for the job. In this age of political correctness, I’m a little ashamed to admit that, but it’s true.

  5. Steve Nordquist

    Nuisance! Photos!

    That is to say, I enjoy your blog and repressed cubists (such as the present Mlle. H.-Of God-Of Nazareth, of the Moscow Ibid.) and think this is a break, and it’s all of the above with spoken citations available at some extent for #3; and that it’s not Fertility Weeks in Russia.

    There may be, as in the countries that produced _Dai Mahou Touge_ (still in broadcast, s.b. a set around ’06 Nov, NIH) two weeks in which a fellow might go around in embroidered bordering at specific times (not while handing out the bagels…) making a show of his chinning bar; demonstrating that Brill Cream (or smiling, or cashmere, or butter) can restore a rib and lung salvaged from a fire into a family stalwart and neighborhood boon, handing out handyman cards people will reliably toss, redeem gently, etc.

    I also like to think it is feminism afoot; one day a man who is not an actor may decide on a hairdo in reciprocity, and not de facto of n: n<10 tries. Did you rule out that Communist Progress just got shunted into a 11-minute morning ritual that keeps the revolution alive...just.....changed?

    Ya, I think it's a bit much to claim it's a pure-play, but....

  6. Mary Frost

    It would be interesting for more books to be written about Russia today. Ever since the fall of the USSR there have been very few books written about life in Russia today.

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