Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Should I settle down or keep searching for better arrangements out of the numerous options coming my way these days? And If I do settle down would I then get a chance to have it all?
The latter question may seem somewhat rhetoric and not altogether new for a modern Western woman to ask, but we are no longer immune to this dilemma in Russia either. Many of my female peers, who are educated, well-traveled, smart and ambitious individuals in their late 20s and early 30s, have lately been struggling with the following predicament: the abundance of choices accompanied by a certain sense of confusion.
One of my closest friends, Julia, a 32-year old Moscow native, has been nagging me about this for at least three years now. She doesn't know where to live — or rather, where to settle down. There's Amsterdam, where Julia went to the university and now owns a lovely mortgage-paid apartment. And there's Moscow, where she's got a thriving marketing business.
“I can't stand Moscow for more than two weeks in a row. I get so stressed and exhausted that I just need to escape,” Julia often complains. And so she does, to the cozy traffic jam-free haven of Amsterdam, thanks to the freedom of travel her dual citizenship and a commitment-free status provide (Julia is single at the moment).
“But then again, after a short while, I begin to miss the intensity of my Moscow life and I hop on a plane and go back,” Julia says. “I love my two lives,” she adds. “It's a bit tiring to stick to both but I just don't know which one to choose.”
My friend is not alone in not knowing exactly which road to take. Arguably the first post-Soviet generation free from the necessity to build our lives in a predetermined linear fashion (finish education, get a job, get married and have kids), we often find ourselves pulled in different exciting directions.
Start a family or apply for a scholarship to get another degree at a university abroad? Get a steady job or downshift in Bali or Costa Rica? Get a loan to buy an apartment or go traveling for a year? Get married or have kids first? The opportunities are plenty. The world's our playground. Crossing national borders becomes easier every year, connections - faster, life expectancies - longer, social pressures - less demanding. We can do so many things in one lifetime (or so many of us believe), two or three times more than the previous generations have managed to do.
Some sociologists call this a “several lives phenomenon,” which means that the amount of relationships, careers, degrees and travel a typical representative of a millennium generation (which is also sometimes called the Peter Pan Generation due to the often volatile nature of our endeavors) tends to have, could have previously filled up several lifetimes. Other trend-watchers talk about “the changing timetable for adulthood” and the spreading “thirty years is the new twenty and forty is the new thirty” attitude to life.
“It's like we've been somehow granted an extra ten years to hang out - people are taking this time to find themselves and figure out what they really want,” says Ekaterina Ignatova, a Moscow psychologist and a regular contributor to relationship sections of Russia's top women's magazines.
In a recent New York Times magazine article, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., explores the phenomenon of “emerging adulthood” which, according to him, tends to start somewhere in the early 20s and, if all goes well, should end in the early 30s when some of the milestone life decisions such as choosing a career and a partner are supposed to be made. The emerging adulthood may manifest itself in prolonged identity exploration, instability, self-focus and being both smitten by and lost in the myriad of opportunities today's world offers us.
This sounds like home to me. I myself have been living between Moscow and Rome for the last two and a half years tossing career and personal life like a street juggler. I delay settling down because to me it would mean letting go of other options. Settling down would mean finally having to grow up.
Being exposed to multiple options, we get to have full and stimulating lives. Our parents may call the emerging adulthood approach immature, but I call this getting the proper experience. Without the pressure of settling down, we can take our time to get to know ourselves and what we really want. Hopefully, this way we'll get to make more insightful choices. Or we don’t; but at least we can say, just as the old Sinatra song goes: I did it my way. And perhaps we’ll become the first generation of women who manage to have it all, just maybe not all together.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenti i Facty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.