A couple of interactions during the trip made him think deeply about feminism in Russia.
First. He was travelling to Peterhof Palace and sat next to a very charming girl. She was a journalism student, and worked part-time at the Hermitage Museum as a freelance pop-culture writer with a local magazine. They talked about various topics of interest to each other, when she said something that struck him as odd. ‘I don’t see a woman becoming the President of Russia in my lifetime. It is certainly not for me.’
Second. He met a friend of his colleague for high tea. She was a very well-read, well-travelled banker, and a proud Russian. They started chatting about the role of women in Russian society, especially in politics (context: he writes policy research for politicians and is always intrigued by attitude of women toward the field). Now, here was a young, intelligent, independent woman, who said – ‘Politics is dirty business and I don’t think women want to enter the field.’ He wondered aloud if Russian women ‘don’t want’ to enter politics or have they been ‘cultured’ to think so. She appreciated the thought.
As he researched more on the topic, he learned through some scholarly literature that in the early Soviet period, after the Bolshevik revolution and the fall of monarchy, women emancipation movement was very abrupt. It was not something that women fought for or, dare say, truly wanted. It was sort of imposed on Russian women under the influence of socio-democratically oriented minority. A classic case of social democracy backlash post a totalitarian rule.
Is there a direct correlation, or even causation, between a lack of women representation in politics and an absence of feminist movement? May be.