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Surviving with ‘Dumb Woman’ Card: A Strategy in Former Soviet Countries

Playing the “Dumb Woman” Card — A Survival Strategy in Former Soviet Countries

We’ve all heard it before: “I’m just a woman, I don’t understand politics.” This might sound like a line from an outdated comedy skit, but for many women in former Soviet countries, acting as if they don’t understand or care about politics is a genuine survival strategy.

Women and Politics — A Tricky Game

I’ve always found it interesting how women navigate societal norms and expectations, especially when it comes to politics. Take Lilja, a 45-year-old Ukrainian kindergarten teacher, for instance. She once told me a riveting story about her encounter with Russian border guards during a visit to her grandfather in Voronezh.

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When asked about her views on the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Lilja pulled the classic “dumb woman” card. “Women don’t understand politics. How would I know what’s going on?” she replied.

Her tactic isn’t uncommon. It’s a well-coined strategy in these post-Soviet nations when dealing with authoritarian figures.

All too often”women’s issues” are considered non-issues

The Communist ideology promised equality but often delivered a rather selective version of it. Despite women being allowed to become factory workers and tram drivers, they were rarely seen as high-ranking officials. Women were also expected to juggle household chores along with their jobs, a leftover from the Soviet era where the state could send a man to space but couldn’t figure out how to produce sanitary pads.

The Ukrainian Paradox

Much like its Soviet neighbor, Ukraine has had its share of gender-based clichés and roles. Yet, this country with its open society and democratic values also lays claim to being the home of Femen — one of Europe’s most popular feminist movements.

Ironically, even an actively recruiting women army hasn’t stopped these gender-based phrases from being used.

A harrowing reminder that gendered misconceptions still influence today’s culture

And while it is true such replies are more commonplace in Russia than in Ukraine due to the countries’ shared past, both nations employ a similar noncommittal stance. This tactic of dodging the core discussion and repeating truisms is an old Soviet hangover.

Gender Roles and Northern Europe

It’s astonishing to witness how keenly gender roles are constructed in these situations. Hearing how “simple-minded” you are based on your gender often leads many women to embrace this stereotype, even using it to their advantage. This false acceptance only serves to reinforce these misconceptions, unfortunately.

The Nordic countries, hailed as the most gender-equal places in the world, have a not so distantly shared history in this matter. Whenever I encounter these gender stereotypes or hear them being voiced about women or minorities, it feels as if I’m being pulled back into a history book.

Change requires disruption. Without somebody “spoiling the mood,” nothing alters organically. Through this, I understood how gender roles can influence habits and thought patterns, and even survive major ideological shifts.

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