Russian female bonding vs. American female bonding
January 7, 2013 8:43 AM   Subscribe

How do Russian female friendships differ from American female friendships?

I'm doing some research on Russian female friendships, and found some anecdotal evidence that because Russian women vastly outnumber good Russian men, the race to try and attract a good mate has made Russian women extremely competitive. From those who know Russian culture -- is this true? How does competition impact female bonding? And is there a notion of "girlfriend bonding" or "sisterhood" that exists in American culture?

Anyone who has some knowledge of Russian culture and can answer this, it would be much appreciated!
posted by akka to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Russian culture is, in general, incredibly competitive (in the "get your hands on limited resources by any means necessary" sense, not the American "healthy competition" sense), and that extends to dating as much as it does anything. Although I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "Russian women vastly outnumber good Russian men," because that just sounds like the same sort of "there's no good guys around here" talk you get from women (or men, for that matter) everywhere.

Anyway I haven't really seen anything significant different in friendships between women, at least to the extent that you can ascribe it to Russian culture. Women absolutely have close friends who are other women, just as they do anywhere else. In fact, because contemporary Russian families tend to be a lot smaller than American families ever were, close friendship may very well be more prevalent. When no one in the last three or four generations has had more than two kids, that doesn't leave a lot of family to rely on.
posted by griphus at 9:01 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I guess I should explain that last part re: reliance a little more: getting just about anything done in Russia involves knowing someone who knows someone who can get it done. In America, if you don't have connections, maybe you stagnate in life. In Russia, you cannot get by in life without knowing someone who can fix a problem someone else started so they can advance (or even survive.) Bribing of officials (and non-officials!) is rampant, and a healthy social network is practically a requirement for day-to-day survival. Competition and advantage-taking is fierce, much more so than America, but a necessary part of that competition is social. Now, considering that Communism was (nominally, and at least in part, practically) gender-egalitarian, and that women were expected to go out and work in industry as much as men, women needed those connections as well. The "socially isolated stay-at-home mom" wasn't a thing.

(A lot of this has toned down since Communism fell, but definitely not by much.)
posted by griphus at 9:11 AM on January 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Not sure if these articles address competition as a factor but you may find them of interest:

Sheets, V. L., & Lugar, R. (2005). Sources of Conflict Between Friends in Russia and the United States. Cross-Cultural Research, 39(4), 380-398.

Sheets, V., & Lugar, R. (2005). Friendship and Gender in Russia and the United States. Sex Roles, 52(1/2), 131-140. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-1200-0

Gummerum, M., & Keller, M. (2008). Affection, virtue, pleasure, and profit: Developing an understanding of friendship closeness and intimacy in western and Asian societies. International Journal Of Behavioral Development, 32(3), 218-231.
posted by Young Kullervo at 10:44 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's obviously hard to generalize about a wide variety of people and relationships. You do see competition between women for men in Russia, manifested in boyfriend-stealing, affairs and bitchiness. Here's a music video for a song from a few years back that visualizes that type of competition as a literal battle. Whether that occurs to a greater or lesser degree than in America probably depends on which circles you frequent in either country.

There are plenty of close relationships between women in Russia as well. In my experience a difference between these relationships in Russia and in the US is more of a willingness in Russia to broach difficult subjects and give brutally honest advice, which to me indicates a real commitment to the friendship.

When I worked as a counselor to high school exchange students coming to the US from the former Soviet Union, I frequently heard the complaint that they perceived that students in the US didn't have "real", close friendships, like they had back home. Part of this can be attributed to trouble adjusting and making friends in a new culture and new school. But part of it is probably due to the more casual and loose use of the term "friend" in America, and perhaps a lesser set of expectations even of closer friends among many people in America.
posted by scrambles at 10:55 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: But part of it is probably due to the more casual and loose use of the term "friend" in America, and perhaps a lesser set of expectations even of closer friends among many people in America.

I shit you not my grandmother gave me a lecture on the nature of friendship when I started doing the American thing of calling everyone 'friend'.

A big part of the Russian friendship dynamic is the absolutely deserved air of suspicion and an emphasis on self-reliance and minding your own business in Russian culture. Why? Because everyone was doing things that were, in some sense, illegal. For instance, if you wanted things (just, literally, physical objects with or without a functional use) you couldn't not buy smuggled goods. The stores were empty, and if they weren't, store owners and clerks were bribed by the people who could afford to do so. So, in the end, everyone had valuable information on everyone else, and could sell them out to whatever authority. Basically, the economic state made everyone into petty criminals by default and you just worked your way up to "serious criminal" from there if you wanted to. If you read books or watch any films about gangland stories (i.e. Prohibition-era America,) you see a similar dynamic. If your entire life is spent dodging the authorities, your close friendships are quite close indeed.
posted by griphus at 11:07 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Friendship there and friendship here aren't even the same.

What Griphus says above about needing your network to get things done is entirely true.

Also note that in many schools, you're with the same class of ~16-25 kids from kindergarten until you graduate. And in university, you're with your "major" class for all classes for all 3-4 years. You can imagine under such circumstances, your classmates are much closer to you than normal classmate friendships.

To be honest with you, I find my (I'm American, spent most of my 20s in the Former USSR) friendships with post-Soviet people to be much deeper than my American friendships. I know that if I had a real problem, my post-Soviet friends would HAVE MY BACK in a way that my American friends wouldn't.

As far as dating, think of it more as an economic relationship. I hate to simplify it this way, but there is competition amongst girls for marrying "up" or the "best" they can find, so 17-25 year old women spend a lot of time/money on self-presentation.

Also, multigenerational households play into this. If a young bride moves into her new husband's household, the mother-in-law can make her life hell. So that impacts female friendships, I suppose. But there is a solidarity amongst women for sort of keeping the society together.
posted by k8t at 11:21 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I was in Saint Petersburg about 10 years ago now, and I'm sure things have changed since then. And I'm sure it was also very different than under soviet rule, as well.

Most of the women I met really weren't interested in dating at all. Many of them had seen what happened when you married in your early twenties and had kids at a young age and didn't want that for themselves.

Too, most of the women I met had strong desires to move abroad for a lengthy period of time --- talking years.

I noticed zero competitiveness toward men because, again, there was such a strong desire to pursue other life dreams that dating someone wasn't something most of them were seeking. They may have been open to it if someone they liked came along, but none of them were actively looking for it.

I knew a few woman who were already married, a couple with children. But their circumstances were completely different that it's not really comparable. And they seemed to mostly be in happy marriages.

I will say I was at a new institution, and I think the make up of students there was different from those at Saint Petersburg State. I will also say that I found it far more difficult to stay in touch with my Russian friends after returning to the states than I did staying in touch with my American friends when I was in Russia --- part of that was probably infrastructure and internet access. I'm not in touch with any of my Russian friends any more, despite having written them weekly for months, even though I never received a response.

Oddly, I'd say my Russian female friends had far less of a guard to them than my American friends --- most of them were telling me their entire life stories the second time we had tea in the student cafe. That was a really odd experience for me because I was so used to learning about people in bits and pieces over the course of a few months before being declared friends. But in Saint Petersburg, I was a подру́га a lot faster than I had ever been with anyone else in my life.

So I suppose my experience was very different than what others have posted here.
posted by zizzle at 12:45 PM on January 7, 2013

"Because Russian women vastly outnumber good Russian men, the race to try and attract a good mate has made Russian women extremely competitive".

The employment situation in the US is extremely competitive. Do Americans undercut each other at every opportunity, or do they simply try harder to present themselves better? IMHO, whomever is feeding you anecdotes about Russian female friends going for each other's jugular so they can snag a valuable mate needs to take a good look in the mirror. Russian women may put a lot more more effort into the way they look but they are just as capable of bonding and sisterhood.

(Me: female, Russian for 25 years, American for 15).
posted by rada at 1:37 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

there's a "joke" that i sometimes hear among russians that might be telling for this discussion - it goes along the lines of "why do americans spend so much money on therapists? when russians have a problem, we go over to a friend's house to discuss it, not to a therapist!"
posted by scrambles at 9:18 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

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