Social Commentary on Marriage as Demonstrated by Russian Students

This is a post about something that happened in Russian class yesterday – but it is not a post about Russian. In fact, I think that this speaks to a global phenomenon. One that, despite what those of us who identify as feminists will tell you, hasn’t really changed very much in the last fifty years.

So, as it happens, we are learning about marriage and weddings in Russian class. Important things for second-year Russian students to learn. After all, we’ve now had just enough Russian to accidentally wind up with a mail-order Russian spouse. I can just hear someone trying to make that explanation. In Russian.

“But… Dr. Garza… I only wanted to buy a book!”

Come to think of it, that would be one hell of a portfolio activity.

At any rate, we are learning about marriage, and how to say the all-important, “I’m not married.” (Equally important for INS, when they come to question you about your mail-order Russian spouse.) In class yesterday, we practiced saying this phrase, which is different for men and women. Our format was simple and one that we all knew well. Dr. Garza says a phrase, we repeat it.

The boys in class eagerly repeated their phrase. Robustly, even. With full voices.

And then came the girls’ turn.

Dr. Garza said our phrase and was met with…

Silence.

As if we had all got together and decided before hand that we weren’t going to admit to being unattached. As if it was some big secret that we didn’t want anyone to know. I felt myself looking out of the corners of my eyes, seeing if anyone would speak, before the nervous laughter started twittering through the room.

This was made even funnier later, when the question was put to us: Who wants to be married? I found myself, ALONE, in the front row, with my hand raised. Once again, looking around – but this time, in one of those bad dreams where you realize that you’ve just volunteered yourself to do a math problem in front of the class, only you haven’t read the book. And you’re naked.

It wasn’t so bad. I tend to volunteer for exercises anyway. And at least I was being honest. Of course I’d like to get married. Wasn’t I just one of the girls who hesitated before admitting to my unattached status? Weren’t the rest of them? (Except, for perhaps, Identifies-As-An-Anarchist Molly, who doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage.)

So, what gives? Women who don’t want to utter the phrase “I’m not married,” but who also don’t want to admit that they want to be married? What does that mean?

My thought: Women just don’t like being thought of as “single.” It’s okay to BE single, but to be thought of that way? Well, girls are catty. And teenage girls are mean. And we learn early not to give anyone a reason to pick on us. As we get older, it moves from cattiness and pettiness into the Look of Pity. The “Awwwwww” look. The phenomenon of “You’ll find someone soon, don’t worry.”

Our parents meet us with questions of whom we’re dating and when we’ll produce them grandchildren. Mine aren’t too bad about this particular thing, but I know freshmen girls whose parents are hounding them about when they’re going to have children. For my older friends, of course, this is much worse. My friends who are grad students? They don’t even want to hear the word “grandchild” anymore, let alone produce one.

For whatever reason, the “are you married” question strikes a chord, and apparently, it does so across age, gender, and race lines. Not a single girl in our class blindly leapt into saying “I’m not married,” even though none of us are considering marriage as an option right now. (Me? Future. Distant future.) Not like the men, for whom being single isn’t a mark of shame.

What does this say about how far women have come? If we’ve really come very far at all, or if we’re doing the same old things with different words.

Beats me.

I just found it interesting.

While I’m at it, I would like to point out that the Russian for a man getting married translates into “I’m marrying myself onto my wife.” For a woman, it translates into “I’m going behind my husband.”

At last, English grammar gives me something that I can really say I prefer over Russian. God knows, I’m not much of a follower.

*Bobs

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