The Perfect Woman?Exploring the double standards of Ukrainian womanhood
9 January 2019
We’re taking greater strides towards diverse representations of womanhood every day, but old habits die hard.
Berlin-based photographer and artist, Anna Tea’s new project questions why girls in Ukraine are still expected to live up to conservative ideals of womanhood. Moreover, how these expectations are reflected across the world.
“I feel more attractive and valuable as a woman here than I did at home,” said Ukrainian artist Anna Tea about her adopted homeland, Germany. “Guys did not invite me on dates back in Ukraine, and I noticed this was the norm with most people I knew. It felt like women had to do a lot in order to be with someone.”
Anna had picked up on a phenomenon she believes isn’t as omnipresent outside of her homeland. She noticed that the men she encountered in Ukraine were far more likely to expect a certain degree of perfection from their potential partners. These unspoken demands were spookily reminiscent of a Stepford Wives-esque model of femininity.
“In a Ukrainian guy’s head, the perfect woman is basically a model,” Anna said. “They should take care of themselves and be very stylish. They shouldn’t drink, they shouldn’t smoke, and they should cook well. They definitely shouldn’t have had many previous relationships. If they have, they would be seen as a whore.”
Faithful Hot Devils
As part of her Perfect Woman project, Anna interviewed young men from across Ukraine about the characteristics they look for in their ideal match. She was surprised to find a number of progressive answers. Many participants strayed away from listing physical attributes, although a few commonalities reared their heads.
Fidelity was the most popular answer. “The perfect woman should be faithful, support her lovely man, and in no way betray him,” said Dima, 19, student. A number of others echoed his sentiments: a woman should be there for her man and support him, no matter what.
The next topic, unsurprisingly, was beauty. “The first thing that boys see is appearance,” said Stas, a 21-year-old tattoo artist. “But a woman doesn’t have to be like something from the cover of a magazine. What boys look at is [her] character, intelligence, and sexuality. The woman should be like a hot devil!”
Others were broader in their requirements. “My perfect woman should be caring. She should share interests, passions and hobbies with me. She should look good and cook well.” said Mykola, a 19-year-old student.
Sadly, answers such as “ambition,” “interests,” or “passion” were sorely lacking. The majority of traits discussed focused exclusively on things that a woman could do or provide for them. What these men were looking for was a woman who would complement their personality. A woman who could make them feel good, regardless of whether she could do so for herself. Moreover, the social status they would be afforded when seen out in public with their ‘hot devils.’
Yes, you might be thinking, ‘but surely this describes every man on the planet?’ Maybe. Anna feels that, although these traits are mirrored in most men regardless of nationality, they are amplified in Ukraine as though the country were a microcosm of wider society.
“Women in Ukraine have too many responsibilities,” Anna remarked. “They have to be supermodels, work like crazy, raise kids, and keep the home clean. Men do not have to spend so much time (and money) on their appearance. [They] spend less time with kids and cleaning the home is also avoided. Yes, they work as well, but those responsibilities are not equal at all.”
So what’s a Ukrainian woman do when she feels like she doesn’t measure up to the expectations of the men in her local dating pool?
According to Anna, “Many women from Ukraine these days tend to register on international dating sites to find someone from far away. ” Continuing: “It’s true that a lot of women find someone who has money and tries to escape poverty. It’s difficult to find a well-paid job that will allow you to have a nice home and to enjoy life.”
Later adding, “The financial situation there is unstable. There is no security system, so you do not know what to expect tomorrow. Men from other nations seem to have a better attitude towards the women they date. Why would you want to be with someone who isn’t going to treat you with the respect you deserve?”
Anna herself moved away from Ukraine and settled in Berlin aged 23, for professional reasons. She, like many people, joined Tinder to meet new people in an unfamiliar city. She talked to many men, dated some, and even produced a book about her experiences. While admitting that her lack of dating experiences elsewhere wasn’t enough to make an informed comment, she was struck by how differently her dates treated her compared to home.
“In Germany, I feel it is more about equal relationships when couples carry the same responsibilities,” she said. “Guys in Berlin are more attentive. It feels more like a date and like they actually want to meet me and get to know me properly.”
“In Ukraine, these meetings usually happen in a circle of friends and it is not always clear that they are interested in dating. They don’t invite you for a drink or walk. Also, to hear a really nice compliment is a rare thing in Ukraine!”
“Perfection Doesn’t Exist”
If such conservative ideas are still ingrained in Ukraine’s young men, what hope is there for future change? Anna believes that encouraging people to break free from the country’s borders might have a positive impact on the way relationships are formed, and in particular, how men view and treat women.
“I believe there can be a change if Ukrainians (both men and women) have more opportunities to travel and discover other cultures and societies, so they can see and experience other attitudes and relationships.”
That said, young Ukranian women might not have to travel abroad much longer to find love. There is a glimmer of hope for those who aspire to become more than just a glamorous trophy wife for their potential husbands. Attitudes are changing. As radical ideas spread, some men are discovering that there is more to life than finding a woman who merely meets their needs.
“The perfect woman doesn’t exist,” said Valik, a 23-year-old artist. “Perfection doesn’t exist, perfection is in our mind. What we want, that we get. The most important thing is the mental connection, the understanding between people. That’s it.”
Original artwork created by Anna Tea for YEOJA Mag. To see more of Anna’s work, visit her Instagram here. For more articles like this, check out our interview with mixed-media artist, Sarah Barnhart.