Superficial Gender Equality: Ukraine vs. Finland

By Yana Basenko

We are told that the majority of our worldview is shaped when we are still kids. The environment, upbringing and daily experiences are among the key factors that make us into the human beings we are today. As realistic and possible as that might sound, this kind of thinking is incredibly limiting and almost automatically puts us under the belief system of people being incapable of change. This serves as an imaginary protection shield from the world, the constant excuse of “I am who I am”. This invites little to no opportunities for growth hosting an environment of repeated habitual behaviour.

It is inevitable to become a mix of all the ideologies that surround us growing up. Especially as kids, we truly don’t know any better. If someone tells us that the sky is blue, we believe that it is blue – no questions asked. However, as we mature, we might start to notice that sometimes the sky can actually be grey or completely black, red, or covered in shades of orange. This is when we must learn to question our “blue sky” beliefs and open some space for alternative opinions.

Growing up in Ukraine, the surroundings taught me little to nothing about gender equality, quite the contrary – men and women have their own roles and those must not be shaken under no circumstances. Luckily, in my household, my parents never had a division of gender-related chores or tasks. My father always made sure the house was kept clean and tidy, cooked delicious meals and fixed the furniture or any gadgets that would get broken. My mother did the exact same. They both taught me the importance of teamwork instead of the traditional division of household chores. However, this is not the reality of most households. The man works – the woman cooks, the man should be strong – the woman should be pretty. Ever hear the jokes about Slavic women who take out trash with a full face of makeup and high heels? Crazy, right? More often than not, women in Ukraine grow up with the absolutely unrealistic expectations of how perfect they should look at all times. The beauty industry is thriving because it is unacceptable to have a three-week-old manicure or untamed eyebrows. Being skinny is not enough anymore, you should get right to the verge of disappearing with the Barbie doll waist and matchstick-thin legs. What about men you might ask? Well, there’s actually a saying that sums up perfectly the beauty expectations of men: “He should be a little more attractive than a monkey”.

Now, having lived in Finland for a little over 5.5 years, I can proudly say that I got to relax a little. The pressure still exists and all women face it on a daily basis; however, I do find it liberating that we are not required to reach the ultimate level of perfection for those 8 am meetings. Finland has definitely taught me to look beyond the surface, to not judge the book by its cover. It seems to have released me from the superficial stereotypes that have been ingrained and fed to me from a very young age. Beauty comes in all shapes and forms, in all the imperfectly perfect ways.

Photo and column by Yana Basenko, a talented young Ukrainian writer who now lives and works in Finland.

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