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Fashion Week

Fashion Week and the Obvious Gender Signal Role models for Ukrainian women: should they only be found on the catwalk?

Now that Ukraine Fashion Week has had its big moment under the sun, and my fiancée felt rather rapt by all the very attractive new designs out there, what I can’t help wondering is if this culture needs more stereotyping for young women. I like strong feminine role models for women as much as anyone else, but that shouldn’t mean forcing girls to dress in classically feminine clothes all the time.

I just got back from trips on respective weekends to Georgia and then to Berlin and it occurred to me, after seeing women in both Georgia and Germany revel in the independence of their fashion statements – facial piercings, used clothing, homemade fashions, lots of pants, few heels if any, less makeup – that Ukraine needs fewer of the Yulia Tymoshenkos or Masha Efronsininas (a local TV show hostess) and more of the kinds of women whose choices of dress, relationship, eating habits and the virtually anything else buck all trends and force the rest of society to give them their due no matter what.

Georgia and Berlin suffered through the same privations and poverty of the Soviet period as Ukraine though the former two places have emerged as shining examples of what comes from a true clash of ideas, a true revolt against the past. Ukrainian women, by and large, continue to worship fashion ideals and unquestioningly follow whatever comes from Moscow. Anyone who’s been to Moscow and knows what comes of such worship of depraved and deleterious fashionable elite knows the same doesn’t hold much hope for a newer and better Ukraine. Instead, women are seen only for their ability to mimic stereotypes. Where are the Naomi Kleins, the Rosa Parks? The one time a gritty, counter-cultural role model does turn up on the scene – such as investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Russia – she’s gone with little more than a byword or two.

Women in this part of the world may have the right to vote, but they have yet to achieve any sort of independence from the men – the bogus celebration of March 8, otherwise known as International Women’s Day – certainly highlights that as much as all the fur coats, high heels and layers of makeup. True independence will only come when a few decide for all of them that Coco Chanel isn’t necessarily the best role model in the world – or at least not for the reasons they seem at present to believe.

Death of a small businessman

In the same way that women seem to be well kept in place by encouraging feminine stereotypes, the whole notion of the way this country works – the big oligarchs controlling large sectors of the economy from behind the scenes – has really left its mark on the men. If you haven’t got money – and lots of it – you’re nobody; better to work for someone else, namely a big corporation or the government, in order to make a secure life for yourself.

What pathetic tripe. If the women are enslaved by their high heels, the men are enslaved by their work boots. There’s no history of small business in Ukraine – the Soviets made sure of that – but no one has since worked to develop this crucial sector of the economy.

Not to take anything away from the new government of Yulia Tymoshenko, but now that the gas deal has been done with Russia, two major priorities remain for the country: eliminating politicians’ immunity from prosecution – the so-called idea of “one law for all” – and leveling the playing field for small businesses. Every country in the West, which the majority of Ukrainians wish to emulate, have rule of law and tax breaks to help small businesses. This country has neither.

While eliminating the corrupt influence of prosecutorial immunity will help restore Ukrainians’ faith in the political realm, the reform of small business laws; of laws preventing or stymieing their development and the eradication of a predatory property market will certainly help many Ukrainians – and not just men, but women too – find a way to develop independence from traditional models of economic freedom and sustainability; it shouldn’t all be done by those with the deepest pockets and the right political connections.


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