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What is it like being married to a Siberian woman, are they tougher than 'normal'?

By Michael Oliver-Semenov
06 May 2013

This is just one of the many questions I have been asked recently as a result of blogging here. What a question!

I have a habit of writing late at night but Nastya likes to watch movies with me before she sleeps. I like to keep the apartment clean and organised whereas Nastya likes to carpet the floor with all the clothes she decided she isn’t going to wear that day. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

One I very much wanted to avoid and would have had my editor and wife not goaded me into providing an answer. I must tread carefully as my wife and editor are both Siberian women and I don’t want to lose this space on the Times or wake up to find I have had parts of me removed by a very angry wife.

Firstly, being married is a strange thing: two people stuck together forever and ever amen. It’s a tough business in itself. It was even harder for my wife and I as I was only granted residency six months ago and we have in fact been married for just over two years. In the past six months, our first proper period of living together as a married couple, we have had to get used to each other’s annoying habits and idiosyncrasies; it hasn’t always been fun. 

I have a habit of writing late at night but Nastya likes to watch movies with me before she sleeps. I like to keep the apartment clean and organised whereas Nastya likes to carpet the floor with all the clothes she decided she isn’t going to wear that day. I’m rather fond of playing jazz music, Led Zep and the like, but Nastya likes to play the Russian pop music. So there have been times where we both could have gladly coshed the other over the head with a blunt instrument. 

But these things are normal in marriages aren’t they? I don’t know because neither Nastya nor I have been married before; which makes it seem like I am less qualified to answer this question, because surely I would need to have been married to one woman from every other country in order to make some sort of comparison. 

Perhaps it would be better if I were to describe Siberian women?

As a Westerner there have been some cultural differences that have taken a while to get used to; and as a teacher, where I am in a privileged position that allows me to ask all kinds of personal questions of my students, I have been surprised by some attitudes. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov with his wife Anastasia

What is it like being married to a Siberian woman, are they tougher than normal? This is just one of the many questions I have been asked recently as a result of blogging here. What a question! Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

The majority of my female students think it is a woman’s place to cook for men, to clean the apartment, to look after men generally and to always look beautiful. It is their primary role to be slim, fit and sexy at all times in order to please men. 

My male students on the other hand cannot cook a single thing. None of them can even boil an egg. Their primary role according to them is to ‘provide’, ‘fix things’ and be manly. Seems a bit old fashioned doesn’t it? Because it is. 

This is why I have been discussing feminist literature with my female students and asking my male students lots of questions about cooking, then telling them how an egg is boiled. Only, my questioning and attempts to ‘educate’ so to speak can be seen by some as an attempt to subvert Siberian culture; so I have had to tread very carefully. Siberians have lived with these values for a long time and it’s probably not my place to try to change anything. 

Everyone seems happy, although I was concerned when one of my students couldn’t even contemplate becoming president of Russia when I asked her to write an essay on the subject.

‘But only men are presidents’, ‘men are stronger and wiser and better at ruling the world’. Really? I couldn’t help but feel sad that this one particular student couldn’t even imagine being anything more than second place or second best in the world. In her view men should always be paid more than women even if they do the same job. ‘Men should always be made to feel they are boss’ etc etc etc. 

Thankfully I don’t have these kinds of discussions with my wife; I don’t need to: we are equal. Nastya throws the clothes on the floor and I pick them up. I also do most of the cooking, not only because I love cooking but because I don’t want to be ‘looked after’. Equality of the sexes isn’t always about cooking and cleaning though is it. It’s about perception and integrity, dignity and morality. I don’t think my wife feels she is second best; at least I hope she doesn’t. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov with wife Anastasia

The majority of my female students think it is a woman’s place to cook for men, to clean the apartment, to look after men generally and to always look beautiful. It is their primary role to be slim, fit and sexy at all times in order to please men. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

As you asked, I have to say that in my opinion she ‘wears the trousers’: she makes the majority of decisions when it comes to spending money, where we spend our holidays, our future plans; she even edits my work and advises me what to submit to each publisher. But this is marriage in general isn’t it? Men like to ‘appear’ as the boss when in fact women always have the upper hand; that’s how marriage works doesn’t it?

In Russia there is an expression that goes something like this: ‘Russian women can stop running horses in their tracks’. Siberian women especially have a reputation for being tough, because Siberians are generally tougher than the average human being (sweeping statement, I know). 

While I haven’t seen any evidence of Siberian women displaying super-human strength I can say that for the most part they are very stoic and hard-working. My mother-in-law for instance is a force of nature. She takes care of everything at home and grows lots of vegetables at the dacha. Although she is slow she is always in motion: watering crops, chopping wood, taking her grandson to school etc. And her mother, 87 year old Baba Ira is exactly the same. 

Although she may look ancient, in her head she is still 20; and regardless of the fact she can barely walk unaided, she still prefers to cook her own meals and likes to visit the dacha in summer too. So to answer your question regarding Siberian women being tougher than other women, I can’t exactly say for sure.

I have three sisters back home in the UK and they’re all tough as old boots; so I guess my answer is both yes and no (I’m being diplomatic here, can you tell). I can’t say anything concrete without writing even more sweeping statements, and I’m still really worried I might come across as a sexist pig (if I haven’t already).

What I can say for sure is that I have no complaints or regrets, however if my wife asks me to watch Sex and the City again, that will probably change.

Anastasia Oliver-Semenov

In Russia there is an expression that goes something like this: ‘Russian women can stop running horses in their tracks’. Siberian women especially have a reputation for being tough, because Siberians are generally tougher than the average human being. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

Siberian women may appear tough, in that they are able to live in a world with an often hostile weather system, and rub shoulders with men when it comes to chopping wood, making fires for the barbeque etc., but to describe the women here as tougher than others may be going a bit far. 

They, like women all over, have to live in a male dominated world and put up with the same crap, while constantly competing for equal rights and fairness. One could argue that in general Siberian women are less tough because many (the few I have met anyway) can’t imagine a world where women are equal, and some even question why women should be equal.

In my view the ‘tough Siberian woman’ is a bit of a false cliché: my female students are probably busy beautifying themselves right now or thinking about what they should be doing to please someone else rather than what they’d like to do as people. At the same time one could argue that Siberian women are tougher than women elsewhere because they exist in such an old fashioned patriarchal society and therefore have a longer road to empowerment. I guess it all comes down to what you mean by tough? 

If you want to marry a woman who cooks, cleans, regards men as superior and thinks men are ‘boss’, then yes, you might want to look into visiting Siberia and courting a woman here, but, if you did, that would probably say a lot more about you than it would about Siberian women.

But then saying all of this, I don’t know everybody here, and I can only go on my experience with the few people that I know. I have asked many questions of the people I have come across but there is of course the fact that I know less than 0.002% of the population, or less than that, so my perception is quite limited in scope. There is the possibility that there are only a handful of people here with old fashioned views and that they all happened to be in this one place. Which would mean all of the above isn’t very common. 

To end I’ll just say this: the differences between the society I knew in Wales and the society I know in Siberia are minute, there are obvious cultural differences but in general Siberians aren’t that different from the people I know back home: they wake, shower, go to work, eat, come home, sleep etc. There are some who live up to stereotypes and some who don’t. Wales, my home country is often stereotyped as a land full of people who like to get busy with sheep. While this ISN’T true for 99.99999% of the population, there is always somebody…Let’s not go there! 

Comments (13)

Russian men are vile sexist misogynists....most now are poor as hell, alcoholics and chain smokers or criminals...I tell this as a woman who came from Russia back in the 90s. Russian men hate women. I wouldn't want to breath one air with them. The sad part is that they're trying to brainwash young women into their evil scheme of enslaving and controlling them, and we must fight against this. There's a horrible violence against women in Russia, because of culture of misogyny promoted by these vile, subhuman "men".
USARussia, San Diego
07/06/2018 06:39
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Andy Dean, you're disgusting sexist, misogynist animal, exact kind of person who makes life in Russia bad. Soon, people like you won't find a hole to hide in, you'll have no place in the world. And don't call yourself "Andy Dean": you're not an anglo....you're native Russian, just like myself, and you've been brainwashed into hatred of women and misogyny. Anglo people aren't.
USARussia, San Diego
07/06/2018 06:34
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I AM BILAL, 44,A BUSINESS TRAVELLER, ORIGINALLY FROM PAKISTAN (A MUSLIM CULTURE,NOT A TERRORIST SO FAR).I HAVE VISITED KRASNOYARSK 3 TIMES (2007-2015). I AM NOT MARRIED TO ANY SIBERIAN FEMALE BUT I HAVE MET AND COMMUNICATED WITH MANY FEMALES DURING MY VISITS. I FEEL THAT ''THEY ARE VERY LOVING''. THEY HAVE ALOT TO OFFER THEIR HUSBAND/BOYFRIED. OFFCOURSE THEY ARE TOUGH.THEY NOT ONLY FACE EXTREME WEATHER BUT THEY ALSO WORK IN AN ECONOMY WHICH IS NOT AS STRONG AS IN DEVELOPPED WORLD.THEY ARE EDUCATED, HARD WORKING, ACTIVE, AND THEY WANT THEIR MAN ALWAYS AROUND THEM.
YES, THEY ARE KIND OF TOUGHER THAN NORMAL.THE MEN WHO MARRY A WOMAN WITH ABOVE MENSIONED QUALITIES, WILL BE A LUCKY MAN. (BILAL.BILLLY@GMAIL.COM)
bilal, lahore pakistan
07/07/2016 19:56
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I am Siberian-Swedish in terms of heritage and looks and un-typically white with large blue alomond eyes. I really don't think you can stereotype a 'typical' part mongolian woman as they totally vary in terms of physiological facial and body features. I have huge breasts and silver blonde hair with elements of red in it. Most people think that I am Polish in regards to being eastern-european if they are less travelled and cultured. As for marriage material, many eastern european girls do take it very seriously indeed, yet most particularly the Sammi people's which heritage I am specifically related.



I am not married but do have a partner I love hugely, yet it is platonic for reasons I cannot say on here. I don't look my age at all and at 42, people guess me at 25/6/
shikira pressley, woking in surrey
22/12/2015 00:59
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Hello to all I hope this forum is still active?Can any one here please tell me what's Siberia like in 2015. If one wanted to travel ,relocate the job opportunities etcm Is there lotsa racism abroad ,sorry have to ask these ? Hope no one takes offence. Any response will be appreciated regards to all .
Kidron, South africa
03/03/2015 04:34
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I like your blog but I am worried that you're westifying the wonderful women and men in Krasnoyarsk. As I see it, one of the best reasons for marrying a russian woman is so that we have clearly defined roles on what to do and can argue less about milimeter justice and exact 50/50 division. In todays world of scatter brains it will also help that we need not keep track of everything. You do your part, she does her part. As we argue less about that, more love for everyone.

I'd hate for Russia to become like the west.

Your fear of generalizing also made this perticular post a lot less clear than it could have been. I'd advice you to write more boldly.
Vadimar, Sweden
26/08/2013 23:44
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Hey - firstly, sorry if this was a bit too soft. But you must understand I had to tread very carefully, though perhaps I came at it from the wrong angle. What cultural differences do you mean Alex? And what specifically would you like to know about? If you ask questions, I will answer them in the blogs. Also, what 'wrong light' exactly? What have I said that was wrong? If you think I see or say something that isn't so, don't be afraid to correct me!!
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
07/05/2013 17:10
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@Alexandra, "too polite" is the word. Take into account that Michael comes from environment unlike ours.
After all, our national football team coach came here from Britain after a huge scandal when John Terry and his negro teammate exchanged the very same insulting word, but Terry supposedly added "black" to it.
Punitive machine of tolerance and political correctness charged at the guy full-speed. No matter the excuses he did, he had to defend himself in court against charges in racism, his captain’s post was removed at once, and media raged at him 24/7 to the point of making him quit national team. Even his huge investment in British football didn’t save him from turning into the enemy of nation.

Britain’s loss is our gain, maestro Fabio Capello upon seeing that spat on his 5.5 mln euro/year contract and quit the country. Apparently he valued his own sanity over money.

Mind that one coming from that sort of society would continue to self-censor himself even if nobody here cares.
Andy Dean, Moscow
07/05/2013 16:31
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Uh oh, I see where this is going. Women in Russia aren’t seen second best, they’re top best. But we all have our duties. I can demand new recipe of pierogi from my wife but if she doesn’t feel like that, her reasoning wouldn’t be about some dim-witted idea of gender ‘equality’ but rather that I am failing my own part of family duties. Like, if she had to drive car to service herself or call plumber and watch over him repairing the pipes, I have no chance of pierogi because that means she had to go out of her way and do my stuff. In the end she had no time for her own stuff, didn’t beauty herself and got too tired to cook something proper. My failure as a man caused her failure as a woman. So I drag home the plumber or fix pipes myself, then drive car to service, and am awarded with hot new pierogi. Woman won’t do anything for you unless you free her from nuisances that don’t let her be a woman and mother. She doesn’t want you to make her into a man, she wants YOU to be her man.
Andy Dean, Moscow
07/05/2013 16:14
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too soft, too soft! I was so hopeful for a proper insight into all sorts of cultural differences, but looks like Michael is blending rather well into his Siberian family, credit to them all... and also he is very polite, perhaps too polite. Michael, its great to have a 'mirror' like you where we can see what we look like to a foreigner's eye, please don't be afraid to say what you think.

And please keep writing your blog, I love reading it. It makes me laugh, or raises eyebrows, sometimes I feel you see things in a wrong light - but it never fails to touch me and is never boring.
Alexandra , Tyumen
07/05/2013 15:26
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I have commented already but to add to that , I am older than Mao and in my late 40's many welsh men of my Generation are very much like the Russian Men , they will not admit it openly in public , but from experience i can tell you they do see women as second best .Head Dishwasher , Cook and general dogsbody who is allowed to have an opinion as long as it agrees with theirs or is of no value and silly . I have been divorced ( I wonder why , i can cook and clean but am not second best and have lots of opinions)
Amanda Davies, Neath , South WALES
07/05/2013 14:03
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another interesting insight into your new life. I think i had best not marry a Russian man. Even more so good thing my mother was not Russian with her cookery skills
Amanda Davies, Neath , South WALES
07/05/2013 13:42
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I developed an addiction to Mao's articles because of that subtle odd flavor in them. They're awesomely refreshing. This time all the oddity gathered in one line.

>I’m still really worried I might come across as a sexist pig

For what? Stating the Russian mentality? To put it bluntly, IMO almost every Russian is a sexist pig by modern feminist standard, because those were developed to bash every traditional perk we enjoy here. Take any American householding book for newlyweds of 1950s and you get the idea of Russian gender stereotypes, more or less. Of course it's 2010s but one can tell the general goal is the same - "one's second part for life", men are defenders and hard workers, women flourish as caring mothers and keepers of family stove.

Wouldn’t want to change it, call me whatever.

Actually, it's much easier to come across as a mad dissolute person after reading aloud flaming feminist literature or so I guess. Wouldn't want to tread ice that thin anyway.

Please keep it up!
Andy Dean, Moscow
07/05/2013 02:36
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