Illustration by Hannah Robinson

As a woman raised in a world entrenched with patriarchal values, in Belarus, no wonder my self-worth has always been connected to male approval. While traveling the world I have spotted that attitudes toward gender identity vary, but one thing‘s clear— patriarchy has no single religion or culture. So, when I got an invitation from Vienna to take part in gender parity training, needless to say, I was intrigued.  

The event`s participant were people from all walks of sexual life. I shared a room with a homosexual woman from Western Balkan. She came out at 21 and since then has been rejected by society. Life for LGBT people in Belarus has never been  easy, either. Despite the fact that same-sex sexual activity is legal here, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights are still severely restricted. Whilst at work, these people have to spend so much energy hiding genuine identity that they become even more anxious and less productive. 

Letting men pay on date whilst still remaining a feminist was a long and complicated source of debate on our training. I am stunned by how many women who announce themselves as a feminist still expect men to pay for a date. In Belarusian society we see the established rules of dating: men are still largely expected to pick up the bill. But it is often believed that, at least in Western Europe, gender parity is a fait accompli. Determined to find out the truth, I turned to the omnipresent dating app Tinder. I went out four days in a row with four different men. Every time when the check came, we went Dutch. In the aftermath of this dating spree I came to the conclusion that participating in the cost of a date exonerated me from the feeling that I owe my date anything. 

During the event we spent long hours discussing the pros and cons of marriage in our era of prevailing individualism. Almost a century ago, getting married was the benchmark of success for a woman. No wonder my grandma sees me, unmarried in my mid-20s, as a spinster. My grandma, undoubtedly, is a product of her rose-tinted era. Such mindsets tap into the whole zeitgeist of the Soviet Union. Reproducing an ideologically approved nuclear family played a key role in securing the future of the Communist party. Fortunately, this was in the previous century. Taking into account all kinds of progress on the eve of 2020, stereotypical appropriation of gender roles might no longer be relevant. Having a partner is not compulsory for happiness. I am certain that happiness comes from within. It is just a matter of choice.  As soon as you realise that you are a person in charge of your own joy, the presence or absence of others will no longer determine your self-worth.