In the shadow of Ivan the Terrible


“I like you, but you western men are all too soft.” This was said by a comely Russian blonde in the back of a taxi. Then turning round in her seat to display her ample round jean-clad bottom, she said, “this is a good Russian arse. Only a Russian man knows what to do with it.”

Unfortunately for her, her new Russian husband didn’t have a clue and after 18 months the London-based Moscow beauty had run off with another man.

“I don’t understand it,” said her kindly but rather meek and sensitive ex-husband, “he beats her you know.”

Well no one was surprised but him.

Another Muscovite couple had a martinet hanging on the back of the kitchen door. It was fairly light and made of red leather.

“Oh it is just a traditional thing,” the wife explained. “My husband doesn’t use it much. He prefers to use just his hand.”

On further reflection, there are any number of anecdotal snippets along these lines, all with a common theme, the Russian marriage.

The traditional Russian marriage ceremony, which is still occasionally practised in some areas, has it that the father of the bride gives his daughter a single stripe with the whip on her back or bottom and then hands it to the groom, who variously either adds a lash or more often puts it in his belt and expresses the hope that it will not be required.

The tradition of the Domostroi (sometimes westernised to Domostroy) goes back to a set of rules of household management set down by a Russian monk called Silv’stri who lived during the reign of Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584).

His guidance included the advice to husbands: beat her when you are alone together; then forgive her and remonstrate with her. But when you beat her, do not do it in hatred, do not lose control. A husband must never get angry with his wife; a wife must live with her husband in love and purity. You should discipline servants and children the same way. Punish them according to the extent of their guilt and the severity of their deed. Lay stripes upon them but, when you have punished them, forgive them.

This formal teaching had fallen from favour by the beginning of the 20th century. However, even in modern Russia there is a tradition that still persists in some places which is called domostroj; a concept that is the direct descendant of the old monk’s teachings. This is a notion that embraces the attitude that a real man knows how to handle his woman and if he isn’t prepared to spank her then he doesn’t love her.

It was this that either consciously or unconsciously that was behind the blonde in the taxi’s assertion that a real Russian man knows what to do with her arse.

Before we get carried away, most Russian women are probably no more likely to buy into this any other women, but cultural suggestions and trends have to come from somewhere.

Modern Russian drama is liberally dosed with such attitudes, albeit ones ascribed to the past. In one popular TV show, the wife of a boyar tells her guests that modern women are weak and that when she was newly married she once spilled cream on the floor at an important party.

“My husband made me get down on my hands and knees to lick it up and afterwards he whipped me soundly.”

Her guest was suitably horrified and told her so.

“Oh yes I agree,” she says, “but at least in those days my husband knew how to beat me with finesse.”

Thanks to Poppy St Vincent for help with some of the cultural references.

5 Responses to “In the shadow of Ivan the Terrible”

  1. 1 paul1510

    DJ and Poppy,
    Thanks, interesting, but not surprising. 😀

  2. People that offer cultural references, like diplomats, have diplomatic immunity. Isn’t that a fascinating fact?

    [that would indeed be fascinating if it were a fact – but are we sure this is a fact Poppy? – DJ]

  3. You are most welcome, Paul.
    It is good that someone appreciates all my hard work. 😉

  4. 4 George

    Hard work should be appreciated.
    Including a household’s right & duty to dish fair discipline when needed…

    Any civilization, if wants to last, doesn’t forget unpleasant duties 🙂

  5. Very interesting, DJ and Poppy. As the Russian-born Ayn Rand said, “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”

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