Billboards across Moscow advertising a women's magazine are raising female consciousness by asking Russia's fairer sex: "Are you ready to pay half to be independent?"
It's a question with increasing relevance because growing numbers of young Russian women are moving into management positions, earning good salaries and boosting their spending power. But for most, the answer to the question for now is still a resounding "no".
"When you go out with a guy, even if you're just friends and there's no romantic subtext, you would always expect him to pay," says Svetlana Kolchik, deputy editor of Russia's Marie Claire, which paid for the adverts. "When I discuss dates with my girlfriends, one of the first questions is 'Did he pay for you?' If he did, it's always a good sign."
Many Russians say the country's dating culture is more traditional and romantic than in the West, and a large part of that involves the idea that the man should pay for everything and shower his date with gifts.
The extravagant jewellery, furs and cars that oligarchs dole out to their women are the stuff of legend but the philosophy – if not the scale – is the same among ordinary Russians.
"I find Russian women to be a bit like Tamagotchi," says one British expatriate who moved to Moscow a year ago and has enjoyed playing Casanova in the city. "You have to keep feeding them with meals out, little gifts, and so on, to keep them happy."
At the end of any romantic dinner in Moscow, the waiter will automatically hand the bill to the man, and even if the woman wants to pay, it can be a problem. Olga, a 24-year-old journalist, explains that many of her friends keep their wallets in their handbags not out of stinginess but for the sake of their boyfriends' pride. "With all the provincial beauties in town, there are 20 women for each decent man. If you get a decent man, you better keep him. So they don't reach for their wallets so the man doesn't feel uncomfortable when other people look at him like he can't pay for dinner."
Olga earns a good wage, and says she sometimes gets round that by giving her boyfriend money before the meal so that his sense of pride won't be dented when it comes to paying.
Other young professional women report that some of their friends are beginning to change and don't like the idea of never contributing financially. But many Russian women would not even consider dating a man who earned less money than them. "I would not feel safe," says Oxana, a 28-year-old marketing manager, reflecting on the prospect of having a pauper for a boyfriend.
All of that raises the question of what exactly it is that wealthy Russian women do spend their money on.
"We have a very consumerist attitude so will still spend money on a Max Mara coat or Armani suit," says Ms Kolchik. "Women spend most of their money on looking beautiful for their man; and in fact, for all men. Even if we're happily married, it's in our genes to compete for men and male attention."Reuse content