Generally, women are by nature more submissive and generally less intelligent than men, Dmitry Smirnov, head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s patriarchal commission for family, motherhood and childhood protection, said during a live interview with the religious radio station “Radonezh.” A video of the program was later posted on Smirnov’s YouTube channel.
“Women are weaker intellectually [than men]. Of course, there are some Marie Curies, though that is rare,” Smirnov added, citing the Biblical story of Eve seducing Adam with an apple.
Smirnov’s claims made headlines and sparked a public discussion in Russia. The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta published an open letter to Smirnov, while popular writer Maria Arbatova calling the archpriest’s statement “extremism” accused the Russian Orthodox Church of being “unable to provide itself with the mentally healthy speakers.”
Smirnov’s ideas are not unique to Russia, and in support of those ideas, two contemporary studies are cited the most in the media worldwide and among those sympathetic to the ideas expressed by the Russian Orthodox Church official.
One is “Sex differences in brain size and general intelligence,” a study conducted by a group of scholars at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands and published in 2017. It has frequently been cited as direct proof that men are intellectually superior to women.
The study’s co-author, Professor Dimitri van der Linden of the Institute of Psychology at the Rotterdam Erasmus University, told Polygraph.info that, “In general, this topic is a quite complex one, in which different studies show different results and many researchers have different and often strongly contrasting opinions.” Asked for his opinion, van der Linden suggested reading the study and drawing conclusions based on that.
The abstract summary of the study reads:
“Males displayed higher scores on most of the brain characteristics, even after correcting for body size, and also scored approximately one fourth of a standard deviation higher on general intelligence (g). Mediation analyses and the Method of Correlated Vectors both indicated that the sex difference in g is mediated by general brain characteristics. Selecting a subsample of males and females who were matched on g further suggest that larger brains, on average, lead to higher g, whereas similar levels of g do not necessarily imply equal brain sizes.”
But author and science journalist Angela Saini told the Sunday Times, the study is part of a long-running attempt by male neuroscientists to undermine women.
"For more than 100 years, male anatomists and neuroscientists have sought to find evidence of women's intellectual inferiority by comparing their brains to those of men. It's surprising that in the 21st century those efforts haven't ended," Saini said.
Feminism in Russia is traditionally viewed as inappropriate and that view is supported by the government policy, a Russian scholar, Alexandra V. Orlova in a recent study.
“Over the past decade, the Russian state has been deliberately pursuing politics of masculinity that aim to actively undermine feminist dissenting voices by presenting feminism as something that is foreign and inappropriate for the Russian context,” the study said.
The one sphere in which feminists in Russia are advancing against the status quo is art, the Calvert Journal reported, calling the "wave of feminism" a "tsunami."
Russia's feminist group the Pussy Riot gained global fame after staging a protest at the Moscow Cathedral in February 2012. The Russian orthodox clergy condemned their performance as "sacrilegious." Three members of the group had been convicted of hooliganism and sentenced to three years in prison.
The second study is “Testing the Empathizing–Systemizing theory of sex differences and the Extreme Male Brain theory of autism in half a million people,” published in November 2018 by the U.S. National Academy of Science.
“There is no scientific basis to Dmitry Smirnov’s claim. There is no evidence for one sex being intellectually weaker,” said a co-author of the study, Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Center at that U.K.’s Cambridge University.
“Our study shows that, on average, males and females show different patterns of interest, a bias towards people-centered interests being more common in females and a bias towards objects and patterns (systems) being more common in males. These are differences on average, so do not apply to all individuals of one sex or another,” Baron-Cohen told Polygraph.info.
“Sadly, Smirnov’s claim is no different to the sexist claims of the 19th century, which were groundless and morally repugnant and simply served to exclude women from careers in many fields,” he added.
The Russian Orthodox Church is often criticized as being a powerful tool in the Kremlin’s “hybrid wars” both in Russia and abroad.