Russian Social Network Defends Putting Price Tags on Women

Dec 28, 2014 at 2:13 PM ET

To Russia’s largest social network, putting a price tag on a woman’s photo that was put up on a public group without her permission is “just a bad joke.”

Rate the Heifer, a small online community on VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, has spurred a battle between chauvinists and feminists by asking users to put a virtual price tag on women’s photos. But it was really VK’s response to the anger of the women unwillingly being used by the group that turned entire incident into a full-blown controversy.

Set up last month, Rate the Heifer, (or “Rate the Bitch” in English) allows members to judge user-submitted photos of women using price tags ranging from $10 to $5,000. Ironically, the rules of the group ban “abusive language.”

When Sophia Yegorova found that her photo had been uploaded to the page without her permission, she wrote on VK that she immediately sent a complaint to VKontakte’s administrators. She wrote:

The response she received was pretty much to the tune of, “Suck it up, it’s a joke”:

“Hello Sophia,

Using photos that were posted publicly on the internet isn’t forbidden. We could take action if the photos themselves were abusive, but this is a good photo and it doesn’t abuse you or show a bad side of you. The comments don’t include insults, which we can act against.

Yes, the idea of rating women under their photos in such way is a bit offensive, but it should be considered a bad joke. This is the type of humor men in that group have. They probably don’t have girlfriends yet who could tell them that this can be annoying. So, they just sit and watch the women and rate them.”

Yegorova’s Facebook post outlining her interaction with VK.

Yegorova’s story was picked up by local news outlets, igniting a fierce dispute between outraged feminists and male defenders of this questionable behavior. As it turns out, some of the women leading the protests found that their photos had been published to “Rate the Heifer” as well. After voicing their opinions against the group and VK’s reaction, Anya Ayvazyan and Bella Rapoport “won” key spots on the page:

Translation: OK. The comments on my photo are great, but please rate me with higher price tags. As long as my price is low, my husband will be upset.

Eventually, VK removed Egorova’s photo from the page. Rate the Heifer, however, has now splintered off into an entire network of similar groups.