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March 31, 2008

Lessons in Love: The Millionaire Hunters

four students sucking lollipops at the geisha school in moscow

Students, including Maria Markova (second from right) and Ella Videnina (second from left), learn oral sex skills.

Photo Credit: Natali Arefieva

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Varra's basic approach is to teach women how to gain power over men by using classic feminine and sexual wiles. To the Western feminist mind, it might seem a bit retrograde, yet Varra insists that Russian women are the ultimate post-feminists. "We know all about equality and independence — we've been there," she tells me. During the Soviet era, which ended in 1991, millions of men died in wars and labor camps. Women often ran their households alone, while also working in factories. The problem is that Russian men, says Varra, remain deeply patriarchal and still expect women to be subservient. "Rather than try to change men, which will take another 200 years," she says, "we might as well get whatever we can out of them now."

Perched on a sofa in the correct femme-fatale posture of "chest out, stomach in, ass out," Maria Markova, 24, nods in agreement. Markova, a typical svelte Russian beauty with long blonde hair, has already graduated from the 12-week "How to Marry in Three Months" course, which costs $1800. She found it so enlightening that she joined the "Lover" class, too.

"I've never had a problem getting men because I'm so beautiful," she says, swinging her long legs over the side of the sofa. "But they treated me like a plaything, and I didn't know how to stop it." Markova, a sauna attendant, has learned how to target the men she likes using direct eye contact and conversational ploys, so she is in charge from the start. What she wants, she says, is a "real man who will take care of me." Some diamonds and designer frocks wouldn't hurt, either. "Yes, of course he must be wealthy," she says, looking incredulous that the question was even asked.

Is money really so important? It's not hard to see how style- and status-conscious the country has become. In Moscow, once the grim heart of socialist austerity, ads for Swiss watches, German cars, and Italian leather are draped over the facades of historic buildings, and some city restaurants demand a minimum order of $300 per table. Even the former Soviet president Mikhail S. Gorbachev has embraced luxury, appearing in a recent promotion for Louis Vuitton luggage.

Markova isn't married yet, although thanks to Varra's lessons, she says she is dating a wealthy businessman who she believes will "propose any day."

Foxy grandmother Ella Videnina, 60, is also a graduate of the marriage class. She succeeded in getting hitched at the end of it — to her fifth husband. "My past husbands always relied on me. I wanted to reverse that," says the slim Videnina, a government office worker. When she joined the class, she was dating a new man who seemed promisingly generous. "The best thing I learned was never to refuse him anything in bed. It worked." Not only did he marry her, she says, he also began lavishing her with expensive gifts: "He gave me a new car and a plasma TV for my birthday."

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