Arsenii Khitrov
март 2017.
1932

Is it true that many women in Russia find feminist ideas irrelevant? If yes, why?

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I would say that reality is more complex, for a number of reasons.

First, we should reflect on how the term “feminism” is interpreted in the post-Soviet world. I do not believe that most women in Russia (or the post-Soviet region more generally) would agree to give up their right for abortion on request (a right they have had since 1918, with the exception of eighteen years during Stalin’s rule), or the principle of equal pay for equal work (not to say that it is always observed, and Russian women get around 75% on the men’s dollar, the same way it is in Western democracies), or affordable government-supported childcare. These are things they take almost for granted. However, most women do not view these things as something that has been secured for them by feminism; rather, they would take them as the fruits of socialism, and this brings me to the second reason why many women might view feminism as “irrelevant”.

This second reason is historical. Russian (Soviet) women massively entered workforce in the 1930s, not in the 1960s. Hence, they “missed” that stage of the women’s movement that we now call the “second wave”, which was very much about middle-class Western women entering the public sphere. This is not to say that Soviet women had nothing to fight for at the time – they certainly did - but some feminist ideas of the 1960s (like the focus on bodies and subjectivities rather than benefits for working mothers) were just not known to Soviet women.

Russian (Soviet) women massively entered workforce in the 1930s, not in the 1960s. Hence, they “missed” that stage of the women’s movement that we now call the “second wave”, which was very much about middle-class Western women entering the public sphere.

When feminism started making its way into the post-Soviet region in the 1990s, it came alongside the disintegration of socialism, the advent of the neoliberal market, and the rise of new forms of domination and exclusion, when free childcare or paid maternity leave were declared “obstacles” to economic efficiency. The gender equality agenda that was promoted at the time by international organizations that came to operate in the region focused on the rights of women as independent individuals, on their representation, autonomy, independent subjectivity, and their rights to their bodies and sexuality - i.e. on the categories that belong to a particular concept of subjectivity. They did not address the emerging class/economic injustice. That celebration of women’s autonomy and independent subjectivity mostly took hold among educated urban women. Feminism did not get a wide support base in post-Soviet countries because for many women (and men) it became associated with economic inequality that followed the reforms of the 1990s, and was not presented through concepts familiar to them.

The gender equality agenda that was promoted at the time by international organizations focused on the rights of women as independent individuals and their rights to their bodies and sexuality. They did not address the emerging class/economic injustice.

The situation is changing, though, as many younger women who have been exposed to global feminist ideas are just entering the labour market.

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From the fact that my circle in Russia generally finds feminist ideas quite irrelevant I assume that probably yes, the majority of women in Russia might think so too. It doesn't mean that women find pleasure in patriarchal bias. We just lack systematic gender education and platforms for diverse public discussions on this topic. In my opinion, current feminist discourse in Russia is dominated by radical forms of expression and activism flavored with intense intellectual speculations. It creates boundaries for people who don't associate themselves with such forms of expressions or can't understand them. This is why the gems of feminist thought remain mostly unrecognized and prejudiced in our society.

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