Post-Soviet Feminism and “Nashi”

The word “nashi” means “our” or “ours.” I use it as a tag on this blog not as a reference to the members of Russia’s political party: Nashi. However, it’s obviously appropriate here.

Last week, Lyndon asked some question in relations to the, ah, creative ways that members of Nashi have come out in support of Putin. For the uninitiated – Nashi are a youth movement – its members are often referred to as Nashisti (rhyming with “fascisti”) by Russians and Russian-speakers alike. They ostensibly exist to target the spread of Nazism in Russia, but their politics have been aggressive, reactionary, and downright intimidating – particularly wherein Putin’s critics are concerned – at the very least, that’s the way I see it. Admittedly, I’ve never sat down with a member of Nashi for a chat, but this is the sort of image they have cultivated.

Lyndon was particularly interested in the revealing outfit that the young woman from Nashi was wearing. How do we explain it in terms of post-Soviet feminism?

Well, in Russia, just like in the States, I believe, feminism is not a monolith. There are many different avenues of feminist thought and the way they intersect. I honestly see no problem with wearing a bikini to a political rally per se, although I hope this lady had at least a vodka shot to tide her over in the cold weather (oh all those Russians and their vodka! Hur hur! It’s a good way to feel warm, Jesus – why do people never get that?). I don’t know whose idea it was to dress up like that, but I hope she had input, and I hope she wasn’t pressured into doing anything she didn’t want to do.

Plenty of other people would brand her a sex-slave, or a mindless little lapdog to the patriarchy (and such voices can be found both in Russia and the States) – but personally, I think a youth movement is a youth movement, and the kids ought to have their fun, and yes, I think that putting your body on display can be quite fun. I’m honestly much more concerned when they’re implicated in harassing foreign diplomats.

I do think it’s sad, however, that the word “feminism” is even more reviled in modern Russia than it is in the States. I think Lyndon is right to pick up on the fact that “feminism” is automatically tied into “Western imperialism.” It’s seen as a tool to rob Russian women of fashion and femininity , to encourage them to leave their husbands and abandon their kids.

A lot of Russian voices against feminism are patriarchal to the core. These are the voices of men who see nothing wrong with slapping their significant others around (“if he beats you, he loves you” – this is a common saying, used by some men to explain domestic violence as an act of love, because, and I am giving you a direct quote: “beating a woman is a way of giving her attention. If you don’t love a woman, you don’t pay attention to her. You don’t care about educating her and making her a better person.”). They are both religious and secular. They are educated and uneducated. They exist both in the government (Zhirinovsky comes to mind), and on the street.

Other people are more neutral than that. They see problems with domestic violence in Russia, for example, but they don’t want to adopt the word “feminism” when speaking out about the issue: because it is alien to them, and doesn’t really apply. Instead, they’ll say things like, “a man who hits women is not a real man.” They don’t believe in gender as a construct. But neither do they stay silent on the abuse perpetrated against their friends and neighbours.

A lot of Russian women oppose feminism too. Funnily enough, a lot of these women can technically be described as feminists. For example, many Russian Orthodox women, not to mention Russian Muslims, are active voices in their community. These women assert their rights daily. But they don’t like the packaging of feminism – and they have little in common with feminist secularism.

Russia’s more secular feminists are also very diverse. The majority of these women don’t call themselves feminist either. Some are lesbians. Others simply adopt a “butch” style of clothing (and sometimes risk being beaten up as the result), whether for practical reasons, or ideological ones, or a little bit of both. Others project a more feminine image – which is something that varies by class and by style. I believe the last group to be in the majority among the secular feminists – and many of these women have a beef with American feminism, particularly its radical branch. Once again, the notion of gender as a construct is problematic for many of these people (it’s problematic for me too, and I consider myself leaning toward the American school of thought, mind you).

There are also groups of Russian women who have things in common with different American feminists, and they are particularly active on the Internet. There are divisions and disagreements among these women as well. I actually haven’t see any of their reactions to the Nashi rally and the choice of outfits, although I did look for them. Perhaps they are not interested? Bigger fish to fry? Or did I miss something? I might have.

It’s also important to remember that there are subdivisions among these division. And there are boundaries transgressed. And talking about these issues in-depth is tough business.

People often have these simplistic views of Russian women: either they’re stereotypically beautiful and solely defined by their sexuality, or else they’re frightening bear-women who delight in violence and vodka (I’m not saying that Lyndon does this, obviously). The truth is always more interesting than that.

So is there feminism in Russia today? Yes. Only in many instances, it doesn’t go by that name. And perhaps never will. Is there feminism among Nashi members? I don’t believe the members of Nashi would define themselves thus. “Feminism” is a politically loaded term, and the politics associated with it are the opposite of what Nashi members subscribe to.

5 thoughts on “Post-Soviet Feminism and “Nashi”

  1. How far is nationalist anxiety over population decline an obstacle to the acceptance of feminism in Russia?

    Aside: alcohol actually is a vasodilator, & causes loss of body heat. You freeze to death faster, although you feel warmer while you do it. The feeling of warmth is caused by the increase in blood flow in surface vessels & is deceiving.

  2. Oooh – see I don’t know these things about alcohol. I always think it’s supposed to fix everything (I remember that whenever I felt a cold coming on, I would have a shot of pepper-flavoured vodka, and the cold would disappear). As I understand it, people in the country don’t drink vodka outside – but if you’re in the street, in an urban environment, you do. And what you’re saying actually makes sense in that light. Because vodka is the “quick fix.”

    To answer your question, I am not sure. I think you bring up a good point – if women aren’t good “breeders,” the the population will decline further, or so people think (some people I know among them, definitely). But I feel like improved economic conditions will give many people the opportunity to have kids. Because a lot of people in Russia marry early. And a lot of these people want kids. Trying to force women back into the home in that sense is like putting a band-aid on gangrene, you know?

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