Strange Bedfellows: Russia and Feminism

Russia has never been known for championing women’s rights, and never has this been made more clear than over the last twelve months. The year 2012 saw the arrest of members of the all-female political punk outfit Pussy Riot, whose provocative performance in Moscow’s Church of Christ the Saviour, while earning their detention, also ensured them the most press exposure the band had ever had outside Russia. This year the world has already seen the distribution (and subsequent – and very rapid – quashing) of Moscow’s first lesbian magazine Agens and now, the leader of the modern Russian Orthodox church, a man called Patriarch Kirill, has damned the feminist movement as an attempt by women to overthrow their function within society – namely, motherhood and homemaking. 

  Western eyes have long been on Russia. As one of the biggest countries in the world, spanning two continents and several different cultures and religions, it is incredible that the rights of women in Russia have not been allowed to progress in any significant way in living memory. In fact, in an article in The Guardian (April 9th this year) Kirill is quoted as saying that the feminist movement propagates the myth of the ‘pseudo-freedom’ of women in Russia. 

  What? Does this mean, then, that the Russian Orthodox church and the men associated with it do not view women as free individuals with the same rights, needs and opinions as men? Why not?

  It is interesting that women are viewed in this light even in modern society – but then, it is also interesting that the only opinion sought in the mentioned article is that of the leader of the Orthodox church, a man with no wife, no daughters and no real experience of modern Russian women outside the church walls (where women must needs cover their heads and look as nondescript as possible, lest their evil ways tempt the good, God-fearing, righteous Men of the Cloth. Or something.), a man who is so against the freedom of expression of women that he has adopted ‘Patriarch’ as an addition to his first name.

  There is something sickening about a country that refuses to recognise the equal rights of its citizens to this extent. Three of the members of Pussy Riot were imprisoned for their actions that day, which, while admittedly ill-advised and potentially blasphemous, were non-violent. They sought to do no harm, merely to educate and widen the horizons of the masses. It should not, however, surprise readers that this kind of thing goes on. This is a country which has made it veritably illegal to be of a certain sexual orientation, a country where soldiers returning from war are left to rot in the streets and where even a homeless old woman begging for change in a Metro station is probably employed by the Mafia and will see only a few kopeks of the money she collects each day.

  It’s sad to see such a huge geopolitical power brought to its knees by women’s rights. What I mean by that is that women’s rights shouldn’t be seen as a ‘special interest‘ or a threat. They should be part and parcel of everyday life, as they are in most of the rest of Europe. 

  Of course, the scariest part of all this is that, as publicised as the Pussy Riot debacle has been, this rampant disregard for women’s equality thrives in Russia still, unchecked, while European political leaders look the other way. These are the same leaders who would not sanction the torture of dissidents in Syria or allow the forced impregnation of a fourteen-year-old girl without expressing some kind of righteous outrage, so why is it seemingly all right for women to remain downtrodden and morally beaten in Russia for daring to raise a firm hand against the overbearing patriarchy?

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