Bleak prospects for feminism in Russia

Lyubov Kalugina is facing serious charges for her postings online. She is has allegedly breached the article 282 of the Russian penal code which forbids “incitement of hatred or enmity and abasement of human dignity”. In December 2018 she sat down with Maria Cernat to discuss the postings in question.

Combating hate speech and extremism are two notions very seriously embed in the federal law in Russia. The legal framework evolved over the course of the past two decades. Here is how. The article 282 was incorporated into the law in 1999 and amended in 2004. 

This legal provision was further extended in 2016 when deputy Irina Yarovaya and senator Victor Ozerov submitted to the Duma the package of anti-terrorist laws. The package as whole was signed by the president on July 7, 2016. The law requires communication providers to store the content of communication for one year, and content of calls and correspondence for six months. The FSB must be given the keys to decrypt the correspondence by the organizers of information and dissemination on the internet.

Since the passing of these legal provisions Russian courts were filled with cases against people posting memes, caricatures and jokes. President Vladimir Putin is trying to soften the law due to this epidemic of absurd cases.

Last year he decided to soften the legal framework regarding on-line extremism and submitted to the Duma a partial decriminalization of article 282.

 

How did the case against you start?

Cyberbullying, dirty gossips, defamation, threats of physical attacks, denunciation to authorities and murder are following me for about four years. Since I gave up third-wave feminism and become more radical. My postings were reported to the police. I don’t know who did it. I was only told that this is a male person who lives in Birobizhan, a town where I have never been and I don’t know anybody.

In spring of 2017 I was visited by an immigration officer. I’m Russian but I’m not a Russian citizen, it’s a common phenomenon after the split up of the Soviet Union. What seemed strange was that he displayed no interest in my migration status or documents but focused on my account in the social network VK.

In August I was called to visit the police and discuss with their Countering Extremism Department. I provided some explanations about my postings there. A year later I was called again. This time I was asked to see an Investigation Committee. I used my right to refuse providing the evidence and I informed some media about the situation I found myself in. The investigation took off but I was informed a week later about it. Me and my lawyer were able to look only at some documents. The most significant of which was the linguistic expert examination. Being a qualified linguist myself I can tell you it’s all absurd.

So how were you exactly “inciting to violence against men”?

For example by posting a picture of a woman holding a pan with the subtitle “Beat assholes and save Russia!” In Russian the word “asshole” is a masculine noun and can’t be used against women. The “expert” interpreted it as a “straight appeal for women’s violence against men”. Another example: two men, one says: “I’m straight” and the other replies: “You should get laid by a real man.” Another text was actually a repost of a satirical song written by another woman. Crudish but fun. She was “inspired” by the real sexual deviant who pushed a little battery into his urethra, made a picture of it and posted in the open space. The song is exclusively about this man without any generalizations. Another repost, this time of a rather harsh reaction on a resonant case of cruel group rape and bullying of the victim. We tried to resist but the number of bullies exceeded ours and we all broke down emotionally. There are five more posts and reposts. They are much longer, less funny and the accusations connected to them are more absurd. One is a repost accompanied with my comment where I clearly say I don’t agree with the author but the ‘expert’ interpreted it otherwise. The other ones are not about men One was about FtM-transsexuals and uselessness of female’s identifying as a man. The ‘expert’, probably thought it was about biological men. There was also one about pregnancy and maternity ant the ‘expert’ considered the phrase “struggle with men and male supremacy system” extremist.

Can you tell me what happened in the first part of the trial?

The trial hasn’t started yet. The preliminary investigation is still going on. My lawyer says there is no corpus delicti and that the case should be discontinued. Some cases similar to mine had already been terminated.

Do you see anything like censorship attempts here?

Yes, I do. Russia is one of the few countries with quite liberal abortion laws. The abortions are free till the 12th week of pregnancy. Conservative lobbyists tried to push forward anti-abortion laws several times, but were stopped. Partially by feminist mobilizations. And radical feminists are remarkable, scandalous figures. I’m a proper ‘page boy for flogging’ to frighten other feminists.

You said Putin will probably decriminalize this type of action. Is he now less conservative?
Putin submitted the law project of partial decriminalizing and it passed the first hearing. The Duma promises to adopt a law in a month or two. The liberalization means that a person breaching this law for the first time will be charged with a 10 to 20k rubles fine, but a second breach within a year will result in a criminal trial.

What made Putin make some concessions? I think it’s a great amount of absurd cases against average internet users who posted ‘politically incorrect’ memes and jokes.

Tell me more about your feminist perspective. Being a lesbian yourself you stated that the LGBT movement is liberal and is a part of the system.

The first thing your readers should take into account is the fact that LGBT movement is not the only movement in the history which has ever protected the rights of homosexuals. There used to be another movements, like Gay Liberation Front and lesbian feminism which in 1970s. These movements were much more radical. The Stonewall riots, the 6th Amendment, excluding of homosexuality from the official list of mental illnesses are among GLF’s achievements. The views of GLF activists and theorists on hatred towards gays (the term ‘homophobia’ spread later) were similar to Marxist and radical feminist analysis: they outlined the connection between the oppression of women and the oppression of gay people. They wrote gays were hated because they were associated with the low and despised female status in the sexual activity. The radical gay activists’ agenda differs much from the LGBT one. F. e. they didn’t struggle for marriage and adoption rights because considered the family to be the part of the oppressive system. They also didn’t fight for the free access to the transition surgery because from their point of view it was violent embedding into the heteronormative system and the way of eliminating homosexuals.

Lesbian feminism, such organizations as The daughters of Billitis and Lavender Menace, was closer to the radical feminist circles. They built a separate female world with their own finances: cafes, bookstores, publishing houses, theaters, cinemas, clubs only for women, with female employees and owners. They were prosperous and had enough money to finance feminist events and to publish feminist media and literature.

LGBT movement formed in late 1980s and buried both old gay movement and lesbian feminism. It is extremely soft and liberal politically. It avoids political and economic analysis of the roots of hatred towards homosexuals and sees these roots only in different ‘phobias’. It’s not true, and stereotypes themselves could not cause such long-lasting and intense hatred (hatred – not ‘phobia’!). It seems that the main goal of LGBT is to mimic straight people and to receive their piece of the pie of male dominance upon females. They see no problem not only in marriage and parental institution but in sexual exploitation: prostitution and porn. They are maniacally “sex-positive” and advocate even those sexual practices which are usually considered indisputably harmful: sadomasochism and pedophilia.
What is your take on the #MeToo movement? Some say it is a movement of the privileged women.

There are two main feminist tendencies now: third-wave feminism and radical feminism. The first one is connected to the bourgeois liberal individualism and the second one bases itself on the Marxist economic and political analysis. Radical feminism was founded in 1960s by the women who had got disappointed in the socialist and Marxist movements and had left them to build a new movement which would focus on women’s liberation from male supremacy. Radical feminists rely on the economic relations, ask four key questions: Who is the beneficiary? What is the benefit of the exploitation? How does one get it? How does one make people obey him?

A privilege is a benefit which a beneficiary group gets from their power upon the oppressed group. Despite the fact that real conditions of people’s lives are different only beneficiary group can have real privileges. It’s a stupid idea to think that a little bit higher salary of one under-aged worker in Thailand means she or he is privileged in comparison to the other under-aged workers at the same sweat shop. If we look the relations between men and women through the lens of this analysis we see that these relations are similar to the relations between the other oppressive and oppressed groups. Men are using women for reproduction, sex and serving labor. They benefit from it: every man has a ‘continuation of his life in the son’, sexual pleasures and a lot of free time, which he wouldn’t have if he cooked his food and clean his home himself.

Moreover, male financial leaders have working force and benefit from the sex industry, both kind of benefits are coming from vaginas. These are male privileges. So-called ‘privileged women’ can escape only one kind of exploitation – home labor. Sexual and reproductive exploitation is with her. The wife of the president is serving her husband sexually and reproductively like any other woman. The actual difference between ‘privileged’ and ‘unprivileged’ women is something like the difference between the maid in a rich house and a maid in a small poor motel besides the road. It doesn’t mean we should not take into account the fact that the actual conditions of women’s existence differ and women who were born in poor families and poor countries have some really terrible problems. It means that we all in common are slaves and a slave should not check the ‘privileges’ of the other slaves.

OK, what about #MeToo?

We had a similar action in the Russian- and Ukranian-speaking ‘sector’ of the Internet. It was called “#IamNotAfraidToSay”. Most of my comrades consider it to be liberal and having no political influence and I don’t agree. Such collective speak-outs are important. First, because it is a good screening of women’s awareness rising, and second, because they de-stigmatize victims of sexual crimes. Rape is not simply a kind of health-harm. Rape is a special crime with very serious and damaging social effects it is surrounded by the disgusting extra-misogynistic cultural associations. The huge destructive impact on the mental health of the victim is partly due to the wrong idea of rape as of the action which “spoils” a woman, transforms her from a “decent lady” into a “dirty whore” who doesn’t deserve love, respect, happy marriage… Despite the sexual revolution this idea still exists in people’s minds. This is the reason for stigmatization and marginalization of the victim, for victim-blaming, for excusing the rapist and so on. Many women consider rape to be the most humiliating action of all, worse than murder.

How would you describe the current feminist movement in Russia?

Unfortunately we have nearly no political abilities. Some people, like Alyona Popova, Marie Davtyan, Svetlana Aivazova and some others, are involved in the political activity and try to push for real legal changes. Most Russian feminists however prefer working on internet propaganda. Feminism in Russia is more of a subculture rather than a political movement.

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