If I were rating the most unexpected questions about Moscow that I’ve ever been asked, the following one would take first place.
– Is there a feminist club in Moscow? – My colleague who moved to the city a week ago asked.
– Femi-what? «:shock:» – I was really taken aback. At the time she asked, I was flipping through announcements looking for interesting concerts, lectures, exhibitions and parties – things that in my opinion could fill the leisure time of a young woman in the big city.
– A Feminist club or something like that – she repeated.
And it was a challenge. The city, which I proclaimed to be ideal, should have everything. Even such an extravagance…
A femi-club, was found of course – and not just one. But I was haunted by…
Feminism – is that a hobby? Why do you need to visit a Feminist Club?
– Let’s start with the fact that I was born in southern Kazakhstan, in the Uzbek village, where the role of women was pre-determined by society, and it can’t be changed. It’s difficult to confront with society, especially being alone, and being initially put in the position of dependency, where women are not able to receive any education or, respectively, to help themselves. Since my childhood, I watched the process of humiliation and oppression of women’s rights, and was even personally confronted with it. Moreover, even very educated people, both men and women (who unknowingly define themselves as a representative of a class lower than men) show discriminatory attitudes. So to me it is very important to promote the idea of feminism, and the club has allowed me to find like-minded people with whom the idea could be discussed and developed.Speaker: Elvina Bulatova, journalist, political scientist, convinced feminist
I’ve heard the expression that “feminists don’t march in formation”, which means that there is no common struggle in fact, and every modern feminist fights for her individual rights. Is that true?
– Hard to say. There is no centralized power, at least in the post-Soviet space. But while in some cities, such as, for example, in Bishkek, you can find very strong feminist organizations that have some kind of power and capabilities.
Our post-Soviet women find it difficult to unite because firstly, they are not aware of the harassment and therefore the need to fight. They are used to being on the sidelines and don’t know that it can be different. When a society originally forms women’s role as a representation of the lower class, when from childhood they are possessed as an object, not a subject, it forms their thinking–and this situation can only be changed by raising the level of education.
Furthermore, even if women start uniting to defend their rights, they are usually faced with a system that condemns and stigmatizes them. I think the post-soviet governments generally are not interested in profitable major feminist organization because going through a stable demographic crisis, it is important to promote so-called family values.
What kind of discrimination do you personally face, exactly? What are you fighting for?
– For the equal treatment of women and men, based on their objective (not stereotypical) intellectual and physical abilities. Fighting for women being able to receive the same pay as their male colleagues, and have the same career opportunities. For the elimination of the backwards idea, which is so popular in Russia and Central Asia, that the mission of a woman on the earth is to be born and to get married. And the factor of marriage has ceased to be the answer to all the questions and the solution to all problems. After all, you might agree, that each time, in any dispute, if a woman, according to the society’s point of view, behaves inappropriately, the first thing she is imputed would be “oh, yes, she’s just not married.”
And if she gets married, they begin to demand a child from her. Many families break if a woman can’t or doesn’t want to have children, which once again proves that men look at us as incubators and not as individuals.
When did you realize that the pre-modern social roles of men and women, that are typical for our society, don’t fit you?
– I think I’ve been coming to this conclusion since my childhood, but finally I realized it about a year and a half ago, when I was in graduate. We studied the subject of feminism in detail, including its role in international relations, the relationship of feminism and war, and a lot of other related phenomena … As I said, the educational process helps us come together to an understanding of the real situation.
You know, the worst thing is that nowadays the pullback in the pre-Soviet period, reducing the role of women is felt very keenly. One of the most powerful tools in the process is religion.
– Listen, aren’t you afraid of becoming a desperate radical on this issue? I feel like it’s easy to go too far and turn the struggle for the rights of women against yourself.
– I do not see any radicalism here. I just demand respect for myself as a human being and equal opportunity for self-realization. I want to be listened to as men are, and never be told that my place is in the kitchen.
Okay, look, feminists listed about five hundred professions in which, under Russian law, a woman has no place. The most popular example – the profession of subway driver. In 80 years, if I’m not mistaken, women were forbidden to drive a train in the subway. Some protests took place at that time, but eventually the resistance was spoiled. Today only one woman, Natalia, left in the metro, and even she moved to the depot and no longer drives a train. Tell me, do you really think that women need positions in professions such as a subway driver?
– I believe that a woman should be able to choose from the same list of professions as men. If she is mentally ready and physically fit for the job, then she should be able to get it.
I always thought that modern feminism is full of guile. Now, as I see it, women are fighting for equality, when they themselves are not ready for it. Like they want the same rights, but not the same responsibilities. Am I wrong?
– Yes, I disagree. I think women who are fighting for their rights, are quite willing to bear the liability equal to men. They are financially independent, emotionally and mentally stable.
In addition, there is one very important point: the emphasis on the fact that a woman is weak, in turn puts a strong pressure on men. Women used to say “a man must,” and I am against this “must”. Being under the pressure of public attitudes, men often take backbreaking moral and material obligations. So I want to say that just as a woman is not an object, a man is not a resource.
He has the right to be weak, and has the right not to be able to care for the family all by himself. Advocating feminism, we protect not only women but also men. Feminism helps men and women to hear each other, to assess each other’s rights, and adjust them so that they work for the common good.
Many people believe that feminists are usually the women, who for some reason, failed on the personal front. And what is actually the most frequent and powerful engine to feminism for women nowadays?
– I think personal life plays an indirect role, but the main engine to feminism is the pressure from society. An established model for the implementation of women in society “to marry – to have children” – is a red rag. I don’t see myself married at 18 years old and having a bunch of kids, while my intellectual abilities allow me to get a higher education and to realize this potential for the benefit of society and the economy. Why did the communists so actively start involving women in labor? Because the women constitute more than half of the population, and it is logical to involve them in the development of the economy.
Ok, now this is gonna be a very silly question. Women gained the right to education about a century ago. How much time do you think should pass before other (in addition to Marie Curie, Ayn Rand, and Virginia Woolf) legendary women’s names in the world of science, literature and philosophy will appear?
– I think the world has many talented women already. One of the goals of feminism is to withdraw their names from the shadows.
By the way, talking about talented women. Gynobibliophobia (hatred of women writers) – is a very popular phenomenon, especially in Russia and the post-soviet space. I myself am biased in this regard. At the same time the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2015 was awarded to the Belorussian writer, Svetlana Aleksievich. Isn’t it ironic? What do you think – is it possible to consider this as a victory for feminism?
– Yes, she was appreciated as a woman-writer, and this is a good sign and a good incentive for other women writers, victims of this stupid stereotype.
Do you, being one of those who fights on the side of feminism, feel a sense of ownership to such achievements?
– Yes, I feel empathy, I am pleased.