Friday, March 04, 2005

Discussing feminism: Russian style

yesterday I watched one of the few slightly intelligent Russian talk shows the Duel. It’s basically a dispute over a hot topic between two opponents who don’t like each other, to put it mildly. This time the subject was feminism.

In one corner it was a flamboyant journalist, in the other – a well-known Russian feminist Maria Arbatova. So what do I have to say?

First of all, it was funny to hear that Arbatova assured the audience that she’s no radical feminist. If in the West such an admission would be a sign of the post-radical feminist wave, in Russia it’s the only way to legitimize the discourse. Feminism in Russia is associated with ‘those crazy American things’ though I doubt many Russians heard of Andrea Dworkin and her ‘intercourse as rape theory’. Russian men and women would be put aback by much milder things.

The discussion wasn’t particularly interesting, it was quite superficial, but the jokes were. I thought for myself that if many jest that were said by Arbatova’s opponent and the anchorman would have never been allowed on any North American show. As George Carlin once put it: “you can talk about rape but you can’t joke about rape.” There has been a different approach to humor in Russia. Russians hold humor in much higher regard than in America. ‘For a good laugh I won’t spare even my own father’ says a Russian proverb. That’s why political correctness would never take roots in Russia, at least to the same extent as in North America. The reason for it is historical and can be found in the experience of totalitarianism and communism when joking was the only form of political dissent even if, as it was the case during Stalin’s time, the jollier could be sent to GULAG.

Another funny thing that happened was a clash between Arbatova and a woman in the audience, a professional gynecologist MD etc. She said that she feels no discrimination and is satisfied with her personal and professional life (she said she would get her Ph.D. in medicine in eight months). I was a bit disgusted with the way Arbatova totally dismissed her. She kept saying that you’re on a low level yet and when you reach your ‘glass ceiling’ then we can talk… I thought it was quite arrogant of her.


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