This is a nuanced and compelling analysis of grassroots feminist activism in Russia in the politically turbulent 2010s.
Drawing on rich ethnographic data, the author illustrates how a new generation of activists chose feminism as their main political beacon, and how they negotiated the challenges of authoritarian and conservative trends.
As we witness a backlash against feminism on a global scale with the rise of neo-conservative governments, this highly relevant book decentres Western theory and concepts on feminism and social movements, offering significant insights into how resistance can mobilise and invent creative tactics to cope with an increasingly repressed space for independent political action.
In this chapter, motivations for studying feminism in neoconservative Russia are set out. The author argues that it is highly instructive to study feminist activism in Russia, not only for those engaged with Russia, but also for global readers more widely. The case challenges the hegemony of Western feminism, and illustrates how a conservative and authoritarian context moulds feminism. The author explains the rationale for a broad approach to politics involving both covert and overt resistance, as politics in Russia has often been narrowly understood as the privilege of a restricted elite. After introducing the other key thread of the book, that of movement resources and how their shortage affects the movement, the author argues that it is necessary to study resistance in this context from a spatial perspective as well, especially as it regards activists who are non-male and in some cases non-heterosexual. The research material produced in St Petersburg and Moscow, and key methodological choices connected with feminist ethnography are explicated.
In this chapter the reader is provided with the necessary background to and history of civic activism and feminist politics in Russia. The author first introduces five key historical phases of Russian civic activism relevant to studying feminist activism in contemporary Russia. This is followed by discussion of the history of feminist and gender politics in Russia, which addresses the first feminists (ravnopraviki), the Soviet reorganization of gender relations, Stalin’s declaration that the ‘woman question’ had been solved, the Soviet underground feminist group Maria, and the women’s movement that emerged during perestroika and flourished following the demise of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Finally, the author walks the reader through more recent political developments in Russia in the 2000s that have contributed to the rise of the contemporary feminist movement.
In this chapter the author uncovers how the activists in Russia make sense of feminism in their lives, and how they mobilize it to challenge conservative norms and identities. It is suggested that the first proposed dimension of feminist politics, reparative politics, speaks of the healing texture of feminist resistance. In reparative politics both political and therapeutic aspects are intermeshed, as it is argued that the activists orient towards repairing both the self and society. The author illustrates how feminist activism has helped the activists to work collectively on their traumatic experiences. It is argued that reparative politics relates to individual and collective dimensions of activism, both of which are elemental to activism in seeking to solve feminist grievances such as that of gendered violence. While illustrating that Russian feminist activism is not free from postfeminist tendencies, the author explicates how local logic and historical influences blend with these in way convenient to both.
In this chapter the spatialities and temporalities of feminist activism are investigated, in light of diminished space for activism in increasingly authoritarian Russia. The reader is introduced to various locales of feminism in order to concretize the spatial realities of feminism, such as the constant lack of privacy and spaces of their own, and the spillover nature of the movement. Three key spatial metaphors for feminism – underground, street and shelter – and their wider implications are uncovered. With the help of these, the author illustrates how the activists negotiate spatial axes such as visible/invisible, public/private, closed/open and safe/unsafe. Two spatio-temporal dimensions of feminist politics are identified: that of expanding feminist space and discourses in society in the long run, and, more urgently, producing collective shelter and privacy for those who lack these. The concept of the politics of sheltering coined in the chapter refers particularly to the second dimension.
In this chapter, various types of epistemic resources for the movement are examined. By uncovering the different knowledge resources and how they connect with struggles within the feminist movement, the author suggests that feminism is becoming a politics of expertise. This concept focuses on feminist struggles over who and what kind of knowledge legitimize the adoption of a feminist subjectivity and the position of a feminist expert, thus raising the question of whose perspective counts. In connection with this, hierarchies and classed dimensions of feminism are also revealed. The author argues that the question of expertise is apposite beyond the Russian context, as more and more feminist knowledge is being produced outside traditional realms of feminism such as universities, for example in the various expanding digital spaces. However, it is suggested that the fact that the movement’s work focuses on knowledge dissemination undoubtedly augments the struggles over the correct epistemic resources.
In this chapter the author interrogates feminist mediatized practices. This focus is motivated by the fact that most political opportunities in Russia remain in the realm of the internet, whereas street protest, for example, has been increasingly curtailed. It is highlighted that some activists play skilfully with the media logic in order to attract the largest audiences possible, and can sometimes make the movement seem larger than it is. Based on the analysis, the author argues that the fourth key dimension of feminist politics is the politics of appearances, one characteristic of which is performative gestures and spectacle, which in fact seem to mirror the strategies of power holders. However, a politics of veiling is also emerging. Contrary to the politics of appearances, the latter engages in covert forms of activism, highlighting that lived culture is never simple but always formed of contradictory elements.
In this chapter the author brings together the main threads of resistance in its manifold forms and the resources on which it draws, and defines the ‘resourceful feminist’. Some key issues are uncovered relating to the movement’s internal struggles, and whether solidarity between the different schools of feminism might be strategically useful. The author also observes the role of the internet and its ambivalence in allowing individuals to engage with feminism while also helping to produce hierarchy inside the movement. Furthermore, contributions connected with challenging the hegemony of Western feminism, and construing more local and context-specific feminism(s) are discussed. In the final part of the book the author turns to look at more recent developments connected with feminist activism in Russia, and new limitations targeted at independent activists in this context.