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Abstract

Academics have overlooked feminist movements in Russia, allowing struggling women’s rights organizations to overshadow the many achievements of Russian feminists. Scholarship has reported on struggling women’s rights organizations, citing Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist protest punk rock group, as an exceptional case and concluding that the overall situation with feminism in Russia is desperate. Even though recent publications acknowledge some feminist mobilizations, they are still judged insufficient. Why is contemporary Russian feminism continuously “not enough” for outside observers? And is it “enough” for its members?

In this paper, I argue that one of the major reasons why feminists outside Russia, as well as other observers have tended to downplay or disregard the feminist movement in Russia, even in the face of real and successful feminist organizing, is a discourse on movements that centers contentious politics. Defining movements in terms of public protest and claims-making to the state, this discourse is, I argue, at odds with the feminist movement’s actual goals and preferred tactics. To explore feminists’ attitudes towards and definitions of useful tactics and goals, I draw upon qualitative interviews with feminist activists. Although feminists consider contentious action as their duty, their relationship to this set of tactics is fraught with contradictory political legacies. At the same time, in reflections in which tactics are useful and within the movement’s overarching goals, it is cultural and discursive action, framed as education and awareness-raising, that comes to the fore. I argue that considerations of feminism in Russia require a broader conceptual focus which is more in line with the contents and aims of feminist politics. Based on my empirical findings, I suggest that an approach centering on collective identity is better suited to understand the contemporary feminist movement in Russia and its increasing successes.

Note on the Author

Vanya Mark Solovey studied linguistics in Moscow and was active in several feminist and lesbian activist projects. He is currently a doctoral student at the Center for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies, Humboldt University of Berlin, and the author of articles on the contemporary feminist movement in Russia. His interests are feminist movements, intersectional analysis, and post-/decolonial approaches to post socialism. Contact: vania.solovei@hu-berlin.de.

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