A quick guide to contemporary feminism in Russia

Talking about feminism in Russia is becoming more and more common. While five years ago the pro-feminist agenda seemed unusual, today feminism is part of the worldview of many men and women. The approach to advertising campaigns is changing, the content of beauty and fashion magazines is changing, and even politicians are focusing on the issue of discrimination. Although they often distort some of the feminist messages, these changes cannot be ignored. At the request of Lenta.ru, artist, art activist, feminist, teacher and curator Darya Serenko has compiled a guide to contemporary Russian feminism: why we need it in the 21st century and what problems its representatives solve.

From denial to recognition

Exploring the question of how roles are instilled in society, French writer and ideologue of the feminist movement Simone de Beauvoir wrote in her book The Second Sex that "women are not born, but become women. To paraphrase her, the same can be said of feminism: feminists are not born.

Perhaps I would not have become a feminist if my safety, freedom and well-being were not constantly threatened. Otherwise, I wouldn't need this article. I could go on and on: "I was raped once", "I was molested once", "I was once denied a job because I am a woman", but in short - I was not satisfied with the usual answers about why things happen: "it's my fault" and "it's life". I started researching, reading, understanding, going through all the stages: from denial and ridicule to knowing and understanding the facts and statistics. Four years ago, I became an intersectional feminist.

I conducted several surveys with different social groups: teenagers from 13 to 18 years old, students from 18 to 23 years old, adults from different regions of Russia and feminists themselves. Of course, one guide cannot cover everything. Lists almost always create a false hierarchy, so I suggest that this text be taken as a framework.

It is important to understand cause and effect: feminism is never just a reaction to existing problems, and it is wrong to think that suffragettes and feminists have achieved all the benefits of the last century.

- What is the program of contemporary Russian feminism? -
- Domestic violence: Domestic assault has been decriminalized in Russia. This means that a domestic abuser can get away with a few fines before facing any real punishment. There is also no law on domestic violence and no protection order, which is a document preventing the abuser from approaching the victim by court order.

According to the Anna Human Rights Center, 80-90% of victims of domestic violence are women, and about one in five women in Russia suffers from domestic violence.

- Sexual violence: due to the lack of a culture of consent to sexual relations in our country, as well as a widespread social attitude of "blaming oneself" and thus relieving rapists of any responsibility, only 15% of women report the crime committed against them. In most cases, the perpetrator is an acquaintance or relative of the victim.

According to various data, one in four or one in three women have experienced violence or attempted violence. Almost all of them go through accusations that she "provoked" it herself.

-Harassment: in Russia, many large institutions and companies still do not have a company code specifying what harassment is and what to do if, for example, you are harassed by your boss. Such instructions exist in all major companies around the world and are the key to regulating such situations. There is also no law on stalking, that is, harassment and stalking. Unless a stalker threatens violence, it is impossible to apprehend them with the help of the law. macos/deepLFree.translatedWithDeepL.text

La traque et le harcèlement des femmes sont beaucoup plus fréquents que la violence sexuelle, un problème omniprésent et ancré dans la perception qu'a la société des femmes en tant que proies, trophées ou objets.

- Des coutumes violentes dans certaines cultures : la soi-disant "circoncision féminine", le vol de la mariée, les crimes d'honneur. Les femmes vivant en Russie (principalement dans le Caucase du Nord) ne bénéficient toujours pas des droits fondamentaux à la sécurité et à l'intégrité.

Every year, about 1.2 thousand female residents of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan under the age of three are subjected to clitoral mutilation, performed to prevent them from having orgasms and presented as a prevention of adultery; women are stolen against their will and families do not take back "stolen" women (if you return, you are "used and dirty") ; there are still honor killings - murders of young girls by their closest relatives because of "inappropriate" appearance, gossip about the sexuality and orientation of their neighbors, and according to the only known data, 39 Russian women were victims of such crimes in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya.

In these and other regions, feminists are helping victims of violence resettle, create shelters, and find lawyers and doctors.

Social Welfare

- The "glass ceiling" phenomenon: invisible restrictions in both business and government that prevent women from reaching leadership positions.

In Russia, women are underrepresented in the apparatus of power and in many other privileged professions. According to research, women are much less likely to hold leadership positions, not because of "natural" differences with men, but because of social attitudes: it is commonly believed that women are less suited to leadership positions than men, that they are required to take maternity leave, that family is more important than work for women, that politics is not a woman's business, etc. This leads to the following two points.

- The gender wage gap: in Russia, men's salaries are 30% higher than women's. This is due to the "glass ceiling".
This is due to the "glass ceiling" and "exclusion" of women in the most privileged segments of the labor market. The logic of "guilt-tripping" does not work: the majority of male employers transfer their stereotypes to female workers when recruiting, setting salaries and applying for promotions. Because of these same stereotypes and societal pressures, women are forced to take maternity leave alone, although in many developed countries, parents of newborns share maternity leave.

- Women's poverty: single mothers are among the poorest women in the country.
Non-payment of alimony by fathers (according to the end of 2017, Russians owe their ex-spouses more than 100 billion rubles for the maintenance of minor children), notions that parenthood is not a man's business, that the father is only an "assistant" to the mother, not a parent (there is even a term "distant fatherhood") affect the economic situation of women raising a child alone.

- "Second shift": when, after the main job (most often a formal paid job), most of the unpaid housework (cooking, cleaning, laundry, planning errands, small household chores) as well as caring for children and elderly parents is done by women.

In 2016, researchers collected data from 217 countries: it turned out that over a lifetime, women accumulate 23 years of "second duty" from which men are mostly spared.

- The list of professions prohibited to women:
In Russia, 456 professions are prohibited for women (among them, for example, restrictions on women's work in bakeries, air, sea, river and rail transport, work as drivers of heavy trucks and drivers of special equipment).

It is an absolute relic of the past, in force since 1974. All developed countries have abandoned it: women are successfully working in all the fields that are prohibited in our country, and the UN has repeatedly recognized this document as a violation of women's rights. However, the latest interim version of the list, which was supplemented with the professions of sailor, boatswain, electric train driver and bus driver on intercity and international routes, was approved in February 2000.

From an economic perspective, this severely limits women in areas where many of the listed occupations are almost the sole source of income. Feminists are fighting for the repeal of this discriminatory law.

Also in 2017, another discriminatory list - prohibiting women from serving in the military as snipers, marksmen, sappers, tank drivers, drivers, and contract mechanics - was adopted by a secret order of the Minister of Defense. Due to the ban on many activities, women cannot develop and realize their career dreams.


- Gender stereotypes, domestic sexism: all those endless "you're a girl" affect women's development from childhood, choice of work (when only boys are allowed in computer animation classes for schoolchildren) and, finally, throughout life.

The consequences of gender stereotypes should not be underestimated: many women, at the slightest deviation from the "norm" dictated by society, stop feeling like "real women" and start hating themselves and, for example, their bodies, forging certain qualities rather than others, fulfilling a certain "feminine destiny" instead of choosing it according to their talents and inclinations. The World Bank estimates that the damage to the global economy caused by stereotypes that prevent 130 million girls from accessing education is as much as $30 trillion a year.

Feminism is always about choice: a woman can have children or not if she doesn't want them, can work or be a housewife, can wear heels and dresses or wear what is comfortable. What feminism is saying is that all of these options should be represented in the culture as the norm.

- Reproductive violence: the attempt to ban abortion, the imposition of the role of the mother. The state assumes control over fertility, but it does so ineptly: instead of long-term support for motherhood itself and addressing the problems of discrimination against women in the workplace, it pursues a prohibitionist policy on abortion.

In 2015, Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova signed a cooperation agreement with the Russian Orthodox Church to reduce the number of abortions, after which temporary moratoriums on abortions were introduced in the regions as part of the "Give me life! ", women who decided to have an abortion were sent to talk to priests and heads of municipalities, lectures on contraception were banned in schools, and the Russian Orthodox Church was invited to the Duma, which proposed to recognize the subjects of the rights of unborn children, thus equating abortion with murder.

All this is taking place against the backdrop of statements by government officials that no one asked Russian women "to give birth" and state support for mothers of large families by paying them 47 rubles.

What generally comes out of this is no "happiness of motherhood" - you have mothers who live on the edge of poverty and misery, mothers who hate themselves because, for example, they can't get by. Many women (and I was one of them for a very long time) can't even imagine that motherhood is a voluntary and conscious choice, that not having children doesn't make them flawed and bad. Feminists encourage choice, that is, both conscious motherhood and conscious non-motherhood, as well as conscious pair parenting, where the father participates in the care of the infant. 


- Slut shaming: society stigmatizes a girl as a "slut" (usually for anything and no matter how she looks or dresses) and tries to get rid of her sexuality.

Try to mentally say "lecherous man", "promiscuous man" - these are very off-putting phrases. Feminists were the first to draw attention to the unequal evaluation of men's and women's sexuality: if a man has a lot of sex or partners, he automatically becomes "macho" and is approved by society, but if a woman brags about it, she will immediately be called depraved and slutty. The image of the virgin, modest and chaste, is detrimental to society as a whole, leading to problems with sex education, teenage pregnancy, ignorance of many sexual diseases, shyness of women when talking about their sexuality. Often they cannot say what they like and what is painful and unacceptable (often they are not even asked, because women "give" sex, not take it).

As a result, women are dishonored by their families, their gynecologists, their lovers, women are dishonored by the church and the state, and the most radical activists like the followers of the male state ideologue begin to physically persecute and harass Russian women who, for example, have sex with foreigners.

- Beauty standards and body shaming: the idea that a woman should be "beautiful" always and everywhere, wear makeup, heels, be thin, blossom and arouse positive emotions in men.
In addition to the "second shift" mentioned above, there is also a third shift: when a woman comes home from work, grooms everyone, then goes to groom herself. There would be nothing wrong with this if the requirements for a woman's appearance were not so different from a man's. Standards of beauty and thinness for women have a negative influence on teenagers' attitudes toward their bodies, and it is no wonder that eating disorders (such as bulimia and anorexia) affect mostly girls, who are painfully and unsuccessfully trying to relate to themselves and their bodies as what beauty looks like on billboards, magazines and movie screens.

Feminists refute the myths about the necessary correlation between being fat and "unhealthy", drawing attention to the hypocrisy of beauty industry standards, which do not link thinness to the mental and physical health that thinness may have achieved.

- Prostitution and the pornographic industry, sexual exploitation.

Different types of feminism have different views on the extent of these problems and how to address them, but all agree on one point: women who are sexually exploited are very often trapped in these circumstances against their will (as teenagers or victims of trafficking, for example) and are on the edge of life and death, as they are subjected to physical and sexual violence as well as severe psychological pressures (prostituted women are more likely to suffer from mental disorders).

The problem of free choice in prostitution is one of the main ethical issues. Some feminists believe that choice under the pressure of threatening circumstances cannot be free and that any sex for money is violence by the client, while others believe that women have the right to choose how to dispose of their bodies. This is a very complex issue, because in addition to feminists and prostituted women, there are pimps, clients and the state, as well as different ways to regulate the problem. In any case, women in prostitution are either sex workers (the terminology here emphasizes the difference of opinion) or one of the most vulnerable and stigmatized groups of women, for whom feminists create crisis centers and rehabilitation programs. 


- The struggle for the right to identity (ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.): there are no universal women with a common destiny and a common set of attributes - there are migrant women who belong to the national minority of our country, there are homosexual women who are forced to hide who they are all their lives (there is the practice of "corrective" rape of lesbians by men in order to "correct" their orientation), there are women with disabilities whose lives in Russia require a separate struggle. All of them are fighting for different things: for the respect of their own cultural identity, for the right to love, for the right not to be excluded from the world around them. The feminist perspective works here too, developing its own agenda and help for each case.

These and other points influence the gender inequality index in Russia, which places our country between Uganda and Burundi in terms of women's access to universal (male) rights. Moreover, according to the World Bank's annual report "Women, Business and the Law", Russia scored zero in the area of legislation on the protection of women's rights and joined the list of the least safe countries for women. Being aware of these problems helps us understand why feminism is necessary and what its goals and objectives are today.

Native soil

Feminism in Russia is often perceived as a phenomenon that comes from the generalized "West", but this view is too flat: we have our own history of feminism, which is connected to the world. This guide does not try to describe the complete history of feminism in Russia, but the main points are as follows: in 1917, the Russian Federal Socialist Soviet Republic became one of the first countries where women were fully equalized with men in legal documents. Then there was a very important period of our gender history - the 1920s, which became famous for progressive experiments and emancipation of women at various levels (a new code on marriage and family was adopted, which allowed divorce, gave equal rights to men and women in marriage and their children outside marriage, ended the persecution of homosexual relationships, allowed abortion).

A deputy of the State Duma speaks out about the pubes of women journalists, lust and harassment of Slutsky.

Then - a conservative reaction under Stalin: the divorce procedure becomes more complicated, in 1933 abortion is banned (the mortality rate of clandestine operations, and in 1940 every second woman dies), and in 1955 the ban is repealed. In the 70s and 80s, two important (but religiously oriented) women's magazines appeared in the dissident milieu: Women and Russia and Maria, which actively discussed women's work and motherhood. Thanks also to Igor Kon, one of the founders of the modern school of Russian sociology, attempts at sex education began, but hormonal contraception remained out of reach for most women. Finally, things change in the 90s, and in the mid-20s an important stage of online activism begins: blogs and communities on LiveJournal dedicated to feminism (e.g., feministki, Accion-positiva and others) appear, the prototype of the many fempapliki and blogs that will appear later in the era of social networks. 

It is common to distinguish three waves in the global history of the feminist movement: the mid-19th/early 20th century, the 1960s-70s, and the 1990s and zero. It is not entirely correct to organize these periods chronologically, as they often overlap, and the characteristic theses of each wave may have been formulated at different times in different countries and may not coincide with the main periodization, but four types of feminism have generally been distinguished, which I will briefly describe. It should be noted that feminist projects are often horizontal and self-organizing, so it is possible that the feminists who will be mentioned may not agree with this mode of division.

Radical feminism

It was radical feminism that justified the theory of patriarchy, the systemic oppression of women by men, a theory that is central to many other types of feminism as well. Radical feminism views women's experiences as unified and not affecting other social groups.

Radical feminists believe that the causes of oppression run deeper than "law" or "class" and are located in the territory of gender and sex and the way gender relations are organized. What distinguishes them is their attitude towards the issues of pornography and prostitution: they are categorically against the former and the latter, as both, in this version of feminism, constitute sexual objectification and exploitation of women.

Feminism in art

Feminism in contemporary art is one of the most powerful instruments of criticism of art institutions. Women artists, critics and filmmakers create art projects aimed at integrating gender issues, such as inequality and violence.

Representatives in Russia: in the theater - director, author of the play-discussion about Alexandra Kollontai "Silent Revolution" Vika Privalova, author of the play-discussion "I Want a Child" based on Tretyakov's play Sasha Denisova, artist, co-founder of the project "Ribs of Eva" Leda Garina; contemporary art: Varvara Grankova, artist and author of the exhibition project "Nonviolence"; Mika Plutitskaya, artist and curator of the projects that unite art and feminism; Nadezhda Plungian, art historian and curator of the exhibition "Feminist Pencil-2"; Victoria Lomasko, artist and curator of the exhibition "Feminist Pencil" media artist, activist, co-founder of the feminist brand Narvskaya dostava Lelya Nordik, curators of the exhibition "I is Art, F is Feminism" Marina Vinnik and Ilmira Bolotyan, artist and activist for the rights of disabled women Alena Levina, curator of feminist music festivals Tanya Volkova ; in literature - the poet, creator of feminist poetry zines ("Wind of Fury") Oksana Vasyakina, creator of educational projects Write Like a Grrrl and No Kidding Press, devoted to women's literature and criticism of sexism in literary texts, Sasha Shadrina and the poet, co-founder of the project "F-mail" Galina Rymbu.


Regional feminism

It is not entirely fair to emphasize geography as a signifier, but in this article I would like to focus on regional projects and their importance, because regional feminists often have fewer material and symbolic resources. They have to work in regions where, against the background of economic and information problems, the situation of gender inequality is often even worse and where activism is fraught with threats to life and health.

Representatives in Russia: the project "Daptar" of journalist Svetlana Anokhina on the situation of women in the Caucasus; and the association of feminists in the Caucasus "Podlushano. Feminism. Caucasus", author of the project "Feminologists", editor-in-chief of the feminist magazine "Marta", journalist Katya Fedorova (Vladivostok) (this winter she began an important struggle for herself: she named the man who raped her, which sparked a huge debate), documentary filmmaker, activist and creator of the Femina film club for women filmmakers Sonya Pigalova (Nizhny Novgorod), journalist and blogger Ekaterina Popova (Rostov-on-Don), activist and filmmaker Tansulpan Burakaeva (Bashkortostan), journalist and philologist Olga Karchevskaya (Vladivostok).

Feminism at the intersection
Feminist activism often intersects with other types of activism: Psychoactivism, aimed at destigmatizing people with mental disorders and neurodiversity (Psychoactive project - artists and activists Alyona Agadzhikova, Sasha Old Age, Katrin Nenasheva), Sophia Sno, LGBT activism from a feminist perspective and queer feminism that includes the experience of non-binary people (Elena Klimova's Children 404 project), ecofeminism, anarchofeminism (Sofiko Arijanova), transfeminism that includes the experience of transgender women (Yana Kirey-Sitnikova)