Which political role can feminism play in the contemporary world?
Which strategies of solidarity between women of different social, national, and ethnic backgrounds are possible today?
Feminism was activated in Russian during the early Perestroika, as the social, political and aesthetic orientation-points were shifting totally. On the one hand, the notion of feminism became one of the fashionable “trademark brands” of the new homo sovieticus, reborn immediately under the influence of Western democracy, which brought both freedom and Tampax to Russia . On the other hand, it became clear that feminism was not only in superficial demand, but that it was an integral part of the Western intellectual discourse that was being introduced into Russia at the time. In the late 1980s, as the first feminist conferences and exhibitions were taking place, Victor Mazin and I organized the show “The Textual Art of Leningrad” in Moscow, dedicated to Derrida’s “veil”; in Leningrad , we curated “Women in Art”. One might also remember how stockings were given away at the Bronze Horseman, Petersburg ‘s central monument. In this total mixture, one could also hear invocations like the one that astonished me when I visited the Fifth International Congress of Woman Art Historians in Hamburg in 1991: it was fashionable to address “our Eastern-European sisters”, only recently liberated from Communist captivity. At this point, many saw feminism as something quite aggressive and bellicose. But as strange as it may seem, it was also sexy. This corresponded to an overall feeling that was in the air. The sexuality of feminism conveyed revolutionary drive and fearlessness. Shocking the public with its directness, the first advertisement of hygiene products was very physical and even demonstratively seductive: the eroticism of a child, suddenly discovering sexual difference. In the late 1980s, it seemed that the “new Amazons” were fearlessly and cheerfully sweeping up the leftover principles of Soviet patriarchy. Seen as one of the most effective forces in intellectual life and politics, feminism carried a great deal of utopian hope.
Yet by the mid-1990s, these hopes had collapsed. The consumption machine had crushed the Amazons. The new Russian woman was one of the most important target groups. The market of long legs, pouting lips, perky breasts and buns expanded to hundreds of millions of former Soviet citizens. Simple-heartedly, its marketplace resounded with cries of one the most understandable principles of capitalism: invest in your body by consuming beauty products; these products aren’t only the most affordable investment; they are also the products closest to you. The first TV shows “for women” began to appear, where Maria Arbatova opposed both “traditional” Soviet values as well as the new capitalist way of life. But chaos and employment were spreading, and beauty-salons seemed a far more effective means in the struggle for survival than political demonstrations. Politico-economic stabilization, however, has brought on a new wave of Russian patriarchal discourse. It has been taking place under the advertising slogan “our mom’s so smart”. Smart mom feeds the family with chicken-broth cubes by “Knorr” and does the laundry with “Tide”. Mom is the perfect consumer; she redeems her natural fertility by becoming an insatiable consumer cannibal.
Do you feel that qualities like “vulnerability” will die out as unnecessary capacities?
“Men can only be free if women are free.” Today, this famous axiom by Mao Tse-tung seems more current than ever. Contemporary post-industrial society no longer requires the division of responsibility according to “male” and “female”. The new technologies of the post-Fordian production line no longer require specific “male” qualities of the worker; “house and hearth” have been saturated with smart domestic appliances capable of executing all forms of domestic labor. These innovations were supposed to liberate us from the model of patriarchy, in which the man earns a living while the woman serves him. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the fact that men only rarely equate their lovers to housewives, woman’s journals cradle and lull us with their bed-time-stories of a “perfect union”, in which “feminine duties” are reduced to making the body seductive (with skin-creams, scented baths, massages, or diet pills…), or to producing the “nest warmth” of the home, suffused by the aroma of fresh-baked vanilla pastry.
How can feminism convince human beings of both genders of the need for emancipation and of the benefits of real freedom?
Feminism is capable of liberating human beings (women as well as men) from the demeaning choice of being either a master or a slave. Being different without oppressing or being oppressed.
Does love have any political potential in your opinion? Do you think that there is anything specific in the feminine experience of love?
The political potential of love consists in the personal resistance of which only lovers are capable. Losing yourself in your beloved, refusing all norms and prejudices, and in doing so, breaking free of the dominant order, then finding enough strength to keep from drowning in your beloved’s blinding image, only to be born again with all differences intact. It is only possible to love the Other, the Other in yourself. The lover can never be an obedient cog in the socio-political machine, controlled by the advertisements of insatiable consumption. She-he is an agent of more vital force, capable of smashing the cynical order of reality.