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#4 International Now-Here

Viktor Mazin, Petersburg

 


 

Which political role can feminism play in the contemporary world and in Russia specifically?
Which strategies of solidarity between women of different social, national, and ethnic backgrounds are possible today?
Or is it better to shift our focus from the differences between men and women in order to address different universal features, such as political power-relations or social class?


I feel uncomfortable about writing for women. And this isn’t because I think that I am a man. Hell no! I can’t speak for men either, even more so because I don’t even want to speak for them. I don’t feel comfortable about speaking for anybody of any category at all. Speaking for women (for the elderly, for children) is a task that can be left to the politicians and their “masculine” mugs. After all, they need to go on and on chopping their teeth in order to divert our attention from the Black Flag. In this sense, I agree that feminism is “an integral part of neo-liberal ideology”, or to be more precise, of “neoliberal” oligarchy. But this does not mean that the “liberal” does not turn into a patriarch at home, nor does it imply that the laws passed by “liberals” have any pro-feminist quality. Was the trial of the American president’s phallus really a perfect example of in how far feminism has spread to the American legal system? In the end, the President didn’t only launch his rockets into the open mouth of bureaucracy; he also fired some missiles at the Third World, even if this wasn’t the only reason. Phallocracy may well wrap itself in the cloak of feminism, but does it ever really succeed? Isn’t the entire neo-liberal discourse perforated by rockets, missiles that you will never be able to hide?


Perhaps we should remember that any talk that addresses the variety of feminism will still be refering to a mass of highly complex theories, of variagated interweaves of Marxism, psychoanalysis, criticism, deconstructivism etc. In sum, the American capitalization of feminism, even in its legal guise, is nothing more than camoflage for neoliberal ideology. In this context I remember this one thing that happened in Rio de Janeiro. One guy from America, a professor for psychoanalyis and feminism, totally turned “the discourse of the Left” upside down. One night, he happened to find himself in a certain club, which was actually a whorehouse. By morning, he had already forgotten all about how the girls had reached this place. With a shaking voice, he was babbling deliriously: “They’re all mine, if I want them, they can be mine and mine alone”… I don’t want to pass judgement on him. I also don’t want to talk about what the United States have done to Brazil. Read Chomsky. I simply want to emphasize the following: discourse is commerce, among other things. Discourse can be exchanged for money. Discourse helps you to valorize yourself, reserving a place in society’s structures. That American was just plowing the fields of feminism. Feminism is a way of making money.


In Russia, “feminism” is perceived as a four-letter word. Patriarchal “men” will say that it is because of feminism that women have gotten out of hand, that they have become incapable of doing anything, which is why the family as such is falling apart and the whole country is going to hell, that our only hope is a strong president and so on. On the other hand, some “women” who call themselves “feminists” are ready to tear apart any “man” who dares to hand them their coat or to light their cigarette. It would be great if we could start by really understanding what “feminism” and “feminists” actually are. I am rather pessimistic as far as this is concerned, even if books on gender-studies are being published, even if Irina Arikhstarkhova or Irina Zherebkina are prolific writers…How many people actually read these books? And how many people listen to the psychologist who says that women should serve both men and god, because this is how psychology works? How many people listen to the biologist who says that nature has adapted women to hearth-keeping, monogamy and subordination? And how many people read woman’s magazines and watch woman’s TV, all of which have been inculcated with positions rather distant from any kind of feminism. More often than not, TV shows for women provoke little more than horror and disgust. It is as if they only had one goal, namely either to emasculate women or to transform them into slaves. One constantly has the feeling that these TV-women live by the Lacanian equation of “Woman = Other = thing”. They do everything to make the woman into a Thing. A Thing on the same level as a car, a mobile-phone or a thick gold chain, belonging to a “real man”. “Wow, if I had something like…” As far as the differences between “men” and “women” is concerned, this has always been and still is a very difficult question. The only thing I can say with certainty is that the differences between “men” and “women” do not take place between “men and women”. Wherein does this difference lie? In the social construction of gender-roles? Not only. In the biology of childbirth and monthlies…? Not only. In psychic structuring in relation to the phallus? Not only.


Do you feel that qualities like “vulnerability” will die out as unnecessary capacities?
Or is it possible to engage in a certain revolutionary politics of vulnerability?
How can feminism convince human beings of both genders of the need for emancipation and of the benefits of real freedom?


Contemporary Russia’s means of mass disinformation have market-launched two saleable models for “femininity”. The first model is indepedent, self-assured, strong, and aggressive. The self-made woman , to put it differently. This ideological ready-made is called the “Self-made Woman”. Recently, I was reading a magazine and saw that one of the two or three most popular women of this type is Condoleeza Rice. In how far can this aggresive model can be called “feminine”? Well, friends, it’s up to you. It’s still a mystery to me how this political monster could have ever become a role model for women in Russia. Maybe you’re right: “coldness” is considered cool, while human qualities like patience, passivity, and the ability to understand the Other are totally out of fashion. At the same time, I remember the Tao and its finely argued victory of the weak, passive, and flexible, all of the things that do not correspond to the Western model of the “real man/terminator”, “Condi Rice”, but they do correspond to the Russian model of “tobacco and a three-day-beard reeking of vodka”. What you call “the revolutionary politics of weakness” sounds incredibly attractive to me. But I don’t think that weakness will die out, since it is actually no more than a phantasm of the “strong”, self-assured paraoiac, taking on “responsibility” for the fate of the other, bringing phallocentric “freedom”, which supply “women” with goods and production or making lots of little bunnies (the Russian version of “coolness”).


The second mass medial model transports the woman as a thing. This market brand can come in two variants. One of them is custom-tailored to the majority of Russian women, who are stilled keyed into the patriarchal order. This type feeds on the discourse of “tradition”, on “nature” or “that’s the way things are” and “it was always like this”, or “this has been the Russian way since day of old”. This is the functional type, the “woman” who cooks and cleans well, the woman that raises offspring. Under more recent circumstance, she functions much like a refridgerator, a vacuum cleaner, a washing machine or some other appliance. She is the hearth-keeper (while he is the “bread-winner”, the “hunter”). This “woman-thing” caters to broad segments of the working-class. The other type caters to the businesspeople and the oligarchs. As a rule, it is connected to the marketing of the modelling business and its schoolyard, the so-called “Golden Youth”. Unlike the first type of “thing” model, the second type has already been objectified beyond belief. According to the media of mass disinformation, especially those that serve the “Golden Youth”, this “woman thing” has already been robbed of any capacity for thought and speech; she has become a purely decorative element. This “thing” does not have to function properly as a house-wife. Instead, she works for the business-views of her partner and competitors. This type has replaced the older type of the femme fatale who will drive you out of your mind, a phantasm thought up by “knights”, poets and Don Quixotes, “unreal men”, that is. But in the economy of total consumption, it is impossible to drive anyone out of their minds. From what mind can you be driven? The real man is a brand manager.He still has “that thing”. This is the business-perspective that the women’s magazines and women’s TV shows all propogate: get “that thing”, what’s it called, you know, like…


Does love have any political potential in your opinion?
Do you think that there is anything specific in the feminine experience of love?


Sex+sentimentality instead of love – this is how Jean-Luc Nancy has characterized the “American way of life”, i.e the image that they offer us as something that is better by default, since there is no alternative. A quick roll in the hay, a few tears from a cheap Hollywood melodrama, and it’s off to work, out into real “life”, down to the Golden Calf. Love will only distract you from your work. Show me a lover that makes a good worker. What the hell is he thinking about? He’s supposed to be working. So, dear friends, it seems like love has a great deal of political potential! Love and death force us to consider what our lives actually mean. Love forces you to reconsider the values that have been imposed by the American ideology that has come to dominate Russia today. Love is what allows subjectification. Love is the one horse upon which you can place all of your stakes, e.g. your career, all your money, your effectivity, your success. “Everything” will suddenly seem petty and unimportant, nothing more than a “paper sword”, according to the poet Shnur (=the lead singer-lyricist of the rockgroup Leningrad). But in a society that forces you to love the bodies of products, where you dream of BMWs and Motorolas, it seems unthinkably difficult to love. It is so unthinkably difficult because already prerequires subjectification. The vicious circle: to love, you need to be a human being, and to be a human being, you need to love.


Note that we’re not talking about being in love. Those in love are prone to the hysterical and even psychotic consumption of goods and services. I call this behaviour psychotic, because this kind of consumption is connected to the disorder of narcissism. In this context, consumption is a kind of supporting treatment, preventing complete collapse. The “branded” girls of the so-called “Golden Youth”, its “golden lionesses”, constantly live in this state of psychosis. The male world of capitalism has turned them into products. In this final analysis, this means that they can only see themselves in shop-windows, as tradeable goods. But in a society of consumerism and information, products are fluid. The environment is subject to constant change. In this industrial zone of constant obliteration, it is nearly impossible to stabilize any image at all. This is the world of patriarchy, but simply no more than a patriarchal hallucination.

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