The Global Feminist Challenge,. Communism, and Postcommunism
И E CONSENSUS AMONG GLOBAL feminists constructed by the early 1990s issued a challenge to governments around the world. In contrast to this vision of women’s rights as human rights, violence against women had most often been treated as a woman’s individual misfortune that states had no responsibility to address. As the Cold War ended, human rights critiques could even be leveled—with new effectiveness—at the former Soviet superpower, which had previously exempted itself from such standards (not unlike the United States). How did this global feminist challenge differ from the Soviet and post-Soviet regulation of gender violence? How have the political, cultural, and economic changes of the postcommunist transformation complicated the possibilities for global feminist success?
The analysis of the historical and national conditions shows that the new global feminist norms about gender violence were unlikely to take root in Russia. The communist regime sometimes regulated gender violence as part of its tight control of intimate life, a control rejected with Soviet collapse. It also established some political institutions designed to help women, institutionalizing a weak kind of de facto feminism into the state and leaving no real room for autonomous feminist activism. Postcommunism adds a tendency toward the privatization of issues that were previously part of the state’s purview and toward gender neotraditionalism—a reflection of and reaction to the communist ideals, pre-Soviet traditions, and global
fantasies. These have legitimated the privatization of gender violence, a response that illustrates the opposite of global feminist arguments about gender violence as a violation of women’s human rights. As there was a simultaneous rejection of the most feminist aspects of communism, an embrace of nationalism, and the emergence of only a small women’s movement, there were few avenues for resistance in Russia in the 1990s.
Thus, this chapter details the global and local structures, including culture, that constitute the environment for foreign intervention in Russia. In contrast to the political culture approach—although I suggest interplay between culture and politics—I do not rely on an assumption of a stable, uniform culture. I do not see “policy preferences. . . [as simply] a result of a culture that prefers those policies” (Weldon 2002, 36). This study also does not use the common way of approximating culture as dominant religion that those who study postcommunism often employ (e. g., Fish 1998). I also do not resort to simplistic notions of culture that some feminists use to abbreviate their critiques, such as through condemning “violence against women as a product of traditional cultural practices” (even while simultaneously affirming the “cultural heritage is something to treasure”) (Merry 2006a, 11). As I have argued elsewhere, the reason for the extent of violence against women in Russia and the lack of state response is not that Russia is so patriarchal (nor the opposite, because Russia is so matriarchal) (Johnson 2007b). Instead, this chapter portrays culture as “consisting] of repertoires of ideas and practices that are not homogeneous but continually changing because of contradictions among them or because new ideas and institutions are adopted by members. . . . Cultural discourses legitimate or challenge authority and justify relations of power” (Merry 2006a, 11). Although culture may congeal into political institutions, both are open to new ideas, even from across borders.