Translating Domestic Violence
All along, some crisis centers had been invoking ideas more consonant with dominant ways of thinking about women in Russia. Regional crisis centers, even those
that identified as feminist and drew upon human rights rhetoric, were more likely than those in St. Petersburg or Moscow to employ neotraditional, especially ma- ternalist, gender ideologies, often signified in their use of the Russian term “violence in the family” rather than “domestic violence.” For example, in the Volga city of Saratov, the crisis center campaigned using slogans on posters such as “Defend my mother” (Johnson 2001). Better than other issues raised by global feminists, this framing of domestic violence could also resonate with the mater – nalist women’s groups that had first emerged under Gorbachev (Hrycak 2002).21 But because this framing was so resonant with Russian ideas about “protecting of women and children” that did not hold abusers accountable, the more radical movement leaders were skeptical of such organizations and this way of talking about domestic violence.22
By 2001, encouraged by shifts in leadership, expansion of the movement to the regions, and the realization of the costs of appropriating global norms virtually unchanged,23 the movement as a whole began to tactically employ these kinds of maternalist ways of framing domestic violence, more often using the translation of “violence in the family.” Although some of the new crisis centers stimulated by the infusion of democracy assistance were simply maternalist, the new leadership balanced maternalism and global feminism (Johnson 2007a). As explained by the Saratov crisis center director who became a national leader, using maternalism was the best way to bring attention to domestic violence because “women [as a category of rights-bearing citizens] are not heard in Russia.”24 Reflecting the activist leaders’ Soviet heritage, translation of the global norm also included the incorporation of economic violence—“the refusal to allow the woman to go to work or pressure to stop working; complete control over the woman’s income.”25
In other words, with global feminist support, the movement’s leaders translated global ideas about domestic violence into the Russian vernacular. In the language of social movement theory, they had amplified their frame of domestic violence by drawing upon already existing values in Russian society.26 But, at the same time, as elsewhere in the global movement against gender violence, they had developed a double consciousness, articulating their claims in different ways in different domestic and global contexts (Merry 2006a, 3): using maternalism and “violence in the family” in Russia, and what American activist Elizabeth Schneider (2002) called the radical feminist frame and the more globally recognized term “domestic violence” to global feminists, donors, and human rights advocates (Johnson 2007a). The women’s crisis centers, while seeking a transformation of gender ideology by holding (men) batterers more accountable than (women) victims, simultaneously tapped into existing gender ideology, especially the neotraditionalism that extols women’s contributions as mothers. Much as with the activists’ transplantation of the crisis center model, the movement adjusted the global concept of domestic violence to fit the Russian context even while continuing to challenge the gender order. While earlier interventions might have curtailed opportunities for such translation, global feminist calls for recognizing autonomous self-organization (Weldon 2006) meant that such localization was at least tolerated, if not promoted.27
This negotiation between neotraditionalism and feminism may be activists’ best hope for protesting domestic violence and gender after communism, especially in societies that remain less than democratic (Johnson and Robinson 2007). As Chela Sandoval (2000) found for U. S. women of color and third-world women, “shifting” between different ideologies and frames may be the most effective challenge to the dominant, often binary, ways of thinking. In Sandoval’s words, “[t]he idea here, [is] that the citizen-subject can learn to identify, develop, and control the means of ideology, that is marshal the knowledge necessary to ‘break with ideology’ while at the same time also speaking in, and from within, ideology.”
In 2002, as donors began to withdraw their support, the importance of this international funding for feminist activism became more apparent.28 The new funding environment supported only small feminist actions, such as a booth at family day by the Russian Association of Crisis Centers for Women (RACCW) in 2004, or larger actions by those less radical, such as the Altai Crisis Center for Men’s 2005 white ribbon campaign, in which they distributed informational materials about nonviolence within families. The only major public awareness campaign was part of the unsuccessful RACCW—Women’s Aid project on domestic violence among ethnic minorities^9 One hopeful sign is that, after years of pressure from gender violence activists, the Council of Europe initiated a two – year campaign against gender violence across its member states, including Russia, 2006-2008.
raising some awareness
Perhaps unsurprisingly, intervention helped provide the inputs for public awareness campaigns: the slogans and images for pamphlets, fliers, posters, and TV or radio spots on domestic violence. The tougher question is whether these campaigns, as influenced as they were by foreign ideas and moneys, nudged society toward change in its perception of domestic violence.