25.03.2021

Russian harassment of a “Russian woman”

The song Russian Woman, which initially appeared to be a simple manifesto for moderate feminism and fashionable body positivity that was entirely appropriate for the Eurovision contest, where “politically correct” messages have triumphed for many years, provoked an outpouring of phobias in Russia that exceeded all expectations. There’s no doubt that this song was allowed to win during “viewer voting” on Channel One; Russia made the calculated decision to submit such a clear, straightforward, understandable, and politically-correct song with the refrain: Hey, Rashin Woman, Don’t be afraid, girl, You strong enough, You strong enough, Don’t be afraid. And the singer’s biography matches the words: Manizha is not afraid to speak out domestic violence or support women’s rights. She also supports the rights of migrants, refugees, and even LGBT+ people, but you have to be “pretty strong” for this. The nomination of this song, by this performer, could not pass without a scandal from opponents of the “new morality,” but the wish to win the competition, to show Europeans that we weren’t born yesterday, turned out to be more important. This courageous step in the direction of European values has worked for now – the song has garnered millions of views on Eurovision’s website and is one of the most popular.

But we also didn’t have to wait too long for the scandal. Manizha checked off all the boxes – born in Dushanbe, ethnic Tajik, singing in several languages. Nationalists from every party and every age group were terribly offended that a young Tajik woman – Okay, she grew up in Moscow, but that doesn’t matter to them – would be singing “for Russia.” As if that weren’t enough, she was not singing a song about “Persia, Persia, fruit heaven” or something about “Dark Eyes”; she actually composed and sang a song about a Russian women, and the words “Rashin Woman“ were written in capital letters on the back of her outfit. She could have somehow or other gotten away with words about the right of women to dress how they want, to have children or to not have children, and to not be perfectly slim, if not for this provocation about the non-Russianness of this “Russian woman,” who doesn’t try to hide this at all. After all, patriots love some performers, even though they can guess that they are also “national minorities,” but those performers try not to emphasize this. But Manizha does not just emphasize this, she builds her identity on the image of a “non-Slavic, non-Tajik woman.” We can say that she is declaring her cultural and national fluidity, and this can’t be any better than gender! And it is this apparition of the non-binary world that makes traditionalists recoil. They cannot be convinced by some people’s attempts to deride her – hey, singing and dancing is exactly what migrants from the far reaches of the empire are supposed to do: “There were even special singing and dancing peoples, like the Georgians. Or the Jews playing on the violin or fortepiano. Like folklore. This is obviously objectification, but it’s not discrimination”. Apparently the author of these words understands objectification as assigning the violin and fortepiano to the Jews and, let’s say, the guitar and tap-dancing to the Roma or polyphonic singing to the Georgians. That’s objectification, “but not discrimination.” I have already had the opportunity to write specifically about discrimination and dances, the stigmatization of people, genders, and social role that are intended to please the eyes of the powerful in the world. A stereotype (what does objectification have to do with it anyway?) is obviously always discrimination, and the imposition of a role, generally degrading, even if it is “festive.” Georgians, Tajiks, Jews, Roma, Africans, Russians – they can sing or invent machines, they can play the violin or plow the earth, they can enter contests or drive trains. No one tells them – older women, younger women, or girls – what to do – and none of them have to move beautifully, look beautiful, or dress beautifully. Cultures and languages can be mixed on the stage, as they have long been in modern life. It is of these simple things that Manizha sings, challenging the mad flame of racism, sexism, and discrimination in all its forms and manifestations.

Protectors of the purity of Russian culture have conducted an entire expert evaluation of Manizha’s song, embellishing their text with such a large number of words unknown to simple Russian speakers that they have no business accusing the singer of using Surzhyk (which is understood to mean “Rashin”). What is the worth of the following expressions Dr. Ponkin and Dr. Slobodchikov used: “pejoratively offensive, dysphorically derisive (through the achievement of introjection)…also creating allusions to images…mixed with botanical exemplifications” and so forth.

How can we not make fun of you!

Stefania Kulaeva
First published on the blog of Radio Svoboda