atiana Riabova, Oleg Riabov

"U nas seksa net ": Gender, Identity and Anti-Communist Discoures in Russia

To Linnea, Bryan, and Denise

Published in: Alexander A. Markarov. (Ed.) State, Politics, and Society: Issues and Problems within Post-Soviet Development. Iowa City: Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, the University of Iowa, 2002. P. 29 - 38.

"U nas seksa net" ("there is no sex in the USSR") - these words were blurted by a Soviet woman in the heat of an argument, when the attitudes towards sex in the USSR and the USA were discussed during one of the first American-Soviet television connections in the times of Soviet perestroika. Since that moment this phrase began to be used as a popular formula for marking the attitude to sex in all communistic and post-communist states, suggesting that the generations of Soviet people have grownup under the slogan: "There is no sex in the USSR". It is obvious that finding the correct answer to the question of whether there was sex in the USSR is possible only by specifying the concept of sex (does sex means sexual relations between Soviet men and women, does it mean the erotic public discourse, or free access to pornography in the USSR). However, we are not interested in the answer, but rather, in the question itself. In this article we are going to investigate the statement's 'logic', the context of using this statement (and the meanings behind it) in the political discourse as an argument in struggle for power, as directed to the destruction of communism and the break up of the USSR.

Since M. Foucault's works, power is believed to be realized not only through direct violence, police and prisons; but rather through identity and discourse. In this case to carry out power means to establish a correlation between the identity of a human being nd the specific models of his/her behavior (as well as that of the social groups) to achieve the desirable type of political orientation. E.g., if you are a man (or, for example, a Russian, a military man, a Moslem), you must share the certain values and must support a certain political line. Therefore, the various models of masculinity and femininity are effectively used (and constructed) by political power, or by the political parties and organizations as a lever to influence the personal identity (1). As identity is the "relations between the Self and the Other" (Harle 2000, 6), then it is necessary to draw a boundary-line constantly separating 'Ours' and 'Theirs. Each person and each social group does have the whole set of images of Other, including that on the basis of gender (Gilman 1975, 19-20). Gender marks a border between 'Ours' and 'Theirs'. Gender is the important mechanism of demarcation, inclusion and exclusion, 'othering' and, therefore, establishment of the power relations. The Other, the Rival, the Enemy, is considered to have the gender characteristics different from that of Self. Obviously the attitudes to sexuality play a special role in gender identity. As a rule, sexual potentiality, male reproductive force, and ability of sexual self-control are attributed to Self, while asexuality and lack of sexual self-control are attributed to the Other.

The aim of this article is to make clear how the gender identity (first of all, representations of sexuality) is used in the anticommunist discourse in Russia: juxtaposition of images of communist and anticommunist models of gender relations, the role of 'sexuality' in political struggle and in the politicians' images.

Certainly, the discussions concerning whether was sex in the USSR began not since the moment of pronouncing this well-known phrase, but in actuality, much earlier. One of the key elements of the anticommunist discourse in general is the idea that communism is something unnatural. It was associated with the gender upheaval and the sexual transgression as well (de Hart 2001, 129) (2). In anticommunist discourse, the invectives against socialism are based on the statement that it breaks the proper, "natural" relations between men and women, and it gives rise to infantilism in the man; however, the basic condition of the 'genuine' masculinity is private property that may provide men's independence and responsibility (Verdery 1994, 250-255). These invectives determine the representations of the Soviet gender order. "Sexless homo soveticus" - in this a way T. Goricheva has characterized Soviet men and women. "We do have not an emancipated woman, but a feminized man." She believes that situation was determined by the specific social and economic system. "In a society like ours, a man can't be independent and responsible for his actions" (T. Goricheva 1980, 30-31. See more about it: Riabov 1999, 269-270). The contemporary conditions of most of all Russian men are considered to be impacted by the communist past. For example, L. Lissyutkina's research contained the words as follows: "this probably sounds harsh, but the exchange value of Russian men on the internal market does not exceed the change rate of the ruble against dollar" (Lissyutkina 1993, 284).

In its own turn, a Soviet woman is treated as unfeminine. The heavy physical work of the Soviet women became the talk of the town, and the images of the woman-road worker and a woman (baba) with a jackhammer are multiplied by mass-media. Therefore, 'normalization' of Russia should include the returning to nature, correlated with the revival of 'natural' models of masculinity and femininity, and also, with revival of the traditional attitudes about value of family (so far as propaganda of family values also was a guarantee of reliability simultaneously (3)).

Man as a breadwinner and a protector as well as woman as a housewife and a mother - these images are propagandized intensively. "It is not surprising that the installation of the market capitalism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union has been accompanied by a reassertion of dominating masculinity and, in some situations, a sharp worsening in the social position of women' (Connell 2000, 51). And one can note the cult of "the tough guy," "the real man", and ideas of inferiority of woman in today's patriarchal discourse. The man not carrying out his role as a breadwinner, not corresponding to the new standard of masculinity, is blamed. As a typical example we adduce G. Lisichkin's words in interpreting the revival of family as the main condition of reforming Russia: "What is a man value, a husband value, who understands that he can't support his family. If it is a real man, he'll starts to feel deficient" (Lisichkin 1999).

The attitudes to femininity have changed as well. Today's Russian gender discourse contains a few main types of femininity. The first one, connected with the liberal values and the ideas of Western feminism, focuses on women's struggle for their rights and on their successful careers. The second one is connected to the purpose of returning the woman back to the family and out of work. These attitudes are formulated by V. Zhirinovskiy, the leader of political party "LDPR" in an emphatic form: "Woman have to stay at home, to cry, to darn and to cook" (Zhirinovkiyi 1998). Finally, the other model of femininity is carried into public consciousness - that is a woman brings pleasure to the man by her very existence. Ironically, the Russian's classic words that "Beauty will rescue the World" are interpreted exactly in this context: the wife of the "new Russian man" or the hard-currency prostitute. And this post-Soviet woman's role as a sexual toy is also a result of the process of strengthening the patriarchal society in Russia (Goscilo 1995, 165).

Sexuality occupies a special place in the new gender discourse. It goes without saying that it is an important part of human existence. At the same time its models, images, representations, and evaluations depend on historical and cultural context and are produced discursively. So sexuality may be considered as a kind of social construct (Vance 1995). Moreover "sexuality is an actively contested political and symbolic terrain in which groups struggle to implement sexual programs and alter sexual arrangements and ideologies" (Vance 1995, 41). We'd like to stress that the perestroika and the postperestroika mass-media hypertrophied its importance and represented it as the main aspect of social behavior (see: Klimenkova 1996). If a person read newspapers or watched TV, he/she could believe that "the real man" (as well as "the genuine woman") would be think only about it. Simultaneously, these new gender patterns have a political dimension. Antagonists of communism, as "normal" people are claimed to be correspond to these new gender and sexual ideals; meanwhile its supporters are represented as "aged, boring and asexual" "commies" (4). The new style of life propagandized through mass-media combines in itself the adherence to democratic values, sympathy to Western democracies, anticommunism and sexuality. In comparison with the "totalitarian East," "the West" was represented as a place of absolute sexual freedom and as an example to imitate. "One of the main representations of this fantasy about the West in the public mind is the symbol 'America'. America signifies something like porno-paradise, although it is known that the real America is a country with quite puritan morals" (Klimenkova 1994, 19; see also: Goscilo 1995, 165).

Besides this correlation between gender and certain political behavior, the sexualization of political discourse does have other aspects. Sexuality plays an important role in the political leaders' representations; first of all in representations of the politicians-men. It is displayed in the constant politician's confirmation of their masculinity, a stress on their male reproductive force serving as an argument in struggle for power (5) (so far as gender asymmetry of power assumes, that the ruling person is a man; "real man" is one who has power (Cohn 1993; Spike Peterson, True 1998, 18).

The proof of adherent's masculinity is accompanied by doubt in masculinity of the political rivals, or their feminization, which is an effective method of their discredit. Marking "Ours" and "Theirs", leaders, political forces as masculine or feminine, the estimation of their sexuality are used for implicit estimations of validity of their claims on power (6).

According to R. Connell there exist multiple masculinities - as well as and their hierarchy and competition (Connell 2000, 10). In political discourse a struggle for interpretation of masculinity and femininity, gender order occurs. Not only political ideologies, but masculinities, femininities compete, struggle between each other.

Side by side with other qualities of the 'new masculinity,' the political leader is attributed passion for "masculine" kinds of sports, masculine hobbies, and the positive attitude to the Armed Forces. The manifestation of masculinity in political discourse includes the politician's popularity with women. The female votes are willingly used by all male politicians in their support; and, the emphasis of these votes is made not only on the professional qualities of the hero of the pre-election advertising, but also on the impression he produces "as a man". In the article with the expressive title "The Politics with the elements of group sex," V. Tzeplyaev, the author, rightly, in our opinion, noted that "the pre-election race turns to the demonstration of male virtues both moral and physical". In particular, the phenomenon of general A. Lebed' was analyzed through this prism, whose image, as imagemakers supposed, had to correspond to women's ideas about an ideal man-protector: physically strong, self-assured, with a strong-willed chin and with a low timbre of his voice (iF 1999, 49). The same method is used in representations of the present Russian president; the theme of the female statements in his support on the eve of the presidential votes of 2000 was the following: he is reliable, responsible, and always carries out his promises. Analyzing the content of these statements in general, we emphasize that the estimation of the professional qualities of a candidate for presidential chair rests in the second plan in comparison with the arguments of that kind. One of the pre-election materials contained a very significant estimation of V.Putin belonging to a common female voter: "It is important for a woman to have a reliable, self-assured man near her on whom she would have a possibility to rely on in hard times. Then let the stones fall from the sky - it would not be terrible. Unfortunately, nowadays it is very difficult to find such men. It seems to me that Putin is a man of this kind, insignificant outwardly, but strong by spirit" (AiF 1999, 11. Nizhegorodskoe prilozhenie). In the beginning of 2002, Russian mass-media has commented actively that the results of sociological surveys show that a new sex-symbol of Russia is considered to be president Putin (3500 of 5000 Russian women gave their votes for him). (See: Putin -seks symvol Rossii 2000). The politicians' victory also could be explained by their popularity with women. So, a political journalist (ORT TV-Channel) discussing the results of the first round of the presidential elections in 1996 commented A. Lebed's success in Ivanovo (which is traditionally considered to be a textile 'female' city) in the following way: "The Ivanovo weavers preferred the masculine general." The popularity of pro-presidential "Edinstvo" and its leader S. Shoigy was explained by journalists of Ivanovo radio in the same way: "Ivanovo has voted for the young handsome Shoigy". Let's note an attitude to politician's masculinity correlates with his position in the power structure.(7).

The natural background of the statements about the female feelings to the stars of political lympus is a constant actualization of the hints about male reproductive force in the political discourse. "Vechno v Rossii stoit ne to, chto nuzhno" (It's forever this way in Russia - we just get it (industry) up anymore) - Russian Prime-Minister V. Chernomyrdin said about the situation with Russian industry (Perly Rossiyskoy vlasti 2000). . These are A. Lebed' words: "Somebody told me that I need to raise my rating. Everything is working OK. Mine is up" correlates to the political rating with male potency (Lebed' 2002) (8).

Sexualization of political discourse is used in the characteristic of international relations or for the expression of the attitude to events of the international life quite often. Thus, during the J. Carter administration, it was said that "under Jimmy Carter the United States is spreading its legs for the Soviet Union" (Cohn 1993, 236). In the time of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal that coincided with the US bombing of Serbia, the joke said by one Russian satirist was popular: "Clinton! The Slavs are not Monika. You will break Your saxophone there"(Zadornov 1999) (9). Russian society's attitude to home sex political scandal, were almost the same. Most of the people didn't severely blame the guilty officials. What's more, they attributed to them sexual might correlated with power as we discussed earlier (10).

The accentuation on the sexuality of one's own political leader can be an additional argument in the struggle for power. It is connected with an idea of hieros gamos known in political mythology since ancient times. The metaphor of a sacred marriage of a ruler and his mystical body was popular in the Ancient East, in the Antiquity, and in the Middle Ages (11). (Kantorowicz 1957, 212). The idea of hierogamy is also claimed in the political discourse of a modern Russian society. Russia is considered to be as a woman and is offered to a man (Riabov 1999, 2001). So, in the presidential pre-election campaign of 1996, N. Mikhalkov agitating for re-election of B. Yel'tzin, used the following metaphor: "Yel'tzin is a muzhik and Russia is a noun of the feminine gender" (See: Gapova 1999, 29). The actress N. Krachkovskaya substantiated the same idea: " Russia is a country of a feminine gender, and today it is as a bride. It needs a husband. < > Now Russia needs a strong, strong-willed president who would be a muzhik first of all and would be responsible for his country as a man. (See: Pocheptzov 2001, 213). However she thinks that general A.Lebed' is a real man, a good husband for Russia. In 1999 P. Borodin, one of the candidates for a post of the capital mayor compared Moscow with a bride, and himself with a groom and optimistically invited everybody to the wedding (12). (See: AiF 1999, 50). One more demonstrative example of using this metaphor is the plot of the TV program "Kukly" (NTV TV-Channel). It appeared just after Putin's victory in the presidential elections of 2000. The result of voting was represented as the wedding of a happy groom, V.Putin, and a bride named "Federation"; G. Zuganov, G. Yavlinskiy and other unsuccessful candidates were submitted as the rejected grooms. The "Federation"- Russia is passively womanish; it addresses to her groom with the words "Do something!". The groom, who promised to make "Federation" happy on the eve of the wedding now feels timid. He is not sure if he can justify the expectations of the bride.

Let's sumarize. Using the new gender patterns and appealing to the various images of sexuality play the role of one of "the weapons" to fight against communism in Russia. Sexualization of political discourse is one of the effective methods of political struggle, as far as political values correlate with specific types of masculinity/femininity as well as that of sexuality. The appeal to changing the gender order can be accompanied by the appeal to changing the dominant ideology, and, on the contrary, the dominant ideological values determine type and norms of sexuality. So, political discourse is a powerful recourse of constructing sexuality and "doing gender"



(1). An example of such appeal to gender identity of the person in political struggle is the Russian politician Stanislav Govorukhin's words for the Russian electors on the eve of the presidential election in 1996. In his TV-statement he called to vote for the leader of communists thus: "Aren't we men!"

(2). We'd like to stress that apparently the point that communism is a kind of deviation was strengthened by the idea of its "Russianness". The very identity of the West is constructed through exclusion of Russia which is represented as its border of European civilization. 'Russianism' (we note by this term the meta-discourse representing Russia as "the extreme Other" to compare with the West - by analogy with Edvard Said's Orientalism (Said 1978) treat Russia as something abnormal. At its own turn this label was one of the ways of the subsequent 'othering' Russia in the Western discourse in XX century.

(3). For example, the American doll Barbie, as J. S. de Hart believes, personifying the family values was one of the methods of the Cold War against communism and politics of 'containment' (de Hart 2001, 127)

(4). At the same time one has to note that after the collapse of the Soviet Union the communistic ideology has indeed failed to offer to society the attractive models of masculinity/femininity and gender order.

(5). V. Zhirinovskiy wrote that when B. Yel'tsin was swimming in the river he had undressed completely and, showing his own member to the companions said "This mighty thing is that we will slay with all 'commies' (kommunyak) by" (Zhirinovkiy 2002).

(6). Feminization of the political opponent both through direct attributing feminine traits to him (or comparison of his behavior and qualities with female) and through doubt in his possession of male, "normal" qualities is the widespread practice to discredit Other and to de-legitimate his position in the political struggle (Cohn 1993, 238). The fact of political support of B.Yeltsin by representatives of the sexual minorities was exploited as an appeal to vote against him in radical oppositional press (Zavtra 1993, 12).

(7). The results of the sociological survey by N. Kurnayeva (Ivanovo, summer 2000) show that in answering the question to what extent the masculinity is developed in this or that politician, 86.3% of women chose president Putin (accordingly 58.7%-B.Nemtzov, 55.2%-Y. Luzhkov) (Kurnayeva 2001, 77-78).

(8). Newspaper titles like "All Russia under Bear" (iF. 2000. 3) ("Bear" is the symbol and the second name of a pro-presidential party "Edinstvo") or "New Duma is inseminated in Kremlin" (AiF 2000, 3) also have a sexual context.

(9). Thus, B. Clinton's sexual feats did not cause a negative estimation. Supporting Clinton's great deeds with women and blaming the US politics in Yugoslavia, Russian citizens created the chastushki (folk couplets) such as "Sleep with whoever You want, just do not bomb " (See. Volzhskaya Kommuna 1998).

(10). T.Muradova and T.McGrath notice that the Russian sex scandals differ greatly from the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, because "both the Skuratov and Kovalyov affairs have a certain machismo about them Rather than having their politicians passively indulge in oral sex, Russian scandals feature videotaped politicians having sex for hours, always with more than one woman" (Arena Magazine 1999, 18).

(11). Thus, it played an important role in legitimizing the power of Russian rulers (the idea of a marriage of Prince and the Earth, Father-Tzar and Mother Russia (See: Riabov 1999).

(12). It is significant that the newspaper "Argumenty i facty" has picked up this allegory with enthusiasm and commented: "do not become cuckolded just before wedding".


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Tatiana Riabova, Oleg Riabov. "U nas seksa net": Gender, Identity, and Anti-Communist Discourse in Russia. Alexander A. Markarov. Ed. State, Politics, and Society: Issues and Problems within Post-Soviet Development. Iowa City: Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, the University of Iowa, 2002. P. 29 - 38