Women’s face of the opposition
The topic of women in protests has not been on the agenda in Russia until the election campaign in Belarus. And then we suddenly saw them – strong, stylish, beautiful, and, most importantly, exuding love not hate.
This feeling of love, humanity, optimism instead of aggression, sarcasm, brutality is what distinguishes the opposition with a woman’s face. Whatever events take place in Belarus, the leaders of the protest, even from prison, send signals of calm courage, benevolence and optimism. And that inspires many people.
In Russia, women in opposition play a much more modest role. And although there are quite a few women in the opposition, especially among grassroots activists or local deputies, the media tone is still set by men – with their endless competition, frequent aggression not only towards their counterparts but also towards strategic allies, and, in some sense, with their sexism.
Challenge for women
For many years, the opposition discourse has been built on provoking negative emotions – envy and hatred, feelings of insecurity and helplessness. “We will not forget, we will not forgive”, “lustration”, “not to lie and not to steal”, “victims of the regime”. Everything positive was related to the future, and the present remained just the preparatory period.
How does this relate to gender? It seems that there is no direct relation. Yet, after the events in Belarus, the demand for an optimistic and positive and, at the same time, oppositional view, for soft power, solidarity, coalitions in the minds of many people is associated with women in politics. And interest in female politicians in Russia suddenly grew.
The Kremlin’s paranoia also brings female figures to the fore. After all, the opposition of an aging, closed, violence-based dictator and a young, open, optimistic and kind woman is quite a cultural stereotype: Koschei the Immortal and Maria Morevna, Ivan the Third and Martha the Mayoress (Marfa Boretskaya). Death and Captivity against Life and Love.
And this is a certain challenge for women – independent politicians in Russia. Will we be able to find the right tone? Will we be able to start a conversation not only with the traditionally protest part of the society and to find the right words for everyone? Will we be able to show Russian citizens a different way than the way of learnt helplessness, which every time ends up in violence?
What women can offer
As a female politician, I have recently thought of what we can and should offer to the people:
- Success stories. Around us, we see many examples how people, civil society, local communities, independent deputies achieve a better life for ordinary people. These examples can help in fighting learnt helplessness.
- Solidarity, coalitions, distributed leadership instead of an inappropriate competition and the “king of the hill” game. Unselfishly sharing resources, from knowledge to money, means increasing them. People are tired of endlessly competing. They want to feel that they are not alone and that no one is manipulating them.
- Respect and attention instead of aggression and squabbles. A gentle, welcoming style reduces aggression in society and even heals historical trauma.
- Dialogue, humanity and acceptance instead of hatred and blame. The division of people into friends and foes, the search for enemies and calls for punishments for them leads to an increased confrontation and the impossibility of a peaceful transition.
- Family, local community, small homeland, diversity instead of soulless centralisation. Russia will be able to live only if every place in Russia has the potential and opportunities for this.
- Simple, clear goals and vision of the future: a normal life, high income, good education and medicine, opportunities for families with children and security instead of abstract slogans. This will allow the public to understand what alternative politicians want.
By changing the face of the opposition to female, we can change its reputation in the eyes of society, clearing it of all negativity with which it is now associated. Now we have the opportunity to make a female turn in independent politics. However, this turn is connected not only with gender, it is associated with a new image of independent politics as a humane, kind, attentive to the needs of ordinary people, which is understandable to everyone, and not just ideological values. In one word, of a lively politics.
This commentary was originally published on the website of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. We are grateful for their permission to republish it here.
Yulia Galiamina is a Russian public figure, local deputy in Moscow, a journalist and linguist.