Elena Zdravomyslova: ''Not directly men but the rule of patriarchy reigns in society''

About Putin’s divorce and consequences of Stalin’s abortion bans

Elena Zdravomyslova: ''Not directly men but the rule of patriarchy reigns in society'' Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

A lecture of Candidate of Sciences in Sociology, Professor of Department of Political Science and Sociology of the European University in Saint Petersburg, co-coordinator of Gender Studies programme Elena Zdravomyslova took place during the Summer Book Festival. In the second part of the an interview to Realnoe Vremya, Elena Zdravomyslova told about Muslim women's gender freedom that only men can present and possibilities of a woman to become Russian president. Realnoe already published the first part of the interview.

Gender freedom of Muslim women

Is it possible that Muslim women will be able to get more gender freedom in the short run?

The thing is that gender changes in traditional societies happen gradually, unnoticed, from inside. Small groups that work with the canon are created. It doesn't change as revolution but is interpreted in a different way – towards the expansion of gender possibilities and reduction of gender restriction. For instance, reconsideration of canons that women have the right to build a career in a public sphere or to sexual desire or to divorce in line with men. Silent reformers say it is written there – in Quran or Torah. Quran is the most gender-sensible and democratic. But I believe and it is proved by some historical research that men (who want changes – towards gender equality, not vice versa) are the biggest trigger in gender changes including in Muslim society. Men who change the gender order risks much. When a father educates his daughter, so that she will be able to compete with men in the public sphere, it will give her a chance. Women can use this support of men's minority to expand freedom and equal rights.

In the Russian society, the transformation of Muslim practices towards emancipation and gender equality is scotched by one circumstance. Anyway, we have a religious renascence in the country. Many people think that now we are recovering desecrated values. This is why they are legitimised because they are not able to criticise religious doctrines because the church and belief are considered victims of the Soviet state harassment. Many people have not understood yet that religious expansion covers not only gender norms.

I believe that men (who want changes – towards gender equality, not vice versa) are the biggest trigger in gender changes including in Muslim society

Both national, cultural construction in multi-ethnic and multicultural Russia is carried out through mechanisms of religious and church renascence. As a Muslim republic, Tatarstan is becoming a possible source of cultural splits if they are not controlled. To control cultural tensions and separatist moods, it is necessary to invest resources, so that everything will be good here, so there will be educated limited beneficial nationalism. To perform a national renascence through religion and language that would not lead to separatism or radicalisation. National elites need to be always fed for this purpose. It is the logic of the federal support of Kazan as innovation centre. It is needed including to avoid separatism here. When society has many ethnicities, cultures, they can be potentially conflicting. As history shows, it is necessary to provide satisfaction and well-being of elites of other cultures in a multicultural society (because elites are key factors of political processes).

Who wears the pants?

But who is the head of the family in Russia: a woman or a man?

I will tell you an old Soviet but at the same time sociological anecdote. A sociologist asks men in a factory: ''Who wears the pants?'' And they all say that in their families man is the head. ''Why?'' the sociologist asks. ''Because we make the main decision in the family.'' ''What do you mean by main decision?'' ''Well, we make a decision on the position of our family towards Honduras, towards the war in Vietnam. Meanwhile, a wife is responsible for small tasks – where to go on holiday, what to spend money on, where kids will study.'' Public and private spaces are not divided, you know. Wives don't rule in society but have a very important role in the family while not directly men but the rule of patriarchy reigns in society. It is clear that women have more family obligations. This labour, burden give women certain power and authority in this small but important segment of social life. But they – these obligations – scotch her promotion in career ladder in the public space.

Wives don't rule in society but has a very important role in family while not directly men but the rule of patriarchy rules in society

How does Russia care for women and support them?

It cares historically. But it changes its care in a different way quite often. At times the country needs women to work in enterprises as much as possible because of a lack of labour force and it is difficult to provide migration because a dwelling needs to be built for a migrant. If we prepare women for work in a factory, we just need to prepare a kindergarten or grandma. The country cares about women though we still have (and it will be reconsidered) discrimination – women retire at 55 years and men at 60. Some women will be glad to retire because they work in uninteresting, non-prestigious, underpaid places. Meanwhile, others would like to continue working but become potential victims of dismissal. The country wants women to be so amazing, to do different things. It turns out men's aspirations to have a balanced family and public role are not supported.

Was the most awful gender pressure in the Soviet era?

I think in that context abortion was the worst thing from 1935 to 1956. Abortions were permitted in Russia from 1920 to 1935. In general, even if it is very dramatic and against religious rules, but the right to abortion shows the degree of women's freedom who lived in difficult conditions. Abortions were allowed as medical operation, women got a sick leave, it was not done illegally. Abortions were prohibited under Stalin, people often could not afford themselves to give birth. There was a military situation, awful poorness. Men were either in jail or worked hard, there were no living conditions. There were 5-6 kids, you know. How much violence and undesired pregnancies were? The contraceptive culture was different. It was not possible to use even traditional ways that need privacy, a person needed to have a bath, but it was a communal apartment without a bath. Criminalisation of abortions, doctors and women is very cruel because abortions started to be carried out illegally. And this business blossomed until 1956.

The country wants women to be so amazing, to do different things. It turns out men's aspirations to have a balanced family and public role are not supported

Empress of Russian Federation

Will a woman become president in Russia ever?

Yes, of course. We are always about 15 years late. There are always circumstances that scotch. We don't have democratic politics but we have authoritarian politics – it is politics of nominated promotion (quotas at times). And our nomination politics is not to be worse than others.

It turns out that a car needs to demonstrate same indicators like in other places. But mechanisms are different. We see that women became ministers there a long time ago. And Putin started to promote women at the level of administrative politics to be decent. America already has a black president while you have old men with bellies!

We don't have a democratic policy but we have authoritarian politics – it is politics of nominated promotion (quotas at times). And our nomination politics is not to be worse than others

Do you think the behavioural model of the president in his own family can be demonstrated as an example for other residents of the country? In other words, is Putin's divorce an example for Russian men?

In the situation with Putin, the idea is that the political leader not necessarily needs to be married. The status of divorced person considered possible for a representative of power. In general, there is a high percentage of divorces in the Russian Federation. Divorce is not a stigma. I think the main message concerning the president's family scenario can be interpreted in the following way: he is a heterosexual, he was married for a long time, he has two daughters, he is also a granddad. His family life suits our family norms.

By Aleksandr Shakirov. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov