Discrimination in Russia: Politics is not the key to Russia’s “Iron Closet”

Discrimination in Russia: Politics is not the key to Russia’s “Iron Closet”

Why discrimination in Russia is far from being a top down phenomenon

Being in Russia is like going back in time: where a flat white is exotic, a matching track-suit combo is permissible and if you get your card out in a shop the cashier will look at you like you are the scum of the earth.

Coverage of human rights in Russia is largely focused on political repression. Following the introduction of Article 6.21 (Russia’s “Anti-Gay propaganda” law) in June 2013, it’s understandable that the focus has been on law making. Despite this, prejudice in Russia spans way beyond Putin.

Russia is country built on facades – whether it’s the crumbling building with a freshly stuccoed exterior, or a system which fulfils some vague definition of “democracy” or the “equal rights” of its population.

One can’t help but feel angry when a man simply shouts “devushka” (girl) across the cafe to get their next drink. This is a country where, for women, the verb “to be married” means “to be behind a man”. Same sex marriage isn’t even linguistically possible.

The gay propaganda law and the widespread support for it in Russia is based a huge misunderstanding. Firstly, that homosexuality is a choice. Secondly, that it is synonymous with pedophilia. These beliefs have been recited every time LGBT+ rights in Russia are questioned. Putin quite nonchalantly asked the LGBT+ community to “leave the children alone” during the Sochi Olympics. With Putin’s popularity rating reaching 89% recently, it’s not the law itself which needs to be combated, but instead the environment which has allowed the law to be passed – widespread misconception and understanding.

A large part of the work done by the LGBT+ network here in Russia is based around helping mothers come to terms with their child’s sexuality, helping them understand, and in turn, help inform others. The Russian LGBT +network has understood that the key to advancing LGBT+ rights lies with changing how sexuality is understood on a grassroots level rather than acting within politics.

In Russia, many high ranking and well paid jobs are simply inaccessible if you aren’t a straight, cis man. Misogyny is adding fuel to the fire. Society expects that a woman should be “behind their husband” , raising the family. This is reinforced by the idea that there are not enough men in Russia and you have to vihodit zamooj (go out and get a husband).

It’s disheartening that even for the younger generation this seems to be the norm.

Traditional “family values” are the product of Kremlin’s team of spin-doctors, hiding the inequality rife in today’s Russia. The pay gap, hiring discrimination and restrictions on working in certain professions seem to be justified in the idolisation of a “traditional” family life. Once again, this idolisation is not only only on a governmental level but is also shared by a large number of the population.

LGBT+ and women’s rights in Russia cannot progress until attitudes change. In today’s Russia women are expected to marry young, men are expected to provide for their family and anything outside of this is considered strange. And the LGBT+ community is openly discriminated against by the politicians in place to protect them. It would be nice to imagine that this is just the view of an older generation and that perhaps naturally, over time, this will change. But it’s clear that young people are not bucking the trend.

It doesn’t matter how much we criticise the vessels of power in Russia. Until attitudes within Russia change,  LGBT+ community and women will continue to face discrimination.

Featured image credit: “Cooking and fashion – that’s NOT freedom”: Graffiti in St. Petersburg, 2006. Creator: Quinn Dombrowski. 

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