New East Digital Archive

The future is feminist: how Russia’s Gen Z activists are fighting for gender equality

18 August 2020
Lead Image: Lölja Nordic

Russia might still be a strongly patriarchal society, but a new wave of feminist activists are fighting the status quo like never before.

Activism takes many forms: from demonstrations and organising music festivals, to raising awareness through art and photography. The internet and social media has proven to be a great tool in mobilising the wider public. The cases of the Khachaturian sisters — teenagers who killed their father in self-defence after years of abuse — and artist Yulia Tsvetkova, who is facing court for body positive drawings, have both proven the internet’s galvanising reach.

The fight for gender equality and women’s safety will take decades, but Russian feminist activists are not ready to stop anytime soon. The Calvert Journal compiled the best stories from our project, Russia Z, about the emerging movement.

Photographer and body-positive activist Miliyollie met with feminists from across Russia, each engaged in their own activist work: from vlogging and organising charity parties, to lobbying for legislation in parliament and leading crisis centres. She talked to them about their work, their goals and hopes, and about this particular moment in the history of the Russian feminist movement.

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The fashion industry would have you believe that real Russian beauty means blonde hair, blue eyes, and perfect features. Within Russian culture itself, beauty is often linked to gender and traditional social norms, but beauty is not just about looks; it’s about shaping the way that people behave in patriarchal society. For a new generation, redefining beauty is important, not only on an aesthetic but ideological level, too. They want to show that beauty can be queer, fat, gender-fluid, non-white, subversive, outrageous, and individual. For The Calvert Journal’s Russia Z project, photographer and body positivity activist Miliyollie created a series of portraits that challenge our perception of Russian beauty.

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In this edition of The Calvert Journal podcast, writer and curator Anastasiia Fedorova talks to activist and DJ Lölja Nordic, researcher and activist Sasha Alekseeva, and artist Maria Gorodetskaya about the new wave of Russian feminism and its place in global debates on gender equality.

Listen to the podcast here >

Feminist activism is not always limited to direct conversations about social issues: it is also about gradual work to change people’s perception of the world. In her practice, artist Sofya Skidan questions the way we relate to notions such as wilderness, gender, sex, ego, and time. Through performance, video and photography, her own body often becomes a tool to explore these complex questions.

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For most people, Russian literature is the realm of heavy-bound tomes by Dostoevsky or Tolstoy. The country’s traditional literary canon is hierarchical and conservative; largely male and devoid of openly queer voices. Change, however, is already coming — driven by a new wave of young literary activists and independent startups challenging the status quo. Many are led by young women, an offshoot from Russia’s growing feminist movement. They search for the forgotten Russian writers of the past, look for young new voices, and translate the queer foreign titles that would otherwise never make it into Russian.

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