Feminism as Sin

Just as I contemplated my atheist childhood in the previous post, busy representatives of governmental and religious institutions interrupted the flow of my memories. First, the head of Russian Orthodox church declared feminism to be a very dangerous “phenomenon.” He was speaking to a group identified as “Ukrainian Orthodox Women’s Union,” and his comments about feminism, arguably, responded to the actions of Ukrainian feminist performance group Femen (see my previous post about their latest action). Patriarch Kirill said that “I consider the phenomenon called feminism to be very dangerous, because feminist organizations proclaim a woman’s pseudo freedom, which is to be primarily realized outside of the marriage and family. At the center of feminist ideology is not the family and education of children, but the other function, which is often opposed to family values. It’s not by coincidence, arguably, that the majority of leaders of feminism are unmarried women.” His comments in English are interpreted here:

http://news.msn.com/world/russias-orthodox-leader-calls-feminism-very-dangerous

One of the most famous statements during the Pussy Riot trial was “feminism is a sin.” The prosecution lawyer declared that “(F)eminism is a mortal sin because it is an unnatural phenomenon in relation to life,” and “the word feminist is offensive and indecent for an orthodox believer.”

The dangers to Russian homeland, however, are not coming exclusively from feminism. One just needs to start looking. This week the purification of Russian society from dangers of free expression continued with another law (very Soviet in nature), that would outlaw cursing in media. Thus, when Femen wrote “Putin, go f”’ yourself” on their backs, they could also be charged for public cursing. Gone are the days when post-Soviet leaders could be overheard swearing, seen as an expression of their manliness and passion for the country.

But make no mistake: Russian women find ways to say the same thing, being resourceful as they are. Thus, two Russian retirees wanted to express how they feel about their recent raise in monthly pension. The raise was about 10 dollars. They promptly decided to share this good news with Putin. They sent the money back to him, as a postal check, thanking him for his generosity, and saying that they could not possibly accept it, suggesting that he should keep it instead. Go, so to speak, use it yourself.

Their letters were not accepted, and returned back. Then they refused to take it back, with the money left uncollected at the post office. Slowly, their actions were classified as a form of protest, a civil disobedience, by town administrators. A 64-year old woman was called by the vice-mayor. They both knew each other well, and used to teach at the same school during Soviet times. Now, the vice-mayor threatened Kosolapova, this newly minted post-Soveit rebel, with offending a civil servant. There is another law (yes, so many laws about being offended!) that prohibits offending a “representative of power,” and, Kosolapova was informed, carries a fine of over a thousand dollars, and / or one year in prison. Kosolapova asked if the charges have been filed already. Her 62-year old friend was also called in for a discussion by another representative of power, but she did not go. The two women are getting ready to start raising awareness about ecological and health problems in their region through lobbying elected officials.

Maria Alekhina (Alyokhina), who is still in prison for her Pussy Riot action, had been a Greenpeace activist before her arrest. She also writes poetry. All these women engage in what Patriarch Kirill called “the other function,” – being citizens, poets, community organizers and activists.

 

Atheist Children and Fundamentalist Adults

A new law is being prepared, in response to Pussy Riot. Any offense to religious feelings, insult to religious objets, or disruption to religious rituals could lead to a charge of US$ 10,000 or 3 years in jail. This is not a completely new law, neither it would be the last one that has something to do with “religion.”

But I want to write about something else here. How it feels to see this happen in a country where I was born and raised as an atheist.

 

I had a pen-pal from Poland when I was about 10. Once she sent me a photograph of herself in a special Catholic coming-of-age dress and paraphernalia. I think it was something like being a “Christ’s bride” (I am bad at it, as you can see, forgive my ignorance.) I was just shocked when I saw the picture. I could not relate to any of the objects, to decoration, and especially to the symbolism of her being dressed that way. It seemed to me to be from a child bride paintings by Russian artists of the 19th century, who were trying to raise consciousness about the treatment of poor girls in Russia. I thanked my lucky stars. Of course, I did not write any of that in my reply to her. After 1980 anti-socialist events in Poland, her letters stated to come to me already opened on the border, then less frequently, and finally they stopped altogether.

Ten years later, during Perestroika, I became religious myself (it did not last long, but that’s another story). That period made me understand how people become religious from being atheist, so when I see my family, friends and colleagues, and the country becoming more and more religious, I can relate to that. I know how it feels, where it comes from. It is a process, a decision, a kind of going to school again and learning how to be religious. There are people who will teach you and help you. Just like parents and institutions do in other countries. There is nothing “natural” about that. How one’s religious belief becomes the source of punishing others (religious or not) is also not a natural progression of moving from atheism to fundamentalism. Though I hear otherwise, – that they are two sides of the same coin – they are far from being the same element with a different charge. I am still thinking about it, and will add more in the next post, about mechanisms that are enabling a nation that has been looking for love and peace in Christ, for something better, than they had in the USSR, start sending each other again to Gulags, destroying livelihoods, careers, lives and families.

I should probably be worried that my words could offend, and next time I visit my family in Moscow I could be fined or go to jail. I already warned them, when they cheered at the prison term for Pussy Riot: be careful, I am also a Russian feminist. It happened many times before: family sends family away, in the name of love and peace.