Ukraine is like many other post-Soviet countries: a patriarchal, reactionary, police state, where spiritual ties still hold strong. Women are still humiliated and ridiculed. We are not taken seriously, we go unnoticed, and we are silenced using a variety of repressive tactics. —- Censorship is like a witch hunt. It displaces “objectionable women” by demonstrating the so called “weakness and folly of the female sex”. The sensors slyly justify fascist stereotypes using the language of “femininity”. We are forced to apply great effort in order for our struggle to be heard. —- When I was approached to write about feminism in Ukraine, I asked working women and students from different cities to share their points of view anonymously, because I see women speaking out to be the most important step in demolishing Patriarchy as an authoritarian structure.
My Own Story
I am a musician. My music contains themes of feminism, anarchism, and self-hatred – inspired by my own memories as a half-Jewish girl who grew up with an abusive step-father – a Slavic patriot and Kremlin military agent. I write and post on social networks about feminism, anti-fascism and anarchism, and with the help of friends I translate articles, organise film screenings and hold discussions on social, anti-capitalist, anti-fascist and LGBTQIA* themes. I host DIY art events and concerts and take part in street protests. I am polyamorous and polygamous, which is considered absolutely unacceptable in Ukrainian society. Also unacceptable is the presence of anarchist discourse in your music, or the composition of any meaningful texts where there is even some display of individual thinking. Women over thirty are excluded from public spaces because they are not considered young and attractive enough for Ukrainian men, who dominate in all areas of society and dictate their own terms.
At best I am ignored, at other times unknown authors post caricatures of me. I receive threatening and insulting letters and phone calls, my activities are devalued publicly in a variety of ways, and sometimes during concerts there is a clash with nationalists.
It is difficult to imagine any kind of relationship based on mutual help and friendship in such an authoritarian police society. This society has absorbed the most repressive qualities and practices of the Soviet regime, including nepotism, elitism and informing. Those who are poor are unseen and often suffer from loneliness and isolation, particularly women and LGBTQIA.
I have personally experienced discrimination and resistance; I have health problems due to radiation exposure after the Chernobyl accident; I have my friendships with others who are oppressed and devalued, including disabled, LGBTQIA, drug addicts, orphans and homeless people; and I have experience of poverty, toil, and living in isolation in this country. In view of all this, I see no other way forward than to protest, to struggle against authoritarian structures and to spread the propaganda of anarchism in my art. I dream of a kinder society of free people, where it is possible to love and be happy. As for the other women, I will let them speak for themselves.
The walls of this cage were born together with me, simply because I’m a woman.
An art project is passed on to someone else, simply because he’s a man, and they aren’t even ashamed to admit it, and you are left standing in your cage, swallowing the insult.
An act of violence is committed against me by a supposed friend, who threatens to repeat it if I tell anyone, and now the bars have grown into my skin, and I’ve nearly lost my voice.
From my childhood to the present day, nothing has changed, and so I prefer simply to turn my back on the world of men, there are plenty of those who are willing to live for them, according to ancient rules, ignoring their cages, like in a surreal zoo.
But I’m never going back again.
Even before I started reading articles about feminism, I lived with a constant sense of injustice. It was everywhere – at home, at school, in the street, amongst friends, all over the world. I realised that being a woman in today’s world is very difficult; it means constant humiliation and violation of your rights.
Ukraine is very far from feminist ideas, it is very difficult to stand out and be noticed, and the institution of the traditional family exasperates everything. When my mum found out that I was dating a girl, at first she thought I was ill, then she said, it’s just “the idealism of youth”. Eventually she concluded that I just haven’t found the “right” guy yet.
I got the same thing with feminism. I was told that in the modern world it’s impossible, or that it’s all in my imagination. I find it really offensive to hear this from my family and friends. At our University, feminism is treated as extremism, it is difficult to find any feminist criticism in our library. In our university there are very few men and boys, and they are treated like kings. Male teachers consider their own views and thoughts to be absolute truth and convincing them otherwise is much harder for the girls than it is for the boys, who the teachers treat as their equals.
I prefer to not use the word “feminism”, even if its very essence, its very obvious kindness cannot be doubted. The term probably originated in counterbalance to violence, disguised behind a clever looking face, carrying numerous labels. So it became necessary to hang signs over even the most natural of things, so that even the smallest of patriarchal minds might conceive of the existence of those in disagreement with them.
The desire to dominate is a sign of weakness. People tend to oversimplify far too much. Too lazy to think, they invent patterns and theorems to turn complex life problems into 3rd grade algebra puzzles.
I have always thought of these “people” as clowns, or more precisely, not thought of, because why should I think about all sorts of nastiness. But I began to notice that some of these people are among those very close to me. And that hurts. The global system of humiliation affects so many, and you seem to lose friends in the war.
Personally, I formed my opinions about gender at an early age, when I was taught that I should be a princess (but at the same time a housekeeper), that boys shouldn’t dare to hit me, but ought to load me with presents and carry my bags, while I revel in my own beauty … and of course, that it’s simply inconceivable for me not to have a husband and children in the future, I mean, it just wouldn’t be in order.
So I decided that being a girl – sucks. Then I calmed down and began to ignore gender role assignments. I was completely satisfied with my undefined (by all accounts) gender.
Everything is much simpler than people make out. When humiliating you, they begin to manoeuvre with clever words, remind you of God, natural laws, the nation, like a miserable slug that can only absorb; they try by all means to protect their imagined dignity. When they say, “Well, you’re a woman,” you say “so what?” then they begin their empty, but “smart” sounding arguments, or more often they just reply “what do you mean, so what?”, failing to understand the nonsense of their words.
How can my genitals hinder me from becoming a scientist? How can slender hairy male legs be normal, but at the same slender hairy female legs, “disgusting”? It is simply stupid.
I think that the problem that exists in Ukraine is not unique, it’s the common heritage of all post-Soviet countries. You could say it’s “The Slavic Tradition” with sayings such as “to beat, means to love”, “love your wife as your soul, and shake her like a pear tree” and so on. This shockingly patriarchal belief system is tightly ingrained in society and can be seen in everything from the anecdotal generalized family model of the “alcoholic husband and housewife” to the commonly shared conviction that an unmarried woman over 25-30 is a terrible failure.
Sometimes this all seems to me like something from the distant past, as my current circle of friends are creative, young, and open-minded people, but all it takes is for me to go and stay with my relatives, or to go and visit the village, and it all comes back to me. Recently one of my many distant relations customarily referred to as Aunty, aggressively put it to my mother that I most definitely need to find a husband while I’m still 20, “When she’s 30, no one will want her” she exclaimed.
In the village where my grandparents live they had some friends, also a married couple. The husband was an alcoholic, and he gradually accustomed his wife to drinking, who living in such a home environment slowly drunk herself out of control. The husband regularly brought drinking company home and she also drank with them, but as it was her responsibility to take care of the smallholding, which she had become incapable of doing, her husband regularly beat her. I still remember my childhood impression of that woman, with her battered red face and broken mouth, out of which came a terrible stench. In the end she was poisoned by chlorine, which had somehow ended up in a vodka bottle. In the villages cases similar to this are not uncommon, the overall situation is quite unpleasant, it’s especially scary to see how young people inherit an example from the older generation, as if to say “it has always been that way” means, “it has always been good”.
Currently, I am a student in Art College and so primarily I would like to tell you about things there. At first glance it appears to be a progressive, creative society, but still there are many problems. For example, even though the vast majority of students in the Faculty of Graphics are female, during painting and drawing lessons the attention of male teachers is primarily focused on young men, who are taken more seriously. Teachers approach girls more to flirt than to say anything constructive about their work. It’s terribly annoying as are the large number of unfunny jokes the likes of “ah, what do you need all these classes for, the sooner you go and get married the better”. In the first years this isn’t so obvious, but as time goes on it becomes more and more noticeable. Anyone who has ever been in the company of professional “honoured” artists will know that they are appallingly chauvinistic. Most members of the “Union of Artists of Ukraine” are elderly people, women are in the minority and they often play a secondary role.
In general, our society is burdened with stupid and ridiculous traditions. It’s hard for me to imagine how many generations will need to pass before we can fully drive them out and how much effort that will take.
“What is the ideal age to get married?” – Similar headlines leap from the covers of Fashionable Magazines. From the moment that puberty arrives, parents are already trying to marry their daughter off to a suitable husband. All parental care eventually comes down to successful bargaining. Family gatherings turn into interrogations for young girls: “Is there a boy in mind?”, “So when’s the wedding?”, or ” I would like to be able to see my grandchildren before I die, so hurry up now, don’t delay.” We are constantly instilled from a young age that there is nothing more beautiful than motherhood. So when you meet a pregnant seventeen year old schoolgirl, you can only sympathize. After all, women who believe that having a vagina and spewing babies is the best thing that could happen to them must be very unhappy.
Many among us, it seems to me, have absolutely no idea what equality and equal rights are, so that even the most outrageous injustice can be perceived as normal.
I grew up in a patriarchal society. I am constantly silenced and “put in my place” in a variety of underhanded ways by men of varying status and by women infected with sexism and patriarchal thinking.
I know from experience what it is to be depreciated because of my gender; I’m a lesbian. In Ukraine, the Orthodox Church actively shapes public opinion, poisoning one part of the population against the other. As soon as the LGBT community start to declare their rights, immediately from all sides crazy Orthodox church goers begin to howl.
I am just sick of all those Orthodox priests on the TV, bubbling over with saliva and telling us about our sins, I’m sick of all that hellish thrash burlesque. The Orthodox Church is one of the nurseries of homophobic thought in people’s minds, and many LGBT people pay with their lives for this.
In Orthodox countries, millions of LGBT people suffer all sorts of abuse, from physical to moral and right up to murder. I read a true story about Orthodox parents who booked a “corrective” rape of their daughter. And not only LGBT suffer from humiliation, stigmatization and violence, but all women, because in the Orthodox tradition and culture the woman is subject to the man, she is a second-class person, she is more of a sinner and less valuable. All we hear is: “sin, sin, sin, death, death, after death …”
*LGBTQIA=Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual.
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