Group Sputnik Chapter 1. From Sex, politics, and Putin: Political legitimacy in Russia (Oxford UP, 2015) by Valerie Sperling
Abstract Prepared by Ashley
This chapter sets up the framework to understand the ways in which dichotomized gender roles are influential in shaping our ideas about society. Gender roles are societally enforced by politics and are performative which is demonstrated by Russia’s politicians as they receive increased legitimacy and power for conforming to hegemonic masculinity and lose face for being accused of femininity. Chapter one highlights the ways in which the Russian political climate uses femininity, masculinity and heteronormativity to legitimize power in a hierarchy which places men at the top and women (or feminine men) at the bottom. The three main insights offered by the author are:
1. Gender roles are used by leading parties as well as their opposition as a legitimizing strategy
2. The normalization of sexism means that although gender roles are often used by political parties, they may not be aware that they are advancing and maintaining the patriarchal system within their society
3. It is important for the study of democratization to study gender dynamics of regime legitimation
Gender roles are often interwoven with cultural and sexual understanding within a society and present the “obvious” way that individuals should behave. Acts aimed at displaying masculinity or “topping” tendencies can be seen across different styles of politics (democratic states, nominal democracies, authoritarian regimes etc.) to prove legitimacy of their power structure (especially in war related conversations). Because masculinity is something which can be questioned or “revoked” it must be continually demonstrated by those in power, lest they lose popularity or be seen as a “bottom”. Putin uses his masculinity to imply that he will protect and guide the nation with his strength. Attempts to weaken his public image are often portrayed as weakening the society/nation as a whole. The author also notes that successful counter-performances can undermine confidence and shatter legitimacy, which is why groups such as feminists (who have stepped outside of the cultural paradigm) present such a threat. Women who attempt to use their own sexuality as a political driver often fail due to the subconscious idea that to offer your body is a “bottoming” tendency (with the exception of offering it in support of a man which reinforces hegemonic masculinity).
Key Concepts Prepared by
Questions Prepared by Julia Belittchenko
1) How does the chapter suggest that Putin first established his legitimacy as an authoritative figure?
2) How are gender norms used as part of the legitimation strategy for both regimes in power, as well as their political opponents?
3) How is femininity defined in the context of the patriarchy and how is femininity used in Putin’s political regime, either in a pro-Kremlin or anti-Kremlin sense?
4) What sort of assertions or claims does Putin’s personal “machismo” make for Russia as a nation? What does this masculine image represent for the country in regards to its image?
5) In Foucault’s analysis of Greek culture, how does the role of being a sexual subordinate (or “bottom”) affect an individual’s role in politics?
6) In your opinion, is women’s femininity and physical attractiveness a source of masculinity and misogyny? In other words: are men only seen as more masculine when their masculinity is asserted by attractive women?
Group Balalaika Chapter 2. From Sex, politics, and Putin: Political legitimacy in Russia (Oxford UP, 2015) by Valerie Sperling
Abstract Prepared by Petra
This chapter references the role of sexuality and masculinity within the Russian political system and hierarchy. It specifically deems Putin as being an ultra masculine political figures, highlighting how his “macho” status is one of the key factors used as a political legitimacy tactic. In democratic countries, there is hypothesized to be a set of strategies to appear more masculine in order to win the election campaign; these include military prowess, sports and athletic ability, male bonding with a vice-presidential running mate, and family. The chapter elaborates that while Putin does not use all these tactics in his public image campaigns, many of them were used as a baseline to showcase his masculinity. The use of masculinity is crucial to Putin’s political campaigns and legitimacy because it personified him as a strong and capable leader. This allowed the public to see him as someone who will always put the interests of Russia over those of any other country, as a way to regain their form domestic and international power. It’s also indicated that Putin uses masculinity as a regime legitimization strategy through terms such as “muzhik” (meaning real man). His masculine status is not only upheld by the “show of strength” in political campaigns but also through sexuality. The use of sexual strategies through female adoration and personifying Putin as the “ideal man” has also been used to create a positive image of him in public and political light. This is said to be created intentionally by the Kremlin in order to target specific domestic groups support for his political legitimacy, and to reestablish his power and authority. The chapter then questions the effectiveness of his “macho man” strategy in politics and has found that it has been increasingly effective among the female population. His ultra masculinity has been viewed as “sexy” among many woman since it shows strength and capability to be assertive/decisive. Beyond these findings, it was also shown that Putin and his masculine states has made him and incredibly popular President in Russia. Putin’s masculinity strategy has not only been used for his political campaigns and assertion of legitimacy but has also been a tactic to set gender and sexuality norms in Russian society. This meaning that they use masculinity to highlight what the “perfect man” in Russian society should look like and anything diverging from it is feminine and not desired. The idea of feminism in the Russian political structure as well as cultural norms has been frowned upon and is not taken seriously since it has such a historically negative connotation to it. To be a feminist was also to be a lesbian in Russian terms, which also carried a negative image in society. This negative view of feminism is a key political tactic for Putin and the Kremlin in order to reassert Putin’s power and to stop any changes to the political structure and hierarchy of power. Putin’s political campaigns have focused on asserting his masculinity to demonstrate his leadership and superiority, and to create the image of “father of the nation.”
Questions Prepared by Emily Cote
1) Throughout Russian history, we can see many examples of Russian culture sampling from Western culture. Why do you believe feminist culture has not become as common in Russia as it is in the West?
2) In your opinion, why does the idea of “muzhik” appeal to many young voters in Russia?
3) Why is it important to have a masculine, attractive leader for a country? How has this idea been emphasized in modern Russia?
4) How has Putin promoted himself as strong, attractive, and masculine? Has he been successful at doing so?
5) Is there a benefit to sexually liberating women in Russia? Are there any drawbacks?
6) In the next ten years, do you think it’s possible that Russia will have a female president and/or prime minister?
Group Cheburashka Chapter 5. From Sex, politics, and Putin: Political legitimacy in Russia (Oxford UP, 2015) by Valerie Sperling
Abstract Prepared by Hailey
This article looked to draw significance of the lack of solidarity in Russia concerning perceptions of gender and the relevance of sexism as a problem. They describe Russia as having more important and more dire situations that need to be dealt with. Certain norms have allowed systematized sexism to prevail in Russia. People do not even notice it anymore, as they have become so used to the problem. Women continue to face traditional values as they are stereotyped within these values ad homemakers. When they attempt to step out of these roles they are met with men and traditional women who do not take them seriously. If they attain successes in the workplace they are said to have “slept” their way there. Women are expected to bear children and their bodies are objectified from an early age. Putin himself has perpetuated these issues through his representation of himself as a man and his public scrutiny of women. This has translated to few women involved within Putin’s political schema, with few in the Duma, as well as few having high ranking societal positions.
Key Concepts Prepared by
Questions Prepared by Chris Wieczorek
1) Why do you think that Russia’s women’s movement has failed to gain much, if any traction in the post-Soviet era? How could the movement gain more publicity or attention?
2) How would you compare and contrast the discussion of sexism in Russian politics with sexism in Canadian politics? American politics? Even if “blatant sexism” is more visible in Russia than it is in Canada, how different are the two countries when considering metrics like gender pay gaps, employment status, maternity leave, etc?
3) How have the various art pieces we have studies for class (movies, books, music, etc) portrayed gender and sexism? Are these depictions consistent with the attitudes described in the chapter?
4) The author (around page 177) discusses the widespread sexualisation and objectification of women’s bodies in a commercial sense, an incredibly common phenomenon in Western countries as well. How does this objectification reinforce patriarchal assumptions about Russian politics? What about in Canadian and American politics?
5) The chapter mentions that the few women who are in positions of some political power are “understandably” worried to speak out against sexism and for women’s rights, in the fear that they will lose what power they do hold. What actions or strategies could potentially be employed by these women to a) gain more female political representation and b) advocate for women’s issues without fear of losing the power they currently hold? Would such action even be possible given the prevailing attitudes described in the chapter?
6) Do you think the notion of the “traditional”, or “nuclear” family is more deeply ingrained across Russian society, politics and culture than it is in the west? Why or why not?
7) One of the interviewers in the chapter says the following regarding a book of poems released by an opposition poet in Russia: “There’s an image there, of the man who says goodbye to his wife and goes off to protest. And that’s particularly strange because in reality, an enormous number of women are going to these demonstrations – it’s unprecedented. I’ve never seen so many women at street actions.” Could it be that the women’s movement within Russia is finally starting to find its feet and ignite social and cultural change? How much tangible change do you think such a movement would be able to generate?
In this article, Rowley examines the development and significance of fanfiction depicting Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin as romantically involved, as well as products based on that same premise. Depictions of this idea range from platonic (portraying a “bromance” between the two leaders) to romantic to extremely sexual (even going so far as to portray sexualized violence). The latter is an example of the “pornographication” of American culture and politics, i.e. the increased acceptance of sexualized discourse in areas in which it used to be considered taboo. That some of the sexual “Trumputin” products include reappropriations of things traditionally thought of as children’s products, such as colouring books, shows that even children’s culture is not exempt from this “pornographication” trend. Portrayals of Trump as being in a homosexual relationship also play off of a traditional practice of discrediting male politicians’ competence by discrediting their masculinity (male homosexuality being traditionally viewed as emasculating). This is especially true as Trump is usually portrayed as occupying a “submissive” or “feminine” role in his relationship with Putin, who in turn is the “dominant” or “masculine” one (with many portrayals playing off of Putin’s famous shirtless photoshoots as proof of his masculinity). This dynamic is also symbolic of the way parodists see Putin as controlling Trump— that is, of the shaping of American politics in ways that favour Russian interests.
Key Concepts Prepared by Takdeer
Drawing on examples from material culture and slash fiction, this article explores the pornographication of the 2016 US presidential election. Specifically, the article considers how the imagined ‘bromance’ between candidate Donald Trump and the Russian President Vladimir Putin placed a same-sex relationship in the midst of the American political landscape, and brought increasingly hard core pornographic references into the mainstream. I collected two kinds of sources: items of political kitsch that were sold on the internet, and slash fiction that was self-published and sold via Amazon. In terms of timeline, I limited my analysis to materials created between the moment Donald Trump declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination and his inauguration as President in January 2017. Ultimately, both the slash and material items demonstrate that ‘pornography can provide a home for those narratives exiled from sanctioned speech and mainstream political discourse, making pornography, in essence, an oppositional political form’ Slash definition: All that remained was for increasingly hard core imagery to slip into the political discourse, and it did so in the form of slash, which for readers who may not be familiar with the term refers to a type of fan fiction that involves the pairing of two male or female characters—whose names are then written with a slash between them-together.
Questions Prepared by Thomas Apostle
1) What is pornographication? How does this concept relate to Vladimir Putin’s portrayal in the media over the last decade?
2) What is a bromance? How is the supposed bromance between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump portrayed?
3) How has a sexualized portrayal of this bromance been used as an attack against both leaders by their critics. Why is the charge of being homosexual such an effective political attack?
4) What is the difference between the portrayal of kissing in Western Cultures and Slavic Cultures?
5) How did existing political narratives about Hillary Clinton shape her sexual portrayal in erotic fiction? How did Trump’s comments during the campaign lend themselves to parody and the pornographization of the American elections?
6) What is BDSM and why is BDSM such a popular topic in portrayals of the relationship between Trump and Putin?
7) How did sexual portrayals of Vladimir Putin play into western biases about his leadership of Russia?