MEDIA/1995/WP.1 8 September 1995 ENGLISH ----------------------------------------------------------------- United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development WOMEN AS PRESENTED IN THE RUSSIAN MEDIA prepared by Nadezhda Azhgikhina */ Journalist Ogoniok Magazin Russian Federation */ The views expressed in this paper, which has been reproduced as received, are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations. The issue of female characters in contemporary Russian media has never been widely discussed in professional circles in recent years, nor was it raised in society as a whole, and it was completely ignored by serious researchers. Yet, a closer look at the state of modern Russian journalism will lead to the conclusion that this topic is not only relevant, but also extremely productive. Analysis of female images and portraits as found in the mass media today gives us ample opportunity to form our own opinion on the nature of changes at work in Russian journalism and, what is more, in society as a whole. It would not be an exaggeration to say that women's characters may provide a crucial clue to contradictions inherent in present-day Russian reforms, which are often so elusive and hard to identify. Before we look at the present-day situation, however, it is necessary to say a few words on the background to this issue. Throughout the Soviet period images of women were extremely didactic and had most important ideological function to perform. At the same time, detailed analysis of popular female images and stereotypes throughout Soviet history allows us to outline the specific features and paradoxes of that era and to understand the essence of what was one of the most dramatic social and political experiments of this century. Its main contradiction -- that between image and reality, between declaration and the real state of affairs -- can be traced back to the very first decrees of the Soviet government, which included that on the equality of men and women. This important innovation attracted masses of Russian women and their contemporaries abroad to side with the Bolsheviks. The problem lay in the fact that the idea of women's emancipation was the product of advanced liberal thinking, only to be found amongst an insignificant minority of the well educated population of the country, while the majority of the Russian people, two thirds to be exact, could neither read nor write, and lived according to the traditional patterns of a patriarchal way of life. So, in effect, the declaration of emancipation condemned women to a double burden -- the new power demanded that she should take an active part in developing industry, and at the same time, the national mentality insisted that she fulfil all the traditional women's duties in the home. Right from the first years of the revolutionary era, two female images began to dominate the mass periodicals: that of the woman-revolutionary, inherited from the earlier Bolshevik Press, (the images that very soon turned into idols), and a new image of the woman-enthusiast, the builder of a new society. Specialized women's magazines were set up to propagandize the latter, such as "Woman-Worker", and "Peasant-Woman". The ideology of these new images was drawn from the main works of Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupaskaya, in which the woman of the new era was presented as "worker and mother", and from Lenin's famous idea that every cook in the land should know how to rule the state. Thus, the ideal woman was seen as a "political woman", an enthusiastic and politically active builder of socialism, whose main energies were directed at achieving social goals, not personal ones. Such an image was utterly in tune with the interests of the state which needed more cheap labour. In the 1930s, the image of a woman-revolutionary moved into the background when repression and the revision of Bolshevik history began, and the other image, that of an optimistic builder of a new world moved into the foreground. The visual images can also be of great interest here. If we leaf through "Ogonyok" issues of the 1930s, and it was the only national illustrated periodical then whose ideological content at different periods of the country's development provided a sort of barometer for the entire state of journalism in Russia, we will hardly find any articles about the horrifying court hearings of those times that shook the whole country. Instead, there are umpteen very optimistic, high quality photographs, almost seventy per cent of which portray women-construction workers, peasants, pilots, parachutists, teachers -- all incredibly happy in their work and life in the USSR. These portraits formed the basis of a collective image of an era, creating that radiant image of life in the country behind an even thicker iron curtain. This image was preserved for decades in the eyes of the rest of the world. Journalists of the Stalin period were actively creating a new Soviet mythology. Here it is important to note the decisive role played by many leading cultural figures in the work of newspapers and magazines. All the leading official papers, such as Pravda, Izvestia, Komsomolskaya Pravda (the leading youth newspaper), and Piorerskaya Pravda (a newspaper for children) published extracts from novels by the classic writers of socialist realism, poems, as well as articles by the same authors on topical events. In this sense, it is possible to say that Soviet culture, and especially literature, generously subsidized by the state, were a sort of "dream factory", while periodicals were a "bazaar of dreams", tirelessly drumming new myths and images into public consciousness, creating another reality, which many Soviet People perceived as more real than life itself. Talking about the nature of journalistic images and their influence on readers in the Soviet period, it is important to note their principal features -- a surreal perception of the world by Soviet citizens, their inability to distinguish lies from the truth -- a phenomenon studied by the Soviet philosopher Merab Mamardashvili. Women's images were an integral part of this new mythology; an entire gallery of heroines of different ages and progressions was created, which appeared in the periodicals next to the portraits of real women, immediately lending them the traits of mythological characters. Tractor-driver Pasha Angelina, the pilot Marina Raskova, the partizan Zoya Kosmodemianskaya were known to everybody in the land. A typical woman of the Stalin period was completely devoid of any playfulness or coquetry, which were declared to be harmful bourgeois influences, let alone sexuality. Of all feminine manifestations, only motherly love in moderate quantities was tolerated; women actively mastered men's skills, acquired education and took part in public life, joining the Komsomol and later the Communist party. This new type of woman, unknown in pre-revolutionary Russian journalism, prevailed throughout the Stalin period and took firm root in people's consciousness. Of course, this stereotype had nothing in common with Russian women's real life that was full of hardships. After Stalin's death, during the Krushchev's "thaw", the situation changed, and journalism, as well as public consciousness, ceased to be so monolithic; new notions about life and human beings took root in liberal thinking, new magazines appeared in the 1960s, which launched long polemical debates. Liberal intellectuals, striving for change, put forward two alternatives to orthodox socialist propaganda: democratic one, which followed a Western model, and a "nationalist" one, that idealised the patriarchal Russian past. Polemical discussions in periodicals seemed to deal exclusively with cultural and literary issues, but in essence they dealt with the contemporary political situation in Russia. The authors of the "Western-oriented" magazines and newspapers such as Yunost and the Literary Gazette argued with the "nationalists" from Our Contemporary, Molodaya Gvardia and Literary Russia. It is revealing to note that both trends had their own female images, which were widely discussed. "Westerners" put forward a bourgeois ideal -- a lovely girlfriend, deliberately indifferent to politics and public life, in contrast to the official "political" woman; their heroine was interested in men, sex, clothes, was dependent on men in all respects, in other words, she was a "private" woman. "Russophiles" took as their ideal the Russian peasant woman of former centuries, who lived according to the laws of Nature, in keeping with traditional patriarchal ideas, of which she was the main vehicle, according to the views of those who created this image. It is also revealing to note that both of these "alternatives" on offer created hypothetical female images, proceeding not from real women living in this country, with their own problems and interests, but from mythological constructions, thus creating a new mythology to replace an old one, which also had nothing to do with reality. The old mythological structure, however, was not going to go away so easily, and clung hard to all available straws, mainly official propaganda and state documents that supported various artistic works, trends or publications, acknowledging them as models. During the period of "stagnation" under Brezhnev in the 70s and early 80s, a rather peculiar situation took shape in journalism: the mass media, as well as Soviet culture as a whole, consisted of three layers 0 the official layer, the dissident one, and an intermediate layer, balancing between the other two, but nevertheless legal. (See Mikhail Kapustin). Women's images were different in each of the layers. The official propaganda (Pravda, Izvestia, Woman-Worker (Rabotnitsa), Peasant Woman (Krestyanka), etc.) were promoting a portrait of a "political" woman. A characteristic example of such image-making may be found in the writings of the famous woman-journalist from Komsomolskaya Pravda, Inna Rudenko, who wrote dozens of essays about women who were social activists, principled Communists, collective-farm workers, weavers; examples for Soviet girls were provided in the life-stories of heroines -- a Doctor of Science and a mother of ten children, who symbolized the limitless opportunities open to Soviet women. The dissident "samizdat" newspapers and magazines did not show any interest in women's images or women's issue as a whole. (the topic of women is virtually absent in dissident writing). Exceptions were the radio programmes and articles about women-dissidents, such as Larissa Bogoraz and Elena Bonner, where the style and manner of presentation were close to that of official propaganda, but with the opposite ideological thrust. The "marginal" publications, that is, the relatively liberal, such as the Literary Gazette, Yunost, Znamya, energetically promoted the "private", non-political image of a woman dependent on men, mild and lacking any fighting qualities. I should like to emphasize that such an image was regarded by the majority of democratically minded journalists as unquestionably progressive and democratic, as a real alternative to any totalitarian image. There was a popular saying at that time that it was the civic duty of our women to be women after all, that is, to look after their family, husband and children, rather than worry about their careers. It was used in at least one article out of three, but the women-journalists who used it were not going to devote themselves to their homes, although they actively defended the idea of women's "natural inclinations". This image was also hypothetical and did not reflect reality. The great actor of that era, Arkadi Raikin, a Russian Chaplin, used to say in one of his TV sketches that "the children in this country would be much happier if their fathers would earn a bit more, and their mothers would work a bit less!" So, it is not surprising that with the beginning of "perestroika" the idea of women's "natural inclinations", together with other liberal ideas, started playing an ever increasing role. In his numerous speeches and the book "Perestroika and the new thinking" Mikhail Gorbachev talked and wrote about the necessity to free women from an excessive load at their workplace. The idea of "natural inclinations" was predominant in all discussions on the "women issue" between 1986 and 1991; however, serious discussion about the lot of women in the period of "perestroika" was never undertaken in the mass media. For instance, "Ogonyok", a most avant-garde perestroika magazine, only carried one article devoted to women and that was to mark International Women's Day on March 8, 1988. The essence of the article was that the main problem in the life of women today was the low salary of their husbands. At the same time, journalists started writing about prostitution, women's alcoholism, drug addiction and crime among women. The leading liberal papers of those times, such as The Moscow News and the Literary Gazette, often wrote about women's prisons, nuns, hermits, nymphomaniacs and drunks (both men and women) and practically nothing was ever said about ordinary women. Politicians, following in the footsteps of editors, believed that the women issue did not exist in this country and the only thing to be done to make women's life easier, in their opinion, was to set her "free" somewhat from her emancipation. The period between 1991 and 1993 was marked in journalism by the advent of a really free press. Censorship did not exist officially, magazines and newspapers were springing up like mushrooms after rain, and in 1992 alone more than 400 new magazines and newspapers were registered, which means more than one a day! The market economy emerged and female images turned out to provide a most profitable commodity in this new situation. As a matter of fact, this became clear earlier, when it was discovered that newspapers covering the first ever beauty contest in the country sold better than the others. After 1991, the image of the fashion model and beauty queen, came to reign supreme in the mass media, successfully replacing the "political" woman. This change occurred very smoothly, since the consciousness fostered in the totalitarian system, as well as the surreal view of the world previously on offer had prepared the audience to accept yet another stereotype, instead of any real heroine of the time. Beauties in bikinis, their interviews and press coverage of beauty contests started to appear not only in "lightweight" publications, but also in "respectable" ones. The apotheosis of this change, I believe, was the publication in the Communist newspaper Pravda, famous for its puritanism, of an article about Julia Kourochkina, the winner of the Miss Universe contest. She was enthusiastically described as a true Russian patriot. The photographs matched the tone of the text. Today, TV programmes and publications aimed at young people provide a good deal of space and time to advice as to how to become a photo-model, rather than how to enter a university. Faces of beautiful women fill the pages of magazines and the TV screen, famous TV anchor-women and announcers emulate the new stereotypes at the expense of their own personalities, and this drastically affects the tone of programmes. The second most popular image is that of a faithful companion -- good housewife, mother and friend. A "girlfriend of a businessman" is yet another category mentioned in one of the TV programmes. This image appears more often in new, expensive publications intended for "new Russians", such as "Domovoi" or "Imperial"; it is also promoted in numerous new publications for women, such as "Provornitsa", "Sudarushka", "Natalie", and in TV advertising. Even the traditional "ideological" magazines "Woman-Worker" (Rabotnitsa) and Peasant-Woman (Krestyanka) have started using this stereotype more often in their quest for new readers. The third most frequently used image in the mass media is a "marginal" woman -- the nymphomaniac, prostitute or criminal. These types can be encountered in the scandal-ridden gutter press, as represented by Moscovsky Komsomolets, Private Life, Scandals, Megapolis Express, Aids-Info, accompanied by semi-pornographic photographs and collages. There also exist specialized editions devoted to these topics. Less popular is the image of the business-woman or woman-politician. Articles and interviews involving such women usually stress that they are either devoid of all feminine traits, as in the article about a famous politician, member of Gorbachev's Supreme Council, Galina Starovoitova, or a successful career is presented as a chance happening, an exception, which, however, does not prevent her from being a "real woman". This type of articles can be found in practically all types of publications, and such TV programmes with the same "message" can be seen on all channels. The most absurd of them are "I Myself", "I am a Woman", and also the "The Queen of Trumps". Two more images should be mentioned, that of the poor old woman beggar, the victim of privatisation, and the ugly and aggressive feminist, who is usually depicted as an actual incarnation of Evil. The latter has come to take the place of the "enemy of the people". Western feminists are portrayed as the enemy incarnate, and in the imagination of the author, usually a woman, they are aline not only to men, but have nothing human about them at all. This means that ordinary working women, who make up the majority of the female population, and their lives and interests, are not adequately reflected in Russian mass media today. This opinion is confirmed by the latest research; according to the results of the analysis of newspapers in the first six months of 1995, conducted by the Association of Women-Journalists, only about 10 per cent of all descriptions of women had anything to do with "normal", "ordinary" women, the rest were concerned with marginal groups -- prostitutes, businessmen's girlfriends, pop stars, etc. It would be interesting to note that the more elite a paper, the more frequent is talk about the real image of woman. On the whole, the situation appears serious, especially if we take into consideration the numerous problems facing Russian women today. Russian women are indeed the forgotten step-daughters of the reforms, bearing the burden of unemployment (70 per cent of the unemployed are women), inflation, the final collapse of the health care system and social security, and finally, negative moral pressure exacerbated by mass culture. Here we cannot avoid mentioning pornography. Pornographic publications reached their peak in 1991-1993, coinciding with the complete freedom of the press. (At present, a certain stabilisation can be observed in this field). This phenomenon is easily explained by the fact that for decades sex was tabu, and besides, a talk about anything erotic was understood as the freedom of self-expression. Paradoxically, Gorbachev's decree in the late 1980s about efforts to curb propaganda of violence and pornography produced a backlash and only strengthened the tendency, since the decree was regarded as a step backwards to totalitarianism. As soon as the tabu was lifted, practically all publications paraded pictures of naked or half-naked women, considering them to be a sign of freedom, and feeling it was their duty to publish them. Erotic programmes began to appear on TV, they are shown at any time of day;cable TV shows practically only erotic films. After 1991, special publications intended for porn-fans started to appear, such as Man, Mister X, Andrei (a version of Pent-house), Mahaon. More respectable new magazines, such as Tovarishch, Superman, offer milder versions of porn, using basically Russian models. Women's porn and semi-porn magazines began to appear as well -- Miss X, She; pornographic photographs are regularly published in the newspaper Women' Affairs. The gutter press encourages the opinion that women read as much porn as men (the Express-chronicle newspaper devoted a whole article to that subject and you can often come across the idea that the profession of a prostitute is a perfectly natural one for a woman. The topic of prostitution became a topical issue in Gorbachev's time, after the film "Intergirl" was shown and there were discussions in the press (one author maintained in his article that all Moscow schoolgirls want to become prostitutes. In the post-perestroika period the topic was adopted by the mass media industry as a whole. There are publications like "Red Hat", for instance, which advertise brothels and saloons of "erotic massage", magazines for international introductions like Amour, similar programmes on TV (e.g. Aerotics in Moscow). Western Pornographic publications also appear in the Russian market; it is possible to buy Penthouse and Playboy on ordinary bookstalls, as well as their German editions, and recently a Russian version of Playboy came out, in which first- rate Russian journalists and writers publish articles and stories, and the editor-in-chief is a well-known music critic and TV anchorman. Russian society, which has not yet invented a mechanism for fighting pornography and has no experience of coping with freedom of the press, is literally drowning in this flood of low-quality literature. Even famous women-politicians and public figures are sometimes abused in the gutter press, and you may see a porno collage or drawing including the face of a famous politician. The New View (Novy Vzglyad) magazine, for instance, published an article in June 1994 which was entitled "Bitches -- Big and Small", in which all famous Russian women-leaders of the past and present were derided, and nobody even thought of taking the authors to court, while if the subject had been man-politician proceedings would no doubt have started. To sum up, we can say that women do not find the support they need in the Russian mass media; at the same time, no mechanism exists to protect the public against pornography and degradation -- the law on mass media is imperfect and little-developed, and professional organizations do no pay enough attention to the issue of women's images in the mass media. Independent women's organizations that sprang up recently in Russia have not yet established adequate contacts with the mass media and probably here there is plenty of room for the positive joint action in the future. On the whole, the situation regarding the existing images of men and women in the mass media can be characterised as serious, and one that demands urgent attention and action. A society brought up on stereotypes, with a subconsciousness lacking any foundation in reality and a host of unsolved problems facing it, obviously cries out for real images and portraits which are no less necessary than before for true democratisation that has yet to take place in Russia. ----------------------- Bibliography: 1. Merab Mamardashvili. The Way I Understand Philosophy. Moscow, 1989. 2. Mikhail Kapustin. The End of Utopia. Moscow, Politizdat. 1990. 3. Nadezhda Krupskaya. Articles and Letters. Moscow, Politizdat. 1979 4. Mikhail Gorbachev. Perestroika and the New Thinking. Moscow, Politizdat, 1990. 5. Perestroika and Soviet Women. Cambridge University Press, 1992. 6. Nadezhda Azhgikhina. Legacy towards Women --"Democratizatsiya". Washington. 1993, #3. 7. Research Materials of the Association of Women Journalists. 1995.
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