Global Voices

Russian feminists flip the script on classic Soviet films

The generation of Russians now in their mid-30s is finding their parents' TV and film role models disappointing by the modern standards of relationships and gender equality.

State propaganda emphasized the importance of gender equality, but Soviet women were expected to carry the double burden of full-time careers and taking care of their families  // National Library of Scotland, distributed under CC-BY-NC-SA

New Year’s Eve celebrations in Russia, a few post-Soviet countries and the diaspora abroad have a number of defining characteristics. One is the annual telethon of Soviet film classics such as Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, a 1980 Mosfilm production which won the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film and a few other accolades. The other absolute classic is The Irony of Fate (1976), traditionally broadcast on December 31 by a major national channel while millions of Russian families busily chop bucketloads of Olivier salad.

However, the generation of Russians born around that time, who are now in their mid-30s and early 40s, are increasingly finding these role models unsuitable for the modern age and their views downright insulting. Around New Year’s Eve time, Russian social media fills with critical posts from users who are suddenly discovering that their parents’ television favorites promote values that are far from progressive:

Let’s talk about “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears.” So how do you find this message: you can become a factory director, a Moscow city council member, a successful mother (and a single one at that), but you’ve only achieved success in life when you’ve fed some soup to your boozed-up plumber boyfriend?

Such attitudes are still prevalent in Russia, so feminist collective Rosgendernadzor (a play on official organization acronyms meaning, roughly, Rusgenderwatch) summed up these modern frustrations in a series of screencaps from several Soviet film classics accompanied with captions that imagine how a character could have responded to a casually sexist or demeaning remark.

Here’s one from Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears where the female protagonist is pressured into having sex with a fashionable and well-connected young man above her current station who then abandons her when she gets pregnant.

Or this retort from The Irony of Fate, a highly acclaimed dramedy about two strangers in stable but unfulfilling relationships brought together by New Year’s Eve drunkenness and the ubiquity and uniformity of Soviet mass-produced public architecture:

Men’s repressed feelings are also cared for (this is from a 1972 comedy miniseries The Big School-Break, or The Long Recess, about a young teacher in an adult learning school):

In a Facebook post introducing this project, Rosgendernadzor’s founder said: 

Приближаются новогодние праздники. Встречаем 2019 год, а за столом — все те же блюда, на экранах — все те же фильмы. И представления о социальных ролях мужчин и женщин все те же. Новый выпуск “тех самых карточек” — про старое-доброе советское кино и гендерные стереотипы. Мы вторгаемся в диалоги героев новогодних фильмов и помогаем им отвечать собеседникам с патриархальными взглядами. Такие взгляды не редкость и сегодня: они поддерживают неравенство между мужчинами и женщинами. Поэтому наши ответы могут помочь и вам. С Новым годом!

The New Year’s festivities are approaching. 2019 is just around the corner but little has changed: the same snacks are on the table, the same movies are on the TV and the same views on men and women’s social roles remain in place. This new set of ‘those cards’ is about good ol’ Soviet cinema and gender stereotypes. We decided to butt in on dialogues in films typically shown on New Year’s to give the characters a chance to talk back when confronted with patriarchal views. Such views reinforce unequal relationships between men and women, and they’re not uncommon today. That means that our replies can help you too! Happy New Year!

The full set of modern takes on Soviet classics in English can be seen here. Some took the idea further:

reposted these absolutely brilliant pictures to my facebook and am watching in delight the flaming bottoms of “alright guys”

In these images, each of the principal male character's remarks such as “Keep in mind that I am going to make all the decisions on the simple basis of me being a man” are met with a curt “Why don't you just f**k off then, Georgy.”

Russia ranks 75th among 149 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum's 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, scoring good points for equal access to healthcare and education for women, but lacking in legislation protecting their rights.

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