I wish I could address this topic with more eloquence and more authority. It is hard to put into words the sinking feeling I had when I read recently about the progress of a law through the Russian courts, which will essentially make domestic violence permissible under Russian law. Again. I wish my words could be more effective, could explain how this seems sickeningly par for the course. This post is a haphazard attempt at putting my thoughts together.
How is it that Vladimir Putin (Putin!) just last year signed in an amendment that would legally declare family violence a criminal offence “for the first time” and already it is being unraveled? Conservative (and notoriously anti-LGBT) MP Yelena Mizulina submitted amendments that would reduce family violence from a criminal to “an administrative offence… [because] you don’t want people to be imprisoned for two years and labelled a criminal for the rest of their lives for a slap.” Only one MP out of close to 400 objected.
Public awareness of domestic violence in Australia in recent years has increased. Even here the numbers are staggering. Movements like Destroy the Joint seek to hold us accountable to our culpability in our attitudes to violence against women, and such violence typically originates in the home. Last year’s count of “dead women” to violence in Australia was well above one a week – every week. And this doesn’t include rates of disability. There are problems with accepting the prevalence of domestic violence in Australia, so I am only too aware of the seemingly insurmountable denial of domestic violence in Russia – or perhaps the general acceptance of it as natural fact. About forty women die every day at the hands of their husbands or partners. And the number is believed to be increasing.
In any culture, we seem to minimise women into generalised archetypes. My mind boggles at the wealth of them. The Russian bride, the escort, the old matron. Historically, even the asexual Soviet worker. Feminism is a dirty word. Groups like Pussy Riot fall well outside the considered norm. At the time of their trial, a lawyer for the Orthodox Church, which still holds a strong sway on the way things are done, proclaimed that “feminism is a mortal sin.” The Russian Orthodox Church is a proponent of ‘traditional’ family values, those where women are subjugated to a husband’s will – an god-given right that is rendered home with corporal punishment as an accepted meting out of discipline. What kind of family unit are they trying to defend?
My head is a mess at these thoughts. And I remember something that terrified me when I was in Russia. I was staying with relatives in a small apartment, seeing them for the first time since I was a child. I heard an older family member speaking in his sleep. He began to shout, in the midst of some nightmare. He said:
“Cover your shoulders, or I’ll kill you.”
The covered shoulders made me think of going to church – men and women are expected to have their shoulders covered. Why did I hear him as though he were definitely addressing a woman? Was it the threat – the expectation that could not be levelled at another man? I can’t hold it against him – he was speaking in his sleep, in the safety of his own subconsciousness. Yet I remember the harshness of his words. The stillness of the night around them. He was a gentle man by day, and very sadly, a widower, but I recognised the potential for an exertion of power based on gender. I couldn’t see him the same again.
- “If He Beats You, It Means He Loves You” (Daria Litvinova, The Moscow Times, August 2016)
- “Russia to Decriminalise Domestic Violence to Preserve ‘Tradition of Parental Authority’” (Gabriel Samuels, The Independent Online, January 2016)
- (Infographic – Russian) Домашнее насилие в России / Domestic violence in Russia (Россия сегодня / Russia Today, 2013)