Russian state media see Harvey Weinstein—a symbol of sordid male chauvinism for millions of people around the world—primarily as a victim of intrigue and corporate revenge. “Hollywood actresses are lined up. In order to assert your ‘stardom,’ you have to announce that you were harassed.” That is a typical comment on Vesti, a state news program. The show-business and political scandals that have roiled the United States and Europe and galvanized the #MeToo campaign have been presented to the Russian public as the result of aggressive behavior by crazed PC ideologues. State media have framed the movement as evidence of a profound crisis of Western civilization, crumbling under pressure from gays and feminists. The style of many television programs resembles the exposés of “rotten capitalism” during the Cold War.
There is nothing surprising about Russian propaganda’s using sex scandals to incite anti-Western and anti-American feelings. What is noteworthy here is that Russian voices from all walks of life are united in sympathy for Weinstein—and, through him, for all men guilty of harassment. Rabid patriots and harsh opponents of the regime alike, men and women, have all expressed a rare unanimity in defense of the “natural right” to sex in the workplace. They are also united in the conviction that in questions of sex, Russia is nothing like the West, and that Western rules have no authority in Russia.
Such journalists as the fierce anti-Putinist Matvey Ganapolskiy, the opposition writer Yulia Latynina, and the liberal critic Artemy Troitsky questioned the timing of the belated accusations and the sincerity of actresses who certainly knew about casting couches, and they even downplayed the concept of “rape culture.” I think the only voice in support of #MeToo came from the prominent editor in chief of New Times, Yevgenia Albats, in her blog at Ekho Moskvy, who noted that the culture of harassment was always present in Russia and continues to flourish everywhere. Her bold and sharp text provoked a squall of criticism and insults on the Internet. The publishers of the Russian edition of Cosmopolitan, who ran an article on harassment based on Russian material after a similar one in the English-language edition, were surprised that the dramatic story with real names and addresses drew very little interest among their readers.
What is happening here? Does Russian society really not want to see the problem? Recent data show an increase in domestic abuse and gender discrimination throughout the country. Why are Russian women indifferent to humiliation and unwilling to show solidarity in defending their rights guaranteed by the Constitution and law? Harassment is a crime, punishable by law in the Russian Federation. Yet very few cases reach the courts. The gender salary gap is 30 percent, but professional, educated specialists and managers are in no hurry to demand equal pay. And why are more women starting to support radical right-wing and blatantly fundamentalist and anti-feminist ideas?
A quarter-century has passed since the USSR dissolved. But Russian men and women face a long path toward inner freedom and self-respect. They need to acknowledge the right of every person to determine his or her own life and to live in a world free of oppression and humiliation. The “women’s question,” just as it did a hundred years ago, remains the most important indicator of real freedom.