A recent claim by the face of Russian domestic propaganda that twerking contributes to teenage suicide brings to the fore Moscow’s not so subtle attempt to employ failed American-style strategies of female subjugation to tackle very real social ills.
It all started with the apotheosis of political kitsch and trailer park sexuality. A bunch of white girls in a transcontinental city, provocatively dressed in the two-tone colors of Russian military valor and Ukrainian invasion, twerking around Winnie the Pooh and his honey pot.
At around the 0:37 mark, a horrified mother and her child can literally be seen doing their best imitation of the San Diego illegal alien crossing sign.
Yes, this video pulled off a trifecta of Post-Soviet trash; a veritable hat trick of ‘This is Russia bitch’ if you will.
And in a time when Russia’s ruling class is excessively fond of aping the histrionics of American far right moralists to decry the morally decedent West, Russia’s spin doctor in chief Dmitry Kiselyov didn’t miss a beat in his most recent condemnation of the twerking bees.
“We’re not going to dwell on this for long, but we simply need to ask ourselves one question: are we for or against early sex,” he asks in his all to familiar rhetorical style.
True to Kiselyovian theatrical form, the presenter then purposes a false dilemma, whereby those who are “for” minors having sex need to put an end to the “persecution of pedophiles”, purge the legal codex of corresponding laws, and “close your eyes to the obvious harm of early sex, which is accompanied by a crippled life…teenage abortions and suicide.”
That’s right, this isn’t just about girls in a provincial town expressing themselves in a manner that some might find distasteful. No, this is the decline of Western civilization, and Russia risks becoming America’s decedent watershed least they built up their moral defenses.
A few issues are at play here. One, the false equivalency Kiselyov makes between sexually charged dancing and actually engaging in sexual activity, or the ungrounded claim that the former is a slippery slope to the latter, is glaring.
Secondly, Kiselyov assertion that sex among teens leads to depression and suicide is contingent on a 12-year-old study from the right-wing Heritage Foundation, whose methodology leaves much to be desired.
Thirdly, seeing that Russia has a lower age of consent than the US (16 vs. 18), some of the girls portrayed in the clip are (by the country’s own standards) not likely minors to begin with. Not that any of this matters. The manufactured scandal which has led to a criminal investigation being launched by the Russian equivalent to the FBI is merely another form of public theater, whereby the government feigns religiosity for the sake of consolidating political power and further carving out a few slivers in that artificial East Vs. West divide.
When it comes to issues of sexuality, Russia is a patriarchy, but certainly not a theocratic one. Due to deep societal atomization and a politically apathetic culture which embraced rampant consumerism as the only truly binding national ideology, “unchaste” women are part and parcel of the everything is possible playground of the Third Rome. Sex has been more commodified in Russia than possibly any other place on Earth, and this is not a ruling class that has any interest in rolling back its access to pleasure.
Rather, any attempts to “chasten” Russian women will likely have little to do with limiting the actual availability of willing sexual partners for men in the country, but rather change the social dynamic which gives women (at least limited) control over their own sexuality. Despite all its faults, after all, the Soviet Union (sometimes out of pure necessity) did a lot to empower women regarding employment, maternity benefits, and control over their own bodies (though, in one of those perfect Soviet contradictions, it never found a need to manufacture tampons for them.)
There are more than a few men who would be more than happy to roll those rights back. This is, after all, a country where a politician can threaten a pregnant female journalist with rape and see no consequences (he also blamed the Ukrainian revolution on “female hysteria.”)
Add to that a political need to vilify the West and you find the government investigating the activities of a provincial dance studio. But there are real issues as well. Rampant rates of substance abuse, STD transmission (particularly HIV), high abortion rates and relatively low birth rates have led many a pundit to declare Russia a dying nation.
The problem with these moral crusades (manufactured or not), however, is that they rarely examine the actual issues in good, scientific faith. Rather, they engage in a form of bait and switch, whereby one proposes an ineffectual, ideologically-driven solution to a real problem.
This, of course, is a tactic borrowed from the American right, which sought to tackle the issues of teen pregnancy, abortion and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases with curtailment on women’s reproductive rights, the repression of sexual education, and a war on sex itself. This cultural war continues to be waged, despite all available evidence pointing towards higher rates of the above mentioned social maladies in those avowedly more religious states which embraced the abstinence only ethos.
Evangelical teens, in fact, have sex at the same rates as their non-religious peers, and no amount of guilt or slut shaming actually stops this biological drive, though it might adversely affect their self-esteem (see the Heritage study) and, with a lack of education, leave them needlessly exposed to unwanted pregnancy and preventable diseases.
On the abortion front, Russia has seen a dramatic drop from the shockingly high rates of the 90s, when the number of live births were often doubled by the number of terminated pregnancies.
As Mark Adomanis recently pointed out, the ratio of abortions to births has actually flipped, with roughly two pregnancies being carried to term for every termination.
Despite these positive trends which had nothing to do with religious influence, The Russian Orthodox Church, which recently framed the country’s demographic crisis within the false dichotomy between “free choice” and “moral norms,” is similarly using genuine social maladies to artificially insert itself into what is ultimately a public health issue.
Likewise, if Kiselyov is really worried about teenage suicide, instead of fretting about “morally decedent” western cultural imports, perhaps he should do something useful, like rally the government to both destigmatize therapy (which was deeply damaged by Brezhnev’s use of psychiatry as a weapon against political dissidents), and to make counseling available to at-risk kids. Of course, Kiselyov does not care about twerking. His primary goal is to besmirch the West via its “moral decadence”, even if manifestations of that moral decadence (substance abuse, rates of STD transmission, abortion rates) are actually more prevalent in Russia.
But to talk about Russia’s issues honestly, to view them as public health problems that need solutions which might not be beneficial to an authoritarian government seeking “tradition” as a means of further consolidating and controlling the population, is to defeat the great point of this mad metanarrative. Why talk about introducing comprehensive sex education throughout all Russian schools when you can just decry the West for teaching Russian girls to dance like sluts (which makes them become sluts, and sluts, as we all know, get abortions and then kill themselves.)
Why talk about a culture that has made it impossible for children to openly express their feelings or grapple with issues of sexuality, when it is much more politically expedient to create citizens who lock up their spirits and embrace conformity at all costs, even if it is killing them inside?
As for Russian women and sex, perhaps the perfect example of where all of this twerking nonsense could be going if the country’s real nationalists ever ascend to the throne came in October, when Aleksandr Mozgovoi, leader of the quasi-rogue pro-Russian ‘Ghost Brigade’ in Luhansk, Ukraine, announced (an ultimately unenforced) ban on women going to bars and clubs. In his own words, they should instead “sit at home and embroider.”
In a coup of poetic justice, it was Anastasiya Pyaterikova, a high-profile Luhansk separatist (and one-time stripper), who put Mozgovoi in his place.
“You’ve gone too far, Mozgovoi!,” she wrote on VKontakte, Russia’s answer to Facebook.
“What right have you got to arrest women, and, what’s more, establish order in this way??? Have you got women troubles? That’s how it looks.”
It is not difficult to imagine that Russia’s steadily growing chorus of “traditionalist” voices have a lot of women troubles, none of which involve twerking. But as history has borne out time and time again, when men have problems with women, it often spells trouble for “the fairer half.”