I could probably write a whole series on gender, women and feminism in Russia. Maybe I will.

Today’s entry: Putin’s Army. You may have read about this in the Telegraph, Jezebel or the New York Daily News. In brief, young women are being encouraged to tear their clothes off to show support for Putin, and it seems to actually be working.

Has Russia swapped the leader-as-father myth of Stalin for a leader-as-beefcake myth of Putin? It certainly seems that way. The former cast Stalin as infallibly wise, absolutely dedicated to the Soviet future and possessed of endless love for the Soviet people as a part of that future. Putin is a different sort of god – his cult fixates more on raw masculine power, wits and skill. Putin isn’t presented as the benevolent patriarch of his 140 million-person family of subjects, because he’s too busy kicking ass and restoring Russia’s former wealth and power to dandle babies on his knee. (Although there was that time he kissed a little boy on the tummy.)

Of course, the leader-as-father myth was manufactured by the state and bought into by the people.** The leader-as-sugar-daddy myth is manufactured by certain elements of the political class – but to what end? Maybe in the hope that the large majority of the country that’s completely politically disaffected will buy into it; but at this stage of the game, it seems likely that the idea is to mobilize support for Putin over Medvedev within the ruling United Russia party.

The current campaign playing off Putin’s sexy badass persona, “I’ll tear it [up/off] for Putin,”* started with a video posted to a United Russia MP’s website, which instructs viewers to log onto vkontakte.ru** and post videos of themselves “tearing something off, or tearing someone up” for Putin. The Western media has focused on the stripping angle, but the video technically says that the most creative entry will win. No one knows who launched the Putin’s Army campaign, but Izvestia is reporting today that Nashi, the youth wing of United Russia, condones it, and the Moscow city government is allowing them to use Pushkin Square for an associated rally today.

As for how this is taken as appropriate political participation in Russia (not just once, but twice) and how Russian society views women and their bodies, perhaps I’ll save that for another time, and just join Moscow-based journalist Miriam Elder in being really skeezed out that the rally on Pushkin Square is actually happening as I write this, with young women lining up to tear off their clothes.

*The title refers to this gem.

**To varying degrees, of course, but it’s had surprising staying power for a significant minority of Russians.

*which plays off the verb “порвать,” which means “to tear” and also, colloquially, “to kick ass.”

**blatant Russophone copy of Facebook circa 2007, widely used in the former Soviet Union. Proceed with caution – you can get some nasty viruses from it.

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