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Russian Girls Show Conservative Beauty Contest Just How ‘Modest’ They Can Be

A small collection of the submissions to the "Russian Beauty" contest (both from competitors and protesters). VKontakte.

A small collection of the submissions to the “Russian Beauty” contest (from both competitors and protesters). VKontakte.

In honor of International Women’s Day earlier this month, a community on VKontakte, Russia’s most popular social network, held a beauty contest to celebrate female “modesty.” Women wishing to enter the competition were asked to submit photos of themselves wearing headscarves. The contest, titled Russian Beauty, attracted dozens of applicants, but it also launched a flashmob against what some called the competition’s chauvinism and sexism.

The host of the competition was a VKontakte group called Parliamentary League, a debate club affiliated loosely with the Duma (the lower house of Russia’s parliament). “We think women’s best accessory is modesty,” the group explained in an announcement on March 3, “which is why the main condition of this contest is that applicants must wear a scarf in their photos.”

Anna Kazantseva holding a sign reading, “I love modesty and sexism.” VKontakte.

Almost immediately after the contest was announced, VKontakte users began criticizing the Parliamentary League’s decision to make modesty and headscarves the focus of its contest. Women, as well as a few men, started entering the competition with photographs of themselves wearing headscarves and holding signs reading, “Without modesty and without sexism,” and (ironically) “I love modesty and sexism.” Many women, presumably riffing on the “modesty” theme, exposed generous amounts of cleavage, while a least one woman posed entirely naked, except for her headscarf.

Before long, Parliamentary League started deleting the provocative submissions, prompting several of the beauty contest’s critics to write open letters to the group explaining their opposition to a celebration of female modesty for International Women’s Day.

Inna Denisova, “Without modesty and without sexism.” VKontakte.

Inna Denisova, one of the first people on VKontakte to start using the hashtag #этонедебаты (#TheseArentDebates), explained her objections in a blog post on March 3:

Потому что организаторы считают, что «девушка должна быть скромной». Нет, друзья, девушка в лучшем случае должна звонить родителям раз в день и чистить зубы утром и вечером (по желанию). Каждый из нас — вне зависимости от гендера, расы, внешности и возраста — вправе быть в этом мире кем угодно.

The organizers [of the beauty contest] think “a girl should be modest.” No, my friends, a girl at most should call her parents once a day and brush her teeth in the morning and at night (if she wants to). Every one of us—regardless of gender, race, appearance, or age—has the right to be whomever we want in this world.

Responding to a man’s complaint about the beauty competition on its community wall, Parliamentary League administrators defended the contest as a legitimate, if conservative, endeavor.

Конкурсом мы поддерживаем образ скромных девушек, который считаем правильным и хотим распространить его по России. Почему мы не распространяем образ, например, независимой клубной распутницы? Потому что не считаем его правильным.

Мы поддерживаем одну из моделей поведения девушек. Другие мы не запрещаем. Если кто-то, в отличие от нас, желает распространить другой образ (например, вышеупомянутый “клубный”) – это его право. Мы же за скромность и порядочность.

With this contest, we’re supporting an image of modest girls that we think is right and something worth spreading throughout Russia. Why don’t we propagate the image of, say, an independent-minded clubbing floozy? Because we don’t think that’s right for girls.

We support one of the various models for girls’ behavior. We’re not prohibiting other kinds. If somebody else wants to promote some other model (like the “clubbing” type), that’s their right. We, however, are for modesty and decency.

Yekaterina Buller, VKontakte.

RuNet Echo spoke to Yekaterina Buller, one of the contest’s winners, about the scandal surrounding the competition’s alleged sexism. Buller echoed many of the sentiments Parliamentary League expressed, denying that the contest was at all sexist, and accusing critics of being either ignorant or “stupid.”

Что “критики” считают патриархальным? Я бы не судила с этой позиции , а даже если и так , то, что в этом плохого. Во всех мировых культурах положительным является образ скромной и целомудренной женщины , жены, матери и хранительницы традиций. В условиях современной действительности нравственного разложения общества считаю разумным напомнить о этой позиции . Я не осуждаю феминисток и представителей других течений, но себя к ним не отношу. Все дискуссии по этому поводу лишь от отсутствия у нас (современной молодежи) четких понятий добра и зла, а так же от навязанных попкультурой лживых ценностей.

What do these “critics” think was patriarchal? I wouldn’t call it that, but even if that’s the right word, what would be so bad? All the cultures of the world value a modest and chaste vision of women, wives, mothers, and guardians of tradition. In today’s reality, amid society’s moral decay, I think it makes sense to remember this [traditional] position. I don’t blame the feminists or the other groups, but I don’t consider myself one of them. All these discussions about this issue are just a consequence of our (contemporary youth’s) absence of clear concepts of good and evil, and a result of the false values imposed by pop culture.

This isn’t the first scandal involving Parliamentary League, which in late February invited Russian Orthodox activist Dmitry “Enteo” Tsorionov to lecture during a debate about banning abortion in Russia. Enteo is known for radical, often violent demonstrations against gays, Muslims, and other groups. The debate community has also welcomed members of the right-wing LDPR youth wing to an event to discuss amending the Russian Constitution and re-implementing an official state ideology.

  • John H Newcomb

    Interesting! Thanks for posting this information Global Voices/Rothrock. Like the Russian extra-parliamentary opposition, it seems that these protesters are responding to signs of increasing misogyny in Russia, in concert with increasing homophobia, xenophobia, racism. The “Parliamentary League” group appear to be “debating” subjects that in the West would be beyond debate.

    Global Gender Gap index ranking shows Russia as having fairly wide gap for a European country: http://widgets.weforum.org/gender-gap-report-2014/#

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