Ksenia Sobchak, puzzled by sexism

by Eliot Borenstein

Is it possible to be disappointed in Ksenia Sobchak?  Or would that be like feeling let down that water is so wet?

On the one hand, it seems that disappointment is encoded into the very plot of the Ksenia Sobchak saga:  the daughter of  a man who was either the great democratic hope of St. Petersburg (according to mid-90s Western media) or the cynical apparatchik who paved the way for Putin’s rise to power (according to Masha Gessen, among others), Ksenia Sobchak became the face of Rublyovka excess, the Putin-era Party Girl.  As a reality show TV host and fixture of the gossip columns, Sobchak was an unlikely champion of the anti-Putin protest movement (or indeed, of anything poitical whatsoever).  In the past year, her image has changed drastically:  she’s made а satirical video about Dmitri Medvedev, and gone on a one-woman crusade to expose voting fraud during the presidential election.  For shock value, the only comparable phenomenon in America would be if Paris Hilton suddenly became the public face of Occupy Wall Street.

So my newfound, if grudging,  respect for Sobchak was dealt a serious blow when I read her Snob interview with the recently freed Pussy Riot defendant Yekaterina Samutsevich, as well as the opinion piece that followed it. The contrast between Samutsevich and her interviewers (Sobchak and Ksenia Sokolova) could not have been more pronounced, as the accompanying photographs demonstrated (Samutsevich evokes a decidedly different model of femininity than do her fashionista interlocutors).

Sobchak’s questions verged on self-parody, beginning with this interchange about the founding of Pussy Riot:

Sobchak:  Was it at a party?

Samutsevich:  We got together periodically, discussed some topics and events in Russia.  Sexism, of course.

Sobchak:  I’m trying to understand how young, pretty girls [девушки] could get together and talk about sexism!  For example, I can’t imagine me and Sokolova getting together and talking about sexism, and not, say, guys.  Of course, we could come up with a plan to do something nasty, like, for example, decide that all are deputy former boyfriends are assholes and we’ll use some well-chosen words to f*ck them up.

Samutsevich:  You’d be surprised, but there are feminist girls  [девушки] who discuss sexism  They encounter sexism every day.  Unfortunately, our society is permeated with sexism.

Same planet, different worlds. Sobchak did follow up with some incisive questions about whether or not Samutsevich’s suspended sentence lent legitimacy to an otherwise absurd trial, and about the irony of an anonymous feminist group whose most recognizable member (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova) looks like a “cover girl.”

But Sobchak followed her interview with a blog post entitled “Who is Yekaterina Samutsevich?”  She starts with the assertion that Pussy Riot was about young girls wanting attenion, with the feminist rationale added later.  Then she dismisses Samutsevich’s politics as a cover for personal woes:  “Katya is clearly struggling with something inside herself.  I don’t know what.  Maybe she wasn’t loved enough, maybe there was a trauma, maybe its a rejection of herself in the body in which she exists–I don’t know.  But I have the feeling that her actions look more like a struggle not for feminism, but with her own fears, complexes, and internal problems.”   She ends with a fantasy of Samutsevich setting this life aside and marrying an IT oligarch.  I can only hope was meant ironically–even cluelessness has its limits.

7 responses to “Ksenia Sobchak, puzzled by sexism”

  1. Anne Lounsbery says:

    Хочется понять, как молодые, симпатичные девушки собираются и обсуждают тему сексизма! Oh my god that is depressing. Not disappointing, you’re right. Just depressing in the usual as-ever way.

    • Joan Neuberger says:

      The single most important reason why Pussy Riot appealed to so many of us in Europe and the US and so few in Russia. Less often observed than the divide over religion; much more invidious, I think. KS spoke for a lot of people.

  2. Mb says:

    I think Sobchak did not, and still does not, take Samutsevich seriously. Sobchak’s questions are rather sarcastic, so I do not think Sobchak’s comments should be taken seriously. On a different note, yes, that is a valid question: how many young women in contemporary Russia sit around and discuss nature of sexism or writings of Judith Butler (which is cited elsewhere as one of the P.R.’s references)? Very-very few. Sobchak has a different political focus at this point and sexism is not of interest (unfortunately) for her, but I do not think that Sobchak’s not discussing sexism with her friends makes her in any way naive or clueless.

  3. Julia Trubikhina says:

    I am sorry to deliver the bad news, but it IS hard to imagine young women in Russia now getting together to discuss sexism:) Unless one is a gender theorist, this does sound rather implausible…Sexism is discussed, of course (and was discussed when I was the age of these young women) but much more along the lines of Sobchak’s suggestions, with one big difference though: replace boyfriends with employers. Sobchak is of course being ironic. She never means what she says or, to be more precise, all her meanings are provisional. This is what makes her an excellent TV personality: she’s more mutable than a vampire…

  4. Oh, I get that Sobchak is being ironic in her interview. It’s just a disheartening use of irony, since there are so many more worthwhile targets that the small group of women in Russia who talk about feminism. It’s really her blog post that I found most problematic–if it had been written by a man, it would sound like a textbook case of men just not taking women seriously. And, Juiia, I agree with you about Sobchak’s talents completely. In fact, your comment highlights part of the problem, for me at least: Sobchak makes much more sense (as a legible cultural phenomenon) on the air than she does on the printed page (or screen).

  5. marina says:

    I think personally that you can point one finger at another, but the other four (try it) are still pointed at you. So whatever Ksenia says about Samutzevich is actually true about Ksenia herself – struggle with complexes, internal problems, trauma (her father was murdered/shot), something inside herself, rejection of herself in the body in which she exists. Ksenya’s life is a clear support of that. Samutzevich indeed looks more human and natural in this setting.

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