Gender labeling should be stopped

If I had learnt in my childhood about feminism, the queer-theory and the punk culture, I would have been myself already then. However, I was told that I should be an obedient girl, and that, for example, Vasya, my next-door neighbor, was my fiancé. I was three then, Vasya, too. I used to hear, “You are a girl! Behave yourself. Do not climb trees, or else you will crumple your dress. Do not run, or else you will scratch your knees again”. And Vasya used to hear, “You are a man, do not cry like a girl”. as an act of violence, and we must speak about it as loudly as possible.
 © Olga Kurilina
Boys do not cry, and I was a good girl. I matched somebody else’s concepts of gender beauty: the expectations of my parents, teachers, grannies and granddads, which were alien to me. Deep inside, I experienced impulses of freedom, but I was afraid of being misunderstood and rejected. I was afraid of becoming an outcast.

I was always bothered by any injustice, and sometimes my internal strength and courage were enough for me to stand side by side with those who were oppressed. Yet, I did not have enough knowledge and experience to challenge sexism. I fell in love with boys and reproduced patriarchal patterns – simply because I did not know other ways.

When I was 22, I fell in love with a girl. Actually, that was not the first time it happened to me, but, as I was never told it was alright to fall in love with girls, I fell in love with boys in my childhood and adolescence consciously, and unconsciously – with girls.

My experience of Lesbian relations probably became a starting point in my liberation from the gender superstitions. I stopped to take pseudo arguments, like “This is because you are a woman” / “All men are the same” seriously. If I have strength, time and desire, I explain to my companion that there may be any explanations for situations and actions, except for those ones. We are all people, we have different experiences, and we live differently. Gender stereotypes exist not because men and women are so different but because somebody decided once that boys and girls should be raised differently.

The appearance of the Pussy Riot more or less coincided with my understanding of myself. A feminist? A punk? An anarchist? Of course! These are my ideals. I would put on a balaclava and become bold and reckless. I stopped being a decent girl. I was becoming myself. In my return to myself, I had to shed the bonds of oppression step by step. I was learning to listen to my true desires, to realize and to defend my boundaries, to overcome shame, and to conquer fear.

I am not afraid to say

I have not yet written any long texts about the abuse I experienced. I do not know whether I will write about it. Maybe, I will not. Once I stopped to be afraid of speaking about it. When I first started to come out, it was scary. I would say, “I am a victim of home abuse”, and I shook. Now, I can say casually: my father would sometimes lose his temper, yell at me or hit me; Andrey would get drunk, behave like a creep, call me names and choke me; Kirill manipulated and threatened me; Sasha cheated on me.

‘No’ means ‘no’

I do not consider myself a victim to sexual abuse, but it would be difficult for me to count how many times I had sex not because I wanted to but because my partner was able to talk me into it or to seduce me. Rather, I had a strange feeling – I was not exactly against it but actually I did not want it. I am now 31. I seems I have learnt firmly to say ‘no’.

My body is only mine

I do not remember how old I was – 12 or 13, when I asked my mum to buy me a razor, and I decided to shave my armpits and not to shave my legs, as the hair on my legs was thin and light, practically invisible. However, my classmates told me that I should shave my legs, anyway. And I shaved them.

Now I have grown, I no longer have classmates, and I do everything I want with my hair. If I wish, I shave it off, if I don’t, I don’t. If I want to, I grow hair in my armpits and dye it pink, just as the hair on my head now. To make it short, I do what I want, and I defend the right of each person, man and woman alike, to do the same.

Boobs Liberation

In my childhood, I had a very liberated attitude to the human body. My parents and I sometimes went to nude beaches and nude bathhouses. Then I began to go to summer camps, and my freedom became captured by superstitions. I had to wear a swimsuit and feel ashamed of my naked breasts.

In 2013, preparing for the show of queer pants at the Mediaudar festival of activist art, the participants of the show, me included, decided to go out topless, if we wanted to. I took off my T-shirt and experienced a strong blast of freedom. Since then, I bare my breasts in public from time to time. For example, I attended topless pride parades in European cities carrying a “Boobs Liberation“ motto. In 2014, when I was in Prague, I was parading not alone but in the company of two more girls. They approached me and asked if they could take off their T-shirts, too. By the way, guys do not ask such questions – they simply do it, if they want to.

I acted several times with Arkadiy Kots group, and Kolya Aleinikov and I invented such a performance: taking off T-shirts simultaneously during performance of Lucy song. At one of the concerts, a guard approached me and asked if I felt ashamed. I asked him why he did not ask Kolya whether he felt ashamed or not.

Sometimes, when I see a topless man at a party, I almost always take off my T-shirt or my dress, because I want things to be fair. I am not satisfied with the taboo of women’s breasts. If the situation allows men to be topless, it is important for me to indicate to the society that women must also have the right to be topless in the same situation, if they feel comfortable about it.

This is just blood. Why should you be ashamed of it?

Several months ago, my friend and I discussed stigmatization of periods and were sorry that, even granted our level of liberation, we were still shy to talk about it. For example, it seemed to us that the worst thing that could happen to us was a leak at somebody’ place. In contrast, when our nose bleeds or we have a wound, we are neither shy nor uncomfortable. Yet, if the blood is menstrual, it turns into a nightmare.

About a year ago, I corresponded with my friends in a chat and we also shared our emotions about it. For example, if we have a cold, we speak calmly about it. Or, for example, if we have a headache, we can ask our friends and colleagues for a pill. But, if we have a period, and we feel bad because of it, we make grimaces when our woman colleague asks us about it and are likely to keep silent if men are present around. And if our period has just started, and we do not have a pad or a tampon, we cautiously whisper to women whether they have one, and if they do, they pass it on to us unnoticed, so that men could not see that.

To cut a long story short, I thought about the worries related to the periods and my anger about my own shame, and suddenly I stopped worrying. Now I ask my friends in the presence of men whether they have a pad or a tampon. If I stay for a sleepover and I have a period at this time, I say to the host or hostess, “Listen, I have a period now, and I can leak. Please, tell me of you feel comfortable about it. If not, I can sleep with a tampon in or on the floor”. Should I say that I have never yet been forbidden to leak :)


It seems to me that it is stupid to divide the world into men and women. I wish people were not labeled as males and females. Unfortunately, modern Russia is still very far from my ideal post-gender world. Yet, sexism is gradually disappearing. At least, in the liberal circles and in the art community, there is less of it, compared to several years ago. I think Pussy Riot has played its role in it. When punks wearing colored balaclavas, tights and dresses came out to the streets to return the city to themselves, people started talking about feminism in Russia beyond the narrow circles. The patriarchal society is terrible and cruel, but changes are inevitable. I believe that someday feminism will rescue the world.

Olga Kuracheva

Feminist, queer activist, member of the punk band "Pussy Riot", the character of the film “Olya's love”





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