Russian Style: Performing Gender, Power, and Putinism by Julie A. Cassiday

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A brilliant, entertaining work of scholarship that sheds light on some of the most important phenomena in contemporary Russian politics and mass culture. Using style as her central concept, Cassiday brings together many seemingly disparate examples from mass media, pop culture, and politics in a way that is truly enlightening— Eliot Borenstein, New York University

In the two decades after the turn of the millennium, Vladimir Putin’s control over Russian politics and society grew at a steady pace. As the West liberalised its stance on sexuality and gender, Putin’s Russia moved in the opposite direction, remoulding the performance of Russian citizenship according to a neoconservative agenda characterised by increasingly exaggerated gender roles. By connecting gendered and sexualised citizenship to developments in Russian popular culture, Julie A. Cassiday argues that heteronormativity and homophobia became a kind of politicised style under Putin’s leadership.

However, while the multiple modes of gender performativity generated in Russian popular culture between 2000 and 2010 supported Putin’s neoconservative agenda, they also helped citizens resist and protest the state’s mandate of heteronormativity. Examining everything from memes to the Eurovision Song Contest and self-help literature, Cassiday untangles the discourse of gender to argue that drag, or travesti, became the performative trope par excellence in Putin’s Russia. Provocatively, Cassiday further argues that the exaggerated expressions of gender demanded by Putin’s regime are best understood as a form of cisgender drag. This smart and lively study provides critical, nuanced analysis of the relationship between popular culture and politics in Russia during Putin’s first two decades in power.