Nicholas Denysenko – « Orthodox Ideology and Masculinity »

Nicholas Denysenko « Orthodox Ideology and Masculinity in Putin’s Russia »

1. Introduction

In the post-Soviet period, Russia has turned to its past to refashion the historical foundation of its identity and its public image. Russian ideologues retrieved aspects of traditional Eastern Orthodox ideology to promote a neo-imperial agenda that would establish Russia as the most powerful state in Eurasia. Patriarchal constructions of masculinity are staple features of post-Soviet Russian identity, and the Russian Orthodox Church functioned as a convenient source for usable components of a powerful and patriarchal empire. Eastern Orthodoxy privileges the notion of an ideal family grounded by traditional values. In this paradigm, a strong male presides over families at the micro and macro-levels.  

Russian president Vladimir Putin uses Orthodox teachings to promote masculinity in action and image. Putin executes masculinized policies of brutal force in the name of protecting and defending Russia from European secularism. Masculinity is central to Putin’s neo-imperial strategy, as support for feminism and LGBTI rights are regarded as pillars of the European secularist agenda that threatens Russia’s flourishing. 

Putin’s control over the Russian media results in the creation and dissemination of multiple poses depicting him as a throwback strongman.[1] Putin appears in photos as a participant in fierce athletic competitions, he is pictured in feral, natural settings, and displays his masculinity as a shirtless, bare-chested macho man.[2] Observers find humor in Putin’s machismo, but the public display of masculinity is but one part of a larger, neo-imperial program celebrating the resurgence of Russia with strong men taking the lead in post-Soviet reconstruction. 

This essay explores masculinity in aspects of Orthodox culture and ideology that contribute to Putin’s program. It investigates expressions of masculinity in Orthodox structures and ritual practices, especially among the clergy. The essay also presents the limited admission of women to positions of power authorized by the Moscow Council of 1917–18, a movement forgotten in the post-Soviet era. The third part of this essay covers the feminist challenge posed to Orthodox masculinity in post-Soviet Russia by the punk band Pussy Riot, and the justification of violence in defending Russia from European secular values through the war in Ukraine.

[1] See Valerie Sperling, ‘Putin’s Macho Personality Cult’, Communist and Post-communist Studies, 49 (2016), 14–15.

[2] See Andrew Foxall, ‘Photographing Vladimir Putin: Masculinity, Nationalism and Visuality in Russian Political Culture’, Geopolitics, 18 (2018), 132–156, doi: 10.1080/14650045.2012.713245.

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