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Male Dominance and Gendered Informal Politics in Russia and Iceland

Elites
European Politics
Gender
Transitional States
Institutions
Janet Johnson
CUNY-Brooklyn College
Janet Johnson
CUNY-Brooklyn College

Abstract

This comparative study uses insights from the study of hybrid regimes to theorize how male dominance is maintained even when women make great strides into formal political power. I begin with a theoretical framework of hegemonic masculinity and homosociality--as advanced by R.W. Connell and Elin Bjarnegård—understood as gendered informal institutions. Perhaps unsurprisingly in Putin’s Russia, I find egregious examples of both, from the campaign to construct Putin’s manliness as hegemonic to the supremacy of siloviki, an all-male network of those from the KGB and the like. These are not just cultural artifacts, but backed by powerful enforcement mechanisms: there is an omnipresent threat of “compromising materials” mixing allegations of abuse of office, disloyalty, or incompetence with titillating questions about sexual behavior, orientation, or sufficient masculinity. Iceland, in contrast, is assessed by watchdogs as one of the least corrupt, most democratic, and most feminist countries, topping the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap for the last five years. A 2009 pots and pans revolution--infused with women’s agency and feminist zeal--toppled the male-dominated network which had liberalized the economy for their own gains. This brought in the world’s first openly lesbian prime minister, a gender-balanced government, and a parliament with only a few more men than women. However, the male-dominated network used dirty tactics remarkably similar to those in Russia, including forcing a MP to resign through veiled threats to her children’s safety, and returned to formal power four years later. This suggests that in most politics around the world gendered informal institutions matter more than formal rules. Part of an in-progress book contrasting Russia’s and Iceland’s post-crisis politics, the paper contributes to feminist institutionalism, especially the new focus on informal institutions and practices. Fieldwork, including interviews with insiders, was conducted in 2013.