Staunton, Jan. 2 – Russians are currently struggling with the question of how far the government should go to restrict the growing use of obscenities in entertainment, the media, and everyday life, a society-wide problem with deep roots that has become progressively more serious over the last century, Aleksey Levinson says.
A major debate has broken out in Russia over whether the government should ban the use of obscenities, the Levada Center sociologist continues, noting that most older Russians favor such a step to protect public morality and most younger ones oppose it as a limit on their freedom (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2022/01/03/vyrazhaetsia-silno-rossiiskii-narod).
In reporting this, Levinson offers a fascinating discussion of the reasons why obscenities spread from being a kind of language used only among men up to the nineteenth century to a commonplace used not only by women but even by children in Soviet times and especially after the fall of communism.
The spread in the use of obscenities among Russian women began in earnest during World War I, he says, when many women, left alone in their villages because their husbands were in the trenches, began brewing moonshine to make money for themselves. That brought them into contact with illegal networks were obscenities were common.
During the Russian civil war and especially after it, the Bolsheviks promoted female equality which often took the form of the masculinization of women’s roles, something that led an increasing number of Russian women to use obscenities to demonstrate their liberation and new equal status, Levinson continues.
In the last decades of Soviet power, divorces increased, single motherhood became common, and “the well-known phrase, ‘there is no sex in the USSR’ could be called true in the sense that there wasn’t any for a multitude of single women and for a multitude of weak men.” As a result, “obscenities replaced sex,” Levinson says.
But there was a real explosion in the use of obscenities following the collapse of the Soviet system. Not only did many prohibitions fall away, but many new issues arose for which there was no common language to discuss them. But these things had to be discussed, and “our society, not finding any other path, proceeded to drop taboos against obscenities.”
What had once been “secret male speech” was no longer secret or male, Levinson says. Instead, women and even children began using obscene language sometimes and especially in the case of younger children without a clear understanding of what the words they were using actually meant.