“How this fights The Patriarchy exactly remains unclear.”
In an apparent bid to fight the horrors of the patriarchal phenomenon known as “manspreading,” a Russian activist poured a bleach-and-water solution on the crotches of unsuspecting male passengers riding the St. Petersburg metro in a video posted Tuesday to YouTube. But there may be more to the story.
Anna Dovgalyuk, a law student and self-labelled “social activist,” is seen in the video describing her animus toward “manspreading,” the practice of men occupying more space than necessary on public transport by sitting with their legs wide apart.
“This is my new video manifesto, dedicated to the problem of manspreading, the disgusting phenomenon that is being fought with around the world and it is hushed up [here in Russia],” Dovgalyuk said. “Men demonstrating their alpha-manhood in the subway, with women and children around, deserve contempt.”
The manifesto contains a message describing the solution used on the offenders as a mix of bleach and water “30 times more concentrated” than what “housewives” use when doing laundry.
Mariya Rain — an actress, model, and friend to Dovgalyuk — is the person who actually dumped the mix onto public transport passengers.
According to a message in the video, 70 men were doused in the shoot, in which a camera captures the stunned reactions of passengers. The definition of “manspreading” adhered to by Dovgalyuk appears to be expansive, as many of the subway riders occupied only one seat or barely had their legs apart.
Nor were the accidental manspreaders spared. One passenger was clearly asleep when Rain unloaded the bleach-water mixture on his groin area.
Several conservative outlets jumped all over the story. “WATCH: Radical feminist pours bleach on men’s crotches to combat ‘manspreading,'” read a headline on a piece by The Blaze’s Chris Enloe, who noted that Russian outlet Rosbalt claimed that users on social media were calling the story fake.
Alternate headline; Feminist acid attacks men and should be immediately arrested. https://t.co/FyhlinG4cI
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) September 26, 2018
“How this fights The Patriarchy exactly remains unclear,” wrote Amanda Prestigiacomo in The Daily Wire’s article on Dovgalyuk.
Non-conservative publications also largely took Dovgalyuk’s stunt at face value. Vice’s Gavin Butler called her brand of activism “unique” in a piece that could be interpreted as relatively more sympathetic to anti-manspreading.
But perhaps the video deserves a more skeptical treatment.
First, most outlets missed the fact that it wasn’t Dovgalyuk herself who was actually participating in the video.
Then there’s the matter of a social media post by a man claiming to be one of the video’s bleaching victims. According to PaperPaper.ru, Stanislav Kudrin shared a message to social media alleging he was paid for his appearance in the stunt.
The uproar from feminist and women’s rights activists against “manspreading” is part of a broader culture war between the sexes that has flared in recent years as discussions swirl around the harms imposed by the patriarchy, gender, and microaggressions.
The changing dynamics between men and women have resulted in a string of high-profile social experiments that have, depending on one’s perspective, either served to raise awareness about essential cultural issues or exploited already highly contentious societal debates in pursuit of publicity.
In 2014, an awareness campaign by “viral video agency” Rob Bliss Creative featured an actress enduring catcalls while walking around New York City for 10 hours to highlight the issue of street harassment.
Earlier this year, Rob Bliss Creative was responsible for a widely criticized marketing stunt in which an actress duped dozens of men she matched with on Tinder into thinking they were appearing for a date, only to subject them to a “Hunger Games”-like competition.
In 2017, Dovgalyuk produced a video to combat the practice of “upskirting” by featuring an actress lifting her skirt at various crowded public locations in St. Petersburg.
The coopting of social causes by marketing agencies is perhaps nothing new, but in the age of social media, where gaming a mass audience’s emotions is algorithmically rewarded, provocation is an especially potent tool.
A twisted symbiotic relationship is born within an outrage economy. Provocateurs of all stripes, across mediums, come to need each other. Hence, the extreme activist craves the reaction of the conservative outlet that diametrically opposes her views, hoping the subsequent outrage leads to notoriety amongst haters or prods defenders to rally. That same conservative outlet can’t wait for the next shock action from the activist, knowing they can repackage it to incite a frenzied audience response that translates to measurable engagement.
A similar motivation was almost certainly behind limelight-loving Michael Avenatti and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson’s decision to sit down for a discussion earlier this month knowing it was unlikely to be in any way productive.
Any good media marketer these days knows provocation, prurience, and the reduction of complex political ideologies to easily consumable activist “causes” is a deadly combination.