Pavel Starikov from Russia CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s get straight to the punchline: People hate Butina because it feels good to hate her.

Why?

What do you mean why? Because Trump is in office, what other reason do you need?

She is a woman but she is not “our” woman.

She is foreign.

For God’s sake, she is Russian. Feels so good to degrade her and her disgusting otherly gun-holding enthusiastic smirk. Ewwwww.

_____

🔫 😡 Contextualize?

Okay, let’s first talk about Trump.

Personally, I’ve criticized him long before it became fashionable, on human grounds—and today, I still have no reason to love him. He feels hollow, like a doll. His presidency has triggered a rise in xenophobia from every direction, not to mention further militarization of law enforcement. A freedom-loving artist from birth, I am not a fan of either ethnic prejudice or militarization.

Besides, I am an immigrant, and so is my mom. My mom doesn’t speak great English, so now I have to worry that if she goes outside without me and gets lost somehow, some brave ICE man might feel entitled to questioning her, and she won’t be able to explain fast enough that she is legal. I don’t feel safe for her.

And yeah, I am probably being super paranoid—but until recently, those thoughts simply didn’t occur to me—and now they do.

Furthermore, a lot of my friends are from Muslim countries, and I detest the implied distrust they are subjected to.

Actually, to be fair, Trump didn’t start that one. A long time ago, I had an Iraqi friend called Hani. He lived in Europe, and his mom lived in Iraq—and when Bill Clinton started bombing Iraq to cover up for his Monica scandal, my heart just bled for Hani and his mom. I felt so disgusted with politics! I haven’t talked to Hani for a very long time. I will never know whether his mom has survived Clinton’s bombings—or any of the subsequent wars.

But I’ve digressed.

So as I said, I have no reason to love Trump. I didn’t vote for him, and I never will. But I am positive that collective anger and collective loss of human decency are far more frightening and far more threatening to my species than any one human being—including Trump—could ever be.

And because I am a Russian redhead who has been at some point arrested on suspicions of espionage by the same kind of brave men who are now manhandling Butina, I am far more inclined toward honest and compassionate analysis than those of my friends who have never been subjected to institutional cruelty.

I feel for her. Yes, I feel for her.

__________

The coverage of Butina’s case has been unforgivably sensationalist, and some of the assumptions made by the prosecutors, very strange.

First, she was in all seriousness accused of trading sex for access based on a completely innocuous joke inside a text message. When I read the exact text exchange, I scratched my head and asked myself whether it was a human being who took it literally, or a primitive robot.

Without thinking for too long, I can name several friends with whom I had the same verbal exchange as the one that made Butina a spying prostitute in the eyes of the prosecutors (“I did this for you, now you owe me sex”). Only a humorless robot with an agenda could interpret this kind of humor as a case of sexual harassment or prostitution… a human being with even a few functioning brain cells would recognize a joke. Hell, I’ve even had a couple of gay male friends “extort sex” from me in this manner!! Should I have called the cops on them?

So in Butina’s case, were the prosecutors slow-witted, incompetent, or just super biased and enthusiastic? Did they speak Russian? Was their interpreter an idiot? I want to know!! Actually, no, I don’t. I don’t want to get anywhere near those enthusiasts.

And what about the overall cultural (mis)understanding? There is so much talk about it in today’s culture—but so much room for improvement!! As a Russian, I can attest to the fact that most articles about Butina published in U.S. media outlets exhibit desperate ignorance when it comes to cultural sensitivity. In a typical imperial manner, writers somehow assume that immigrants must think and feel like Americans born in America—and must perceieve the American culture in the same way non-immigrant Americans do.

However, when it comes to cultural triggers such as “guns,” “abortions,” and the general partisan divide, not every person raised outside of the U.S. has the same sensitivities as non-immigrant Americans. I can say, for example, that it took me at least ten years in America—if not longer—to start picking up on the emotional intensity with which my non-immigrant American friends approached these divisive topics. In fact, for a long time, I didn’t even realize the importance of the abyss separating the Democrats from the Republicans! I projected my lack of excitement over it onto my friends: In my own head, politicians in both camps were collectively filed under “American politicians,” and on rare occasions when I thought about any of them, I assessed them individually, based on my understanding of their individual platforms.

Another example. My former in-laws—the ones who didn’t mind the fact that their abusive son set me up to be arrested on suspicions of “espionage”—used to praise Bush when we all watched TV in the family room. Does it mean that they were… Republicans? Who knows, I have never even thought about it until about now. Back then, I definitely had no idea that it was important.

So, while I have no way of knowing for absolute sure what’s in Butina’s head—and whether she is or is not a spy—it is not crazy to assume that she is a regular ambitious woman of which there are many. Or maybe an opportunist who sought to mingle with those who treated her well and who were supportive of her personal and business agendas. This is how most human beings behave, especially when it comes to those with high ambitions. And fine, I may not agree with her tastes in men or in politics—but having an agenda I disagree with doesn’t make her worthy of institutional cruelty! We all tend to gravitate towards those who appreciate us, praise us, and give us good things. One doesn’t have to be a spy to be a hustler.

She lobbied alright—but I find it interesting that out of all the lobbyists doing their thing day in and day out—including on behalf of foreign countries—it was an easily stereotypeable Russian female who has been subjected to solitary confinement and all-American hatred. Personally, I find singling her out both xenophobic and misogynistic.

I know enough about Russian and other immigrants to know that every immigrant who can capitalize on their connections—both in the States and back home—does just that. We have no family here to fall on, so we hustle. We try to do well. And because we don’t necessarily have the same local tribal sensitivities as non-immigrant Americans, we act on instincts and on human connections that show up, without realizing the subcultural connotations.

In Butina’s case, she was obsessed with self-defense. In Russia, to the best of my knowledge, the issue of “guns” is not politicized. It definitely was a non-issue when I was living in Moscow. People just didn’t go at each other’s throats over it because nobody actually cared. But it was a big deal for Butina, and she has been promoting self-defense for years, like a maniac. I even wonder if anything happened to her when she was younger. I’ve looked and was not able to find any info about any incidents that led to her obsession—all I found was that her dad taught her to hunt—but I do wonder.

Butina has been vocally defending Tatiana Kulakova, a Russian woman who (allegedly) accidentally killed her (allegedly) abusive husband in self-defense.

She has been in favor of introducing legislation against sexual harassment in Russia (here and here).

Hell, she’s criticized Russian press, law enforcement, legislation, and President himself—over self-defense. See the tweet below.

Translation of her retweet:

“Since when does a president’s decree overule the federal law? Since when are the scribbles of one man more important than the legislation issued by the Parliament? Isn’t Mr. President overstepping his power?”

Why do I see crickets about it in the media? It is that hard to hire somebody who reads Russian? It took me less than thirty minutes to find that info on her own damn Twitter…

And now, the most disgusting part, woman-on-woman viciousness.

I swear, there are few things more toxic in the world than a woman shaming or mocking another woman.

Tell me, was it necessary to savor Butina’s ugly pics? A “mousy mullet,” really?

And clearly, a woman who is not our woman would only make an effort to look good for the sake of espionage and other evil deeds. Everybody knows that.

So, almost everybody has betrayed her (and now they are trying to put her and her boyfriend against each other… how orwellesque), she is kept in solitary confinement, God knows what they are doing to her body… (For instance, when I was in jail, I’ve been driven in the back of a car handcuffed to two scared and screaming women, as our bodies were hitting the walls of the car, and the driver was laughing and making racist jokes. And then some.)

American xenophobia is killing me! Xenophobia against a young woman chased into a corner is killing me, it is. She is not an animal. She is a human being.

And by the way, even the official conviction does not imply espionage—but simply lobbying on behalf of a foreign country without registering—something that many are still doing on behalf of many countries, and don’t get locked up for it.

To my senses, she is being made an example of. Her life, her freedom, her body are being sacrificed at the altar of populism, yes, populism.

Tomorrow, it could be any of us agonizing on the receiving end of somebody else’s subjective irrational cruelty.

Tomorrow, it could be any of us…

 

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