Essays and Drawings
by Katharina Wiedlack
Fierce Russian Women on TV
What we knew as TV changed completely, according to critics and academics alike, with the emergence of The Sopranos. Whether it was the script, the characters, the plot or the theme, The Sopranos set new standards for seriality. While they heralded the new era of television, Netflix and other online providers completed the revolution, elevating not only the visual style and quality of production, but our way of watching. Not less importantly, the democratization of TV opened new possibilities for the marginalized. Although there is still much room for improvement, Women, racial and sexual minorities are now able to participate in TV productions on a previously unseen level. In this humble collection of essays and drawings, I feature 10 female Russian characters that emerged in this new era of TV: Svetlana (Shamless US), Red (Orange is the New Black), Mother Russia (Kick-Ass), the Drag Queen Katya and six more. Understanding them as a reflection of the new seeming openness of a more democratic TV landscape, my essays muse about their position towards yet another new era that the new millennium brought about, and that arguably shapes American culture to a great extend - the New Cold War between Russia and the US.
Svetlana performed by Isidora Goreshter, drawing by Katharina Wiedlack

I present my "12 awesome Russian women on TV" series not chronologically, but following my personal preferences. Accordingly, I begin with my all-time favorite character, Svetlana, plaid by the unforgettable Isidora Goreshter in the comedy-drama Shameless US (Showtime 2011- ongoing). Shameless is set in Chicago's South Side, infamous for its minority population, street crime, violence and poverty, featuring what Marxists would call the Lumpenproletariat. It stars the dysfunctional Irish-American Gallagher family, its alcoholic hobo father Frank, and his six traumatized kids (and two grandkids), and their friends. Over the course of ten seasons, Shameless lets its characters stumble over issues such as addiction, homelessness, disability, teenage pregnancy, gender inequality (and to a much lesser extent racial inequality), sexism, homophobia, incarceration, classism and so forth. The silver lining of the show is the stabilization of life, as its protagonists try to climb the social ladder and become tax-paying members of the working class (and occasionally higher social ranks).
The figure Svetlana or Lana, as her future wife Veronica Fisher will call her, is entangled in a web of social issues, migration among them. She enters Showtime like most Russian women enter American TV, through human trafficking, as sex worker. Hired by the Polish-American criminal Terry Milkovich to fuck his son Mickey into heterosexuality, she tricks her way into his house and community by claiming that he is the father to her unborn child.

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Svetlana is the unscrupulous femme fatale that motivates the narrative arch and makes the story interesting

Svetlana is everything that you wish from a Russian sex worker on TV.1 She is a real trickster: ruthless, cold, and mean, beautiful, sexy and cunning. Her otherness is further sexualized and emphasized through her strong and not even fake Russian accent - thanks to Goreshter's Moldavian heritage, I suppose. She is determined and focused, and not only highly intelligent but also skilled in business matters. Importantly, she is very skilled in matters of the bedroom. Earning the title "Suka" (Russian equivalent for "Bitch"), she runs an illegal bordello and later a mother-milk sweatshop, blackmails her spouse and his lover Ian Gallagher, etc. etc.Svetlana is the unscrupulous femme fatale that motivates the narrative arch and makes the story interesting over the course of season six and seven. With the increase of her airtime, the tall Russian lady with the blond little baby slowly transforms into a more likeable character, showing her softer side by becoming a quite competent caretaker for the Ball-Fischer twins. Divorcing the incarcerated Mickey, she moves in with the biracial couple, and it doesn't take long before she starts sexual relations with both of them. When the not so smart Kevin Ball accidentally reveals to Immigration and Customs Enforcement that Svetlana is an illegal immigrant, Veronica Fischer marries her, and shortly after the tree of them become a loving "throuple."
As full member of the Ball-Fischer household and relationship, Svetlana manages not only family and kids, but also increasingly Kevin's seedy bar "the Alibi." Her methods might not be entirely ethical or legal, but it is immensely pleasurable – at least for a person with tendencies of obsessive-compulsive disorder – to see her clean up the messy lives of people around her. As successful business woman, she becomes a role model for Debby, the teenage mother and youngest Gallagher daughter. Even more refreshing is the depiction of the throuple that works without jealousy or gender-related (male) anxieties or competition between the women.
Svetlana and Veronica 'own' their sexuality and it is really nice to see women enjoy themselves on TV. Unfortunately, the show does not refrain from dipping too deep into the cliché box of male porn when they show Svetlana and Veronica having sex, confirming all the racilizing and Orientalizing phantasies. This aspect becomes ironized through the sexy cleaning business that the throuple opens up, hence opens itself up to critique, but never entirely or unambiguously. Veronica, who previously used to work as a domina and Svetlana strip/clean and dominate in suburban houses for middle-class men for a while.
Following Shameless' general trajectory, however, the throuple doesn't last. When Svetlana takes ownership of the Alibi behind Kevin's and Veronica's backs to help them out of debt, the relationship is ruined in the process. After that, Svetlana finds an unworthy and abrupt exit from the show. She marries an old rich man (in diapers) and leaves forever.

Shameless is a comedy about social disparity along the lines of cultural stratification, ethnicity, racialization, gender, dis/ability and class. Different American minorities are pitted against each other, mostly for comical relieve, but there is almost always a bitter truth beneath the stereotypical the depictions. Don't get me wrong: I am not suggesting that the racial, sexist, sexual or class stereotypes are true. But the often hurtful stereotyping sheds light on oppressed minorities and beneath its comical surface lingers a critique on structural inequality, capitalism and individualism.
A topic frequently up in the show is homosexuality, making After Ellen tout it to be "one of the queerest and most progressive television shows on right now."2 One of the main characters, the Irish-American Ian Gallagher, who has a bipolar disorder, develops into a gay activist, fighting for gay rights. And even his closeted boyfriend, the Polish-American Micky Milkovich grows into a proud gay, as does Ian's little sister, the teenage mother Debbie Gallagher.
In this regard, Svetlana's same-sex desire is not special. However, in contrast to Ian, Micky, and Debby, Svetlana does not identify as gay or bisexual. Her fluid sexuality seems connected to her ethnicity and origin, corresponding to her profession as a sex worker, but also to her ambition, since she uses sex to manipulate people and get what she wants. She enjoys sex, but it is frequently a means to an end, and accordingly, couldn't be further away from the way homosexuality is presented with regards to the white characters of Ian, Micky, Debby or the trans*character Travor (season seven).

The gender studies scholar in me cannot help seeing similarities between Svetlana's queer fluid sexuality and literature that celebrated what they understood as queer sexual fluidity in Moscow shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Sociologist Laurie Essig3 for example interpreted the fact that Russian women practicing same-sex sex did not identify as lesbians, and rejected fixed binary notions of sexuality and gender as sign for their general queerness, meant as sexual fluidity. Moreover, she declared such fluidity as distinct and different from 'western' white lesbians, who, so the implicit conclusion, have fixed and unchangeable homosexual identities.
Russia, Essig suggested, might be "a world of multiple desires and flexible identities that was not yet colonized by Western notions of sex and its meanings."4
But to echo yet another feminist sociologist Francesco Stella: can you really interpret the coexistence of same-sex practices with heterosexual relations and/or marriage and the lack of usage of western identity categories "as evidence of the exceptional and 'queer' fluidity of Soviet/Russian sexualities vis-à-vis 'western' binary constructs of sexuality as either 'gay' or 'straight'"?5 Essentializing a polarization between Russian and 'western' identities without a deeper engagement with specific socio-historical conditions and experiences produces such figures as Svetlana. She is the (white) Russian other to the white Euro-American homosexuals such as Ian and Debbie Gallagher.

The (white) Russian Other and other Others

Interesting in this regard is Svetlana's relationship with another Other, the African American Veronica. Ve, as she is called by her friends and lovers, is equally sexually adventurous, fluid and has no shame using her sexuality for economic means. She has worked as domina, as d.i.y. porn star/producer – filming highly problematic slavery fetish porn in her own house with her boyfriend Kevin Ball in the role of her master – and, together with Lana, as stripping cleaning personnel, as already mentioned. While the scenes where she acts as porn star are borderline funny, since Ve is a proud racially conscious Black woman and definitely not Kevin's mistress in her 'real' life, the depiction of Ve's and Lana's sexual encounters are less ambiguously problematic.
Ve's sexual fluidity sets her apart from the white Gallagher's sexualities as much as Svetlana's. The unconventional but very sexual relationship between Ve and Svetlana others them both and at the same time, it confirms the male racist gaze that wants to consume exotic Black and Oriental women alike. Svetlana and Veronica are co-constructed as sexually and racially/ethnically Other to the white segment of the US under and working class, but they are also set in a problematic hierarchy with each other. The dominant Ve becomes the dominated in relation to the Russian but white Svetlana.6 On the one hand, their otherness can be read critically as statement about unequal opportunities for African Americans and migrants alike, since both women are clearly more intelligent and able than most of the white Americans, yet seem to be stuck on the lowest of social ladders with them. On the other hand, however, their bodies are sexualized and offered for consumption to a much greater extent than any of the white women's or men's in the show. Moreover, their ethnic and/or racial stratification has a sexual component, or is at least intrinsically connected to their sexuality, while all other figures have the 'luxury' of living a sexuality that corresponds to their individuality, not depending on their ethnicity.

To sum it up, I want to emphasize that Isidora Goreshter's oustanding performance goes beyond the limits of her character's stereotypically written role. Svetlana 'plays' the Russian cunt with a smirk on her lips. There is never a doubt that she is the architect of her own fate and that her wit is her biggest strength. She is the feminist role model that good white soccer moms don't want their daughters to see. And nothing less can be said about Shanola Hampton's performance as Veronica. These women make even the occasionally really bad writing of Shameless enjoyable.

1) For an academic analysis of female Russian stereotypes on TV, in Film and Cinema see Katharina Wiedlack (2016). "Seeing 'Red' (Orange Is the New Black) – Russian Women, US Homonationalism and New Cold War Cultures." Gender, Rovné Příležitosti, Výzkum 17 (1): 29–40.
2) Trish Bendix 2016:
3) Laurie Essig (1999). Queer in Russia: A Story of Sex, Self, and the Other (Durham, NC: Duke University Press). A non-academic version of Essig's ideas is David Tuller (1996). Cracks in the Iron Closet. Travels in Gay and Lesbian Russia (Chicago: Chicago University Press).
4) Essig (1999): 174
5) Francesca Stella (2015). Lesbian Lives in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia: Post/Socialism and Gendered Sexualities (New York: Palgrave MacMillan), 19.
6) On the question of the erotic components of racism see Sharon Patricia Holland (2012). The Erotic Life of Racism. Durham: Duke University Press.
Red played by Kate Mulgrew, drawing by Katharina Wiedlack
Galina "Red" Reznikov

My second favorite Russian (immigrant) character on US-American TV is the figure 'Red' in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black (2013–2019). Although I adore the character Red, especially in the first three or so seasons, I have some general reservations against the show that I want to put out here. For one, the show's main protagonist, Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling) is rather lame; She embodies the white upper-middle-class New Yorker that makes me not miss the Big Apple. She is sentenced to 15 months in a women's federal prison, Litchfield Penitentiary, and upon entering the facility is suddenly confronted with the entire extent of the US-American prison industrial complex, exploitation, gendered and racialized violence and other injustices, classism etc. The show tries visibly to expose Chapman's white privilege through comedy, but more often than not, fails.
The show became rightfully celebrated within pop culture and queer feminist bubbles for showing "more strong female roles than most casting directors see in a year,"1 including lesbians and a transgender woman that was actually played by one (the wonderful actress Lavern Cox). The question remains though, why they had to put a white Barbie in the middle of it all.

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Anyhow. The character Galina 'Red' Reznikov is one reason to watch and re-watch the show. The white American actress Kate Mulgrew, who became famous as Captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager, plays the hell out of the Russian mobster mother, despite the fact that she has no relationship to a Russian or any other post-Soviet US minority, and is hearably not fluent in the Russian language. Mulgrew believably performs a Russian working-class US immigrant, who has been imprisoned for more than 12 years. As head of the kitchen, a job that allows her to oversee the preparation of meals and the prison commissary, Red holds a powerful position. She is feared and respected by the prisoners and prison employees alike; A clique of white inmates called 'Red's Girls' calls her 'mother' and she has considerable influence over Sam Healy, a corrections officer and inmate counselor.

Homosovieticus or a different kind of white

Litchfield Penitentiary is a highly segregated microcosm of American society, or rather, of the American underclass. Chapman is the true alien in this system. She is the only one who does not "belong," while all the others – predominantly Blacks and Latinas, and the occasional Asian Immigrant – seemingly naturally find their place within the social structures. (There would be much to say about this problematic depiction of prison life …)
Red is the leader of the "White Girls," a group of poorly educated young drug addicts. With the exception of Nicki, the rich girl rebel heroine addict, all these girls embody the cliché of "white trash." They are victims turned bullies with a low IQ (worsened by their methamphetamine consumption), religious fanatics etc. Red is the only immigrant among the group, but due to her intelligence and street smartness, she has a significantly higher status – hence, leads them, despite her Russian origins. This aspect is an important indicator for the social stratification of American society. In this way the show accurately identifies social and emotional relations that emerge through tactical alliances between white ignorance/supremacism and immigrants, based on a shared whiteness. While such alliances do not cancel out anti-immigrant sentiments per se, they prioritize ideas of white superiority and belonging. This doesn't mean that all the white girls in Red's clique are white supremacists, or that Red is sharing anti-Black and anti-POC sentiments. However, in a system where belonging is structured through racism, and social groups are formed according to phenotypical distinctions, whiteness is a unifying category across class, sexual preferences and migration/non-migration.

Red's whiteness is acknowledged – she is the leader of a group of white Americans (including some, who don't hide their white supremacism) although her Russian origin is hard to be missed. Indeed, Red's bodily appearance, style, language, and demeanor all attest to her roots. She speaks English with a significantly rolling 'R,' and has, at least over the course of the first four seasons, brightly colored red hair, red lipstick, and red nail polish (Soviet Russians used to be called 'Reds,' because red was/is the color of communism). Not only her make-up and color choice, but also her entire physical appearance reveal her Russian working-class heritage, from her broad shoulders, to her stocky figure, and forceful walk. As good Russian, Red is incredibly serious and strongly sentimental. She also has a sense of humor, albeit one that is very crude, working class, and sometimes sexualized. These bodily and character-related aspects are matched with her conviction for involvement in organized crime – yet another post-Soviet cliché.
As good 'Homosovieticus' (the special breed of humans created by almost 70 years of Soviet rule), she is an "enforcer who trades favors and runs the kitchen with a hammer and sickle."2 As 'enforcer,' it naturally falls upon Red to introduce the series' blond heroine, Chapman, to the rules of the prison, with the words, 'Might not look like it, but there's rules in this place. The most important of which is, the second you're perceived as weak, you already are' ('Tit Punch', season one, episode two). What arrives in the words of advice is, of course, equally a warning: It is Red, who oversees the traffic of goods into and their distribution within the prison with a matronly, and firm hand, and she tolerates no interference. She resides at the top of the social ladder among the prison inmates and demands obedience to the social rules supporting her reign. Her 'rule' is based on the law of discipline and punishment. It allows absolutely no leniency, not even towards her 'children' or her own aching and ageing body.

One of Red's most important rules is no drug trafficking into the prison on her watch. Ironically and sadly, at the end of season one, she is falsely accused of just that and subsequently loses her power and family. Red sacrifices her own body and that of her prison 'children' to keep the system (and her power) in tact, but in the end, she loses everything. As much as her adherence to rules signifies her Sovietness, does her epic loss of power. Red doesn't believe in justice, she believes in rules and regulations and finds ways to make them work for her or finds ways around them. Her stern and at the same time subversive attitude towards rules is sharply contrasted by Chapman's attempt to fight prison injustice through legal means, and negotiation with the prison personnel in season one. As 'homosovieticus' and incarcerated immigrant, Red has no good reason to believe in activism, positive change and progress.
In Season five, (episode nine, "The Tightening") the viewer learns why Red does not believe in positive change. In a flashback – that depicts Soviet factory workers in a way that might be truer to their grandmothers' youth – Red's monotonous life as factory worker and girlfriend of a factory guard Dmitri are introduced. Bored with the boyfriend, whom she secretly calls "a hamster in jackboots," she befriends the hip girl Nadezhda and becomes introduced to the secret world of Rock'n'Roll and blue jeans, symbols of 'Western decadence.'
In this new and secret scene, university students and their friends 'rebel' against Soviet society by copying American style. Together with the underground organizer Pavel, Red starts selling forbidden contraband - Levi's blue jeans. When Red's friend Nadezhda disappear (probably because the KGB got wind of their blue jeans business) Red suggests organizing a demonstration to free her, but her new lover Pavel is scared and wants to lay low. Realizing that Pavel was not the pioneers of change that she thought him to be, Red breaks with her new scene and goes back to her old life. When 'hamster' Dmitri proposes they move to the US together (by way of Jewish migration) the disillusioned Red makes the rational move, marries him and they emigrate.

The Litchfield Penitentiary social ladder – or a tale of racialized and gendered inequality

Red attests to American anxiety about the Russian threat. She is the product of the Soviet experiment gone wrong: a disillusioned but educated and resourceful fighter, unscrupulous enough to join the Russian mafia. But Red is an already discovered, defunct, or contained threat. Her containment within Litchfield Penitentiary is a reminder of the American conviction of having proclaimed victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War.3 Despite her relative agency and power over some fellow inmates and her black market business, as prisoner, she is utterly at the mercy of the correction officers. On the hierarchical racialized and gendered social ladder, Red is not as far removed from white male power as, for instance, her African-American and Latina inmates, but she still is their minor 'other.'
Her position is best captured, much like other Eastern European women and their region of origin as such,4 as 'in-between.' Like her former home (Soviet) Russia, Red is situated in between the democratic, developed, white and the barbaric (terrorist) racialized territories. Accordingly, she is juxtaposed to the inmate Yvonne Parker, also known as 'Vee', one of the most painfully racialized figures in the series – the dangerous, unreliable black woman. Vee too has a prison 'family', but, while Red leads according to the 'prison rules' that supposedly grant survival or even flourishing to her group, Vee reigns through manipulation and violence, and for her personal gain. Vee embodies unpredictability and evilness, almost animal-like. She has a sleazy character, and 'works the system' to her advantage by cheating, betraying, and exploiting those who care for her. Red's white body in contrast, might be beaten and crippled – her back is increasingly hunched, she loses most of her hair, and finally shows signs of dementia by the last season – by the hardship of Soviet realism, migration and incarceration, but she is never portrayed as animalistic or evil. Nevertheless, hers is far from the beautiful, tall, blond, almost blameless, white yoga-body of Piper Chapman. Her body is corrupted as much as her character.
Indeed, Red's working-class, mafia activity and her Russianness are tightly intertwined. In 'Tit Punch' the viewer learns why she had to join the Russian mob: the good-hearted, old-fashioned, motherly, and modest working-class Red could not control her temper (since she is only half-civilized), punching the mean-spirited, arrogant, and fake-blond Russian wife of a mafia boss in the chest, rupturing the woman's breast implant. Indebted to the mafia boss with $60,000, she has no other choice. Red is a real worker, practical and smart, authentic and principled, but she is also emotional and temperamental – a frequent attribute of Slavic women in TV shows5 – and it is her Russian temperament that seals her fate.

Her belonging to the Russian mafia is, of course, a terrible Russia cliché. But it is also a signification of ethnicity that is a bit more nuanced. As relatively big shot within the mafia, Red embodies the Russian mama, governing over the weak effeminate Russian men of her surroundings. Here, her strength and family orientation characterizes her as elderly working class, marks her ethnically and developmentally. Mafia figures such as Tony Soprano offer ethnicity as a reference to old values that development obsessed America has long forgotten: "loyalty, rootedness, and interdependence".6 Red's mafia activity refers back to her gendered Russianness. She is the crippled older lady/mother figure that allows the mourning of the long gone values such as strong family bonds, rootedness, and interdependence. We love her in a nostalgic way, but we also understand that her old-fashioned ways are not meant to remain. The last episode suggests that Red will die soon, alone and confused in the medical ward of the prison. Only the beautiful white middle class yoga-trimmed Piper Chapman becomes released/is forgiven her misdeeds, and can find freedom and happiness in contemporary America.

1 Greenwald, A. (15.7.2013). 'The Great Orange Is the New Black Is Suddenly the Best Netflix Series Yet.' Grantland Available from hollywood-prospectus/the-great-orange-is-the-new-black- is-suddenly-the-best-netflix-binge-watch-series-yet/
2 ibid.
3 for a detailed analysis of the American 'triumphalism' during the 1990s and early 2000 see Kimberly A. Williams (2012). Imagining Russia: Making Feminist Sense of American Nationalism in U.S.-Russian Relations. (Albany: State University of New York Press)
4 Larry Wolff (1994). Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
5 Williams (2012)
6 Matthew Jacobson (2006). Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post- Civil Rights America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p. 26.
'Mother Russia' played by Olga Kurkulina, drawing by Katharina Wiedlack
Mother Russia

Okay, Katarina Dombrovski, also known as Mother Russia from the comic book series and film adaptations of Kick-Ass, is 'technicaly' not a TV character, but a comic figure and film antagonist. But since she is seriously amazing, I include her here nevertheless. Mother Russia is played by Olga Kurkulina.
'Katya' performed by Brian McCook, drawing by Katharina Wiedlack
Katya Zamolodchikova

Yekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova or short Katya is a Russian drag character created by Brian McCook in 2006. Initially born to work as the hostess of a monthly drag show called "Perestroika" at the Jacques Cabaret in Boston,1 Katya participated in RuPaul's Drag Race season seven (2015) as well as the RuPaul's Drag Race All Star season two (2016). Additionally, she hosted UNHhhh, a web series on YouTube and later became co-host of The Trixie & Katya Show on Viceland.
A native of Marlborough, Massachusetts, McCook is of Irish Catholic ancestry. In his first appearance on RuPaul's Drag Race McCook said that the Russian-based aspects of his persona were inspired by one of his female professors at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, who "never left the house without a full face of makeup [with] six inch stilettos in the snow."2 On other occasions he stated that the stage name is a reference to one of his favorite gymnasts, Elena Zamolodchikova.3 A Non-Russian himself, McCook's command over the Russian language alledgedly derives from several language courses and from a cassette tape called "Pronounce It Perfectly" according to an Entertainment Weekly interview.4 And I have to admit that his pronounciation is really good, especially for a English-native speaker.
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Katya is a hilarious character. She is sassy, sexy, over the top. Although really funny at times, McCook's performances of Russian femininity, style, and womanhood often slip into classist, and orientalist mockery of the same. I read this slipage as "racial commodification." To do so, I understand race as not necessarily connected to skin color, but, with Stuart Hall, to essentialized bodily attributes, mindsets and cultural aspects. Moreover, I understand race as interconnected with ideas about time, and development. McCook embodies Katya as a little backward, a little 'simple' and developmentally delayed. Moreover, and importantly, these aspects are connoted as Russian.
Of course, I am well aware of the genre of comedy and drag, which are both taking up social stereotypes, gesturing towards critique and appreciation. However, I think the line between devaluation and appreciative mockery is thin. Through the lack of a critical discourse on the orientalization and racialization of Russianness within liberal progressive and anti-racist discourses, the comedy and drag can take up and confirm derogatory discourses about Russian women, without being questioned or criticized.
My intuition towards Katya and other comical figurations of Russian feminity is that there is a connection between the emergence of Russian women, we can laugh about and core ideas of queer liberalism—that their co-appearance is not coincidental, but a consequence of queer liberalism's unwillingness to deal with racial and class-based inequalities

RuPaul's Drag Race is a place, where race becomes negotiated

RuPaul's Drag Race is a space that signifies American national belonging, as well as queer neoliberalism. Additionally, it is a space where race and racialization, and American racial politics are negotiated. Many have publicly criticized the racist and classist baseline of RuPaul's Drag Race, which confines contestants of color to a limited set of 'queens' they are allowed to impersonate as well as the blunt racism of the gay fan community. Feminist media theorists such as Sabrina Strings and Long T. Bui further argue that RuPaul's Drag Race has in the past fashioned racialized and class-based caricatures to satisfy market demands and expand the brand. RuPaul and the other judges were called out for pushing contestants into "stereotypical racial identities" under the innocent label of "giving 'personality'".5 This policing of racial identity for minority performers re-inscribes them as fundamentally Other and "re-instating race as 'natural' or 'real' at the same moment as it undermines gender's 'realness.," so Strings and Bui. Thus, Drag Race contributes to the naturalization of stereotypes.

How does Katya's Russianness fit into this arena of essentialized racialized figures on the one hand and white individualism on the other?

McCook's trans-ethnic or trans-cultural embodiment of a Russian sex-worker is allowed because he and his Drag persona are perceived as white. Given the progressive liberal audience of the show, blackface or any other clearly racist racial impersonations would be forbidden. Katya embodies every Americans stereotype about Russian women: she came to the USA in the 1990s in search of a better life, she works as a sex-worker—has no problem to sell her body for money—, she has no body shame, she loves money and decadence, she wears fur hats and diamonds, she is ruthless, yet sees no future and has no fear of dying.
Three significant features seem to construct her Russianness in such a way that it cannot be missed: her over the top style and make up, which includes her blond big hair, her dark, disillusioned, slightly depressed, yet ruthless character, and of course, her thick Russian accent. These characteristics signify: her low class status, expressed through her choice of kitschy, over-the-top costumes, assessors and make-up, her whiteness, including her blond hair and thick rolling R, and her dark moody little sad character. Additionally, Katya is defined as Russian through her wish or aspiration to the American Dream, a dream she does not and will never reach in her lifetime. This aspects relates to the idea of Russia as almost modern, almost progressive, almost, but not quite yet western, or liberal. All of Katya's characteristics can, in one way or the other, be related to the Enlightenment's orientalist ideas about Russia. Even the stereotypical aggressive sexuality and cliché we see represented in Katya can be traced back to the era of the German Philosopher Fichte.

Larry Wolff, Iver Neumann6 and many researcher following their approach have analyzed the ambivalence of the Western structural enclosing of the Eastern body as in-between, or not-quite modern through the usage of the methodology of orientalism. Enlightenment philosophers invented the notion of Eastern Europe and Russia as a cultural and intellectual construction in order to establish and stabilize western superiority and hegemony. They assigned Eastern Europe, including Russia, to the position of the paradox of difference and similarity, and situated it in between western European civilization and the 'barbarian Orient'. Building on Wolff and Neumann, as well as the queer theorists Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielińska7 allows to account for the signification of Russian female bodies such as Katya's fictional body as old-fashioned, developmentally delayed, overtly sexualized and commodified. Yet, the methodology of orientalism does not allow for the analysis of the specific constructions of Russian bodies. It identifies the Russian body as the similar Other to the white European (American), but does not provide any further language to describe its specific demarcation.
Placing Orientalisms understanding of the Russian body as racialized as "not-quite-modern" within critiques of current liberal US-American sexual politics as well as discourses that address the construction of American races on the intersection of class and gender might help to understand Katya as embodiment of Russianness.

Matthew Goldmark analyzes Drag Race as cultural form that occasionally "displaces the evocation of racial inequality in the United States by turning to a global question of sexuality. Contestants perform for a "world" that looks to the United States as a social trendsetter."5 Although he does not refer to the well-known critical race studies scholar Jasbir Puar, his description is a very good example of what she defines as homonationalism, a nationalism that includes some gay identities, and excludes black and brown people as the other.8 Puar developed the conceptual framework of "homonationalism" to narrate how '"acceptance" and "tolerance" for gay and lesbian subjects have become a barometer by which the West evaluates the Rest of the world. Within homonationalism, gays and lesbians are put forth as visible signs of modernity and progress. The inclusion of gay subjects into the idea of the nation and their construction as signs of modernity, however, comes along with the exclusion of racialized others, who were once seen as progressive and are now viewed as backward.
Puar developed her concept to understand how US xenophobia and Islamophobia structure racialized Muslim subjects as terrorist subjects in the wake of 9/11, and a shift in the US-discourses on the Israel-Palestine conflict, which increasingly used to delegitimize Palestinian cultural and territorial claims, through identifying and rejecting Palestinian homophobia. Researcher working on discourses concerning Russia, such as myself, however, have long used the framework of homonationalism to signify the current evaluation of Russia as backward and anti-modern through western discourses. The critical framework of homonationalism can explain, why Katya's body and personality emerged through the liberal, homonationalistic discoursive field of RuPaul's Drag Race. To understand the racialized bodily and personality aspects of Katya, howerver, Puar's point that homonationalistic western superiority rests on a racialized othered body needs to be reconsidered.
Katya brings Russia and its homophobia to the fore of reality TV. In comparison to a homophobic Russia, which btw. also hates Drag Queens such as the bearded lady Conchita Wurst, the USA, here represented by this national drag contest, looks superior, progressive, modern and tolerant. This usage of Katya in such a homonationalistic way, is possible only through the unnamed orientalization or maybe even racialization of Russianness in liberal discourses in general. To put it differently, homonationalism depends not only on the racialization and othering of Muslims, people of color or black people, but also of (homophobic, conservative, backward) Russians and Russianness.

We would not understand that Katya is Russian, if she wouldn't be so blond, so over-the-top, so 'cheap', so ruthless, so sad, in short, so different. Yet, because this form of othering and racialization does not manifest itself in discourses around color, since it is commonly agreed that Russians are white, orientalist and racist impersonations of Russian figures, and especially Russian women are not seen as hateful, even in anti-racist and decolonial contexts. The usage of Puar's concept of homonationalism for the US-view on Russian runs the risk of making the brown bodies, which have to face the violence of white US-homonationlism in the era of terrorism and increasing Islamophobia invisible, if the racial aspects of homonationalism are ignored. But if we understand that homonationalism does not work without the racialization of multiple and different racial others, we can adapt the concept to analyze the construction of the abject Russian female bodies. These white, but nevertheless racialized, bodies are constructed in relation to brown and black bodies. The orientalism within current neoliberal homonationalism signifies white developmentally delayed Russian bodies and brown Chechen bodies on a scale between the white superior (American) people and the utterly barbaric brown and black oriental others, whose developmental location is even further removed from the western hegemonic centers.

These white Russian bodies become visible in this framework through gender, sexuality, racialization and class. Gender Studies scholars such as Anca Parvulescu highlight the economic factors involved in determining the racialized hierarchy of migrants from the global south and Eastern Europe within the global West.9
I would go as far as to argue that economic factors do not only determine the hierarchy but rather significantly shape who becomes racialized in the first place. Related to the economic potency of migrants is the factor of class. Arguably, even if the economic status is high, migrants and especially Eastern European and Russian migrants are always defined as somehow from a lower class in the global West. According to Parvulescu, women with white skin color, such as Russian or Ukrainian women become racialized in the context of migration through their low class status and vice versa. Katya is a good example for this. She is constructed as white, yet, through her low class status as sex worker, her sexualization and her stlye she appears as developmentally delayed, pre-modern, pre-enlightened body.
Because Katya is Russian, and Russia is understood as backward within homonationalistic formats such as RuPaul's Drag Race, her derogatory bodily construction does not raise eyebrows. Katya appears as racialized Slavic women, with a strong Russian accent, a cheap under-class style that looks old-fashioned, of the 1990s, and McCook can get away with it. Moreover, Katya can speak "up about the underlying racism on the show, and fans and other queens applaud her voice."10
Within Drag Race's homonationalistic discourses Katya's racialized body and character emerge, to preserve the narrative of a progressive American gay-positive culture and negate racial and class-based inequality. Her racialization is only understandable in consideration of the negation of racial and class-based inequality within US-liberal discourses, that exclude brown and black queers from the narrative of the American Dream. To put it very bluntly, caring for the victims of Russian homophobia makes Americans and other Westerners feel good about their national belonging. Katya embodies the developmental delay of Russia in a comical way, to emphasize everything that is good about the US of A.

1. Oliver, Maria (April 29, 2011). "Night Watch: Perestroika". Boston Globe.
2. "Katya Gets To Work." RuPaul's Drag Race S7 E1. Video Clip.
3. Akimov, Andre. "His name is Katya". Russian Chicago Magazine. Issue 125, 29. May 2015.
4. Lee, Stephan. "'RuPaul's Drag Race:' Miss Congeniality winner Katya speaks!" Entertainment Weekly's June 02, 2015
5. Strings, Sabrina and Long T. Bui. "'She Is Not Acting, She Is:' The conflict between gender and racial realness on RuPaul's Drag Race." Feminist Media Studies 14.5 (2014), 822–836; Goldmark, Matthew. "NATIONAL DRAG: The Language of Inclusion in RuPaul's Drag Race." GLQ 21.4 (2015): 501-520.
6. Neumann, I. 1996. Russia and the Idea of Europe; Wolff, L. 1994. Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment.
7. Kulpa, R., Mizielińska, J. 2011. De-Centring Western Sexualities.
8. Puar, J. 2007. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times.
9. Parvulescu, A. 2014. The Traffic in Women's Work: Eastern European Migration and the Making of Europe.10. John, Grace. (2018). "RuPaul"s Drag Race' Often Displays Racial Bias to Favor White Queens.
Villanelle, played by Jodie Comer and Eve, played by Sandra Oh. Drawing by Katharina Wiedlack.
4) Villanelle

Villanelle, previously known as Oksana Astankova, is a psychopathic and skilled Russian assassin in the BBC spy thriller series Killing Eve. Villanelle, played by the British actress Jodie Comer crosses paths with the MI6 officer Eve Polastri, played by the wonderful Canadian actress Sandra Oh, and becomes obsessed with her (but really – who wouldn't).

Eve is quite intrigued by the assassin as well and they start a rather abusive, co-dependent relationship within which none of them can any longer pursue their respective missions: Eve catching Villanelle and Villanelle assassinating Eve.

Anyone who has seen the show will agree that Oh and Comer are playing their parts to perfection. And while Villanelle's pathological character runs the risk of reinforcing stereotypes about Russia, and Russian women and is at times not only Orientalizing, but also borderline homo- or bi-phobic, Comer's performance forces anybody to just love her character – despite.
Svetlana Kirilenko played by Alla Kliouka Schaffer, drawing by Katharina Wiedlack.
5) Svetlana Kirilenko

The Sopranos
Helena played by Tatiana Maslany, drawing by Katharina Wiedlack.
6) Helena
Orphan Black

Drawing by Katharina Wiedlack.
7) The Black Widow
Elisabeth Jennings played by Keri Russell, drawing by Katharina Wiedlack.
8) Elisabeth

The Americans
Dasha Fedorova played by Svetlana Efremova, drawing by Katharina Wiedlack.
9) Dasha Fedorova

played by Svetlana Efremova in the Netflix show Spinning Out.
Svetlana performed by Iris Bahr, drawing by Katharina Wiedlack.
10) Svetlana, Lady of the Night

performed by Iris Bahr. Seriously offensive and hilarious.
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