Striving for femininity: post-Soviet un-feminism

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First, it is important to note that although there has been no mass women's movement in the Soviet Union since the end of the 1920s,(f.2) things weren't always this way. During the Russian revolutionary struggle, prominent feminists brought women's issues to the fore in developing a platform for the new Soviet state ([Gail Warshofsky. Lapidus] 1978; Stites; Clements; Edmondson). In 1917 the Soviet Constitution granted to the previously unenfranchised women of the Russian Empire an entire array of citizenship rights and responsibilities; most importantly, the establishment of their independent personhood through political and economic participation. Subsequent measures assured them of equal pay for equal work, a liberal maternity leave, free abortion on demand,(f.3) a state - wide system of nurseries and pre - schools for infants and small children, and afterschool programs for bigger ones. Along with providing women with the means necessary for work force participation, the state attempted to reshape the relationship between husband and wife. It outlawed the purchase and abduction of brides and created a civil marriage ceremony that stressed equality of the spouses.(f.4) By the 1970s, Soviet gender roles had stabilized and became predictable. Several female Soviet authors published sociological and statistical research proving that women in the USSR had gained equality with men both in the workplace and in their marriages (Iankova 1977; Ivk; Rumiantseva & Pergament; Sonin). Other observers, including both Soviets (Kurganoff; Mamonova 1984) and westerners (Jancar; Lapidus 1978, 1983; Holland), saw quite a different picture. While certainly agreeing that women could be found in the full range of occupations, they pointed out that women tended to cluster in health care, child care and service provision, and in the lowest rungs of agricultural, industrial, and professional work. Even more telling, Soviet women were solely responsible for food - shopping, housekeeping, cooking, laundry and child care, onerous tasks that earned them no pay, and no recognition (see Baranskaya). Balancing these tasks and the roles demanded of them required that women in the Soviet Union be both persons(f.5) -- productive workers with jobs in the public sector -- and feminine -- domestically - inclined, care - giving, soft and beautiful, and other - oriented (Iankova; [Hanson, Carola] & Liden; Alexandrova; Attwood 1985, 1990; [Fran Markowitz] 1993, 1991; Gray). The problem of women's status in the Soviet Union, then, did not lie in an insufficiency of state action but in the very action that the state took. Equality, Soviet women insisted, is not what they want. Socialism failed to deliver its promise of a better life precisely because it dictated "equality" where equality does not and should not exist. Seizing upon the "equality" imposed unnaturally by an artificial state system as the key symbol of their discontent, (former) Soviets proclaim that men and women are by their nature different sorts of beings and ought to be treated accordingly. In dozens of interviews I was told that until socialism is disbanded, women would be unable to be women -- and men men. After Socialism the hopes they hold for alleviating the grim double - burden of women's lives, are not to be found in feminist agitation or in state legislation but in restoring a "natural" balance between men and women. Disdainful and angered by what they consider to be the disastrous effects of political programs for women's equality, (formerly) Soviet women, as a rule, have rejected the feminist movement and strive instead to regain their "natural" femininity (see Reiter and [Meg Luxton]).
Original languageEnglish
JournalCanadian Woman Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1995


  • Feminism ; Infants ; Logic ; Men ; Occupations ; Politics ; Russian language ; Social conditions ; Spouses ; Women


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