The Role of Women in Soviet Russia

 

The Role of Women in Soviet Russia

By: Molly Wolanski

Introduction

In small type at top of this dual poster is the caption: “Women have the right to vote and be elected equally with men – section 137 of the Constitution of the USSR.” Below is the slogan: “Hail the equality of Soviet women.” (AP Photo)

The roles of women changed dramatically over the course of history in Soviet Russia under different leaders and economic and physical conditions. Pre-Revolution Russia was a very backwards country that was far behind in industrialization and politics. Most other European countries were experimenting with constitutions and democracy yet Russia still had serfdom and a strong nobility. The industrial class rose up multiple times finally during World War I they won and Lenin took power and created Soviet communism, this liberated women and gave them opportunities to pursue careers as doctors and engineers along with many other professions. Along with new career opportunities came new laws.

 

In 1918 legislature was created to try to weaken marriage and the family to create a unified society focused on the country not the family. The ability to perform marriages was taken away from the church and given solely to the state. With this set of laws also came the right for either the man or woman in a married couple to pursue divorce and win. To feminist Alexandra Kollontai this was great as she saw no future in family structure in Soviet Russia. Although this legislature brought equality to marriage in principle it didn’t in practice. Women were still expected to perform most domestic duties and have a job as men saw it as below them to do housework or go grocery shopping. The role of soviet women in society and in other areas was varied and depended on how conditions were in many aspects.

Main Sources

These sources in this section cover most aspects of the topic in general and the subtopics are too intermixed to be feasibly divisible. Most studies and books in this section are comprehensive views of life for women in Soviet Russia in general. Most sources are this way but focus on one topic in general and how the other areas relate to it.

Lapidus, Gail Warshofsky. Women in Soviet Society Equality, Development, and Social Change. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

  • This book covers the change that women underwent in society, including equality, and family life.  Concepts covered are social stratification that comes with gaining equality with men, the work environment, the role they play in family and domestic life. This piece is great for looking at the complete role of women in Soviet society.

Gorsuch, Anne E. Youth in Revolutionary Russia. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 2000.

  • The role of young women in prewar Soviet Russia was new and different than that before when their mothers and grandmothers were growing up. This book is a great description of that change, it covers just about every aspect of a young Soviet woman’s life. From work to education to their role in politics via the Komsomols or young communist party groups. The social stratification between young men and women is very evident in this book.

Hoffman, David L. Stalinist Values The Cultural Norms of Soviet Modernity, 1917-1941. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 2003.

  • Women in Stalinist Russia were treated slightly differently than those under a different president. Women were given lower level jobs in some cases to encourage them to stay home and have more children. This is very clear in the chapter devoted to family values and how they affected the woman in the household. This book also shows the stratification that occurred within the workplace and the gender differences in how they were perceived socially.

Millar, James R. Politics, Work, and Daily Life in the USSR. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

  • The studies contained within this anthology cover the main topics of Soviet Women’s lives, from work to politics to their effect on the economy. The subjects of this study were former Soviet Union Citizens who left for some reason or another. The studies of part three focus on the role of women in the economy, workforce and home. These studies are very insightful into every period of life in the Soviet Union.

Library of Congress, “A Country Study: Soviet Union (Former).” Last modified July 27, 2010. Accessed August 4, 2013. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/sutoc.html.

  • The Library of Congress compiled a vast page for each country in the world, the page on the Soviet Union is very easy to navigate for the information you are looking for. The webpage contains 37 sub-sections on women in various roles of society, the workforce, economy, politics and the military. a very comprehensive insight into the life of a woman in Soviet Russia.

Role in the Workplace and Politics 

Soviet girls, collective farmers of a village somewhere in Russia, who joined Guerillas, are pictured on Sept. 19, 1941. (AP Photo/British Official Photograph)

The roles of women in the workforce and to some extent politics were very similar to those of men. Women had equality in jobs given to them in principle but not in practice, employers still preferred men over women in some fields, yet in others they preferred females, for example females made better construction workers than men in the way they took fewer breaks. All around women tended to be paid less than men.

Bridger, Susan. Women in the Soviet Countryside. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

  • The first chapter of this book covers the role women played in the rural workforce and the roles they occupied in the workforce. The first section covers the effect huge migrations to urban areas affected the remaining rural workforce. The chapter then goes on to discuss the structure of the workforce and how many women were employed agriculturally and what jobs they performed within the workforce.


Women pull their weight with the menfolk in rebuilding the war-ravaged cities. Women assist in house building in Moscow, Russia, near the Kremlin. A Russian woman mixes mortar for the bricklayer in Gorki Street, Moscow, Russia not far from the Kremlin on April 30, 1947. (AP Photo)

Dodge, Norton T. Women in the Soviet Economy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1966.

 

  • This study focuses on the role women played in the Soviet economy and the effects their age, education, and population size had on the economy. Along with the role women played in science and technology. The study focuses on the effect women in the workforce affected the economy and where the effects were the greatest.

Shulman, Elena .Stalinism on the Frontier of Empire. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

  • The Far East is often forgotten in Russian history as it is the frontier of Russia. This study focuses on the women who live and work in the far east of Russia. This study focuses on the woman’s side of a campaign to resettle migrant workers of the Far East. Along with the hardships that come from being resettled in the harsh but bountiful environment of the far East. This study gives insight into how female migrant workers lived during the prewar period.

Heitlinger, Alena. Women and State Socialism. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1979.

  • The role of women in politics and the workforce changed from before the socialist control of Russia in the 1920′s. As explained in this study, women started to merge into the workforce and gain equality to men in political and societal aspects. Heitlinger discusses the problems with the term equality and how women gained the rights they received after the revolution. She discusses how Eastern Europe varies in rights and forwardness and isn’t one unanimous block of countries.

Young Soviet girl tractor-drivers of Kirghizia, efficiently replacing their friends, brothers and fathers who went to the front. A girl tractor driver of the sowing sugar beet, on Aug. 26, 1942. (AP Photo)

 

Farnsworth, Beatrice. “The Rural Batrachka (Hired Agricultural Laborer) and the Soviet Campaign to Unionize Her.” Journal of Women’s History. No. 2 (2002): 64-93.

  • This article discusses the role of rural female workers right after Lenin took control of Russia. The rural workers were being unionized and it was hard because the women they were trying to unionize were poor illiterate semi-migrant farm hands who to begin with didn’t want to be unionized as they liked the benefits they received from their bosses at the time.

Schrand, Thomas G. “Soviet “Civic-Minded Women” in the 1930s: Gender, Class, and Industrialization in a Socialist Society.” Journal of Women’s History. No. 3 (1999): 126-150. (accessed August 5, 2013).

  • The wives of successful engineers and factory managers created volunteer groups to try to improve working conditions in the factories where their husbands worked. This is the topic of  Schrand’s article and he goes on to discuss how this affected other aspects of soviet life affected by these elite women. How they helped solve the reproductive crisis that resulted from rapid industrialization along with the extreme social stratification showed through this.

Role in Domestic Life

Farmers’ wives from the rural districts of the Soviet Union in a class where they are taught to read and write in Russia around March 1931. (AP Photo)

The roles in domestic life are very similar to those in the west at the time the only difference is Soviet women have to do domestic work after going to work as well causing life to be hard and long for women urban or rural. Domestic roles were important to a strong family and household, but most of this work instead of being divided amongst the family was piled onto the female in the family. Even though men and women had equal rights men still viewed housework and domestic chores as women’s work. This put a great amount of stress onto the females of the household trying to balance work and chores at home.

Willis, David K. Klass How the Russians Really Lived. New York: St. Martens Press, 1985.

 

  • The book devotes an entire chapter to how women lived and it is really insightful as it tells of the struggles faced by Soviet women in everyday life. Willis talks to many urban women about their work and home life, one woman Tanya is the sole worker in her house and her family does nothing to help her with the domestic work and the burden of everything falls on to her. This book gives great insight into how urban women lived in postwar Soviet Russia.

Bridger, Susan. Women in the Soviet Countryside. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

  • This Chapter covers the development of families and the role women played within the rural family. As the chapter continues it goes on to discuss how a woman chose a husband and the role romance played in the choice. Other topics include the labor division within a family unit, inequality within the family structure, conflict in how the family works, and how education, religion, and politics play into the role of the woman in a rural family unit.

Farnsworth, Beatrice, and Lynne Viola. Russian Peasant Women. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

  • Women’s roles vary by where they live and their social status, peasants were at the bottom of the social ladder, and this study delves into the domestic life of Soviet Russian peasants. Peasants are very important in the social structure of the Soviet Union as they are the farmers but women had very few rights and most of the domestic work fell onto them as men were doing other chores. Women were expected to take care of the home and still work in the fields.

Role in Society

Societal roles cover everything from equality to the perception of women and how that changed since Tsarists rule before World War One. Society can cover many topics but this concept is important in how we understand the role of women. Soviet society viewed women in many different ways throughout Soviet history, at first very liberal, then as Stalin took power the views became more conservative as he was trying to change Russia and make it more powerful, then in post-Stalin Russia society’s views became more liberal again.

Soviet women shoppers, having waited more than two hours, reached the counter to buy the American brands of candy bars in downtown Moscow, Friday, Jan. 4, 1991. More than 400 people queued during the morning snow. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Mamonova, Tatyana. Women’s Glasnost vs. Naglost. Westport, CN: Bergin and Garvey, 1994.

 

  • This book is a series of interviews conducted by the author of women who left the Soviet Union and the life they left behind in the soviet union.the interviews discuss the effect the introduction of Glasnost had on the women of the Soviet Union. She interviews 17 women from all over the Soviet Union, these interviews discuss the life of the woman and how that changed with the Glasnost or why the woman left the Soviet Union.

Attwood, Lynne. Creating the New Soviet Woman. New York: St. Martens Press, 1999.

  • This study uses the concept of magazines to explain the changes in how a woman dressed, acts, and is perceived socially, in the prewar and wartime periods of Soviet Russia. It then goes on to discuss the changes that occurred while Stalin was in power and how the concepts had changed along with the increased concept of being a mother being pushed on the women. This concept of being a mother and the Stalinist views of being a woman in the second part of the book.

Engel, Barbara Alpern , and Anastasia Posadskaya-Vanderbeck. A Revolution of Their Own. Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1998.

  • This anthology shows the hardship felt by Soviet women over the course of the twentieth century in Russia. The oral histories given by Russian women show how the shift to communism changed the political, societal, and economic landscape for all of Russia, rural and urban alike. The authors interviewed eight women from all walks of life to get a comprehensive look at the massive changes seen over the century from a woman’s eyes and experiences.

Brown, Donald R. Women in the Soviet Union. New York: Teachers College Press, 1968.

  • This book is the summary of a Symposium on the topic that discussed the aspects of soviet women and their roles in the vast society of Soviet Russia. The topics of the symposium are very vast yet narrow in the aspect of the topic. Along with the liberation of women in Soviet Russia came a new image in the media and literature formed from those changes in the role of women, which is explained in this summary.

Atkinson, Dorothy, Alexander Dallin, and Gail Warshofsky Lapidus .Women in Russia. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 1977.

  • This anthology of studies on women in Russia covers pre-revolutionary women’s rights movements up through part of the Soviet Union showing the development of women’s rights and communist liberation. The rise of equality of the sexes had a great influence on Soviet Russia in the early twentieth century. The sexes were never completely equal as tendencies to pick men over women were prevalent through the history of the Soviet Union, this idea is explained in great detail within this anthology.

Du Plessix Gray, Francine. Soviet Women. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1990.

  • Societal views of women changed with Glasnost in the late period of the Soviet Union. This book covers the ways women changed and how they are perceived socially. This book is a great source into how women were looked at socially and how women dressed, acted and worked towards the end of the Soviet Union.

Attwood, Lynne. “”Hearing a Woman’s Voice”: Female Perspectives on Change in Russia and the Former Soviet Union.” Journal of Women’s History. No. 2 (1996): 181-190.

  • This review discusses the topic of women in Soviet Russia that couldn’t speak out until communism fell in the early 1990’s. All of the books reviewed within the article are written by or are compiled interviews of women who tell of their life experiences within Soviet Russia and how it affected them or their family personally.

Griswold, Robert L. “”Russian Blonde in Space”: Soviet Women in the American Imagination, 1950-1965.”Journal of Social History. no. 4 (2012): 801-907.

  • In this article Griswold points out three social stereotypes imposed upon soviet women by Americans during the early cold war. These social stereotypes include: communism made women’s bodies graceless, shapeless, and sexless; the second one being that all women were like Nina Khrushchev, the woman married to the president of the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis Nikita Khrushchev, cold; the final one being that all women were successful and powerful calling out the united states on the lack of professional women.

Picture Sources

The first 6 images and captions are taken from the AP photo data base at this web address

http://classic.apimages.com.ezproxy.bu.edu/Search.aspx?st=k&remem=x&entity=&kw=Soviet+Women&intv=None&shgroup=-10&sh=14

The final image above is from this address

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map-Flag_of_the_Soviet_Union.svg