Bulldog mothers, rabid worker-bees, and white ravens: women's gender dissent in late Soviet Russia
Hersh, Julie A.
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This thesis conceptualizes gender dissent and explores proposed examples of it among women in late Soviet Russia. Through surveying theories of dissent/resistance and gender under a postmodernist lens, I conclude that people may use gender to dissent against political organizations and/or social norms through subverting, disobeying, and/or using for their own purposes norms of gender. In late Soviet Russia, two systems of gender norms existed, one the official order elaborated by the state and the other the societal one based more on traditional, prerevolutionary Russian values; these two orders simultaneously conflicted with, interfered with, and upheld each other. Women were therefore able to dissent against the regime, society, or both by subtly fighting against these varied norms. Through a review of primary and secondary sources, I found that women were expected to adhere to a set of contradictory gender “rules”: working outside the home, believing themselves equal to men, having children, being married, housekeeping and raising children, upholding communist morality, participating in society, having certain characteristics such as modesty, passivity, and an understanding of human nature and emotions, being self-sacrificing, and taking care of their appearances. Through a study of Russian women’s memoirs written during or about the period between 1964 and 1985, I concluded that women could dissent against these norms in several broad categories including identity, sexuality, and “femininity” or the lack thereof. The women generally dissented very subtly, often by using one gender discourse to support behavior that infringed upon another gender order, and were not consistently “dissentive” in their discourse or actions. I found broad participation in gender dissent among the sample of women studied, and while my results are not generalizable, my data revealed that gender dissent as a concept is traceable in late Soviet Russia.