The Roles of Women & Revolution

“Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, government, cultural, political and other public activity.”

Constitution of the U.S.S.R., Article 122[1]

With this declaration in the Constitution of the U.S.S.R in 1924 the Bolsheviks stated that women would be considered the equal to men in society and in the eyes of the law. Their concern with the roles of women stemmed from their visions of revolution and the necessity for a complete upheaval of societal institutions, traditions, and values.[2] The reorientation and changes of the roles of women were considered one of the most important steps in building the new nation as it would involve part of the nation that had previously been excluded politically and socially.

With the creation of the Zhenotdel (Women’s Department) in 1917 the Soviet Union had established a political organization run by women, for women. This organization along with the main government helped to change the rules and regulations placed on women by making them equal to men under the law. Marriage was also removed from Church control and could only be legally accepted and performed by a government official. Divorce which had previously been controlled by the Church was now under the authority of the government. Divorce was also something which women could ask for without requiring permission of their fathers or husbands.[3] The ability to divorce their husbands was the most significant change for Soviet women, as they did so in droves. Divorce was also the most successful Bolshevik policy for establishing a true revolution as it aided in creating gender equality and removing some of the patriarchal authority that came from marriage. Most importantly however, was the fact that divorce gave women new abilities in her life to be something besides a wife or a mother.[4]

Despite all of these gains for women, the Soviet family system risked its traditional structure and the protection of its most vulnerable part: the children. With women being able to get divorced, many were forced to raise their children by themselves with only one paycheck. While child support or alimony was supposed to be given by the father, it was difficult to collect as fathers could run and hide or challenge their paternity over their supposed child. Soviet changes to the societal position of women and its own inabilities to create an alternative childcare system as a proper replacement effected the ability of children to receive proper care.[5] Despite the intent of the Soviet government to create a welfare system that would allow for mothers to work and their children to receive care from government sponsored daycares, the Soviet Union lacked the resources to do so. Thus, the Soviet Union could not be the type of welfare state that it advocated for and those in the most vulnerable positions suffered as a result.

To help educate the Soviet youth on Bolshevik ideology and teach them skills needed for future work, organizations such as the Komsomol, or the Young Communist League were created. The Komsomol was tasked with helping to create a generation of the “New Soviet Man,” which would be literate, understanding of life and society, and knowledgeable of the skills needed to be a successful worker and countryman.[6] With these lofty goals came several issues that the majority of government sponsored programs faced: A lack of funding. The inability of the Bolsheviks to fund these youth organizations and the constant harassment and discrimination the female members faced helped to enforce gender norms that the Soviet Union wanted to do away with.[7] With limited funding the Komsomol and related schools were forced to have fees for students to become members and participate. With this system, prevailing gender norms continued as parents would enroll their sons instead of their daughters at higher rates, which limited the potential education and skills daughters would need economic security.[8]

The issue of gangs and illegal activities amongst teenagers was also placed upon the Komsomol by the Soviet society. The Komsomol was criticized for not being able to control underage drinking, smoking, and fighting, while also promoting something positive for the Soviet youths to focus on.[9] Mark G. Field states in his work that drinking and smoking were not only problems associated with the youth in the Komsomol and other organizations, but that they were widespread issues that affected everyone from the upper-class to the white-collar workers to the rural farmers. Field argues that the combination of the Russian drinking culture and the effects of industrialization led to the increase in underage gang activity. Because of industrialization family functions began to disappear with the need to work more for wages. Thus, fathers were out of the home more, while women began to enter the job market in droves to support their families.[10] He states that this removal of family functions and parents at home left children without proper role models to teach and guide them. The result of this was male teenagers having to discover their own version of manliness, which mimicked their fathers and older Soviet workers, which included the common habits of hard drinking and picking fights with strangers.[11]

 

Notes

[1] Stalin Society of North America, “On Women’s Rights and Abortion in the USSR,” Stalinsociety, Web. 25 Feb. 2018.

[2] Gregory L. Freeze, Russia: A History, Third Edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009): 329.

[3] James von Geldern, “The New Woman,” Soviethistory, Web. 25 Feb. 2018.

[4] Freeze, 331.

[5] Ibid., 332.

[6] Ibid., 334.

[7] Sean Guillory, “Revolutionary Manliness,” Soviethistory, Web. 25 Feb. 2018.

[8] Freeze, 335.

[9] Mark G. Field, “Alcoholism, Crime, and Delinquency in Soviet Society,” Social Problems Vol 3. No., 2, (1955):  101.

[10] Ibid., 107.

[11] Ibid., 103.

 

Bibliography

Field, Mark G. “Alcoholism, Crime, and Delinquency in Soviet Society.” Social Problems Vol 3. No., 2. (1955): 100-109.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Geldren, James von. “The New Woman.” Soviethistory. Web. 25 Feb. 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/the-new-woman/

Guillory, Sean. “Revolutionary Manliness.” Soviethistory. Web. 25 Feb. 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1924-2/revolutionary-manliness/

Stalin Society of North America. “On Women’s Rights and Abortion in the USSR.” Stalinsociety. Web. 25 Feb. 2018. http://www.stalinsociety.org/2015/04/08/on-womens-rights-and-abortion-in-the-ussr/

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “The Roles of Women & Revolution

  1. Taylor, I really enjoyed your post and how you focused on the disconnect between ideology and implementation in the social sphere of the Soviet Union. Many of their ideas on women’s rights were very progressive, but lack of materials and funding along with a general public that had not yet become as progressive stopped them from being fully executed. This is a common theme that I think you’ll see as the class continues– great work!

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  2. I enjoyed reading your post and learning how much the Soviets helped improve life and rights for Women. The establishment of granting women the right to divorce was an absolutely key change that sent shockwaves through the society. Although this was a great thing I like how you also pointed out the issues this caused for others such as the children and the difficulties of supporting children on one paycheck. Great post!

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  3. Hey Taylor! I really enjoyed reading your bog and how you focus on how on paper women were equal but in reality there were still some equality issues. I feel as though in the streets women are equal however in the home women are not equal.

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  4. I’m interested in the film you use! Where is it from and what does it tell us about changes in the status of women after the revolution? Why did you choose this film? (Need to indicate the source.) Some great material here.

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  5. I really love how you focused on the changing world for women in your post! In mine, I talked about how men were starting to get more masculine with the new order. When I did research, not only did women not have the funds to join the Komsomol but they were discriminated when they were apart. Fathers tried to stop their daughters from joining because they would be disrespected so much. Thank you for a great post!

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  6. I was really impressed with all the information you included in this post! I was wondering about divorce at this time, so it was interesting to learn that women were finally able to divorce without a man’s permission, but also the ramifications that Russian society saw because of this. I think it would be easy to look at these new policies/ideas in Russian society and say it was a great move forward, however you go further and discuss how often the lack of funding caused these ideas to fall short.

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  7. Taylor, I liked how you gave all the pro’s and con’s of women and the revolution. Just curious, because of all the revolutionary changes do you think emancipation was worth it. Yes, women could divorce (easier) but then it became harder for women to support a family.

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  8. I appreciated how you brought the contrast between both the good the revolution brought and the bad. It is clear that women got a lot more civil liberties, but at the expense in other aspects of life.

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