Social Women: This one’s for the girls

This post earned a "red star" award from the editorial team.

This post earned a “red star” award from the editorial team.*

“The Liberation of Women Workers is the affair of the Women themselves!” – N. Lenin

This poster says "Women, Liberate yourselves!" and quotes Lenin saying "The Liberation of Women Workers is the affair of Women themselves!"

This poster from 1920 encourages women to take the initiative in gaining liberties for themselves. Many groups of women workers nominated some of their members to represent them in government.

In the years after the 1917 Revolution, the Bolsheviks began a new war, one that targeted the old society which had been based on oppression, not only on workers, but also on other groups, chief among them women. In the old society, women were confined to traditional roles, which included staying in the home and taking care of children. They could not work in factories or hold other jobs. Their rights were also limited by marriage. Once a woman was married, they lost the ability to own property and had to take their husband’s surname.

The main reason that the Bolsheviks wanted to change this was to gain more workers, both in the field and the factory. Their ideology also stressed that the only social barrier was class, which meant that no other markers held importance. Because of this, they tried to create a society based on equality. One of the first legal changes they made, the Family Code of 1918, gave women more freedom than anywhere else in the world.

Some interesting points in the code are the naming rights for women, which still required a marriage name for a couple, but expanded the options to the husband’s name, the wife’s name or their combined surnames. The law also states in section 105 that property is not communal in a marriage, which is interesting given that a basic tenant of communism is the communalization of land and property. But giving women their own property not only encouraged them to get jobs, it also gave them a degree of independence that they had never had before. Women did not have to get jobs however, because while a marriage did not mean that the husband and wife shared resources, the law still required unemployed spouses to be taken care of by the employed spouse.

Divorce was also made legally acceptable in this set of laws, and it only required one member of the marriage to be carried out, which meant women could successfully leave their husbands if they wanted to. And even after a divorce, a husband was still legally bound to take care of his wife, or vice versa, if they were unemployed, which meant that getting a divorce would not leave you destitute. Children would also be taken care of financially under the laws, with half of the money coming from each parent. To ensure that fathers would pay, the laws made mothers register the father of their child within three months of birth. The named father of the child could then appeal within a certain period of time, and if he did not, it was admission of his having fathered the child. This prevented (financial) single parenthood.

The laws did not only affect women. They also undermined the authority of the church by granting legal marriages to all members of the clergy (if they wanted them), even if they had taken a vow of celibacy. The laws also, interestingly, gave children born out of wedlock the same rights as children of a marriage, which defied old prejudices.

A poster for a women's work league.

A poster for a women’s work league.

Women workers also began sending delegates to the Soviet to represent their issues with society, which helped he women’s cause greatly. Maria Fedotovna Filipenko’s story of her awakening to the joys of communism is an interesting piece of propaganda in which a loyal member of the party recounts her conversion. She was “afraid what would happen next, how the children would live”. She forbid her husband from joining the Party or participating in social works because she did not believe it would come to anything good. Then she discovers the benefits of socialism, like nurseries for the children (she was locking them in a windowless room before; true story). Maria later becomes very involved in the Party and is voted by her co-workers to represent the women in the factory in the Soviet.

While these laws did not mean the immediate acceptance of the “new woman” by society, it did give the younger generation a chance to change.

Works Cited:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print

International Conciliation (1919), pp. 35-37.
http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1917family1&SubjectID=1917woman&Year=1917#4

William G. Rosenberg, ed., Bolshevik Visions: First Phase of the Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1984), pp. 139-141.
http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1917filipenko1&SubjectID=1917woman&Year=1917

Soviet Russia. Vol. III, No. 5 (31 July 1920), pp. 109-110.
http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1917bukharin1&SubjectID=1917woman&Year=1917

*This post is also won the Students’ Choice Award for Week 3 on the Motherblog.

9 thoughts on “Social Women: This one’s for the girls

  1. I find it interesting that Russia gave women more autonomy before many of the Western nations did because of how much freedom the people as a whole lacked under the Tsars. I wonder if women ended up with so much freedom because of the lack of freedoms everyone had in society prior to the revolution.

  2. Loved this post as you truly detailed the evolution of women in Russia; still so shocked to learn how they were the most progressive country in terms of gender equality. MY post focused on Alexandra Kollontai (a progressive woman herself), so it was interesting to hear a bit about Maria Fedotovna Filipenko.

  3. This post did a great job identifying and analyzing the various effects across society that occurred after expanding women’s rights in Soviet Russia. It also explains well why the Communist party would appeal to modern, working women in a newly industrialized economy.

  4. Great post! I think you did a good job of explaining exactly what new roles women had, their new freedoms, and that these new laws did not only affect them. I think it’s interesting how Russia gave women many freedoms before Western nations did. I agree with another comment that you explain exactly why the Communist Party appealed to many of these women. Your last quote really stood out to me, and I think it resonates in the U.S. as well, dealing with the idea of the ‘new woman’ here in the 1920s, as well as the ‘Rosie the Riveter’ ideal in the 1940s. Again, nice job!

  5. This is interesting as the world generally views communism as a completely bad thing. I think the emancipation of women was well written out and easily understandable by this blog.

  6. That is very interesting that in this time that Russia has laws which granted women more rights than anywhere else in the world. I really like that you included all the new rights that women had and expanded on them. Great post!

  7. This was such an interesting post to read, I had no idea how many more rights women were given in Russia before a majority of the rest of the world. It was a smart move when considering industrialization to give women these rights which inevitably encouraged them to join the working force. I was surprised about the ties a man and woman would still have if they got a divorce, how a man still had to support the woman if she didn’t have a job to support herself.

  8. I really liked this post. You included a whole lot of facts I wasn’t previously aware of, including the allowing of clergy to get married and the granting of rights to children born out of wedlock. For a country that was as socially conservative as Russia to make such progressive reforms is truly remarkable

  9. Pingback: To free or not to free? | The Dancing Bear

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