Привет, друзья! (Hello, friends!)
I hope that everyone is doing okay during the quarantine and has plenty of toilet paper! In this blog, I want to focus on how the revolution affected social norms regarding gender roles, and how early Soviet policy toward the family attempted to realize revolutionary values.
The Komsomol is a great example of what social norms were like in 1924. The Komsomol was an organization for young people aged 14 to 18 that was primarily a political organ for spreading Communist teachings and preparing future members of the Communist Party. Male members outnumbered females eight to one throughout the 1920s, which is partly because of the traditional exclusion of women, and also because the Komsomol was thought of as a representation of atheism, hooliganism, and sexual depravity, and men didn’t want their wives and daughters to be a part of it. The main reason for this disparity, though, was because of the Komsomol itself – many of the cells (that were mostly male dominated) disregarded girls, and the girls were subject to constant discouragement, discrimination, and harassment from the boys.
The Komsomol gender problem can’t simply be reduced to sexism, indifference, and harassment, the difficulty was also that the ethos of a young communist was coded masculine – even if a girl negotiated the boys’ torment, her femininity precluded her from becoming a true communist. Girls that struggled to fit in started dressing more masculine as a statement of their revolutionary authenticity, but this was also hated by the boys- even the People’s Commissar of Health called this a violation of nature. Girls were at pains to find a middle ground, on one hand outward displays of femininity were considered ideologically taboo and threatened to distract sexually charged boys, but on the other hand girls’ efforts to erase their femininity were met with scorn. No matter what these girls did they were consistently put down, there was no place that they seemingly belong, especially so in the Komsomol, which was supposed to be a place that was for both genders. Saying that there was a revolution in social norms was simply a lie, especially in a time where women were SUPPOSED to have more rights and be treated as equal.
Switching topics, early Soviet policy revolutionized the family. “Perceiving the patriarchal, religiously sanctioned family as tsarist society in microcosm, Soviet state legislation in 1918 gave official recognition only to civil marriages, made divorce readily available, declared the legal equality of women, and granted full rights to children born out of wedlock” (Freeze 331). The Bolsheviks effectively turned the system onto its head – and took Russia into completely uncharted territory. It makes sense why the party would have wanted to do this, because they were determined to rid Russia of anything that had to do with the Tsar. Freeze also quotes on the same page that “allowing Soviet citizens to dissolve marriages easily produced a true social revolution,” but I would argue that it kind of backfired on the Bolshevik party in a way.
Freeze goes on to say, “But these innovations also led to family instability and astronomical rates of family dissolution.” (331). It doesn’t really surprise me that the rates of family dissolution were this high, because I think people probably went crazy over the idea. It’s kind of like when you get a new toy and you get super excited about it, so you go nuts and that’s all you want to play with. Divorce was something that the Russian family had never had access to, and I would say that a lot of people were in unhappy marriages, so now that they had the ability to split and run, they did. The Bolshevik party used this new attitude towards the family to put their revolutionary goals into action on the social level, even if it sent the family schematic into chaos.
Overall, I think that it’s really interesting how women were still treated the same as before, even after being given rights and gaining equality. A part of me also wonders if the Communist Party granted these rights solely because it was opposite of what was happening under the Tsar’s rule, and if they thought of the repercussions that could happen – because they kind of did happen. Let me know what you think!
До следующего раза,