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,
18 Replies to “Who Runs The World? Not Girls in 1924 Soviet Russia”
This was so amazing to read! I never would have thought that women were thought as not being able to become true communists, by men, because of the masculinity associated with communism and women being unable to achieve such masculinity due to their “inherent” femininity. And what a conflict it creates for women to want to be seen as both women and communist and be rejected by men, who tell them they can’t be both or one or the other.
Do you think that there could have been any change of this mindset at the time that women cannot be truly communist? If so how?
I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I agree with you completely, I never would have thought that either! I thought it was really interesting, too, that a woman was featured on the Communist Party poster, yet they were treated so harshly. Honestly, at the time I don’t think that there would have been any way to change the mindset, especially because, from what I can gather, the treatment was like that across the board within Komsomol groups. I think that the Bolsheviks had the right idea in mind, especially with things like giving women equal rights and the ability to get a divorce, but I think it would have been more successful if the party had kept pushing for or insisting that women truly were treated equally – which might have given women the opportunity to actually become true communists.
I enjoyed reading your post and many things you mentioned I had no idea of, such as the fact that many communist ideals were coded in masculinity. Some things I feel it is important to keep in mind regarding Soviet policy towards the family and women is that the Bolshevik government were one of the first governments in the world to grant women these types of rights and had no previous examples to turn to. Additionally, a lot of the party elite had different values compared to many Russians, and while they may have felt it was right to give women many rights such as the right to divorce and have abortions, a large part of the Soviet population was very conservative (Especially the many Muslims in Central Asia and the Caucuses ) and these values were hard to reverse.
Your post really highlights the challenges of trying to legislate equality in the face of deep-seated cultural norms. (And yes, I think many Soviet women could relate to the “wake up flawless” meme — I love that!). Thinking back to the film we watched (Bed and Sofa), how do the contradictions you note here play out in the film?
Also, I really like how you juxtapose the Freeze text against the subject essay for “Revolutionary Manliness.” Are there primary sources in the that module that also support the points you are making?
Agree with De’Vonte — there was definitely a disconnect between the emancipatory commitments of certain Bolshevik leaders and the deep-seated social conservatism of the society — Russian as well as the muslim-dominated areas of central Asia and the Caucasus.
The more tricky issue, to my mind, is the underlying sexism of the party itself. Even those with “progressive” attitudes about female emancipation and equality, remained fairly traditional in their expectations about how domestic labor would be divided, for example. People like Alexandra Kollontai (https://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/1920/communism-family.htm) were definitely in the minority.
I really enjoyed your post as learning about issues of gender roles in history is something of great interest to me. I think your analysis of the clash between traditional views of femininity and the masculinization of the revolutionary ideology showed how little reforms to improve women’s rights actually worked. It highlights some of the many contradictions that are starting to appear in the Bolshevik’s ideology and policies.
I found this post to be very interesting and enlightening on the views and values given to women during this time period. It’s clear how oppressed women were and what lengths they took to fit in and become more masculine, but still being rejected by everyone around them. I find it very fascinating to see some of the similarities and how it correlates to the 21st century with the oppression of women today.
Hi Dr. Nelson! I’m so glad you enjoyed my post! I think that one could say that the characters in Bed and Sofa are almost kind of symbolic of the contradictions that I noted in the post. Nikolai expects Liuda to cook, clean, and do as he says, whereas Volodya treats Liuda as more of his equal, and will do things for her like straighten up: Nikolai symbolizes the traditional, conservative values whereas Volodya symbolizes the more progressive attitudes of the Bolshevik leaders. For primary sources, I found a really interesting article linked to Revolutionary Manliness. It’s about a girl named Klasha, who was apart of the Komsomol and was shamed for having braids and wearing a bow in her hair. After, she started wearing leather and smoking to try to be more Communist, but was also ostracized for that. I’ll link it here! http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1924-2/revolutionary-manliness/revolutionary-manliness-texts/klasha-the-komsomol-girl/
Thanks De’Vonte! I was also really surprised to learn about how many communist ideals were coded in masculinity. You make a lot of good points! The Soviet policy was progressive for the time, and I honestly was surprised that they did have these policies, because it wasn’t something I was aware of before this class. I also agree with you about the values being hard to reverse, you can’t immediately change a mindset overnight, it takes time – I just feel like it must’ve been confusing for women at the time because of the progressive policy and traditional expectations.
Hi Kayt! Thanks for commenting! I thought that the gender roles here were really interesting because I never realized that the Bolsheviks passed these policies for equality for women, so it was really cool to learn about! I also really enjoyed learning about these things through the issues that were happening in the Komsomol – because it was an organization that the Communist Party developed. It’s interesting to see the attitudes in the Komsomol because they’re so different from the policies the party rolled out.
Hi Matt, thanks for commenting! I agree with you, and it’s sad that women had to go to those lengths, only to continue to be ostracized. I’m curious to know, what do you think are some of the similarities that correlate to the 21st century and the oppression of women today?
Really interesting, reversing what the Tsar would have wanted is an accurate outlook of what the Bolsheviks were trying to accomplish. Also, sending the family structure into chaos facilitated the goals of the Bolsheviks through social and political power. Your perspective highlighted foundational points concerning the turn of governmental power
I loved this post! I remember reading about the Komsomol and thinking the same thing as you: what a contradiction to advertise inclusion but discriminate at every opportunity. These notions play into a larger issue at hand where they wanted gender equality, but still expected women to exist in traditional roles (I’m talking to you, Bed and Sofa). I also really appreciate your use of a Beyonce gif!
Hi Paul, thanks for commenting! I’m glad that you thought my post was interesting!
Hi Kendall!! I’m so glad you loved it! It really surprised me how something that was developed to create both Communist men and women would take such a discriminatory turn. I felt like using a Beyonce gif from a feminist song was appropriate here, hahaha.
Lauren, a bit of a note for change since the 1920s. The laboratory renovation that I worked on in Krasnoyask in the early 1990s, was managed by about 40 women and 3 men. They were all highly trained chemical technicians. The building’s bathroom facilities were beyond bad. Toilets were holes in the floor and no baths. We renovated the bathroom facility to modern American standards with regular toilets, private showers and even hair dryers. The ladies were so over whelmed with the new facilities that they literally kissed our feet with appreciation. The old ways changed only slowly but when the facility was upgraded the morale of the staff zoomed up. I was impressed that the ladies were the backbone of the workforce.
I really enjoyed reading this post. it very interestingly highlights many of the contradictions in the leftist doctrine of the Bolshevik government. They wanted women included but only as tools for production and institutional power, it wasn’t entirely out of the goodness of their hearts. it is important though to recognize the context in which these people lived and appreciate that even though life still sucked for women, it was better than what had existed before.
I really enjoyed reading this post. It seems as though the Komsomol was supposedly more progressive fusion of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts but the voices in power at the time were male-dominated which of course meant that gender inclusivity was a steep hill to conquer for girls in the Soviet Union. Bed and Sofa did a great job to highlight the reality of gender relations and your post pointing out the hypocrisy of the Komsomol in the 1920s help uncover the reality of gender relations in Soviet Russia. Great job!