Toward an Understanding of Gendered Agency in Contemporary Russia


Holmgren, Beth. 2013. “Toward an Understanding of Gendered Agency in Contemporary Russia.” Signs 38 (3): 535-542. 

Author: Beth Holmgren


Assessments of Russian women’s current social and political status must take into account the complicated legacy of Soviet women’s “emancipation.” Although the Soviet government enforced women’s access to higher education and a broad array of professional opportunities, it never challenged traditional notions of masculinity and femininity, or the double burden tacitly assigned women. It did not invest in products and services that would have eased “women’s work” as homemakers and caretakers, nor did it protect women from sexual harassment on the job. The transition years have bared, glorified, and globalized the patriarchal state that lay just beneath the socialist veneer of the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Putin government has repackaged that patriarchy as conventionally and commercially masculinist. Women do exercise some power as consumers and mothers; they seek other-than-material fulfillment in facilitating positions rather than face opprobrium as public leaders. Some are attempting to scout new forms of agency as managers and business entrepreneurs. Yet there is no straightforward upward ladder for women in work and no generally acceptable movement toward lobbying for women’s rights. The women who wield the greatest sociopolitical influence in Russia today are media pundits, writers of serious literature, and journalists who combine writing with general social and political activism. In order to bridge the great divide in historical conditioning and contemporary circumstance that separates us from Russian women, we must work toward a better understanding of their complex forms of agency.

Topics: Citizenship, Gender, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Gender Equality/Inequality, Masculinism, Governance, Livelihoods, Political Participation Regions: Asia, Europe Countries: Russian Federation

Year: 2013

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