Women In PostRevolutionary Russia The Opportunities And


Women In Post-Revolutionary Russia: The Opportunities And Obstacles Essay, Research Paper

The last Tsar of Russia abdicated the throne in February of 1917. With the fall of the old regime, many old gender barriers fell, as well. The period after the Bolsheviks rose to power was a time of many changes for all Russians, but none were more affected than the women of the time. Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party (later called the Communists) was greatly disturbed by the domestic enslavement of Soviet women, and almost immediately granted political equality for females throughout the nation. With this newfound freedom, women were presented with many new opportunities in all aspects of life, and many challenges, as well. Lenin reformed many civil and penal codes to the advantage of women. Almost overnight all learning institutions opened their doors to both sexes, which suddenly gave women the opportunity to strive for professional careers and higher paying jobs. Women were given equal standing in marriage, and it became possible for them to get divorced, to have abortions, and to sue for child support. Women could own property. Within the Communist party, women rose to leadership positions. In theory, there was complete equality between the sexes.

However, even with the advantages of the Communist leadership, there were some pitfalls, as well. While the increased leniency of divorce laws was obviously an advantage to many unhappy wives, some men made use of the new freedom also. Some women were left to raise their children alone, and without the salary of their husbands, found it almost impossible. Although these women now had complete economic independence under the laws of Lenin, in practice all was not as simple. With several young children to watch over during the day, it was difficult for any mother to be able to engage in any work outside of family life. The realities of these women were shown clearly in Alexandra Kollontai?s novel Love of Worker Bees. based on life in post-revolutionary Russia. When Mr. Feodoseev abandons his wife for another woman, she is horrified at the thought of trying to get a job while raising three school-aged children. However, in Kollontai?s novel, she is seen as petty and jealous by certain members of the party, instead of a woman with great financial difficulties. Perhaps this shows a certain blindness that many communist leaders had to the realities of women?s everyday lives and circumstances.

To help ease the burden on these women and all families, Kollontai, not only a writer but a well-known feminist in the Bolshevik party, devised a plan of communal living. Within these communities, specialists were to do many aspects of the housework and cleaning, and children were to be raised by not only the parents, but others in the group, as well. Pensions for the mothers would be supported in the form of a payroll tax, for Kollontai felt that it was the responsibility of society to insure the success of Soviet children. Unfortunately, communal family life was never supported in the way that Kollontai would have liked. With the economic hardships of Russian life after the revolution and with little support from her superiors, ?material poverty hampered these experiments, and cynicism and indifference mocked the dreams (Becoming Visible, page 428).?

Some projects to improve the quality of life for women found much greater success, however. In 1919, before Kollontai ever advanced her program of communal life, the Women?s Department of the Communist Party was created. Called by its Russian abbreviation of Zhenotdel, the Women?s Department worked to transform the economic, political, and social liberation of women into a reality. The social workers opened literacy classes in the rural areas and informed the women there of the new laws. They rallied against prostitution and searched for ways to end female unemployment. But perhaps nowhere was the impact of Zhenotdel more profound than in the towns of the central Asian areas of the Soviet Union. There workers from the Women?s Department sneaked into bathhouses and food markets to inform the women of their new rights. In 1927, ?…one hundred thousand women gathered on town squares and demonstratively tore off their veils (Becoming Visible, page 427),? which all women of the region were forced to wear to prevent the female face from being gazed upon by any male.

There was another way in which the Women?s Department coaxed women into their new liberties, as well. A delegate system was created, which allowed women access to places they had never before been able to experience. Each month, one woman from every town or region was elected as a delegate, and they were sent to Moscow to investigate anywhere of their choosing. Suddenly, women were seen in the courtrooms and the political offices of the capital, places that were before closed to almost all minorities. At the end of their journey, they returned to their town or village to report on what they had learned, and then the cycle continued with another woman. In this way, the Women?s Department was able to involve everyday females in the political policies and procedures, and to help them better understand their new rights.

However, not all was well in the fight for women?s equality. During the early 1920?s, which was a time of hardship for the Russian economy, many women lost the jobs they had worked so hard to attain. Lenin?s New Economic Policy of 1921 allowed a mixed economy, and nepmen prospered with the newfound room for capitalism in society. Capitalist-minded politicians also found their way into Russian politics, as well. Seventy percent of the layoffs during this time affected women, and many females found themselves without money or ways to support their growing children. Many homeless children wandered the streets of Soviet cities searching for food and stealing what little they could find. Nevertheless, during the early years of the Russian Communist Party, many advances were made in the lives of women throughout the nation. Under control of the Tsar, few women had the opportunities that developed during the early 1920?s. Women had little education and even fewer jobs outside the family environment. With the rise of Lenin, Soviet women became the most liberated in European society and elsewhere, a great change from the oppression they had suffered in the previous years. Though ?moral conservatives among the Communists in the mid-1920?s launched a backlash against the new sexual culture …, (Becoming Visible, page 429? nothing could fully dissipate the work of Lenin and his followers. During the period immediately following the reign of Lenin, the number of women in universities and other institutions increased from thirty-one to fifty-eight percent, numbers that never could have been possible without the help of the communist party of the 1920?s.

In my personal opinion, I feel that the Bolsheviks did almost everything they could to insure the success of the Soviet women. They gave women complete political equality, and then created organizations to help inform women of their new rights. They made it easier for females to escape abusive marriages and to have abortions, something that the Tsarist regime never would have considered. New freedoms for women were found in every aspect of daily life, from political liberation to educational opportunities. Perhaps the only possibility that the communists overlooked was that of public child care, much like Kollontai proposed in her communal living theory, which is clearly portrayed in her Love of Worker Bees. Had women had the access to communal child rearing, perhaps even more females could have found successful careers outside of the family, and discovered even more satisfaction in their everyday lives.

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