Gender Equality in an Authoritarian State: Russia (1917-2016)
Haverford College. Department of Sociology
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This work will explore the regression of the progressive reforms of the Russian Revolution in 1917 to the ascendancy of an authoritarian social order in its effects on gender and sexuality. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, under Yeltsin's leadership, feminist discourse emerged that attempted to implement values that were initially outlined within the 1917 revolutionary agenda as well as, again, in the post-Stalin liberation movement (post-1953). The values that were central to the Russian Revolution were inclusive of women, challenging the patriarchal social order as well as family structures. Unfortunately, the Revolution never succeeded in eliminating the traditional-hierarchical values that subordinated women and other gender and sexual minorities in Russian society. Forty years later, in the post-Stalin era, the next Russian rulers attempted to establish a more liberal society with the transition to social democracy under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. Policies, such as glasnost' ("openness") and perestroika ("reconstruction), were implemented, ultimately leading to the demise of the Soviet Union. In the early 1990s, feminist movements and organizations reappeared to implement more fully values that were taken from the Russian Revolution. With considerable efforts in place, it seems paradoxical that the feminist movement was unable to legitimate itself within the broader Russian society, failing to mobilize activist groups and generate support for the liberal feminist ideas. Instead, Vladimir Putin's government developed nationalistic narratives appealing to "cultural authenticity, tradition, and religion" to legitimate an authoritarian regime where "traditional notions of family and femininity are endorsed so as to represent national power against the West and to invigorate social unity and morality in [Russian society]" (Dogangun 2020). Why has this shift occurred? How was Putin able to consolidate a patrimonial government and legitimate anti-feminist measures in opposition to the liberal-democratic wave?