The Soviet Union claimed to have made women equal to men. To what extent did it really succeed in doing so?

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The Soviet Union claimed to have made women equal to men. To what extent did it really succeed in doing so?

Before the beginning of the Soviet Union, Russia was a deeply misogynistic country; with men being at the head of every household whilst the women were kept under control, for fear that they would distract the men from their work (Edmondson, 1992: 20). When the Soviet Union was established, however, they claimed to have made both genders equal, though I feel this was not entirely true. During the existence of the Soviet Union, women’s roles within society changed several times; sometimes they were seen as workers, other times as fighters, and other times as mothers. At the same time, men only had the one role of physical labourers, be it in the factories or on the battlefield.

At the beginning of the Soviet Union, Lenin stated that no revolution is possible without the participation of women, and how he aimed to emancipate women from domestic duties so they could become part of the labour force (Lenin, 1966: 99). Once Stalin came in to power, his five-year plan vastly improved employment rates, with women eventually making up 40% of the workforce (Bridger, 1987: 25). Despite this, gender inequality was still evident, as women were assigned worse jobs than men, which was allowed to happen by law (Edmondson, 1992: 139). The iconic images of the Soviet woman on her tractor represent ‘Mother Russia’ and the success of technology in industry, as well as showing that women were working the land as well as men, making the two genders seem equal. A group of workers known as the Stakhanovites emerged, being the top workers who achieved much more than their targets (Hutton, 2001: 330). This group was allowed special privileges for their hard work, and the wives of male Stakhanovites did not have to work, whilst female Stakhanovites could afford to be fashionable and cultured, still appearing feminine and beautiful despite all their hard work (Clarke, Posadskaya-Vanderbeck, 1994: 46). Despite this group seeming slightly elitist, the group was marketed to the rest of the workers as an obtainable goal and therefore was apparently equal, fitting in to the Socialist ideology. In 1936, under Stalin’s rule, women were granted equal rights to men in the constitution, though abortion was made illegal, on the grounds that in a Communist society one had no reason not to have children, as the state would ensure their wellbeing (Atkinson, Dallin, Lapidus, 1977:161).

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During World War Two, women played a massive part both at home in the Soviet Union, and away on the battlefield. On the battlefield, around 8,000 female soldiers were fighting the enemy, both on the ground and in the air, with effective results (Stites, 1991: 296). Many German troops would rather commit suicide than be defeated by a women’s battalion (Levin, Pushkareva, 1997: 250), and along with those who did not and were defeated, women played a large role in the fighting. People were still uneasy about women fighting and killing in the war, but the women explained that they ...

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