Gender and Choice after Socialism
The end of socialism in the Soviet Union and its satellite states ushered in a new era of choice. Yet the idea that people are really free to live as they choose turns out to be problematic. Personal choice is limited by a range of factors such as a person’s economic situation, class, age, government policies and social expectations, especially regarding gender roles. Furthermore, the notion of free choice is a crucial feature of capitalist ideology, and can be manipulated in the interests of the market. This edited collection explores the complexity of choice in Russia and Ukraine. The contributors explore how the new choices available to people after the collapse of the Soviet Union have interacted with and influenced gender identities and gender, and how choice has become one of the driving forces of class-formation in countries which were, in the Soviet era, supposedly classless.
The book will of interest to students and scholars across a range of subjects including gender and sexualities studies, history, sociology and political science.
This chapter looks into two paradoxes of the post-Soviet Russian gender order and post-Soviet
Russian masculinities. The first paradox is a large-scale, well documented structural
contradiction which has persisted throughout the entire post-Soviet period of Russian history:
despite the fact that military service remains a constitutional duty of male citizens in Russia, only
a minority of men in the draft pool end up serving in the armed forces. The second paradox,
commonly known but underexplored, relates to the symbolic dimensions of gender relations in
Russia. I addressed this issue in my relatively small-scale qualitative research project on
contemporary Russian masculinities: I found that despite harsh criticism of the contemporary
Russian army and personal unwillingness to serve in the military, only a small number of the
research participants expressed consistent antimilitary sentiments and/or considered military
service as unnecessary and pointless. My research also showed that the military and militarism
remain a crucially important gendered terrain on which Russian masculinities are contested and
achieved. This is evident even in the context of a severe crisis of the national military, and even
for men who have no experience of military service.
This chapter will explore a number of issues in relation to motherhood and the family in post-Soviet Russia. These include the decline in the birth rate, changes in women’s attitudes towards having children, the emergence of the Childfree movement, and, conversely, the emphasis on ‘intensive mothering’ which has emerged in recent years. Since children have traditionally been considered an essential feature of the family, we will also consider whether people’s understanding of the family is undergoing change as more people remain childless. We will argue that although it is easier for women to make choices about having children than it was in the more prescriptive Soviet era, there are still social pressures, old and new, which influence these choices. Our research method is an analysis of discussions between Russian women on the issues outlined above which have taken place on various Russian Internet sites.