Gender and Power in Eastern Europe: Changing Concepts of Femininity and Masculinity in Power Relations [1st ed.] 9783030531294, 9783030531300

This book explores the contradictory development of gender roles in Central and Eastern Europe including Russia. In ligh

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Gender and Power in Eastern Europe: Changing Concepts of Femininity and Masculinity in Power Relations [1st ed.]
 9783030531294, 9783030531300

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-xiv
Introduction (Katharina Bluhm, Gertrud Pickhan, Justyna Stypińska, Agnieszka Wierzcholska)....Pages 1-11
Front Matter ....Pages 13-13
The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend: The Curious Tale of Feminism and Capitalism in Eastern Europe (Kristen R. Ghodsee)....Pages 15-24
Blaming Feminists Is Not Understanding History: A Critical Rejoinder to Ghodsee’s Take on Feminism, Neoliberalism and Nationalism in Eastern Europe (Agnieszka Graff)....Pages 25-33
Feminist Stories from an Illiberal State: Revoking the License to Teach Gender Studies in Hungary at a University in Exile (CEU) (Andrea Pető)....Pages 35-44
Emancipation is More than the Freedom of Choice: Rethinking the Feminist Agenda in Postsocialism (Olga Sasunkevich)....Pages 45-59
Front Matter ....Pages 61-61
Ukraine’s Female Combatants: The Influence of Conflict on Gender Roles and Empowerment (Rebecca Barth)....Pages 63-82
Gender Roles in the Rear of the War in Donbas: Women’s Engagement in the Care of Wounded Combatants (Ioulia Shukan)....Pages 83-105
Russian Vicious Circles: The Facebook Flash Mob #яНеБоюсьСказать, Biopolitics, and Rape Culture (Elena Korowin)....Pages 107-121
The Ambivalence of the Ordinary: The Polish Women’s Strike (OSK) and the Women’s March 8th Alliance (PK8M) in a Comparative Perspective (Jennifer Ramme, Claudia Snochowska-Gonzalez)....Pages 123-142
Front Matter ....Pages 143-143
Putting Care at the Center: Women Organizing Trade Unions in the Care Sector in Poland (Julia Kubisa)....Pages 145-156
Questioning the Retraditionalization Thesis: Gender Differences in Paid and Unpaid Work in Bulgaria (1970–2010) (Gergana Nenova)....Pages 157-172
Autonomy as Empowerment, or How Gendered Power Manifests Itself in Contemporary Russian Families (Alya Guseva, Dilyara Ibragimova)....Pages 173-189
Front Matter ....Pages 191-191
Masculine Strategies in Russian Orthodoxy: From Asceticism to Militarization (Boris Knorre)....Pages 193-208
Questioning Gender Stereotypes Under Socialism: Fatherly Emotions and the Case of Single Fathers (Peter Hallama)....Pages 209-225
The East German Man: “Brown Perpetrator of Violence,” “Sensitive Father”? An Exploration of Media Discourses and Scholarly Studies (Sylka Scholz)....Pages 227-245
Russian Fatherhood: From Distance to Participation (Elena Rozhdestvenskaya)....Pages 247-269

Citation preview

Societies and Political Orders in Transition

Katharina Bluhm Gertrud Pickhan Justyna Stypińska Agnieszka Wierzcholska  Editors

Gender and Power in Eastern Europe Changing Concepts of Femininity and Masculinity in Power Relations

Societies and Political Orders in Transition Series Editors Alexander Chepurenko Higher School of Economics, National Research University, Moscow, Russia Stein Ugelvik Larsen University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway William Reisinger Department of Political Science, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA Managing Editors Ekim Arbatli Higher School of Economics, National Research University, Moscow, Russia Dina Rosenberg Higher School of Economics, National Research University, Moscow, Russia Aigul Mavletova Higher School of Economics, National Research University, Moscow, Russia

This book series presents scientific and scholarly studies focusing on societies and political orders in transition, for example in Central and Eastern Europe but also elsewhere in the world. By comparing established societies, characterized by wellestablished market economies and well-functioning democracies, with post-socialist societies, often characterized by emerging markets and fragile political systems, the series identifies and analyzes factors influencing change and continuity in societies and political orders. These factors include state capacity to establish formal and informal rules, democratic institutions, forms of social structuration, political regimes, levels of corruption, specificity of political cultures, as well as types and orientation of political and economic elites. Societies and Political Orders in Transition welcomes monographs and edited volumes from a variety of disciplines and approaches, such as political and social sciences and economics, which are accessible to both academics and interested general readers. Topics may include, but are not limited to, democratization, regime change, changing social norms, migration, etc. More information about this series at International Advisory Board: Bluhm, Katharina; Freie Universitðt Berlin, Germany Buckley, Cynthia; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Sociological Research, USA Cox, Terry; Central and East European Studies, University of Glasgow, UK Fish, Steve; Berkeley University, USA Ilyin, Michail; National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia Melville, Andrei; National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia Radaev, Vadim; National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia

Katharina Bluhm • Gertrud Pickhan • Justyna Stypińska • Agnieszka Wierzcholska Editors

Gender and Power in Eastern Europe Changing Concepts of Femininity and Masculinity in Power Relations

Editors Katharina Bluhm Institute of East European Studies Freie Universität Berlin Berlin, Germany

Gertrud Pickhan Institute of East European Studies Freie Universität Berlin Berlin, Germany

Justyna Stypińska Institute of East European Studies Freie Universität Berlin Berlin, Germany

Agnieszka Wierzcholska Institute of East European Studies Freie Universität Berlin Berlin, Germany

ISSN 2511-2201 ISSN 2511-221X (electronic) Societies and Political Orders in Transition ISBN 978-3-030-53129-4 ISBN 978-3-030-53130-0 (eBook) © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are reserved by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors, and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Springer imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


The idea for this book emerged with the international conference Gender—Power— Eastern Europe: Changing Concepts of Femininities and Masculinities and Power Relations organized by the Institute for East European Studies of Freie Universität Berlin and funded by Zeit-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius. The editors would like to thank all the scholars who participated in the conference and whose work was not included in this book, and yet whose intellectual contribution remains invaluable for the conceptual outline of this volume. The editors would also like to thank Leonardo Verropoulos, Eiske Schäfer, and Nadja Sieffert for organizing the conference; Aleksandr Lange for technically editing the manuscript and helping coordinate its development; Eiske Schäfer for her help in preparing the volume for publication; Michele Faguet for copyediting and proofreading most of the chapters; and Sophie Schlondorff for translation.



Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Katharina Bluhm, Gertrud Pickhan, Justyna Stypińska, and Agnieszka Wierzcholska Part I


Feminism in Eastern Europe Revisited

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend: The Curious Tale of Feminism and Capitalism in Eastern Europe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Kristen R. Ghodsee Blaming Feminists Is Not Understanding History: A Critical Rejoinder to Ghodsee’s Take on Feminism, Neoliberalism and Nationalism in Eastern Europe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Agnieszka Graff



Feminist Stories from an Illiberal State: Revoking the License to Teach Gender Studies in Hungary at a University in Exile (CEU) . . . Andrea Pető


Emancipation is More than the Freedom of Choice: Rethinking the Feminist Agenda in Postsocialism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Olga Sasunkevich


Part II

New Conflicts and Empowerment Strategies

Ukraine’s Female Combatants: The Influence of Conflict on Gender Roles and Empowerment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rebecca Barth


Gender Roles in the Rear of the War in Donbas: Women’s Engagement in the Care of Wounded Combatants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ioulia Shukan





Russian Vicious Circles: The Facebook Flash Mob #яНеБоюсьСказать, Biopolitics, and Rape Culture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107 Elena Korowin The Ambivalence of the Ordinary: The Polish Women’s Strike (OSK) and the Women’s March 8th Alliance (PK8M) in a Comparative Perspective . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123 Jennifer Ramme and Claudia Snochowska-Gonzalez Part III

Work, Money, and Power

Putting Care at the Center: Women Organizing Trade Unions in the Care Sector in Poland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145 Julia Kubisa Questioning the Retraditionalization Thesis: Gender Differences in Paid and Unpaid Work in Bulgaria (1970–2010) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157 Gergana Nenova Autonomy as Empowerment, or How Gendered Power Manifests Itself in Contemporary Russian Families . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173 Alya Guseva and Dilyara Ibragimova Part IV

Changing Concepts of Masculinity and Fatherhood

Masculine Strategies in Russian Orthodoxy: From Asceticism to Militarization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193 Boris Knorre Questioning Gender Stereotypes Under Socialism: Fatherly Emotions and the Case of Single Fathers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209 Peter Hallama The East German Man: “Brown Perpetrator of Violence,” “Sensitive Father”? An Exploration of Media Discourses and Scholarly Studies . . . 227 Sylka Scholz Russian Fatherhood: From Distance to Participation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 247 Elena Rozhdestvenskaya

Editors and Contributors

About the Editors Katharina Bluhm is a professor of sociology with a focus on Eastern Europe and Russia at the Freie Universität Berlin. She has published widely on the transition from communism to market economy in a comparative perspective. Among her recent books are New Conservatives in Russia and East Central Europe (co-edited with Mihai Varga, Routledge, 2019) and Business Leaders and New Varieties of Capitalism in Post-Communist Europe (Routledge, 2014). Bluhm has published two articles in German peer-reviewed journals about her recent research on Russia’s new conservatism, economic nationalism, and family policy. One addresses the rise of the new conservative intellectual circles in Russia, while the other details the core concepts of Russian conservatives and their relationship to Europe. She regularly teaches courses on gender, nation, and state; welfare state and gender; and economic sociology and institutional theory. Gertrud Pickhan is a professor of East-Central European history at the Freie Universität Berlin. She earned her PhD in History at the University of Hamburg in May 1989. After teaching at the Bundeswehr University in Hamburg from 1985 to 1992, she was a research fellow at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw from 1993 to 1997. From 1997 to 2000, she taught at the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture in Leipzig, where she also served as deputy to the Founding Director. From 2000 to 2003, she was Professor of Polish Studies at the Technical University of Dresden. The research focuses on the historic cultural landscape of East-Central Europe, which was largely shaped by its multiethnic and intercultural circumstances. Plurality and diversity and the resultant contacts and conflicts are being studied in various projects. Justyna Stypińska is a postdoctoral researcher at the Freie Universität Berlin, Institute of East European Studies, Department of Sociology, Germany. She received her PhD from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow for a dissertation on ix


Editors and Contributors

age discrimination in the labour market. Currently, she is a leader of an international project MOMENT—Making of Mature Entrepreneurship in Germany and Poland. Her research interest focuses on ageing on the labour markets, age and gender inequalities in the life course perspective, as well as the relation between ageing, social innovation, and social sustainability. Agnieszka Wierzcholska is a postdoctoral researcher in history at the Freie Universität Berlin. She has received her PhD from the Freie Universität for the dissertation “Relations Between Jews and non-Jews in Poland, 1918–1956: A microhistorical Study on Tarnów”. Her research interests are primarily Jewish history in Eastern Europe, the Holocaust, as well as nation-building in the region. Additionally, Wierzcholska is interested in gender history and feminist movements in Poland.

List of Contributors Rebecca Barth is a journalist and a scholar based in Berlin. She studied Slavic studies and East European studies in Berlin, Moscow, and Kiev. Her work was published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Fluter, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and RBB. Her research as well as her journalistic career focuses on the recent social and political upheavals in Ukraine. Kristen Ghodsee is a professor of Russian and East European Studies and a member of the Graduate Group in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She has written seven books on gender, socialism, and postsocialism. Ghodsee’s 2018 book, Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence, has already had eleven foreign editions, including five translations into the languages of former state socialist countries in Eastern Europe. Her articles and essays have also been translated into over twenty languages and have appeared in publications such as Dissent, Foreign Affairs, Jacobin, The Baffler, The New Republic, Quartz, The Lancet, Project Syndicate, The Washington Post, and the New York Times. Ghodsee has held residential research fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey; the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University; the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC; the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies in Germany; the Imre Kertész Kolleg at the Friedrich Schiller Universität in Jena, Germany; the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany; and the Aleksanteri Institute of the University of Helsinki in Finland. In 2012, Ghodsee was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for her work in anthropology and cultural studies.

Editors and Contributors


Agnieszka Graff is a lecturer on gender studies at the American Studies Center of the University of Warsaw. She received her doctorate in English literature at the University of Warsaw in 1999. Her primary research interest is the intersection between gender, race, and national identity. Her ongoing research project concerns the rhetorical strategies of second-wave US feminism. Graff has published extensively on gender in Polish and American public life both in scholarly journals and in the mainstream press. She is the author of Świat bez kobiet (World without Women, W.A.B., 2001), Rykoszetem (Stray Bullets, W.A.B., 2008), and Magma (The Quagmire Effect, Krytyka Polityczna, 2010). She is also co-editor of The Americanist, a scholarly journal published by the American Studies Center, Warsaw. Alya Guseva is an associate professor of sociology at Boston University and has researched consumer finance, reproductive markets, and household economies. Her work has appeared in American Sociological Review, Annual Review of Sociology, Socio-Economic Review, Journal of Comparative Economics, Social Science Research, and Journal of Family Issues. She is the author and co-author of two books on emerging credit card markets in the postcommunist region: Into the Red: The Birth of the Credit Card Market in Postcommunist Russia (2008) and Plastic Money: Constructing Markets for Credit Cards in Eight Postcommunist Countries (with Akos Rona-Tas, 2014), both published by Stanford University Press. Peter Hallama is a research fellow at the University of Bern, where he is principal investigator of a research project entitled “Socialist fatherhood. Revolutionary visions of the future family and everyday life in 20th-century Europe”, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. His publications, including two monographs and an edited volume, concentrate on the contemporary history of East-Central Europe, Holocaust memory, the history of communism, and gender history. Dilyara Ibragimova is an associate professor of sociology at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and has researched consumer expectations and finance and household economies. Her work has appeared in Journal of Family Issues and Ekonomicheskaya Sotsiologiya (Journal of Economic Sociology), among others. With Lilia Ovcharova, she co-authored the book Dohody i social0 nye uslugi: neravenstvo, uâzvimost0 , bednost0 (Incomes and Social Services: Inequality, Vulnerability, Poverty, NISP, 2005) summarizing their fifteen-year experience of measuring consumer expectations in Russia. Boris Knorre is an associate professor in the Faculty of Humanities and a senior research fellow at the Centre for Studies of Civil Society and the Non-Profit Sector, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow. He received his doctorate in religious studies from the Faculty of Philosophy of Lomonosov Moscow State University. His interests include sociology and the philosophy of religion, social anthropology, cross-cultural studies, the politicization of religions, and church–state cooperation. Since 1997, he has conducted extensive fieldwork and


Editors and Contributors

taken part in groundbreaking research for the Encyclopedia of Religious Life in Russia Today (Keston Institute, 2002). He is the author of V poiskah bessmertiâ Fedorovskoe religiozno-filosofskoe dviženie: istoriâ i sovremennost0 (In Search of Immortality: Fyodorov’s Religious-Philosophical Movement), published in 2008, and at least one hundred articles in Russian on issues of ideology, social impact, and cross-cultural comparisons of contemporary religious communities in Russia like orthodoxy, paganism, New Age, and neo-orientalist cults. Elena Korowin studied art science, media theory, philosophy, and curatorial studies at the University of Arts and Design (HfG), Karlsruhe, Germany. In 2013, she received her PhD in Art Science, presenting her thesis “Russian boom. Art exhibitions as means of diplomacy between USSR and West Germany 1970–1990”. It was awarded by the Institute of Foreign Relations (ifa) with Research Award on Cultural Diplomacy 2016. Since 2012, she has been a lecturer at the Institute for Art Science and Media Theory in Karlsruhe, and since 2008, she has presented lectures at numerous international symposiums and colloquiums around Europe including Basel, Berlin, Madrid, Munich, Moscow, Vienna, and Warsaw. As editor and researcher, her articles on Vladimir Tatlin, Teresa Margolles, and the political instrumentalization of aesthetic practice can be found in various online and print media. She has also worked as curatorial assistant at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden and at the Russian State Museum of St. Petersburg. Dr. Korowin has currently a postdoc position at Internationales Graduiertenkolleg 1956 “Kulturtransfer und kulturelle Identität” at the Albert Ludwigs Universität Freiburg (Germany). Her main research interests include concepts of dissent and autonomy, female identities in the post-Utopian, cultural hybridity, concepts of the beautiful, contemporary Russian art, sexualized violence, and its presentation in the media. Julia Kubisa is an associate professor at the Institute of Sociology University of Warsaw. Her scientific interests include gendered division of labour, industrial relations, and sociology of work. She has published articles and books about nurses’ trade unions, job quality, combatting poverty, and men’s experiences in men-dominated occupations. She is currently responsible for the equality policies at the University of Warsaw. Gergana Nenova is a researcher and lecturer in the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” in Bulgaria. She received a PhD in Sociology in 2020. Her dissertation deals with the gender division of labour in the families with children and the shifting boundaries between mothering and fathering. Her research interests are in the field of sociology of gender, sociology of work, family sociology, parenting studies, and sociology of childhood. Andrea Pető is a professor in the Department of Gender Studies at Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, and a Doctor of Science of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. She has written five monographs and edited thirty-one

Editors and Contributors


volumes and her works on gender, politics, the Holocaust, and war have been translated into 19 languages. In 2018, she was awarded the 2018 All European Academies Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values. Jennifer Ramme is a research associate and teacher at the Europa Universität Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder), where she is currently working on her dissertation about feminist movements and gender struggles in Poland. Her research interests include gender studies, queer theory, aesthetic resistance, and social movements. She is also involved in a teaching project about artistic research and artistic methods of protest, intended to connect research, art, and social movements. Ramme received a scholarship for her participation in the project “The Transnationalization of Struggles for Recognition: Women and Jews in France, Germany, and Poland in the Twentieth Century” coordinated by the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB). Elena Rozhdestvenskaya is a professor, Hab. Dr. of Sociology, at the Sociology Department, Faculty of Social Sciences, National Research University “Higher School of Economics”, Moscow. Her main scientific contributions were made in the field of gender sociology, biographical research, sociology of masculinity, and fatherhood. She is a co-editor of the Russian journal Interaction. Interview. Interpretation (Moscow, Institute of Sociology Russian Academy of Sciences). Olga Sasunkevich is an assistant professor in gender studies at the Department of Cultural Sciences, University of Gothenburg. She is one of the researchers in the project “Spaces of Resistance. A Study of Gender and Sexualities in Times of Transformation” supported by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg’s Foundation where she studies feminist and LGBTI activism in Russia. She is also a coordinator of the project “Feminist and Queer Solidarities Beyond Borders”, aimed at establishing a transnational dialogue between feminist and queer activists and scholars from Nordic countries, Russia, and Turkey. Sylka Scholz is a professor of qualitative methods and microsociology at the Institute for Sociology at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. Her research focuses on the sociology of gender, in particular masculinities, as well as the sociology of the family and the sociology of film. Her research works with a broad spectrum of qualitative methods, ranging from biographical research and discourse analysis to visual methods of image and film analysis. Ioulia Shukan is an assistant professor at the University Paris Nanterre and researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of Politics (ISP/CNRS). Her current research project is an ethnography of forms of citizenship that developed in Ukraine throughout 2014–2018 on Maidan and in relation with the war in Donbas (vigilantism, women’s engagement in voluntary caregiving about the wounded, etc.). She is the author of the book Génération Maïdan (La Tour d’Aigues: Éditions de l’Aube, 2016). She has co-edited a special issue of Laboratoruim: Russian Review of Social Research (11/3, 2019) on “Citizens’ crime watch and vigilantism in post-Soviet


Editors and Contributors

societies” and contributed to the issue with her article “Defending Ukraine at the rear of the armed conflict in Donbas: Wartime vigilantism in Odesa (2014–2018)”. In 2018, she co-edited and contributed to a special issue of Revue d’études comparatives Est-Ouest (49/2, 2018) on “S’engager dans la guerre du Donbass (2014–2018). Trajectoires individuelles et reconfigurations sociales”. Claudia Snochowska-Gonzalez is a sociologist and culture scientist. She studied at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań and obtained her PhD at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences of the University of Warsaw. She published a book Wolność i pisanie. Dorota Masłowska i Andrzej Stasiuk w postkolonialnej Polsce on the functioning of Polish postcolonialism in contemporary Polish literature. She has published articles in “East European Politics and Societies” and in “Studia Litteraria et Historica”. She also edited the book A jak hipokryzja. Antologia tekstów o aborcji, władzy, pieniądzach i sprawiedliwości (A like Hypocrisy. An Anthology about Abortion, Power, Money, and Justice) and was a co-director of a documentary film on abortion underground in Poland (Underground Women’s State). Recently, she co-edited the book Bunt Kobiet. Czarne protesty i strajki kobiet (Female Revolt. Black Protests and Women Strikes), Europejskie Centrum Solidarności, Gdańsk. In her current research conducted at the Institute of Slavic Studies (Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw), she focuses on volkist inspirations in Polish public life.

Introduction Katharina Bluhm, Gertrud Pickhan, Justyna Stypińska, and Agnieszka Wierzcholska

Over the last decade, gender has become a surprisingly charged topic that has drawn sharp lines in the political landscape of Europe and beyond. Central and Eastern Europe have played a critical role in this, given that the governments of Russia, Poland, and Hungary have rejected “Western gender ideology,” while in other countries of the region anti-gender sentiments and political forces have also grown, but without dominating government policy or having such an ideological emphasis. It is not the first time that this backlash happens in a postsocialist, or other, context. In most Central and Eastern European countries, the political and socioeconomic transition of the 1990s did not provoke an emancipatory momentum for women, much to the dismay of the region’s feminists. Although female activists in Poland, Czechoslovakia, or East Germany played a role in the dissident movements of the 1980s, the revolutionary introduction of a market economy, democracy, and the rule of law was not destined to be a feminist emancipatory project. A significant group of dissidents and government reformers interpreted the socialist project of women’s emancipation as artificial and patronizing—yet another facet of communist ideology that had to be rejected. They believed that liberation from “communism” implied the freedom for women to retreat from work. Mikhail Gorbachev, for example, hoped that the market economy would raise wages enough to sustain a typical family—two parents and two children. A family or household wage is usually associated with men’s earnings that would allow women to stay at home. This new public discourse during the perestroika was intertwined not only in Russia but also in East Central Europe with concerns about the social and moral anomie that supposedly resulted from socialist state policy’s focus on working mothers and their rights and obligation to form part of a full-time labor force. As a result, the state was intimately involved in K. Bluhm (*) · G. Pickhan · J. Stypińska · A. Wierzcholska Institute of East European Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany e-mail: [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



K. Bluhm et al.

family affairs, childcare, and education (see Ashwin 2006; Verdery 1994). This socialist emancipation from the above was also seen as a cause of men’s absence from the family. Stripped of their patriarchal rights and powerful position as breadwinners, coupled with the fact that work or military service often took them far from home, men had great difficulty in determining a proper role for themselves within a gender arrangement conceived by the “parent-state” to promote working mothers. The resulting “crisis of masculinity” became a signifier for the “crisis of the nation” itself (Zdravomyslova and Temkina 2014; see Hallama 2020). In contrast to the views of many reformers, feminist activists and politically active women at the time embraced democratization and a market economy as the means to achieve the same kind of socioeconomic prosperity and political freedom expected for men (see Graff 2020). Increased political rights were meant to complement existing social rights and assumed economic independence. Within this constellation, Western feminists ventured to Central and Eastern Europe to promote their own ideas about “real emancipation” while discrediting all that had previously been achieved. They discursively separated women from men in the struggle for democratic and economic participation by highlighting patriarchy as a major cause of women’s oppression. Kristen Ghodsee (2004) has vividly described the tensions that followed early misunderstandings between feminists in the West and East and women’s activists in Bulgaria. Her analysis also applies to the rapid alienation between West German and East German activists, which persisted over the next two decades in the unified Germany (Dölling 2001). During the course of the transformation, the initial expectations of reformers and feminist activists were disappointed. No family wage emerged for most of the households, now integrated into the world economy as a semi-periphery or periphery. Many women quickly learned that the social rights they had previously taken for granted were less secure than expected. Western feminist scholars described the changing power relationships in postsocialist gender regimes as a process of “retraditionalization,” which refers both to the reform discourses of the late 1980s and early 1990s and to practical changes of the gender regime after the breakdown of state socialism. Gal and Kligman (2000) have pointed to the fight over abortion in the early 1990s triggered by attempted, and indeed realized, restrictions on women’s reproductive rights in Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, and the former East Germany.1 Except in Germany, such restrictions were already linked to morality and so-called traditional values as well as to the unfolding demographic crisis and migration. This was especially true for countries that struggled to conceive of new postsocialist national identities as well as for those where the Church forcefully


The German case is unique because restrictions in the former GDR resulted from a compromise between East and West German politicians following protests in the East. As a result, abortion rights in the unified Germany were more liberal compared to those under the former West German law but more restrictive compared to late GDR law. A similar liberalization occurred in relation to LGBT rights, which in the GDR were only established in the late 1980s. These are two of the rare examples during the unification process in which mutual adaptation instead of an institutional transfer from West to East occurred.



reentered the political stage (see Graff and Korolczuk 2018). At the same time, countries with restrictive regulations under state socialism, such as Romania and Bulgaria, relaxed anti-abortion laws afterwards, while Russia kept its liberal laws mostly untouched until 2011. Other factors that contributed to retraditionalization include the relative decline of women’s labor market participation compared to that of men (who also experienced a significant decline in most of these countries); the dismantling of universal childcare, especially for children below the age of three; implicit or explicit familiaristic social policies; and the withdrawal of women from politics, especially from parliaments once this institution had acquired some real power. Only in a few countries did the share of women in parliament exceed 10% at the end of the 1990s (Ashwin 2006; Bridger et al. 1996; Glass and Fodor 2007; Teplova 2007; for a critical review of the retraditionalization thesis see Pascall and Kwak 2009 and Nenova 2020). From a historical point of view, the global financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent Eurozone crisis fostered a second wave of retraditionalization—visible both in public discourse and political practices in Eastern Europe. Both waves are important points of departure for this volume. However, we do not wish to simply reiterate the analysis of right-wing, anti-gender propaganda, and policy already accomplished by several recent studies (see, for example, Kováts and Pető 2017; Graff and Korolczuk 2018; Bluhm and Brand 2018). Rather, the collection of articles in this volume focuses on changing gender arrangements and power relationships as nonlinear, contradictory processes where shifting ideologies, socioeconomic conditions, and social practices are intertwined. We look at the perspective of bottom-up agency, which allows us to bring more dynamics and differentiation into our analysis of the new/recent nationalist-conservative turn. This bottom-up perspective opens up space for questions about intersectionality and how gender and class are mutually related to one another in postsocialist countries where the economic and social upheavals of the transition period fundamentally changed the social structures while the legacies of socialist modernization were still (partly) traceable. This volume is divided into four sections. In the first, “Feminism in Eastern Europe Revisited,” prominent scholars and feminist activists reflect upon the transition period and its long-term consequences for gender regimes. They examine the validity of the claim that feminist movements were co-opted by neoliberal ideology and engage in a lively debate about what alternatives were available to feminists both in the past and today. Utilizing Nancy Fraser’s influential article “Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History” (2009) as a reference point, the authors discuss her arguments for the region of Central and Eastern Europe. This critical assessment of the post-transition period allows for a deeper reflection on emancipation, class issues, and different strands of feminism in postsocialist countries. While Olga Sasunkevich and Kristen Ghodsee in this volume share the notion that liberal feminism contributed to the recent backlash and criticize the revitalized hegemonic Western image of a politically constructed “Eastern Europe” as a backward region especially when it comes to gender regimes, Agnieszka Graff rejects the notion of a Western feminist colonialization.


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The second section of the book, “New Conflicts and Empowerment Strategies,” is devoted to the self-organization and grassroots movements of women in Central and Eastern Europe in response to the challenges of illiberal regimes and war. Using multiple empirical examples, the authors show from different perspectives that women in the region are capable of enacting change from below and confronting right-wing conservative gender ideology and nationalist identity policy. The third section “Work, Money, and Power” aims to uncover the interrelationship between work, money, and power on an individual and collective level. It sheds light on the contradictory development between socioeconomic circumstances and gender ideology, which do not necessarily determine one another. The authors reveal the limitations of the retraditionalization thesis given socialist legacies but also postsocialist realities. Nevertheless, their findings also indicate that the malebreadwinner model is a powerful cultural concept, especially among middleclass men. The fourth section, “Changing Concepts of Masculinity and Fatherhood,” deals with a relatively new area of research. It combines historical and sociological studies revealing that the notion of absent men is a too broad concept to account for the diverse experiences of different countries during and after socialism. Again, the empirical findings from different countries indicate that in spite of conservative discourses, actual gender arrangements are much more complex than simply adhering to gender ideology. To follow, we elaborate on this anthology’s point of departure by presenting the differences between the first and second waves of retraditionalization. We then explore the limitations of the argument that the current gender arrangements in Central and Eastern Europe are the results of retraditionalization, neo-conservatism, or even straight restoration. Samuel Eisenstadt’s concept of multiple modernities allows us to acknowledge the existence of multiple paths of emancipation while understanding backlashes as responses to tensions, contradictions, and antinomies within modern societies. Thus, the recent nationalistconservative or right-wing populist turn in some countries is not per se anti-modern. For both questions, we highlight crucial outcomes of the collected articles.

1 The Second Wave of Retraditionalization The national-conservative turn in Orbán’s Hungary, Kaczyński’s Poland, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and to a lesser extent in other Central and East European countries is part of a broader countermovement that is not restricted to postsocialist states. In this way, it decisively differs from the first wave of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when discourse was dominated by high hopes for the triumph of democracy and liberalism over any kind of authoritarianism. Those who dismissed the socialist project of women’s emancipation as part and parcel of their integration into the labor market were anti-communists without anti-Western or anti-liberal sentiments. In contrary, relieving women of their double-burden by allowing them to stay at home was



perceived as a step toward normalization—in the form of a “normal” and “civilized” Western-style society—even though their image of a classic breadwinner model better resembled middle-class (white) families in the US and Western Europe of the 1950s and 1960s rather than the gender arrangements of the 1990s and 2000s. Already in socialist times, feminism was framed as a bourgeois Western ideology, neatly separated from the justified fight for equal rights. However, it was only during the second wave after 2010 that feminism gained the status as a major threat that needed to be stemmed (see Pető 2020). Along with being part of a larger countermovement, there is another important difference to the first wave, since anti-gender ideology has now become an element of a broader ideological project against communism and (neo-)liberalism. The social construct of gender as an enemy of the so-called natural social order acts as the symbolic glue unifying different right-wing, conservative, and nationalist strands (Grzebalska et al. 2017). However, the attack is not only on gender. Rather, “gender” and feminism are discursively associated with environmentalism and globalism, both elements of a “totalitarian-neoliberal” ideology propagated by transnational organizations, multinational companies, and a cosmopolitical elite who stand to most profit from rapid exposure to global or European markets (see more Bluhm and Varga 2019a). What is puzzling still is why precisely in East Central Europe and Russia—both places where feminism is not exactly a widespread phenomenon—right-wing populist rulers and national-conservative ideologues aggressively rail against “gender ideology.” Bluhm and Varga (2019a) have argued elsewhere that the illiberal turn cannot be sufficiently explained either by a sliding back toward authoritarianism or the long shadow of the authoritarian past. Nor is it just the result of state capture by rent-seeking groups employing populist strategies and rhetoric. Both arguments can hardly explain why with Hungary and Poland, two of the countries that ranked highest in international indices in terms of market-economy performance and stable democratic institutions, moved to the forefront of this countermovement in the second decade of the twenty-first century. The current ruling elites in both countries are convinced that the neoliberal, open-market path of transition of the 1990s needs to at least be corrected because it failed to overcome “post-communism,” instead bringing about new economic, political, and cultural dependence (this time on the West). This, in turn, precludes the establishment of those positions within the European Union that they desire for their countries. The need to regain national sovereignty by means of a powerful nationalist state that intervenes in the economy and in society is a view that Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński share with Vladimir Putin. According to this narrative, the notion of liberal Western “gender ideology” was successfully framed as an attempt to limit these countries’ national sovereignty by imposing “foreign” norms and rules that further exacerbated the demographic crisis, hindering the recovery of families after socialism and the shock of transition. The national conservatives do not limit their battle for “traditional values” to their own countries but see it as part of a broader missionary impetus to save Europe from post-1968 decadence, which is also a novel characteristic of this second wave.


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In the social policy, the conservative ideological turn has a redistributive component that favors heterosexual marriage and the so-called traditional nuclear family, absent during the 1990s wave, when the state was meant to withdraw from family matters (Bluhm and Varga 2019b). With the economic recovery and the sharpening of the demographic situation, pronatalist policies were implemented in much of the region beginning in the mid-2000s, including the expansion of financial incentives. One such example is the Polish PiS government’s well-known 500+ program, which eased the lives of many families with children, thus strengthening the party’s electorate. The manner in which the issues of social justice are appropriated by illiberal conservatives in Central and Eastern Europe underlines the urgency of the debate about a new feminism for the “99%” that focuses on class issues (Fraser et al. 2019), as debated in the first section of this volume. Finally, the growing authoritarianism limits democratic voices (to different degrees) and creates serious obstacles for individual and collective agencies. One of the early lessons of Putin’s regime was to fill the space of civil society with loyal domestic actors and a third-sector that provided social services. This concept traveled to Hungary and Poland and contributed to a phenomenon that was also absent in the early 1990s. However, there are still significant differences in the capability and opportunity to organize protests. This is especially true in Poland as Julia Kubisa showed in her chapter about the struggle of Polish nurses’ trade unions as well as Claudia Snochowska-Gonzalez and Jennifer Ramme’s chapter on the Black Protests strike for women’s reproductive rights. It is especially striking that these women have claimed the notion of the “ordinary” for themselves. In this way, they have profoundly challenged the discourse of the regime, which claimed to be the sole representative of “ordinary people” and attributed feminism to leftist, urban “traitor-elites.” However, even in Russia, where public space is under heavy surveillance by the state, feminist groups and counteractions have employed new media as strategies of empowerment. Elena Korowina describes the Facebook flashmob #яНеБоюсьСказать that long preceded the global #MeToo movement.

2 Multiple Emancipatory Trajectories and Changing Gender Relations Despite the strong impact of the illiberal conservative turn in Poland, Hungary, and Russia (especially after December 2011) on these societies as well as the overall political climate in Europe, neither first-wave retraditionalization nor second-wave illiberal conservatism fully grasp the complexity of these changes. In her contribution to this volume, Olga Sasunkevich explores what she identified as the three main concepts of emancipation present in feminist literature. She distinguishes between a socialist-paternalist model, a liberal concept focused on individual autonomy and recognition, and a third that emphasizes individual freedom without neglecting socioeconomic factors; thus, bringing class issues back into the feminist debate on



emancipation. According to Thomas H. Marshall’s classic typology, this last concept of emancipation acknowledges that democratic, political, and legal rights and social rights are intertwined and codependent (2009/1950). A nonlinear understanding of emancipation may also draw upon Samuel Eisenstadt’s concept of multiple modernity (2002). Socialist-paternalist emancipation that focused on labor-market participation, equal rights, and public childcare formed part of a specific pattern of modernity. It created unique tensions, contradictions, and antinomies that laid the ground for the neo-traditional reform debate of the late 1980s. Rapid industrialization and enforced collectivization in the Soviet Union, for example, provided women with their own income for the first time in their lives. Nevertheless, men’s earnings were still perceived as family wages throughout the entire Soviet period despite the need for average households to have a second income. In this volume, Alya Guseva and Dilyara Ibragimova define the Soviet-Russian gender model as transitional precisely because it combines the ideology of socialist emancipation and women’s economic independence with traditional perceptions about household duties and a male breadwinner whose “breadwinning role often concluded with handing their pay over to their wives.” The control that wives who usually earned less than their husbands had over their wages historically resembles proletarian arrangements in the US and Western Europe rather than the socialist ideal. The lack of real participation under state socialism blocked public debates on the quality of public care and education. It was precisely the poor quality of public childcare in many countries that made it easy for the state to withdraw its support in the 1990s when local communities acquired the facilities from the former stateowned companies but often lacked sufficient funding to maintain them. The limitations placed on public discourse by the party-state also impeded debates about men’s roles in household labor and made domestic violence a taboo topic. The contemporary Russian government and the Orthodox Church could still rely on the widespread attitude that domestic violence was not a public issue when they rolled back feminist efforts to criminalize domestic violence in 2017. Women in the Soviet Union and other state-socialist countries did participate in politics in higher state apparatuses, mass organizations, and national and local parliaments. Some countries even had quotas for women in their national and regional parliaments; however, the party leadership, the military and security, and the commanders of the large combined forces were overwhelmingly male. This power asymmetry drastically weakened the position of women during the redistribution of wealth and influence following the regime’s collapse. Becoming rich was almost exclusively a male phenomenon, creating a type of “hegemonic masculinity” that Boris Knorre describes in his contribution as embodied by “physically strong, healthy, rich, expensively and tastefully dressed men.” Moreover, the overall notion of a socialist-paternalist model of emancipation overlooks the remarkable variations between the countries within the very same institutional model, as well as social changes that occurred in gender arrangements over decades. While the first point requires a closer look at the level of development reached by each country before entering state socialism, the latter needs a stronger


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emphasis on agents of change in this non-democratic, authoritarian context. Historian Peter Hallama points in this volume to the literature’s shortcomings regarding the role of men, especially in late socialism with the fading of the Stalinist ideal of the man as a worker, hero, and soldier who sacrifices his life for the cause of communism. Hallama approaches these changes from the perspective of “individual agency and Eigensinn (self-will, obstinacy) beyond political resistance and opposition” and shows that the concept of absent men is too monolithic. Beginning in the 1960s, public media in the former GDR and Czechoslovakia promoted the image of a new-sensitive father whose availability to his children is not based on patriarchal authority. Hallama argues that the phenomenon of single fathers provoked changes in social policies as well as in family and labor legislation years before parental leave became a political issue in the European Union and West Germany. Silke Scholz’s contribution in this volume moves in the same direction. As a sociologist, she has researched gender arrangements and changing concepts of masculinity and fatherhood in East Germany for many years. Scholz shows how the recent hegemonic West German discourse on the sensitive father ignores the East German experience, leading to the dichotomy of “the progressive, modern West German man” versus “the traditionalist, right-wing extremist East German man” who uses right-wing ideology to reestablish a traditional concept of masculinity. This construct glosses over the complexity of gender arrangements in GDR that to this day keep shaping the social practices of motherhood and fatherhood in the East. The fact that many East German women work longer hours (not only for economic reasons; see Schiefer and Naderi 2015) makes it necessary for fathers to participate in childcare and household chores—which they do in a “pragmatic and self-evident way” (Scholz 2020). Alya Guseva and Dilyara Ibragimova, however, show that for Russia the postsocialist, neo-traditional gender ideology of the first and second waves matters. When men earn family wages and adhere to a conservative gender ideology, their spouses not only return to a traditional caretaking role at home but also lose control over the management of the household income, which presents a strong contrast to the former socialist-paternalist gender regime. When interviewed, many of these women reveal dissatisfaction with this neo-traditional construct that results in their economic dependence on a male breadwinner. The relevance of competing ideologies and their mediating impact on contemporary gender arrangements are also the subject of the chapter by Elena Rozhdestvenskaya, who points to the gap between the persistence of the phenomenon of absent men in family life and the public “reinvention of parental roles.” In her in-depth, qualitative study, Rozhdestvenskaya demonstrates that the social and cultural differentiation of post-Soviet Russian society includes a diversification of fathers’ roles that go beyond the traditionalconservative or the Soviet transitional model. While the articles on fatherhood underline a shift toward a more individualistic, the so-called soft masculinity that resembles the notion of the sensitive man (Hallama 2020), Boris Knorre looks at how Russia’s conservative turn transformed the Soviet heroic man into a neo-imperial concept of masculinity. This version of masculinity allows men to identify as heroes and warriors on the geopolitical front.



With the promotion of this new hero model, the Russian Orthodox Church not only supports Putin’s foreign policy, but also it offers religious, less economically successful men an attractive alternative role that compensates for their inability to fulfill the prerequisites of the new “hegemonic men.” However, it has little to do with the Church’s historical concept of masculinity with its “aestheticization of weakness” and “detachment from secular activity.” Ukraine is a good example of the possible tensions between a nationalist male role and a post-Soviet gender construct that is both individualistic and influenced by capitalist consumerism, as Rebecca Barth argues in her chapter, which draws upon the work of Oksana Kis. She identifies the two gender roles that post-Soviet Ukraine offered its female population: The first is derived from the celebrated Berehynia, a mythological figure and mother of the nation, while the other is based on the American Barbie doll and posits women as female trophies of the country’s prosperous and powerful new men. Much of the rich historical literature on gender and war narrates how women often replaced men as workers and administrators during wartime but lost their positions once men returned from the front. This pattern has changed only during recent violent conflicts. This also holds true for Ukraine and seems to challenge the normative Berehynia-Barbie dichtonomy of postsocialist femininity. Barth’s interviews with women of different generations who returned from active participation in the war in Donbas show how under certain circumstances war may lead to an empowerment of women, creating lasting changes. The same conclusions can be drawn from the chapter by Ioulia Shukan, who studied Ukrainian women’s empowerment and self-organization in response to the failure of the state that became obvious during the war in Donbas. In summary, the empirical findings and theoretical conceptualizations of the gender arrangements in this volume highlight the complexity and contradictory character of social change in Central and Eastern Europe after 1990. The second wave of retraditionalization, an all-encompassing nationalist and illiberal conservative project, represents a specific response to the neoliberal transition to a market economy and the perceived dependence upon established economic and political centers. It refocuses the state attention on social issues but in a restrictive and paternalistic manner willing to trample individual rights. The curtailing of women’s reproductive rights is not only legitimized by Christian values and moral concerns but also by the national project of addressing the demographic crisis resulting from the transition and emigration. Additionally, socialist legacies and 1990s postsocialist liberalization (including the economic hardship and capitalist consumerism it has spawned) have also had an impact. The latter triggered an unfolding social differentiation that did not easily conform to neoconservative nationalist discourses. To understand this complex social reality, a far more systematic comparison and in-depth intersectional analysis, which exceeds the parameters of this volume, is needed.


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References Ashwin S (2006) The Post-Soviet gender order: imperatives and implications. In: Ashwin S (ed) Adapting to Russia’s new labour market: gender and employment behaviour. Routledge, London Bluhm K, Brand M (2018) “Traditional values” unleashed: the ultraconservative influence on Russian family policy. In: Bluhm K, Varga M (eds) New conservatives in Russia and east Central Europe. Routledge, London, pp 223–244 Bluhm K, Varga M (eds) (2019a) New conservatives in Russia and East Central Europe. Routledge, London Bluhm K, Varga M (2019b) Conservative developmental statism in East Central Europe and Russia. New Political Econ 25:1–18 Bridger S, Kay R, Pinnick K (1996) No more heroines?: Russia, women and the market. Routledge, London Dölling I (2001) Ten years after: gender relations in a changed world—new challenges for women’s and gender studies. In: Jähnert G, Gorisch J, Hahn D, Nickel HM, Peinl I, Schäfgen K (eds) Gender in transition in Eastern and Central Europe: proceedings. Trafoverlag, Berlin, pp 57–64 Eisenstadt SN (2002) Multiple modernities. In: Eisenstadt SN (ed) Multiple modernities. Transaction, London, pp 1–30 Fraser N, Arruzza C, Bhattacharya T (2019) Feminism for the 99%. Verso, London Gal S, Kligman G (2000) The politics of gender after socialism: a comparative-historical essay. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ Ghodsee K (2004) Feminism-by-design: emerging capitalisms, cultural feminism, and women’s nongovernmental organizations in postsocialist Eastern Europe. Signs J Women Cult Soc 29 (3):727–753 Glass C, Fodor E (2007) From public to private maternalism? Gender and welfare in Poland and Hungary after 1989. Soc Polit 14(3):323–350 Graff A (2020) Blaming feminists Is not understanding history. A critical rejoinder to Ghodsee’s take on feminism, neoliberalism and nationalism in Eastern Europe. In: Bluhm K, Pickhan G, Stypińska J, Wierzcholska A (eds) Gender and power in Eastern Europe. Springer, Heidelberg Graff A, Korolczuk E (2018) ‘Ebola from Brussels’: the anti-colonial frame and the transnational war against gender. Signs J Women Cult Soc 43(4):797–821 Grzebalska W, Kováts E, Pető A (2017) Gender as symbolic glue: how ‘gender’ became an umbrella term for the rejection of the (neo) liberal order. Political Critique Hallama P (2020) Questioning gender stereotypes under socialism: fatherly emotions and the case of single fathers. In: Bluhm K, Pickhan G, Stypińska J, Wierzcholska A (eds) Gender and power in Eastern Europe. Springer, Heidelberg Kováts E, Pető A (2017) Anti-gender discourse in Hungary: a discourse without a movement? In: Kuhar R, Paternotte D (eds) Anti-gender campaigns in Europe. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD Marshall TH (2009) Citizen and social class. In: Manza J, Sauder M (eds) Inequality and society. W.W. Norton, New York Nenova G (2020) Questioning the retraditionalization thesis: gender differences in paid and unpaid work in Bulgaria (1970–2010). In: Bluhm K, Pickhan G, Stypińska J, Wierzcholska A (eds) Gender and power in Eastern Europe. Heidelberg, Springer Pascall G, Kwak A (2009) Gender regimes in transition in central and Eastern Europe. Policy Press, Bristol Pető A (2020) Feminist stories from an illiberal state: revoking the license to teach gender studies in Hungary at a university in exile (CEU). In: Bluhm K, Pickhan G, Stypińska J, Wierzcholska A (eds) Gender and power in Eastern Europe. Springer, Heidelberg Schiefer K, Naderi R (2015) Mütter in Ost- und Westdeutschland: Wie wichtig sind regionalspezifische Leitbilder für Elternschaft? In: Schneider NF, Diabaté S, Ruckdeschel K



(eds) Familienleitbilder in Deutschland: Kulturelle Vorstellungen zu Partnerschaft, Elternschaft und Familienleben. Verlag Barbara Budrich, Leverkusen, pp 155–170 Scholz S (2020) The east German man: “brown perpetrator of violence,” “Sensitive father”? An exploration of media discourses and scholarly studies. In: Bluhm K, Pickhan G, Stypińska J, Wierzcholska A (eds) Gender and power in Eastern Europe. Springer, Heidelberg Teplova T (2007) Welfare state transformation, childcare, and women’s work in Russia. Soc Polit 14(3):284–322 Verdery K (1994) From parent-state to family patriarchs: gender and nation in contemporary Eastern Europe. East Eur Polit Soc 8(2):225–255 Zdravomyslova E, Temkina A (2014) The crisis of masculinity in late Soviet discourse. Russ Soc Sci Rev 54(1):40–61

Part I

Feminism in Eastern Europe Revisited

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend: The Curious Tale of Feminism and Capitalism in Eastern Europe Kristen R. Ghodsee

1 Introduction Across Eastern Europe today, populist leaders fan the flames of anti-feminism. Poland has seen renewed attempts to restrict women’s reproductive rights and revert to traditional gender roles as Catholic bishops rail against the pernicious influence of “gender ideology.” (Kościańska 2014). In Hungary, anti-gender policies have led to new rhetoric of “family mainstreaming,” and Viktor Orbán himself has said that women can only be promoted in his administration if they have three children (Juhász 2016). Fears about falling birth rates throughout the region have led to a resurgence of patriarchal, nationalist political movements, which reject supposedly foreign notions of gender equality. Women have become the scapegoats for weak economies and demographic collapses. In this brief essay, I want to revisit my own early fieldwork in Bulgaria in the late 1990s (Ghodsee 2004, 2005) and also think about Nancy Fraser’s seminal article, “Feminism, Capitalism, and the Cunning of History” (Fraser 2009) in relation to the current gender backlash in Eastern Europe. Fraser’s article was intended as an indictment of the narrow domestic identity politics of American feminism, but it has a great critical value when we consider the ways that Western liberal feminist theory and praxis were exported to Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As Fraser argues in the United States context, I propose that the triumphalist neoliberal capitalism of the 1990s co-opted and deployed liberal feminism and women’s rights as a tool in the project of Western economic domination in Eastern Europe. Current tropes of hyper-masculinity and anti-gender diatribes in Eastern Europe at least in part arise from local perceptions that liberal feminism is an ideology of Western cultural and economic imperialism, a perception that can and must be challenged by activist women in the region. By embracing the history of

K. R. Ghodsee (*) University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



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local women’s activism, including that of state socialist women’s organizations, feminists can once again represent a political project with the potential to challenge (rather than support and perpetuate) the ravages of unfettered free markets in the twenty-first century.

2 Feminisms East and West This story could start back in the late nineteenth century with the debates between Western women advocating for separatist suffrage movements in the United States and Great Britain and the socialist women in Germany and Russia who believed that working women needed to struggle together with working men for political as well as social and economic rights (Zetkin 1896). But for the sake of brevity, I begin this tale in 1975, in the middle of the Cold War when the government of Mexico hosted the first United Nation’s Conference on Women for International Women’s Year. This historic gathering brought together delegations from the capitalist West, the state socialist East, and the developing countries of the South to deliberate on women’s roles in society and culture under the three themes of “Equality, Development, and Peace” (Olcott 2017). American feminists travelled to Mexico City expecting to find a global sisterhood of women united in a common fight for equal rights with men. Instead, Jane Jaquette, an American political scientist noticed the deep tensions that divided women from different political backgrounds: “I found North American feminists surprised to discover that not everyone shared their view that patriarchy was the major cause of women’s oppression, and that Third World women held views closer to Marx than Friedan”(Jaquette 2004). Arvonne Fraser, a member of the official United States delegation in 1975, later recalled that: “American women learned that they could be the target of public vilification, which shocked many of them deeply. . .the new U.S. women’s movement had taught many American women to think of all women as friends, people united in a common cause. To find this not true, in their first international encounter, was, to some, an infuriating and very disappointing experience” (Fraser 1987). Most relevant to the argument I hope to put forward in this essay, however, is the report from a journalist covering the 1975 conference for the American magazine, Foreign Affairs. She reported that some African women attending the conference considered Western feminism a neo-colonialist plot to divide and conquer the men and women of newly independent countries in the Global South (Whitaker 1975). In order to resist the economic and political imperialism of the capitalist countries, they argued, African men and women needed to work together. They believed that an independent women’s movement would merely play into the hands of their former colonial masters. Also, was this attitude really so unreasonable, given the long history of British imperial tactics to divide and rule African populations by promoting inter-ethnic hostility? Indeed, throughout the United Nations Decade for Women that followed the International Women’s Year (1976–1985), liberal feminists from

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend: The Curious Tale of Feminism and Capitalism. . .


the advanced capitalist countries tried to insist that the UN conferences focus on narrowly defined “women’s issues,” whereas women from the Eastern Bloc countries and many women from the Global South wanted to use the international women’s congresses as an opportunity for women to speak about larger social, political, and economic issues (Ghodsee 2012). Fast forward to 1998, when I began living in Bulgaria to do my dissertation research on women’s labor in the tourism industry. The immediate post-communist period was a time that witnessed a resurgence of traditional gender roles across Eastern Europe (Gal and Kligman 2000). This was a moment when Western aid was flooding into Bulgaria through the European Union’s PHARE Program, USAID’s Democracy Network (DemNet) Program, and a variety of other bilateral donors to encourage the development of civil society through the establishment of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Many of these new NGOs were created specifically to promote women’s issues, to allow Western liberal feminist ideas to be transferred to East European women who had been “emancipated from above” (Drakulic 2015). The anthropologist Katherine Verdery has argued that state socialism reduced women’s economic dependence on men by making men and women equally dependent on the centralized state (Verdery 1996). With the collapse of that state and the rapid privatization (and outright theft) of state assets, men under capitalism would regain their supposedly “natural” roles as familial patriarchs and women could return to their “natural” roles as mothers and wives supported by their husbands (Gal and Kligman 2000). Across Eastern Europe, nationalists argued that capitalist competition would relieve women of the notorious double burden and restore familial and societal harmony by allowing men to reassert their masculine authority as breadwinners. For instance, the historian of sexuality, Dagmar Herzog, shared a conversation with several East German men in their late-forties in 2006. They told her that: It was really annoying that East German women had so much sexual self-confidence and economic independence. Money was useless, they complained. The few extra Eastern Marks that a doctor could make in contrast with, say, someone who worked in the theater, did absolutely no good, they explained, in luring or retaining women the way a doctor’s salary could and did in the West. ‘You had to be interesting.’ What pressure. And as one revealed: ‘I have much more power now as a man in unified Germany than I ever did in communist days’ (Herzog 2010, p. 113).

In Bulgaria, many women initially left the paid employment voluntarily, opting out of the labor market for a well-deserved break and believing that their families would be able to survive on one wage in the glorious democratic future to come. As enterprises began to be sold off or closed down, there was an early attempt to preserve jobs for male workers. As Nanette Funk observed: “Reducing women’s paid work is a major instrument of economic quasi-privatization and the integration of post-communist societies into a capitalist market system” (Funk and Mueller 1993). Before 1989, women had enjoyed generous maternity leaves that guaranteed that a job would be available for them when they were ready to return to work, so women left formal employment with the expectation that they could go back anytime they wanted.


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However, as the economy imploded, the banks failed, hyperinflation ate up the nation’s savings, and men found themselves increasingly made redundant, women realized too late that there would be no jobs for them to go back to (Ghodsee 2005). As early as 1992, the Croatian journalist, Slavenka Drakulic, “worried about what would happen to all the good things that we did have under communism—the medical care, the year’s paid maternity leave, free abortion” (Benn 1992). Although men and women were both impacted by the sudden liberalization of labor markets, this historical moment coincided with a resurgence in traditional gender roles that rationalized women’s return to the domestic sphere (Saxonberg and Sirovatka 2006). At this moment of severe economic crisis and the growing impoverishment of the majority of Bulgarian men and women, Western-funded NGOs supported projects that dealt directly with a narrowly defined set of women’s issues that blamed the deficiencies of traditional Bulgarian patriarchy for women’s new ills. By prioritizing issues such as domestic violence in the home and sexual harassment in the workplace over the pressing social problems arising from unemployment and the dismantling of social safety nets, Western-funded women’s NGOs targeted local patriarchies as the cause of women’s disadvantages, constructing the image of the backward and uncivilized East European male who drinks too much, beats his wife, and is otherwise incapable of embodying the progressive, liberal habitus necessary for the citizens of modern democracy. Moreover, discursively constructing women as a distinct category of Bulgarians whose suffering required special remedy through foreign aid, these Western-funded NGOs created new gender-based fissures in Bulgarian society where there would otherwise been class-based solidarity. Like the socialist women of the early twentieth century and the African women at the 1975 UN Conference on Women in Mexico City, many East European women were suspicious of Western liberal feminist discourses that valorized gender identities over class affiliations or national identity. Non-governmental organizations funded by Western donors attempted to create civil society by funneling dollars to support advocates for women’s rights or ethnic minority rights. By creating democracy from the ground up, these NGOs are also an important sort of “feminism-by-design,” whereby Western projects and programs were imposed willy-nilly on East European women interested in organizing to counteract the deleterious effects of the economic transition. The president of one organization in Sofia believed that the biggest challenge facing Bulgarian women was unemployment and economic displacement, but the Western donor agencies preferred to fund projects about domestic violence, sexual harassment, or human trafficking. To receive funds, women’s organizations in Eastern Europe framed their proposals using the language of Western liberal feminism and adhered to strict pro-market projects, such as the promotion of social entrepreneurship or the encouragement of women-owned businesses. Projects that challenged the logic of privatization or the marketization of previously state-funded social services often went unfunded. Back in 2004, I asked if feminism and capitalism were “strange bedfellows” in Eastern Europe. I argued that:

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend: The Curious Tale of Feminism and Capitalism. . .


Women’s NGOs may actually weaken grassroots opposition to neoliberalism and the dismantling of the social welfare state in Bulgaria in two key ways. First, they place the blame for the drastic reduction in living standards for women squarely on the shoulders of traditional Bulgarian patriarchy. They deflect attention away from the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and the stabilization programs of the IMF, which are primarily responsible for the disappearance of the social safety net that once supported women and their families. Second, NGOs in Bulgaria co-opt educated middle-class women who may otherwise have been able to organize a solid class-based opposition to secure women’s rights in the post-1989 period (Ghodsee 2004, p. 748).

Looking back after two decades, I understand that those early Western “democracy promoters” were at least partially genuine in their hope to create a robust civil society sector by empowering different groups to advocate for their own rights within the new market economy. However, the suspicious way that Western funding most often supported pro-Western organizations reveals that these were not just projects about building local civil society actors and organizations. These Western funds also determined which kinds of projects got funded, which voices were heard, which people were sent abroad for education and training, and which issues were supposed to matter to women or ethnic minorities or people with disabilities. In the case of many feminist organizations, if they wanted to survive in the competitive marketplace of ideas (and receive foreign grants) they learned to adhere to a narrow set of appropriate women’s issues for which they could advocate, especially trafficking, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. I have a vivid memory of interviewing a senior MP from the Bulgarian Socialist Party back in 2003. I wanted to talk about women’s issues, and she told me that she did not deal with “your [American] kind of women’s issues.” She told me she dealt with policies dealing with pensions for widows, maternity leaves for mothers, and the education of young girls. “These are women’s issues, too” she told me, defensively, and opined that NGOs could not take interest in these more pressing problems because they required the intervention of the state. NGOs could only deal on the level of the individual, but what was needed, in her opinion, was macro-adjustments to the economy that only a sovereign government could undertake. She wanted to focus on the structural foundations of inequality. This process was mirrored across Eastern Europe in the years leading up to European Union accession. Candidate members hoping to join the EU had to align their policies on gender equality with those envisioned in Brussels, which increasingly focused on the economic value of achieving gender parity within the framework of free markets, a shift that has been seen as a move from “state feminism to market feminism” (Kantola and Squires 2012). This market feminism was a stark contrast to the discourse of the international women’s movement during the Cold War when women’s issues had been framed as basic human rights. However, after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, and the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, a new discourse began to emerge, one that tied gender equality to explicitly economic outcomes; thus, linking a certain kind of liberal feminism with market-oriented reforms (Stratigaki 2004; Elomäki 2015). This liberal feminism focused on improving the human capital of individual women to make them more


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competitive on emerging labor markets and did little to challenge the structural causes of gender disparities (Spehar 2012; Ghodsee and Zaharijević 2015). As in Bulgaria, the specific brand of liberal feminism was strapped to the back of neoliberal capitalism as it spreads its tentacles out across the region.

3 Gender Mainstreaming and Economic Suffering In addition to the NGO activism, countries wishing to accede to the European Union in 2004 or 2007 implemented a variety of gender mainstreaming legislation designed to “protect” women from the worst ravages of the emerging free market system. Just as East European men supposedly had their masculinity restored by the “natural” gender order guaranteed by capitalist competition, West European bureaucrats insisted that women needed special protections from unenlightened Eastern masculinity. Also, this is despite the fact that in countries such as Hungary and Bulgaria, male unemployment actually outpaced female unemployment in the 2000s (Ghodsee 2005). Indeed, in Russia and the former GDR, male life expectancy had suffered a precipitous plunge during the 1990s, primarily attributable to the premature deaths of middle-aged men economically displaced by the transition process. In an article in the premier British medical journal, the Lancet, David Stuckler, Lawrence King, and Martin McKee published an examination in the change in the mortality rates of working-age men between 1989 and 2002 in the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (Stuckler et al. 2009). By examining the effects of mass privatization (which they defined as the transfer of 25% or more of previously state-owned assets to private hands within 24 months), and controlling for other factors to isolate the specific effects of the so-called “shock therapy,” the authors found a statistically significant link between privatization, male unemployment, and premature death. Russia provided the direst example, with male life expectancy falling by more than seven years between 1985 and 2002. While Soviet men lived to an average of 67 years, their Russian counterparts barely survived to 60. Struckler and his co-authors argued that privatization in Eastern Europe could be blamed for millions of premature deaths. Against the backdrop of this carnage, women’s NGOs and their Western funders, as well as EU bureaucrats, continued to insist on special programs and laws to support/protect women’s rights in Eastern Europe. I am not saying that problems like sexual harassment and domestic violence were not important, nor that these women’s rights should not be protected, but merely want to point out that this insistence on importing a particular brand of Western liberal feminism to Eastern Europe coincided with the imposition of neoliberal capitalism and that the former might have been part of a package of liberal discourses used to justify the latter. This importation of “feminism-by-design” from the West did two things. First, it attempted to erase the history of progressive state socialist policies for women in the region by claiming that it was illegitimate because ordinary women had not advocated for their own rights. This idea of “emancipation from above” (Drakulic 2015)

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has been used to explain why East European women are supposedly so willing to let their rights evaporate after 1989. If rights were not hard won through grass roots activism, so the argument goes, women would not value them and they can easily be reversed. (Of course, American women fought hard for their rights through an independent women’s movement and they are still being reversed!) Second, and more important, the importation of Western liberal feminism to Eastern Europe discursively created a predetermined category of expected losers in the new capitalist economy. Western liberal feminism emerged in conflict with capitalism, but also very much a part of capitalism. Although there were many varieties of feminism in the West that challenged the hegemony of free markets along with patriarchy, the particular brand that got exported in the 1990s was the one that worked best with the free market economy, with a focus on the “politics of recognition” (i.e. identity politics) rather than on the “politics of redistribution” (Fraser 2009). The “feminismby-design” model encouraged projects to protect women from market discrimination and thereby discursively legitimating that discrimination. In the American context, Nancy Fraser, Susan Faludi, and others have argued that Western feminism has been co-opted by the economic project of neoliberalism, with its fetishization of unfettered free markets, emaciated states, and shredded social safety nets. In 2009, Fraser published a stunning critique of contemporary liberal feminism’s abandonment of social justice issues and its narrow focus on identity politics. The article systematically outlined how, “the dream of women’s emancipation [was] harnessed to the engine of capitalist accumulation.” Rather than challenging the structures of inequality that oppressed women, liberal feminists (such as those who concentrated on supporting women’s autonomy in a world of legally guaranteed sexual equality with men) unwittingly paved the way for the expansion of an economic system that ultimately increased the wealth and power of patriarchal, capitalist elites. Although liberal feminists focusing narrowly on patriarchy eventually came to dominate the official American and EU feminisms, Fraser argues that the early Second-Wave feminist movement was far more critical of capitalism: All told, second-wave feminism espoused a transformative political project, premised on an expanded understanding of injustice and a systematic critique of capitalist society. The movement’s most advanced currents saw their struggles as multi-dimensional, and simultaneously against economic exploitation, status hierarchy and political subjugation. To them, moreover, feminism appeared as part of a broader emancipatory project, in which the struggles against gender injustices were necessarily linked to struggles against racism, imperialism, homophobia and class domination, all of which required transformation of the deep structures of capitalist society (Fraser 2009, p. 107).

In her article, Fraser documents how the forces of neoliberal capitalism enlisted feminism as a tool to undermine the ideological hegemony of what she calls the “state-organized capitalism” of the post-war era. By challenging the four pillars of this state-organized capitalism – economism, androcentrism, étatism, and Westphalianism – liberal feminism unwittingly helped to give birth to a world of globalized, unfettered free markets, and justified the ultimate dismantling of welfare states and the evisceration of class-based social movements. Instead, second-wave


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feminism devolved into identity politics where rights and recognition took precedence over issues of redistribution and social justice. In 2013, Susan Faludi launched a scathing critique of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, as a way to investigate the strange affinities between capitalism and feminism in the United States during and after the ravages of the Great Recession. Faludi noted how feminist discourses had been co-opted by the corporate elite and had lost touch with ordinary working women. She writes: Sandberg’s admirers would say that Lean In is using free-market beliefs to advance the cause of women’s equality. Her detractors would say (and have) that her organization is using the desire for women’s equality to advance the cause of the free market. And they would both be right. . . For the last two centuries, feminism, like evangelicalism, has been in a dance with capitalism (Faludi 2013).

This dance recognizes that, in the West, perhaps the most stalwart opponent of capitalism has often been patriarchy. Whether advocating for a family wage for men or promoting special labor protections for women and child workers, patriarchy often strategically deployed traditional gender roles as a bulwark against exploitation. By keeping women out of the labor force and in the home, patriarchs benefitted from the reduced supply of workers, which often translated into higher wages for men. Traditional patriarchal values also underpinned the creation of generous social safety nets to protect vulnerable women and children unable to fend for themselves. Second-wave feminists in the West deplored the paternalism of the welfare state and insisted on equal treatment in the labor force, challenging the basis for gender specific labor protections or social entitlements. Where feminists saw an opportunity to banish discrimination and unequal treatment, employers saw the opportunity to increase the supply of labor while doing away with unwieldy labor regulations and expensive welfare programs. By liberating themselves from patriarchal oppression, liberal feminists made themselves available for capitalist exploitation. Both Fraser and Faludi argue that this was never feminism’s goal, but once the wheel of history was set in motion there was no turning back. I believe that it was this particular version of liberal feminism that was imported into Eastern Europe during the 1990s, and in 2004, I catalogued the problems with building a “feminism-by-design” that was so closely linked to the imposition of neo-liberal capitalism. Just as women’s emancipation was conflated with communism and stridently rejected in the early 1990s, today that gender equality, reproductive rights, and anti-discrimination laws are too easily conflated with Western economic imperialism, and this is what has led to the growing gender backlash throughout the region, as well as the rise of new tropes of nationalist hypermasculinity. For example, the countries of Eastern Europe rank the highest among those with the fastest shrinking populations in the world. A combination of out-migration and high mortality is exacerbated by below replacement fertility rates. Since liberal feminists insist on reproductive freedoms for women, nationalists and social conservatives will inevitably assert that “feminism” and “gender” are part of a “Western plot” to depopulate and weaken the East European nation-state. The ongoing hysteria about the impending demographic collapse of countries in Eastern

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Europe links patriotism with traditional gender roles as a protective mechanism against the perceived cultural and economic imperialism of the European Union and the United States, and the liberal causes they seek to promote in Eastern Europe, including that of liberal feminism.

4 In Lieu of a Conclusion I wrote this essay for the conference in Berlin to provoke scholars of East European women’s movements to rethink the history of the last three decades in the context of the resurgent nationalisms sweeping across the region. I want to make it very clear that I am in no way defending those politicians and citizens who hope to reinstate traditional gender roles and rob women of their bodily autonomy, but I believe it would be blind to ignore the fact that liberal feminism has been, and continues to be, deployed as a tool of neoliberal capitalism, both in the United States and around the world. Indeed, Sara Farris (Farris 2017) has recently coined the term “femonationalism” to denote the way that women’s rights can be used to promote a right-wing, xenophobic agenda, showing that women’s issues can never be divorced from their larger social, political, and economic contexts. Across Eastern Europe today, at least some of the anti-feminist sentiment stems from a deeper anti-capitalist frustration, particularly in the wake of the global financial crisis, the subsequent Great Recession, and the devastating economic impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic. For those of us interested in upholding women’s rights, we must be cognizant to disentangle our demands from those that justify the extension of capitalist exploitation. Feminism, or pro-women’s activism—if we do not want to use the word “feminism”—does not have to be an exclusively female social movement that protects the interests of elite women, or to paraphrase Susan Faludi (2013), which focuses on the glass ceiling while ignoring the floor. Women have been the members of broad-based inclusive social movements that fight for the rights of all individuals while still challenging the patriarchy, nationalism, and xenophobia in all of its forms. If feminism and capitalism have been “strange bedfellows” in Eastern Europe, perhaps it is time for a divorce.

References Benn M (1992) Women: blood and lipstick. The Eastern-European countries wanted democracy. ‘The new governments just don’t want any opposition’. Melissa Benn meets two Croat writers who documented life during and after communism. The Guardian, February 23. Drakulic S (2015) How women survived post-communism (and didn’t laugh). https://www.


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Elomäki A (2015) The economic case for gender equality in European Union: selling gender equality to decision-makers and neoliberalism to women’s organizations. Eur J Women’s Stud 22(3):15 Faludi S (2013) Facebook feminism: like it or not. nism-like-it-or-not Farris S (2017) In the name of women’s rights: the rise of femonationalism. Duke University Press, Durham Fraser AS (1987) The UN decade for women’s rights: documents and dialogue. Westview Press, Boulder Fraser N (2009) Feminism, capitalism, and the cunning of history. New Left Rev 98(March– April):97–117 Funk N, Mueller M (eds) (1993) Gender politics and post communism: reflections from Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union. Routledge, New York Gal S, Kligman G (2000) The politics of gender after socialism. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ Ghodsee K (2004) Feminism by design: emerging capitalisms, cultural feminism and women’s nongovernmental organizations in post-socialist Eastern Europe. Signs J Women Cult Soc 29 (3):727–753 Ghodsee K (2005) The red Riviera: gender, tourism, and postsocialism on the Black Sea. Duke University Press, Durham Ghodsee K (2012) Rethinking state socialist mass women’s organizations: the committee of the Bulgarian women’s movement and the United Nations decade for women, 1975–1985. J Women’s Gender 24(4):49–73 Ghodsee K, Zaharijević A (2015) Fantasies of feminist history in Eastern Europe. https://www. Herzog D (2010) Post coitum triste est? Sexual politics and culture in postunification Germany. Ger Politics Soc 94(28):111–140 Jaquette J (2004) Crossing the line: from academic to the WID Office at USAID. In: Fraser AS, Tinker I (eds) Developing power: how women transformed international development. The Feminist Press at CUNY, New York, pp 189–211 Juhász B (2016) Hungary’s poor economy is one reason women have become convenient scapegoats. Kantola J, Squires J (2012) From state feminism to market feminism? Int Polit Sci Rev 33 (4):382–400 Kościańska A (2014) Who can be a true Pole? On gender panic. Accessed 13 Aug 2014 Olcott J (2017) International women’s year: the greatest consciousness raising event in history. Oxford University Press, Oxford Saxonberg S, Sirovatka T (2006) Failing family policy in post-communist Central Europe. J Comp Policy Anal 8(2):185–202 Spehar A (2012) This far, but no further? Benefits and limitations of EU gender equality policymaking in the Western Balkans. East Eur Polit Soc 26(2):362–379 Stratigaki M (2004) The cooptation of gender concepts in EU policies: the case of ‘reconciliation of work and family’. Soc Polit Int Stud Gend State Soc 11(1):30–56 Stuckler D, King L, McKee M (2009) Mass privatisation and the post-communist mortality crisis: a cross-national analysis. Lancet 373(9661):399–407 Verdery K (1996) What was communism and what comes next. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ Whitaker JS (1975) Women of the world: report from Mexico City. Foreign Aff 54:173 Zetkin C (1896) Only in conjunction with the proletarian woman will socialism be victorious.

Blaming Feminists Is Not Understanding History: A Critical Rejoinder to Ghodsee’s Take on Feminism, Neoliberalism and Nationalism in Eastern Europe Agnieszka Graff

Kristen Ghodsee has got a point. Feminism, as it developed in Eastern Europe in the 1990s and later in the period of EU accession, was engaged in a complex “dance” with emergent capitalism in the region. Not all feminists were involved—many were skeptical from the start, but the dance continued nonetheless, with profound consequences for women in the region. Nancy Fraser’s (2009) argument makes a lot of sense in Eastern Europe not just because mainstream feminism enabled neoliberalism, or allowed itself to be seduced by its charms, but because neoliberalism itself has been gendered in ways few people acknowledged. We did not dismantle the welfare state—we destroyed it at an astonishing pace. The process was a gendered one because transition to market economy involved, among other things, dismantling social provisions in the realm of care. The burden of childrearing, elderly care, and care-work required by the sick and people with disabilities—all of these were abandoned by the state and became invisible labor, performed, of course, mostly by women. The shift was masked with traditionalist ideas about women as natural caregivers but few people believed that. The burden was just too great to be naturalized by sugary references to “women’s special talent” (or “genius,” Pope John Paul II called it). Ironically, frustration with the gendered cost of neoliberalism has not helped the left. Instead, it served the populist right, because the right knew what to do with it. In Poland, the promise of a universal child subsidy program (500+) was a key cause for the electoral victory of the populist right in 2015. The distribution of much needed money has kept the regime popular. However, it is not just about money; the regime’s talk of “family values” is also welcome. This is just one example of a much broader trend: gender conservatism is the way millions of people worldwide respond to the very real inequities, anxieties, and frustrations produced by

A. Graff (*) American Studies Center, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



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neoliberalism and globalization. Since the 1980s, women have had to pick up where the state withdrew and mainstream feminism as it developed in that period has been helpless, if not willfully obstinate, in this regard. Meanwhile, the global right has been offering what many people view as an attractive solution to the care crisis: a return to traditional family values. Tired with the double burden, ladies? Vote for Trump or Orbán or Kaczyński. All this is not just an Easter European phenomenon, but a global one. Conservative nostalgia has been winning against progressive hope; we live in times of gender retrotopia. I find myself applauding silently as I read the following passage from Ghodsee’s chapter (in fact, I have written similar words myself): “I believe that today gender equality, reproductive rights, and anti-discrimination laws are too easily conflated with Western economic imperialism, and this is what has led to the growing gender backlash throughout the region, as well as the rise of new tropes of nationalist hypermasculinity.” Yes, I applaud, but then I pause. Something is wrong with the arguments leading up to the conclusion. Something is wrong with this version of Eastern Europe in the 1990s, the scope of generalizations, the analogies developed. The essay comes uncomfortably close to blaming the region’s feminists for the triumphs of neoliberalism. It seems that Ghodsee keeps confusing right-wing misrepresentations of the women’s movement with the actual landscape of feminist activism. When she writes, “anti-discrimination laws are too easily conflated with Western economic imperialism,” I am tempted to turn the tables on her and ask: isn’t this very conflation the central argument of your essay? Impressive in boldness and scope, and hence, noteworthy as a provocation, it is a terrific departure point for discussion. What it lacks is nuance and appreciation of the diversity of the region’s feminisms, the political agency of feminists in the period discussed, and of more recent voices from the region, which have, in fact, trodden this vey ground. Have Eastern European feminists really been “co-opted” by western imperialists? My own memory of the period belies this claim. Things were far more complex. To me, the most disturbing aspect of Ghodsee’s chapter is its tone of superior knowledge, the underlying assumption that feminists in Eastern Europe are unaware of debates that are going on in the West and need to be told about their own experiences in the light of these developments. In fact, many scholars and activists in the region have read, debated, and responded to Fraser’s influential 2009 article “Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History.” Some anticipated her thinking by a few years. How does one respond to an article that applies Fraser’s view to the region, while ignoring the relevant scholarship from the region? Are we not past the stage when Western feminists spoke at us instead of entering into dialogue with us? We do publish, and many of us publish in English, but Ghodsee cites Jacquette, Fraser, Verdery, Herzog, Funk, Faludi, and herself, while entirely ignoring all that has been written on the subject by Eastern Europeans. When and if a regional version of Mohante’s “Under Western eyes” is written, it will no doubt include a scathing critique of such practices. This is not a petty complaint. Had Ghodsee ventured outside debates among Western academics, she may have developed a fuller view of the problem itself. Her essay fails to take into account the broader debate on the impact of neoliberalism on the transition to democracy in the region, the

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NGO-ization of civil society and the way these phenomena contributed to the rise of right-wing populism. Homogenization is perhaps the most obvious problem with Ghodsee’s argument. Fraser’s article was critiqued for ignoring strands of feminism that does not fit her vision (Aslan and Gambetti 2011; Funk 2013) and the same objection can be addressed to Ghodsee’s text. She assumes that there is such a thing as “Eastern European feminism” and proceeds to generalize about it based on her work in Bulgaria in the 1990s. However, Bulgaria is not Poland, and neither country is much similar to the Czech Republic or Hungary. Then, there is the question of time. Things have changed rather more than Ghodsee is willing to notice. At least in Poland, the non-governmental organizations (NGO) of the 1990s were a very different type of feminism from the activism that developed after 2000. Ghodsee’s critique cannot be applied to phenomena such as the manifa movement (in existence since 2000), the Polish Women’s Congress (established in 2009), and the Black Protest (since 2016). These more recent forms of feminist organizing are both inclusive and critical of capitalism than the Westernsponsored groups examined in the essay. They developed partly in response to the problems with those earlier NGOs, but also partly thanks to their contributions. The Women’s Congress, to take one example, is an umbrella organization that brings together several thousands of women from various walks of life (activists, academics, politicians, social workers, artists, and so on) for an annual event: two days of speeches, debates, networking, planning, and celebrating. The Congress also exists as a web of activists working for gender equality in their communities. Admittedly, there has been much critique of this organization from the left: for its emphasis personal development and for ties with business as well as the liberal party Civic Platform. However, the Congress is both dynamic and pluralistic and over the years it has attracted many left-wing women so that its positions on issues such as labor have shifted to the left. Then there is the Black Protest—a mass movement that has nothing in common with the description of Eastern European feminism offered by Ghodsee. It developed in response to the right-wing proposal to make Poland’s restrictive abortion law even harsher by banning abortion also in cases of fetal damage. Tens of thousands took to the streets—a new, furious, and truly massive wave of feminism organized spontaneously via social media (the key groups are Gals4Gals ‘Dziewuchy dziewuchom’ and Women’s Strike ‘Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet’). In October 2016, during the so-called Women’s Strike, forty thousand gathered in Warsaw alone (there were rallies in other major cities as protests in small towns); the estimates for the 23 March demonstration were between 50 and 80 thousands. These protests proved effective: each time, the regime took a step back. Importantly, the anger behind this mobilization was not just about abortion rights; women were responding to what they perceived as indignity, cruelty, and hatred of the right-wing regime and the rigidity of the Catholic Church. Slogans of the Black Protest revolution include: “My uterus is not your chapel”; “I am a Catholic woman, not a slave,” and “Bishops, go to hell.” It is worthwhile reading personal accounts written by participants: they testify to the spontaneity of this movement, the profound impact it has had on the lives of individual women, but also the extent to


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which left-wing ideas concerning class relations are now part of feminist thinking in Poland (Great Coalition 2017). In an important essay “Neoliberalism and feminist organizing,” Elżbieta Korolczuk (2016) engages with critiques similar to Ghodsee’s—in fact, she refers to Ghodsee’s earlier version of the co-optation argument (2004)—arguing that the co-optation narrative obfuscates many forms of feminist organizing, especially recent forms of resistance that developed outside and in response to the NGO sector: informal groups, actions undertaken in coalition with labor movements, leftist thinktanks ran by a feminist groups, and others. These are not exceptions, but a vibrant sphere of organizing that developed in response to what was perceived as stagnation and conservatism of feminist NGOs. On the other hand, these groups and initiatives often collaborate with NGOs, drew on the expertise produced by them, and many of their members had been involved in NGOs. However, Korolczuk is right to put things in perspective. Eastern European feminists—even the radical ones engaged in the critique of neoliberalism—are unlikely to cause systemic change for the simple reason that we function in deeply conservative political contexts: Polish experiences show that solidarity and intersectionality can and should be implemented as a social movement strategy to make the anti-neoliberal struggle truly inclusive. The problem is that, so far, right-wing populist movements have been much more effective in mobilizing the economically impoverished, effectively securing their votes (Korolczuk 2016, p. 38).

Ghodsee blames feminists active in the region’s NGO sector for having allowed themselves to be co-opted by the forces of Western capitalism. The story has been told before (e.g. Grabowska 2012; Mrozik 2012), but never with such force. Ghodsee divides the blame between western (liberal) feminism, which she accuses of transferring its agenda to Central and Eastern European countries (CEE) countries, and activists in the region, who more or less consciously allowed feminism to be shaped by this agenda. However, this is not how history works. Things go wrong without individuals meaning to push them that way or even allowing them to drift. Moreover, the fact that they have gone wrong may only be visible in retrospect. At the time, it may very well seem like the only possible way. Understanding cultural history and distributing blame are not the same things. In her now classic essay, “Feminism, capitalism and the cunning of history” (2009), Fraser speaks of a “dangerous liaison” between feminism and neoliberalism and laments the “resignification” of feminist ideals of the 1960s. The closest she gets to actually blaming feminists for this development is when she claims there exists a “perverse, subterranean elective affinity” between neoliberalism and feminism as it developed beyond the radical 1960s (Fraser 2009, p. 108). Her story is not one of the betrayals; neither does she suggest hostile takeover. Hester Eisenstein’s book Feminism seduced (2009) comes closer to such a position, but even she is careful not to blame activists. Both authors’ critical re-reading of feminist history hinges on a new perception of what we may call the spirit of the (neoliberal) times, a belief that early feminism was indeed consistently leftist, and a critical view of subsequent tendencies within second wave (liberal) feminism. They also claim that there was

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something about the movement itself—or the particular strand of the movement that gained prominence in the 1970s—that made it possible for neoliberalism to ‘resignify’ feminist ideals. Fraser blames feminism’s cultural turn, its transformation into a critique of culture, its tendency to “subordinate social-economic struggles to struggles for recognition, while in the academy feminist cultural theory began to eclipse feminist social theory” (Fraser 2009, p. 109). However, in Fraser’s version of feminist history, as well as my own, feminists were neither sell-outs nor dupes and feminism was neither hijacked nor co-opted. It was a matter of the “cunning of history” or “timing.” For Eastern Europe after 1989, timing was bad in two ways. I speak here as someone born in 1970, who worked with feminist NGOs in the late 1990s (though never worked at any one of them), studied and taught gender studies, and wrote feminist essays and commentaries for the popular press. I remember the transition period as a time marked by the fascination of the region’s political and cultural elites with free market ideology. It is not co-optation of feminists we are dealing with here, but a collective myopia that was shared by leaders and participants of other movements for democratization and social change in the region. LGBT, environmentalism, children’s rights, progressive education—all these movements were dominated by the NGO model for the simple reason that no other model was available. Ghodsee calls it co-optation; I call it hegemony. The transition elites’ disavowal of class was eventually described by many scholars (notably, Ost 2006), but no such accounts were available at the time. The other sense in which our timing was bad has to do with the feminism my generation encountered. We were budding activists and young scholars with an interest in theory living in a sexist society dominated by the Catholic Church. Hence, when we came to transnational feminism willing to be awed. We were ready to be radical. However, what we found was already a movement in crisis. The early 1990s were the height of western feminism’s “disarticulation.” The vibrant grassroots movement of the 1970s had long been replaced by institutions (so called state feminism in Europe and large organizations like National Organization For Women, Planned Parenthood or Feminist Majority Foundation in the USA), while the prominence of postmodernism had contributed to the process of depoliticization of the feminist theory. In the broader field of culture, postfeminism had long replaced feminism and was now in full bloom —a process that Angela McRobbie brilliantly described in her book The Aftermath of Feminism (2009). Remember Ally McBeal, Bridget Jones, Sex in the city? Well, we watched these series as well, and we wondered about the bizarre consumerist and individualistic turn “women’s liberation” had taken. In short, it was a time when both the intellectual and political impacts of feminism as a transformative political and cultural project had been dulled. It was lost somewhere between the individualistic consumer culture’s facile dismissals of feminist politics as a thing of the past and the tortured self-reflexivity of postmodern feminist theory. At the very moment, when we decided to become feminists, the movement had become an unwitting ally —or, as Fraser put it in another essay “handmaiden,” for neoliberalism (Fraser 2013). Such was the feminism that we encountered and tried to make our own in our newly founded gender


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studies centers and (a bit later) in actions such as Manifa street theater. As I see it now, it is not so much a problem of believing in capitalism, but rather assuming that capitalism was a given, and broad economic issues are not our concern. One talked about the gender gap in pay, or about sexual harassment in the workplace, but not about taxation, privatization, or the general failure of labor law to protect workers against exploitation. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Polish feminism was mainly concerned with reproductive rights and cultural issues. We were busy examining “stereotypes” in school textbooks and advertising; we examined misogyny in Polish literature and film. It took us another decade to think seriously about the politics and economics of housework and the care crisis, to re-think abortion in terms of class (rather that “choice”) or try to bring about a coalition between feminists and labor unions of nurses and midwives. Sadly, Ghodsee portraits of the women working in feminist NGOs in the 1990s borders on caricature: it seems that they were either meretricious agents of Western Imperialism or idiots unable to think for themselves; either sell-outs, or dupes of neoliberalism. This is not just a simplistic way to describe what happened, it is also profoundly unfair. My own memory tells me that many of these women were politically savvy. Many were veterans of the anti-communist dissident movement, acting in full awareness of the opportunities and constraints of the political landscape. The feminists working in NGOs were not just realizing the western donors’ agenda, they were stretching this agenda to achieve their own goals; they believed themselves to be taking advantage of the system, often thinking of the donors as naïve and misinformed but politically useful. One persistent pattern in the pre-EU accession period was to use EU regulations and “standards” to exert pressure on state governments. The EU was viewed as an ally of women’s rights vis-a-vis conservative national governments (Fuszara et al. 2008). Some of these ploys were successful (as in getting anti-discrimination laws into local labor law), many others failed (as with the so called 100 Women’s letter—an appeal to the European parliament to force Polish government to re-open the debate on abortion). One may also argue that these strategies eventually backfired, because they made feminism seem like a foreign import, thus fueling the nationalist rage against “gender ideology.” However, it is clearly misleading to accept the nationalist perspective and view women’s NGOs as mere tools in the hands of Western agencies. Most members of the generation of feminists active in the 1990s would not call themselves socialist, that is true enough. However, it was not the Western donors that infected us with free-market ideas. At the time, these ideas were the common sense, they were in the air—a cultural given, a reaction to the oppressiveness of social realism from which our countries had just emerged. It would take Eastern European intellectuals two decades to become critical of the early alliance with neoliberal ideology (e.g. Woś 2014; Król 2015). It is useful to recall that the word “neoliberalism” was not around at the time, capitalism was simply “normal.” Such was the cultural and political climate of the 1990s, a powerful Zeitgeist created in part by the influence of neoconservative pundits and thinkers such as Hayek on the transformations’ elites. It was in this climate that the NGOs developed.

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The problem can be conceptualized in various ways: as depoliticization of dissent, as professionalization of activism, as focus on recognition at the cost of redistribution (to use Fraser’s concepts), or simply as NGO-ization. To work in a progressive NGO in the 1990s was to serve the system by filling in where the state had backed out, rather than undermine the system by forcing the state to take back responsibility. NGOs competed for limited resources instead of building alliances that would lead to lasting structural change. They focused on problems selected by donors of faced insolvency. During the last decade, all this has been critically re-examined not just by long-time dissenters but also by many of those who had stood at the helm of neo-liberal transition (notably: Król 2015). I took part in these debates and remember distinctly the atmosphere of regret, anger, resentment, and defensiveness that accompanied the birth of the new critical consciousness. In an essay published in 2008, I described this moment as follows: How did we end up in the blind alley of anti-politics? Chiefly because we left the politics to (mostly male) “experts”. The idea that the free market should be allowed to rule with as little state regulation and intervention as possible was all but a dogma in the transition era. All those who challenged the neoliberal paradigm (or even called it a paradigm, suggesting that it could be up for debate), were labeled as ignoramuses, populists or nut-cases. Jacek Kuroń was seen as a saint—idealistic, but somewhat unrealistic and naïve. The power of this ideology and the fear of stigma was (and perhaps still is) tremendous. Hence, instead of creating another political scenario, people who believed in social justice retreated into “antipolitics”; instead of challenging neoliberal dogma, we engaged in damage limitation (Graff 2008).

Within Polish feminism the debate on NGOs and their “dance” with neoliberalism became a bitter generational conflict. Several Polish feminists of the younger generation (i.e. too young to have been active in the 1990s) expressed views close to that of Ghodsee’s, accusing their elders (and often: mentors) of having been co-opted. According to Agnieszka Mrozik, mainstream feminism in Poland—both in its institutional forms such as the Congress of Polish Women and in its pop-cultural manifestations such as novels—legitimized itself as part of free-market ideology, and did much to, in turn, legitimize the neoliberal agenda in Poland. Mainstream feminists, she argues, have served as “midwives” of neoliberal transition (Mrozik 2012). Magdalena Grabowska (2012) tells a more nuanced version of this story. She is critical of the choices and disavowals of the older generation of post-1990 generation but strives to understand the perspective of actual participants of the story. She rightly views their (or should I say: our?) choices as strategic responses to a political context of emerging nationalism and political Catholicism: “For many activists, the strategy of identification with the West, used mostly by women representing the urban Polish intelligentsia, was a form of strategic essentialism, a necessary response to the consequences of Solidarity’s unfinished revolution rather than a simple desire to transplant Western-style feminism into the eastern European context” (Grabowska 2012, p. 9). The 1990s investment in what we now call neoliberalism was experienced at the time as commitment to democracy and “normalization.” “Neoliberalism” was not a concept at the time; it was the air that most people breathed, and those who did not


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immediately dismissed as crazy or branded as communists. This may seem like an easy way to evade responsibility, but I see it as a cultural context, one that led a whole generation of social justice activists into a massive retreat from politics. This move was called “civil society” at the time. However, the people who devoted their lives to this idea were not careerists or passive tools in the hands of western capital; they were progressively minded idealists, many of whom emerged out of the left wing of the dissident movements of the 1980s. Riding the wave of enthusiasm after the 1989 watershed, they internalized the narrative of transformation as a success story. We bought into TINA (There is no Alternative) doctrine, which is the heart of neoliberal hegemony, and proceeded to focus on what we thought were necessary correctives to the “normal” (i.e. capitalist) system we were building. However, that is what hegemony is all about: you do not see it, but it shapes you as a subject, it limits the choices you can make. You can only see it in retrospect, when it is too late. For Polish feminists, critical re-examination of our own history is indeed urgent in the light of what followed: the so-called “war on gender” (2012–2015) and subsequent establishment of a nationalist-populist regime (Law and Justice), which threatens democracy itself in the region (for arguments linking the two see: Graff and Korolczuk 2017a, b; Grzebalska and Pető 2018). Resistance to gender equality policies—construed by the right as a Western import, something imposed from the outside, a threat to national sovereignty—has played a central role in this process, more central, in fact, than many on the liberal-left are willing to acknowledge. Orbán and Kaczyński have successfully recruited massive support for their twin projects of “illiberal democracy” in part because they managed to convince the general public that “liberalism” (no matter: political, cultural, or economic—they are all collapsed under one word), is about corruption, both moral and economic. Liberalism, says the populist right, is a malignant force that must be combatted, a Western imposition, a form of colonization. “Genderism” is at its heart—a sinister combination of rampant individualism, sexual decay, abortion, homosexuality, and so on. The region’s ultraconservatives have been targeting women’s rights by taking advantage of the collusion between certain aspects of women’s rights activism and neoliberalism (the right tends to elide economics and refers to it as “individualism” and “culture of death”). This powerful backlash has successfully framed feminism as “colonialism.” Ghodsee is right: the region’s feminists must take stock of their past failings and blindnesses. She is right to argue that unless we appreciate the importance of the intersection between class and gender, we are doomed to the role of “Western import” in the eyes of the general public, including many women who might otherwise identify with the movement. We just hope that Western feminists refrain from calling our complex and diverse history one of simple co-optation.

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References Aslan Ö, Gambetti Z (2011) Provincializing Fraser’s history: feminism and neoliberalism revisited. Hist Present 1(1):130–147 Eisenstein H (2009) Feminism seduced: how global elites use women’s labor and ideas to exploit the world. Paradigm, Boulder, CO Fraser N (2009) Feminism, capitalism, and the cunning of history. New Left Rev 56:97–117 Fraser N (2013) How feminism became capitalism’s handmaiden – and how to reclaim it. The Guardian. October 14 Funk N (2013) Contra Fraser on feminism and neoliberalism. Hypatia 28(1):179–196 Fuszara M, Grabowska M, Mizielińska J, Regulska J (2008) Współpraca czy konflikt. Państwo, unia i kobiety. Academic and Professional, Warsaw Ghodsee K (2004) Feminism-by-design: emerging capitalisms, cultural feminism, and women’s nongovernmental organizations in postsocialist Eastern Europe. Signs J Women Cult Soc 29 (3):727–753 Grabowska M (2012) Bringing the Second World in: conservative revolution(s), socialist legacies, and transnational silences in the trajectories of Polish feminism. Signs J Women Cult Soc 37 (2):385–411 Graff A (2008) What ails civil society? Graff A, Korolczuk E (2017a) ‘Ebola from Brussels’: the anti-colonial frame and the transnational war against gender. Signs J Women Cult Soc 43(4):797–821 Graff A, Korolczuk E (2017b) Worse than communism and Nazism put together: war on gender in Poland. In: Kuhar R, Paternotte D (eds) Anti-gender campaigns in Europe: Mobilizing against equality. Rowman & Littlefield International, London Grzebalska W, Pető A (2018) The gendered modus operandi of the illiberal transformation in Hungary and Poland. Women’s Stud Int Forum 68:164–172 Korolczuk E (2016) Neoliberalism and feminist organizing: from ‘NGO-ization of resistance’ to resistance against neoliberalism. In: Kovats E (ed) Solidarity in struggle. Feminist perspectives on neoliberalism in East-Central Europe. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Budapest, pp 32–41 Król M (2015) Byliśmy głupi. Czerwone i Czarne, Warszawa McRobbie A (2009) The aftermath of feminism. Gender culture and social change. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA Mrozik A (2012) Akuszerki transformacji. Kobiety, literature i wladza w Polsce po 1989 roku. Lupa Obscura, Warszawa Ost D (2006) The defeat of solidarity: anger and politics in postcommunist Europe. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY Woś R (2014) Dziecięca choroba liberalizmu. EMKA, Warszawa

Feminist Stories from an Illiberal State: Revoking the License to Teach Gender Studies in Hungary at a University in Exile (CEU) Andrea Pető

1 Introduction When I received the invitation to contribute to this important volume, there were two major interconnected events related to gender studies research happening in Hungary. The first was the Hungarian government’s decision to revoke the license of a 2-year gender studies master’s program without consulting any professional or scientific institution. The other was that after 2 years of uncertainty, Central European University (CEU) became the first university in the European Union forced to move to another country due to media harassment and legal uncertainty—thus becoming a university in exile. CEU was among those universities that offered a master’s degree in gender studies. Sherry Ortner succinctly asks: “What is the point of opposing neoliberalism if we cannot imagine better ways of living and better futures? How can we be both realistic about the ugly realities of the world today and hopeful about the possibilities of changing them” (2016, p. 60)? In this paper, I attempt both: to oppose neoliberalism and imagine better ways of pursuing research. I will do so by telling two stories: one about the gender studies ban and the other about the attack on academic freedom in Hungary, both of which urge us to think about the personal and theoretical consequences of recent attacks on freedom of science and higher education. I will conclude by proposing a new theoretical framework in order to better understand these recent developments.

A. Pető (*) Central European University, Budapest-Vienna, Hungary e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



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2 The Ban on Teaching Gender Studies In early August 2018, while Budapest was suffering its usual late-summer heat wave, and when most educational institutions were closed for the holidays, the members of the Hungarian Rector’s Conference received a seemingly innocent email from the Ministry of Human Capacities (which includes a secretariat for education) asking them to comment on a draft decree by the evening of the following day. Such an urgent deadline that enacted during the vacation season should have been enough to raise the alarm. However, the real issue was hidden within the title of the draft decree on the modification of other decrees concerning “the training and outcome requirements of vocational, bachelor, and master-level educational programs, and the joint requirements of teacher preparation and the training and outcome requirements of various teacher training programs.” Readers of the bulky document discovered in subchapter 16 that all permissions previously granted to the master’s program in gender studies were to be immediately revoked (see Pető 2017a, b; 2018b). The members of the Hungarian Rectors’ Conference could not believe their eyes; they expressed their incredulity in scathing critical comments sent to the government. The Hungarian government’s proposed decree, if accepted, would cancel an accredited, well-performing MA program in gender studies with consistently high enrolment and excellent placement records. Two universities, both based in Budapest, offered this program in Hungary: the private Central European University, in English, and the public Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), in Hungarian. The draft decree failed to offer an explanation either for the reasons behind the decision or the urgency to pass it within 18 h; however, after the press leaked the draft decree, various government officials offered different, contradictory explanations to the press. First, they argued that the decree sought to economize taxpayers’ money by financing more strategic study programs to promote the government’s main aim: demographic growth. However, given that CEU is a private university, its program was obviously not financed by Hungarian taxpayers. The tuition of ELTE for its ten students amounted to not more than 2,700,000 Hungarian forints (less than 8000 euro) for the entire academic year. The government then claimed, “There is no need for these graduates in the labor market.” However, according to an alumni report, the 139 (mostly international) students who have graduated from the CEU program, since 2006, have landed great jobs in higher education, economy, culture, and finance, from Kirghizstan to Iceland to Great Britain. The first cohort of the program at ELTE launched in 2017 will graduate in July 2019, so there is no postgraduate placement data yet available. Another argument claimed that the field of gender studies was incompatible with Christianity and Christian values. This claim coincided with an announcement by the University of Notre Dame, an important Catholic university that also offers a gender studies program at its main US campus, to establish a STEM degree program at the Pázmány Catholic University in Budapest. This cooperation was strongly supported by the government and even

Feminist Stories from an Illiberal State: Revoking the License to Teach Gender. . .


announced by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. A final official argument was the lack of students’ interest in the field—a claim with no supporting data. CEU usually received over 200 applications for its 22 available spots while the ten places available at ELTE had been determined by the ministry, not by students’ interest (or lack thereof). At this point, following a period of intense public interest in gender studies education when everybody voiced an opinion about what the learning outcomes should be, it was clear that the stakes were as high as the freedom of education and academia were endangered. As Secretary General of the European University Association (EUA) Lesley Wilson, has argued, “It creates a legal framework to suppress knowledge that those in power dislike. It blocks citizens from being informed and from creating and acquiring knowledge—a key feature of Europe’s pluralistic societies and one of the reasons they cherish academic freedom. In terms of undermining academic freedom, we have seen similar things in Turkey and Russia, but this is the first time that such a broad and fundamental attack has happened within the European Union” (Wilson 2018). The turmoil ended on September 1 when the Hungarian Accreditation Committee (HAC) issued a statement saying that it had not participated in the drafting of the government proposal to revoke the MA program’s license. HAC went on to clarify that it did not endorse the professional and academic arguments that are used to justify the proposed revocation of the license. Thus, it appeared that the government was the only institutional actor responsible for proposing a strong ideological and political intervention in shaping an academic study program. This was in clear violation of educational freedom and professional standards. Never before had a government of an EU member state sought to legislate the university curriculum without consulting appropriate academic institutions. It also set a dangerous precedent for state intervention in all other university courses, violating article 9.1 of the Fundamental Law of Hungary: “Hungary shall ensure the freedom of scientific research and artistic creation, the freedom of learning for the acquisition of the highest possible level of knowledge and, within the framework laid down in an Act, the freedom of teaching.” It was also a threat to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) for a government to attempt to directly regulate the licensing of study programs in complete disregard of the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ESG). The European University Association issued a statement on August 24, 2018 that read, “If the Hungarian government goes ahead, this would constitute a case of state intervention into higher education that is unprecedented in the European Union” (EUA 2018). The story of banning gender studies is part of the larger story about CEU’s forced exile.


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3 The CEU Story: From Dissent to Exile When I was in my early twenties, living and studying in the 1980s communist Hungary, it was cool to wear a blue and white pin of the Danube circle (Duna Kör): an independent, oppositional movement founded in 1984 to oppose a dam planned for the Danube River (Pető 2017b). Wearing this pin in the 1980s was not only cool; it was politically risky. When I saw a classmate in the university coffee shop wearing it, I immediately asked him where he had gotten it, while trying not to look suspicious, as I was sure the secret police would have also liked to acquire this information. History often repeats itself in a strange way. In April 2017, the Hungarian government passed—with extraordinary speed—the Lex CEU, making it impossible for CEU to continue operating in Hungary (Editors: on October the 6th 2020 the European Court of Justice ruled that Lex CEU is incompatible with EU law). The amendment to the higher educational law required that the curriculum, the hiring of faculty and staff, and the recruitment of students all be directly regulated by the Hungarian and US governments. These changes imposed political control over one of the most successful institutions of the European Higher Education Area. No matter that CEU has complied with all the new requirements, opening a teaching site in the US, the Hungarian government has neither signed the agreement that would have allowed CEU to operate in Hungary nor has it communicated any additional ad hoc requirements. Therefore, CEU became the first post-war European university in exile and moved all degree giving programs to Vienna in autumn 2019. As of semester 2020/2021 the University’s educational programs are operating entirely from Vienna. Three and half years after Lex CEU the European Court of Justice (C-66/18) ruled that Hungary violated the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union relating to academic freedom. How this will be implemented needs to be seen in the future. Founded in 1991, CEU has always supported freedom, standing against the policing of ideas. Resistance to the proposal began the moment it became public on March 28, 2017, producing a blue pin (blue is the official CEU color) with the words “I stand with CEU” written in white in two languages. The story of this pin very much resembles that of my own early political socialization in the 1980s. It is cool again to wear a pin: It solicits smiles and approval from passersby who support the cause and often call out the slogan: “Free Country, Free University” or “I Stand with CEU.” People on the street may even openly ask where they might also get a pin. Luckily, they are easy to come by at the moment: At the residence center of the newly renovated CEU campus in Budapest, each person is eligible for two pins: More than 10,000 pins were handed out there by late April 2017. As in the 1980s, it is not necessarily safe to wear the pin in public despite overwhelming support. One CEU graduate was recently assaulted in a bar and the pin he was wearing torn off his sweater. Another student was waiting for the subway when he noticed, with astonishment, an elderly man taking out a pencil and recording the pin he was wearing on his chest. These stories illustrate that the fight for freedom is a continuous one. For

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CEU’s founders, freedom was the most important guiding principle. These individuals—Péter Hanák, Miklós Vásárhelyi, and György Litván, to name only those who are no longer with us—personally experienced the direct political control and policing of their ideas. Freedom of thought is once again endangered thanks to the new higher education law that threatens the very existence of CEU. Just as international support of the Danube Circle helped halt the construction of the dam, it has been crucial to the CEU cause. With alumni in countries and hundreds of international letters of support, it is clear that the whole world is watching, helping, and supporting the resistance. From Pécs to Szeged, from Cambridge to Cluj or Singapore, CEU graduates have written letters and organized protests together with major academic professional organizations receiving bipartisan political support. Several important conservative Hungarian intellectuals and public academic institutions have expressed their solidarity with CEU, as the Hungarian Academy of Sciences did in 2017. However, following the sweeping electoral victory of Fidesz the following year, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has also become a target of government policies: A master’s program in gender studies licensed in 2006 was deleted from the list of accredited study programs without any explanation in September 2018. The mission statement of CEU states that its basic principles are those of an open society. In 1989, we had a common dream. The founders of CEU and politicians, including PM Orbán, had a common dream back then too. This dream was that we would build a free and successful country where academics rather than party apparatchiks would decide who could pursue advanced studies and what constituted a university in a country where you did not have to wear a pin but if you chose to do so, you would not be met with violence and anger on the street. The Lex CEU is a betrayal of our common dream, and the hopes of 1989 have been forgotten by Fidesz (Pető 2018a) but not by those wearing the #IstandwithCEU pin. Members of today’s resistance are definitely more numerous than we were back in 1984. This, at least, gives us hope for the future.

4 Pursuing Science in an Illiberal State: A Personal Story In her presidential address at the 2017 Sociologists for Women in Society meeting, Abby L. Ferber analyzed the threats and harassment educators face in institutions of higher education in the United States quoting Malcom X: “If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary” (Pető 2018c). Historically, as in the case of Giordano Bruno or of Spinoza, scientific work has sometimes been subject to daily threats. Today, scholars assume that they are working in a secure academic environment, but this is increasingly not the case. We must therefore ask: How did teaching and research once again become life-threatening occupations? It is particularly urgent for those of us in the field of gender studies to find an answer to this question.


A. Pető is a platform for researchers to share their work with those who have no access to a library stocked with scholarly books and periodicals. It makes work visible, especially that not indexed by databases, such as chapters in edited volumes. It is not known for its messaging function, which I did not even know existed until March 2, 2017, when I received a threatening message from a pseudonymous user. Along with alluding to the devil and various curses, the message also predicted the eradication of my breed. At the time, the global anti-gender attack was already in full swing. Attacks had already intensified in the Hungarian media and online, especially after ELTE initiated its state-sponsored gender studies MA program. Suddenly everyone—in the Parliament, the press, and online—had an opinion about what gender studies is about, what we teach, and what are or should be the requirements for admission and receiving a degree. Before that message on, I had never received threatening emails but what Ferber has aptly termed “public targeted online harassment” has been a part of my everyday life since I began writing online. (Whenever commenting is allowed, usually the second one is an anti-Semitic slur.) My journalist acquaintances suggested that I should stop reading comments, saying they never did. I took their advice and convinced myself that the internet and reality are two different spheres and whatever happens in virtual space has no real effect on me. This was until someone registered on, downloaded my article on the history of abortion regulation in Hungary, and then left a satanic verse. To be honest, I began to panic. I wrote to CEU’s Pro-Rector for Hungarian Affairs, who immediately called and advised me to go to the police. Soon after, the university’s lawyer and the administrative vice president both called me, asking how they could help. It meant a lot that university colleagues stood by my side. I told them that I was not sure whether the sender was a lonely man motivated purely by anger, who should not be taken seriously, or if his threat was real. Following their advice, I went to the Budapest XIII District police headquarters, where I waited an hour and a half before a tired, disinterested policewoman drew up my statement. She did fulfill her professional obligation to inform me that I should let them know if there were any new developments and email them any piece of evidence in my possession (I did this as soon as I got home). The overworked, underpaid police had 30-working days to investigate a case that required immediate action to determine if my life was in danger. An acquaintance familiar with hate crimes investigations suggested that I personally contact the investigating officer to make sure the investigation would be thorough. Although, I was able to find the name of the officer charged with my case, contacting her became the real challenge. Each time I called, she was either out for lunch, or in training, or had the day off. After weeks of this, I was finally able to reach her only to hear that she had not yet found the time to look at my file. She assured me that she would call me after reviewing the case. She never did. I made a few more failed attempts to reach her. When 30 days had passed, I called again; surprised to hear from me, she informed me that the investigation had been terminated. The reason she gave was that because the verse had been taken from the lyrics of a Satanist band and did not represent the individual thoughts of the sender, it did not pose any meaningful threat. Also without

Feminist Stories from an Illiberal State: Revoking the License to Teach Gender. . .


an addressee, it was impossible to prove that the message had been intended for me. Finally, she said, “It was impossible to determine whether or not the anonymous user had sent the verse just to attract attention.” Despite this setback, I still lodged an appeal with the prosecutor’s office because when I shared my story in gender studies circles, I learned that others had also received threats from the same username. The rejection that arrived on September 7, 2017 stated that “the action of the unknown user—the sending of lyrics on exorcism via email—cannot be identified as an act of violent harassment because it did not contain a threat against an actual person. According to the penal code, the use of phrases such as ‘I will hunt you down’ and ‘I will dispel you from the face of earth’ cannot be identified as a crime against a person.” The district vice-prosecutor added that my complaint did not contain any new information or facts. With this, I had exhausted every possible legal measure. Perhaps, I could have turned to a hacker to determine the identity of the offender, whose profile was still active on academia. edu. Instead, I wrote this chapter to share my story and its lessons to a wider audience.

5 The Morals of these Stories about Threats and Losses What kind of wisdom can we gather from all of this? Firstly, a well-regulated legal system can become futile if it does not keep up with current circumstances. Public targeted online harassment is a threat different to that defined in the penal code. Its targets are primarily scientists, educators, and thinkers, and the offender’s goal is to raise fear and uncertainty rather than pose a physical threat. Secondly, the entire legal process took 5 months, during which time anything could have happened to those of us who received the same threatening message. Finally, despite the fact that the offender had sent threatening emails and Facebook messages to numerous individuals, authorities refused to investigate. Those threatened by this person all belonged to the Budapest gender studies community. Also, this is where we need to begin analyzing the broader framework and reason behind such threats. Public targeted online harassment is connected to a new phenomenon. The appearance of the so-called anti-gender studies movements and the emergence of hate speech aim to challenge the political and scientific legitimacy of gender equality. By examining the political framework of the illiberal “polypore state,” we begin to understand how such threats may alter university education and scientific work. In the recent past, Hungary’s Fidesz-KDNP government has established a novel state formation and new quality of governance. Political scientists disagree about how the current ruling system should be defined—whether as “democratic authoritarianism,” a hybrid state, an “illiberal state,” or a “mafia state.” The Polish sociologist Weronika Grzebalska and I have suggested the term “polypore state” (Grzebalska and Pető 2018). Polypore is a parasitic pore fungus that lives on wood and produces nothing other than polypore. In our article, we define three functional characteristics of the polypore state: the establishment of parallel institutions,


A. Pető

familialism, and security discourse—all of them gendered. One typical feature of the polypore state is the establishment of a parallel state- financed NGO sphere; another is familialism, or the replacement of gender politics with family politics, so that the state’s social policies are exclusively geared toward heterosexual married couples with stable paid employment. The third characteristic is the use of security discourse: The Fidesz government regularly presents policy-related questions as security questions. According to this kind of rhetoric, a vigilant government must defeat threats posed by the EU, the UN, immigrants, gender studies professionals, George Soros, and so on. These characteristics are missing or hardly represented in traditional political analyses and even less so in oppositional electoral strategies. The security discourse also affected narratives concerning science and educational policies. In Hungary, the anti-gender battle commenced in 2008 when an MP claimed that a secondary school textbook on Hungarian gender history was an agent of the “culture of death” (Kováts and Pető 2017). The same MP then questioned why the government—at that time leftist and liberal—had spent taxpayers’ money on it. The anti-gender movement uses the “culture of death” phrase and rhetoric to spawn hatred toward and fear of gender studies’ focus on equality. In doing so, they apply the toolkit of science: With the ad hoc quotation of a hodgepodge of surveys, they seek to undermine the relevance of gender scholars and the value and legitimacy of their research. Lex CEU was a continuation of this kind of attack as it was the attack against the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Both culminated in the infamous August 2018 bill that aimed to erase gender studies from the list of state-accredited university courses. Is there a perceptible difference in worldview between gender studies and the anti-gender movement that parallels the ideological conflicts of conservative and liberal political philosophies? Or is their relationship more similar to that of creationism and evolutionary biology—the former considered a mock science against which a community of scientific experts must prevail? The anti-gender movement is not merely another offshoot of centuries-old anti-feminism. When a politician claims that women’s sole purpose is childbearing or when a pop celebrity discusses the so-called female principle, these are not simply conservative responses to the success of the 1968 movements. The anti-gender movement is a fundamentally new phenomenon that was launched to establish a new world order. Science became a battlefield for socialization in the Gramscian sense. The anti-gender movement is also a nationalist, neoconservative response to the crisis of the global neoliberal world order; therefore, it should create interest among everyone who is committed to human rights and democracy—not only gender researchers. The anti-gender movement attacks liberalism and therefore democracy. At the same time, the role of the state has changed because the polypore state does not value political diversity. The anti-gender movement applies scientific-looking arguments to support its ideological maneuvers. How it goes about making these arguments reveals its mock science. It is saturated with hatred—the very kind that emanated from the message sent to my account. Public targeted online harassment is dangerous because it mimics how the polypore state functions, drawing attention and energy away from more important matters, and attempts to dismantle the idea that research

Feminist Stories from an Illiberal State: Revoking the License to Teach Gender. . .


and education are public goods and human rights. Given this threat, the institutional system must protect educators and researchers because they are exercising the human right to pursue science and research while creating public goods. Historical analogies can sometimes be misleading. The CEU case is not that similar to the Nazis’ closures of Charles University in Prague in 1938, Warsaw University in 1939, or Oslo University in 1943, and the subsequent deportation of professors. Rather, it better resembles the relocation of the European Humanities University from Minsk, Belorussia to Vilnius, Lithuania. Lukashenko’s policy purged Western-oriented intellectuals from his impoverished and isolated country. A similar situation occurred in Hungary. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recently referred to his country as a “laboratory” in a London speech arguing that trends there may be used by other European countries as successful political strategies to win elections promising safety and feelings of belonging (Vasali and Pető 2014). Reviewing the brief but stormy history of the draft decree that banned gender studies in an EU member country, we see that the coin can flip both ways, and the stakes can be no higher when waiting for the government’s decision. It is of no surprise that gender study programs were targeted by the Hungarian government as “gender serves as a symbolic glue” (Kovats et al. 2017). The concept of gender has been used to mobilize very different political forces in order to construct one united enemy to hate—in this case, gender studies scholars and practitioners. It has also become a central rhetorical tool of those efforts to determine what “pure reason” should mean for a wider audience in order to create a new consensus of what should be seen as normal and legitimate. This kind of social mobilization that incites hatred against “gender ideology” and political correctness not only demonizes the worldviews of its opponents and rejects the human rights paradigm that has long been the basis of a European-North American consensus but also provides an alternative that seems realistic and acceptable to many people by focusing on the family, nation, religious values, and freedom of speech—concepts often weaponized in contemporary culture wars. When I received a threatening message on my page, CEU responded appropriately. The transformative history of Sovietization in Eastern Europe should make us particularly aware of the stakes involved in scientific research: It is truly a matter of life or death. Hungary crossed a red line by revoking the license of an accredited study program without consulting professional organizations, forcing a university into exile. Indeed, Hungary serves as a laboratory that other countries must learn from. It may be sooner than we think that we must respond to the question: Should we die on behalf of the freedom to pursue academic research?


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References EUA (2018) EUA condemns Hungarian government plan to ban gender studies. news/130-eua-condemns-hungarian-government-plan-to-ban-gender-studies.html. Accessed 23 April 2019 Grzebalska W, Pető A (2018) The gendered modus operandi of the illiberal transformation in Hungary and Poland. Women’s Studies International Forum 68:164–172 Kováts E, Pető A (2017) Anti-gender discourse in Hungary: a discourse without a movement. In: Kuhar R, Paternotte D (eds) Anti-gender campaigns in Europe: mobilizing against equality. Rowman & Littlefield, London, pp 117–132 Kovats E, Grzebalska W, Pető A (2017) Gender as symbolic glue: How ‘gender’ became an umbrella term for the rejection of the (neo)liberal order. 2017/gender-as-symbolic-glue-how-gender-became-an-umbrella-term-for-the-rejection-of-theneoliberal-order/. Accessed 2 April 2019 Ortner SB (2016) Dark anthropology and its others: theory since the eighties. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6(1):47–73 Pető A (2017a) The blue and white pin that matters. Baltic Worlds BW 1(2):30 Pető A (2017b) Report from the trenches: The debate around teaching gender studies in Hungary. Accessed 2 April 2019 Pető A (2018a) Eastern Europe: gender research, knowledge production and institutions. In: Kortendiek B, Riegraf B, Sabisch K (eds) Handbuch Interdisziplinäre Geschlechterforschung. Springer VS, Wiesbaden, pp 1535–1545 Pető A (2018b) Hungary’s attack on gender studies: a threatening online message and institutional inaction exposes the official illiberalism. t t a c k - o n - g e n d e r - s t u d i e s / ? f b c l i d ¼I w A R 1 J 2 N k n F u B x Y _ 6N6YQPK7ASRKOsJVbd7T1JpKMQIzzsV7THRMZVOQ2M84k Pető A (2018c) Without remedy: lessons learned from a gendered analysis of the 2018 Hungarian general elections. Femina Politica–Zeitschrift für feministische Politikwissenschaft 27 (2):152–158 Vasali Z, Pető A (2014) The ‘laboratory’ called Hungary: a challenge for understanding protest movements. gary-challenge-for-understanding/. Accessed 2 April 2019 Wilso L (2018) Hungary’s government needs to change its tune. Accessed 02 April 2019

Emancipation is More than the Freedom of Choice: Rethinking the Feminist Agenda in Postsocialism Olga Sasunkevich

1 Introduction This chapter suggests an analytical and empirically grounded argument about the ways to rethink the feminist agenda in postsocialism. My theoretical speculations are inspired by two independent research projects. The first one is dedicated to women’s informal cross-border activities on the Belarus–Lithuania border. It was conducted in 2010–2012 in a small Belarusian town where I collected 18 in-depth interviews with women involved in cross-border petty trade in the region (Sasunkevich 2014, 2015; Liinason and Sasunkevich 2018). The second project is my current research about feminist and LGBTI+ activism in Russia in the transnational perspective. Although two projects have been conducted independently, with different aims and within two different, though tightly linked, national states, bringing them together I aspire to show how a more nuanced understanding of living conditions, choices, and rationales of different groups of women shed light on potential and limits of dominant feminist ideas in the postsocialist context. My examples of the postsocialist feminist agenda are based on fieldwork and interviews with feminist activists in Russia. Thus, this chapter does not claim broad generalizations since the scope of both projects is limited. However, revealing how petty traders conceptualize their financial independence and personal self-sufficiency (Sasunkevich 2015), I try to explain why they do not find their experience of personal emancipation (the influential feminist idea) particularly appealing and instead consider a man-as-breadwinner model as their ideal. Departing from experience of these women, I suggest an alternative way to formulate the feminist question in the postsocialism to make it more appealing to broader categories of people.

O. Sasunkevich (*) Department of Cultural Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



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My analytical point of departure is the scholarship that acknowledges the class basis of postsocialist feminism (Gapova 2010, 2016; Ghodsee 2004). As this scholarship reveals, educated and relatively privileged groups of women employed at universities and NGO sector dominated among those who promoted the feminist and gender equality agenda in the region in the 1990s. Being defined as “cultural feminism” (Ghodsee 2004), this agenda did not always correspond to life conditions and life goals of wider groups of women deprived of resources and networks of academic elites from large cities. As Ghodsee (2004, p. 728) argues, “cultural feminism” is based on the idea of universal patriarchy and essential differences between men and women without taking into consideration other inequalities such as class, race, age, and ethnicity. It aims at “meeting women’s special needs within the status quo” and never challenges “the social and economic relations within which the patriarchy strives” (Ghodsee 2004: 728). According to Gapova (2016, pp. 332–333), the shift of attention from economic and social structures (capitalism) to patriarchy can be described, in Fraser’s (1997b) terms, as the dilemma between redistribution and recognition. As she claims, the agenda of the early post-Soviet feminism prioritized the latter over the former (Gapova 2016, p. 341). Recognition still defines the agenda of post-Soviet (and global) feminism of the 2010s. The questions of individual identity, personal autonomy, freedom of choice, the right on one’s own body, and on liberation of women’s sexual desires from patriarchy are indeed pivotal in the global feminist movement at least in its mediatized incarnation in multiple products of popular culture (Gill 2016; Tasker and Negra 2007; Rottenberg 2014). Contemporary Russian feminist activism is an integral part of the global feminist movement. Yet, what has changed in comparison to the feminist activism of the 1990s–early 2000s is that feminism is no longer the agenda of privileged women from the institutionalized third sector or academia. In spite of the neoconservative turn on the level of state politics in Russia (Muravyeva 2014; Stella and Nartova 2015), grassroot street-level feminist activism is striving in the country (Senkova 2018). It involves many different actors who are spread across the vast territory of Russia—from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad—but who acts in solidarity with the global feminist movement and each other through the digital space. Many activists are relatively young (in their 20s–30s). Some of them come to activism from the position of social and economic precarity and do not consider feminism as a way to increase their social or cultural capital. Many feminist activities are not institutionalized and many activists, especially in regional cities, do not have access to continuous stable funding. As I further argue, this new situation of feminism in Russia, which is relevant to other postsocialist countries and beyond, makes it possible to reframe the feminist agenda in the terms, which may sound more attractive and comprehensible to women from different social groups. Following Fraser’s pathos, I consider it important to acknowledge the significance of both redistribution and recognition instead of privileging one over another. While Fraser’s (1997a) concern is about the prevalence of recognition over redistribution in social movements including feminism, Suchland (2015, p. 11) argues that in postsocialism “the dismantling of redistributive economic systems has simultaneously occurred with the delegitimation of identity

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politics,” i.e., recognition. The aim of this chapter is to develop analytically such a feminist agenda that bridges recognition and redistribution. First, through the case of petty traders, I show why not all women find ideas of recognition (including freedom of choice and personal autonomy) equally attractive and why the attention to economic and social inequalities among women should be an important part of the feminist debate. Second, I engage with Butler’s notion of precarity developing the materialist version of feminist solidarity across identity-based positionalities.

2 Theorizing Women’s Emancipation beyond Socialist vs. Liberal Dichotomy In this chapter, I understand postsocialism as the historic-geographic region of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Block that shares a common history. Moreover, I also approach postsocialism as “a useful concept to provincialize dominant theoretical perspectives within sexualities and [gender] studies, which are implicitly based on a hidden western-centric geography” (Stella 2015, p. 21). According to Suchland (2015, p. 15), theorizing from postsocialism is “a way to connect the deprioritization of an economic approach to rights [. . .] to feminist critiques of neoliberalism and the state.” Thus, I use postsocialism as a location and a concept to theorize upon the socialist and liberal concepts of gender emancipation and its understanding in the feminist debate. Several generations of socialist women were raised within the Soviet socialist gender order of “working mother” (Zdravomyslova 2010) where women were supposed to work full-time in the public sphere and to do “the double shift” in the private household taking care of children and a husband. Gender equality and women’s emancipation was a cornerstone for the Soviet system. Yet, after the collapse of Soviet socialism, it faced a lot of critique for being paternalist since, being liberated from patriarchal family and a power of father/husband, socialist women had to rely on the socialist state that provided them with paid labor, available social infrastructure of child caring, paid maternity, and annual leaves (Lissyutkina 1999). Men remained largely uninvolved in care work and private sphere. Šiklová (1993) defines women’s emancipation under socialism as “pseudo-emancipation” since “state measures were intended to solve women’s problems, family problems, and problems of child care, but the very nature of a centrally directed system of planning and control worked to silence women” (Šiklová 1993, p. 75). Kiczková and Farkašová (1993) labels socialist emancipation as a failed concept. In their view, the socialist idea of gender equality was based on the ideal of “sameness” instead of “difference.” Female difference was understood as inferiority leading to discrimination and preventing women to make the same contribution as men “to the well-being of the socialist society through her work, her public engagement, and the education of her children” (Kiczková and Farkašová 1993, p. 90). Thus, state socialism


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replaced women’s individual independence by social dependence when individual well-being was understood through the collective good. However, as Gapova argues, the debate about the equality (or sameness) vs. difference raises the question of how “to inscribe different biological bodies into a social system on equal terms” (Gapova 2016, p. 10). According to her, it is actually socialism and not the liberal market democracy that acknowledges women’s reproductive difference as a structural problem, which can be solved through a proper family policy that allows women to combine their wage employment with motherhood. This benevolent approach, Gapova continues, denies women liberal subjectivity and active agency (Gapova 2016, p. 11), i.e., the basis for emancipation. Yet, this lack of agency and paternalism extends to all socialist citizens who are not entirely sovereign subjects under Soviet socialism. In accordance with Gapova’s argumentation, the debate about equality vs. difference reveals two dichotomous understandings of gender emancipation—1) socialist, in which people, mostly women, have to rely on the state welfare in order to combine reproduction with participation in the wage labor; 2) liberal, in which women’s emancipation is framed through personal autonomy and freedom. While the former model is based on social protection, the latter is rather associated with marketization and individualization. As Fraser claims, none of these models is sufficient for emancipation as a project aimed “to overcome forms of domination rooted in both economy and society” (Fraser 2011, p. 140). She defines emancipation as “the missing third that mediates every conflict between marketization and social protection” (Ibid). Yet, the postsocialist critique of gender emancipation under the Soviet rule has a clear ideological preference in favor of the liberal model of emancipation. Such definitions as “failed” or “pseudo” in relation to socialist emancipation presuppose that there is the normative ideal of emancipation that the socialist gender equality policy did not manage to achieve. This ideal is based on the understanding of emancipation as the project of individual liberation and freedom and is rooted in the Western liberal thinking. In the Roman Law, emancipation had two meanings: “the release of a wife or child from the power of pater familia and the freeing of slaves from their owner” (Coole 2015, p. 532). Later, emancipation became a more generic term with a sense of “liberating a person (or class of people) from a condition of dependence” (Coole 2015, p. 532; see also Scott 2018, p. 171). As Scott (2018, p. 171) argues, “in either definition, to be emancipated is to get out from under, to be able to press ahead with no obstacles in one’s path, to enjoy some measure of unencumbered thought or movement, from a situation of constraint to one of some kind of freedom.” Thus, emancipation designates the state of personal independence and autonomy, freedom “from the seductions of authority” (Coole 2015, p. 533). However, as postcolonial feminist scholarship shows (e.g., Mahmood 2001, 2005), individual freedom is not equally valuable for people in different contexts. In her research of Muslim pious women in Egypt, Mahmood (2005, p. 5) criticizes “the normative liberal assumptions about human nature. . .such as the belief that all human beings have an innate desire for freedom, that we all somehow seek to assert autonomy when allowed to do so.” Through her careful and detailed anthropological

Emancipation is More than the Freedom of Choice: Rethinking the Feminist Agenda. . .


account, Mahmood shows how pious women experience agency and emancipation through practicing religious docility—something that may look as complete oppression from the Western liberal perspective. Applying Mahmood’s line of argument to Bulgaria and Japan, Borovoy and Ghodsee (2012) attempt to show how women achieve the real social gains through their immersion in community and family. In particular, they scrutinize the possibilities of women’s empowerment through politics of maternal support and family planning that are usually deemed discriminatory for women in the liberal feminist discourse. Borovoy and Ghodsee’s argumentation explains why some women, especially from less privileged groups, welcome social protection and at the same time express explicit hostility or implicit disagreement with the dominant feminist ideas in which, as some Russian feminist activists reveal, reproduction and motherhood are rarely considered as a popular issue. Thus, the collision of gender emancipation during and after socialism opens up the possibility for feminist interrogation of the normative liberal notion of emancipation centered around freedom of choice and personal autonomy. Simultaneously, it reveals the problematic alliance between feminism/gender equality and neoliberal policies where the ideas of personal autonomy or freedom of choice are used to individualize social problems instead of acknowledging structural inequalities (Fraser 2009; Scharff 2011). As the philosopher Renata Salecl notes, “. . .when choice is glorified as the ultimate tool by which people can shape their private lives, very little is left over for social critique” (Salecl 2010, p. 13, cited in Attwood et al. 2018, p. xv). The entanglement of gender equality with neoliberalism represents “a serious challenge to the possibility of taking a position of (collective) solidarity and feminist agency” (Nygren et al. 2016, p. 51). According to Butler (2015), individualization of responsibility for person’s good and bad choices, i.e., successes and failures, prevents solidarity among marginalized groups of people whose experience of oppression differs. To overcome a stark dichotomy between socialist (protectionist) and liberal (individualized) notions of emancipation, I follow the three-dimensional model of emancipation suggested by Coole (2015). Coole highlights legal, subjectivist, and economic aspects of the emancipatory process. Neither of these aspects is on its own sufficient to speak about emancipation—the fact that different generations of feminists understood well. Legal rights (legal emancipation) do not eliminate economic inequalities, economic well-being and financial independence (economic emancipation) do not automatically lead to subjective self-determinacy and agency, subjective freedom or possibility to choose the course of one’s life does not guarantee that structural constraints (economic and legal) will allow a woman to realize her own will. The three-dimensional model makes it clear why the focus on only one of these aspects is by default limited. This critique can be addressed to those postsocialist and Western feminists who, failing “to consider the possibilities of positive legacies of women’s experience under socialism” (Ghodsee 2004, p. 731), seemed to believe that the mere fact of dissolution of the socialist system would lead to blossoming of women’s individual freedoms and that “real” or “successful” emancipation сould have been achieved. As Coole (2015) reminds us, neither Kant with his liberal model of emancipation, nor


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Foucault who reapproached Kant’s ideas in his thinking about emancipation, believed that emancipatory struggle can be ever exhausted or terminated. Emancipation is always an ongoing unfulfilled project. Foucault’s understanding of power as a myriad of disciplinary micropractices makes it clear that a simple release from the state authority (or any other authority represented by repressive apparatus) is never enough for the emancipatory status. Power constantly reconfigures itself, takes various forms and shapes. Emancipatory projects require perpetual work aimed at reconsideration and subversion of power relations. In this sense, the socialist project of women’s emancipation could have never been fulfilled either; thus, the designation of socialist emancipation as “preudo” or “failed” is not very helpful here. Even though socialist women did enjoy economic stability and social recognition, their legal emancipation (the right to vote) was questionable and the boundaries of their subjectivity were strictly limited by heteronormative ideas (McLellan 2011; Stella 2015). Thus, the three-dimensional model of emancipation undermines the dichotomous opposition liberal versus socialist gender emancipation. Neither of them is solely sufficient for the formulation of the inclusive feminist agenda sensitive to intersection of social differences including class, age, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender identity. While the latter does not acknowledge the importance of subjective and legal aspects of emancipation, the former prioritizes personal freedom over social good and, consequently, over solidarity with other marginalized groups of people. Furthermore, I analyze the experience of female petty traders and their conceptualizing of personal autonomy. As this case reveals, personal autonomy/ subjective emancipation does not have a significant value for these women. Thus, the feminist focus on recognition and suffering from universal patriarchy is not very appealing to them. I use this example to argue how the feminist agenda in postsocialism can be (re)framed in order to address broader categories of people, including a tiny community of female petty traders from the border region.

3 “It Is in My Character: Myself, Myself, Always Forward”: Emancipation of Petty Traders When I conducted my research in Belarus, I was interested in how women understood their experience of cross-border trade—whether they considered it as a primary survival strategy or a way to take advantage of economic opportunities determined by the emergence of the border between Belarus and Lithuania after the USSR’s dissolution. As I argue in other publications (Sasunkevich 2014, 2015), women’s motivation to carry on a cross-border trading business usually included both survival and advantageous reasoning. Thus, in my writing about their experience, I refuse to see them as mere victims of an unjust social and economic system and pay attention to their agency and creativity (Sasunkevich 2015, pp. 148–145; Liinason and Sasunkevich 2018), which allowed them to find their way out of unfavorable and detrimental life conditions.

Emancipation is More than the Freedom of Choice: Rethinking the Feminist Agenda. . .


My sample for this research was very small—it included interviews with 14 women. All of them were recruited through the snowball method. Thus, the fact that half of them, their age or social status notwithstanding, were single, divorced, or widowed was a coincidence, which, nonetheless, had a significant social meaning in the context of understanding gender structure of the small Belarusian town. Analyzing other research material (fieldwork diaries), I realized that the general presence of men in my study was negligible. On the one hand, this had to do with the limitations determined by specific aims of my research. I was mainly interested in the female experience of informal economic activities and in women’s life in Belarusian regions in general. On the other hand, there were also objective reasons. In particular, the public spaces I visited were rather female than male ones. This concerned not only the library and museum where I went for professional reasons, but also the bus station, the post office, the grocery stores, and markets, which I visited also for private matters. At the same time, men were also underrepresented in women’s stories. Even those women who had husbands and/or sons did not talk about them much. Since most of my material covered daily life practices and the private sphere, men did not seem to play an important role there. Moreover, trading practices women were involved into were predominantly female. I define cross-border petty trade as “a business carried out by women, with the help of women and for women” (Sasunkevich 2015, p. 156). Women traveled to neighboring Lithuania with their daughters, female friends, or relatives. Returning back home, they sold goods brought across the border to other women. Going on a local bus from Lithuania to Belarus, a driver was often the only men I met there. The phenomenon of absent men (Sasunkevich 2015) indicates a particular demographic process that covers the postsocialist region far beyond Belarusian borders (see, for instance, Eglitis 2010; Knudsen 2012). Postsocialist countries are characterized by the high rate of male mortality that is often associated with socioeconomic crisis, the social pressure of market reforms, and mass privatization (Grigoriev and Grigorieva 2011; Stuckler et al. 2009). Although the slow-path scenario of economic transition has affected the trend of male life expectancy in Belarus less dramatically (Grigoriev et al. 2010), life expectancy at birth is approximately 11 years longer for Belarusian women than for men (Natsional’nyi statisticheskii komitet Respubliki Belarus’ 2018). The number of retired women is more than twice higher than the number of retired men. The coefficient of mortality among working-age population is four times higher for men than for women (National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus 2016, p. 76). Many Belarusian men suffer from alcoholism and drug abuse. Among people suffering from alcoholism, men represent 79.5%, among drug addicts—83.5% (Natsional’nyi statisticheskii komitet Respubliki Belarus’ 2013, pp. 155–156). The death rate from particular diseases is significantly higher among working-age men as well (Ibid, p. 176). Women are healthier not only in a physical but also in a psychological sense. According to the survey on female and children living conditions in Belarus, young women are more optimistic about their life than young men are (Natsional’nyi statisticheskii komitet Respubliki Belarus’ 2013: 221–22). This short statistical overview makes it clear where and why men disappear from the lives of Belarusian women and why there is a high statistical probability that the


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latter will stay alone at least at some point of their lives and will themselves take care of their children. According to statistics, single mothers represent 18.8% of the general number of Belarusian families while single fathers only 1.8% (Natsional’nyi statisticheskii komitet Respubliki Belarus’ 2013: 41; Natsional’nyi statisticheskii komitet Respubliki Belarus’ and UNICEF 2013: 62). At the same time, the number of single women (persons who are neither married nor live with their partners) has also increased in Belarus. However, even when husbands or male partners exist de jure, they do not always play a significant role in the life of women due to alcohol and health problems, as it was in the case of several respondents. The phenomenon of absent men explains why many of my respondents and interlocutors in the field were self-sufficient persons who could provide for themselves and their families (children or older parents, in some cases) and take care of the household. The classical patriarchal idea of men as breadwinners and women as housekeepers did not make sense to women since there were no one in their lives to take “male” responsibilities except for the women themselves. Some women explicitly acknowledged their more active position and talked about men with light condescendence. One successful entrepreneur admitted that not every man knew how to do trading business. In another part of her interview, she also revealed that she was in general more active than her husband because it was in her character to be self-reliant, “I think it is in my character—always myself, myself, always forward.” Another respondent (40 y.o., married) claimed that women were more “hauling” (tiaguchie) because they “hauled” everything on their shoulders, including a formal job, housework, and informal economic practices. Another entrepreneur, a 64 y.o. widow, replied to my question on the reasons for women’s prevalence in trading business in the following manner: Why women? Because women are more eager, more responsible. They have to [provide] for children. Women are everywhere now. What are men? Almost exclusively drinkers are around. He had a drink—and he is done. He does not care about anything. But a woman has to feed children, to teach them, to take them to kindergarten, to take care of them.

As these examples show, women I talked to were ambiguous in understanding their emancipatory experience. While for some of them (as in the first quotation), it was clearly a matter of their choice or will, for others it was a circumstantial experience determined by unfavorable life conditions. As the last quote suggests, women become emancipated because men are unreliable or, as in some other stories, they simply disappear from lives of women abandoning the family or engaging in binge drinking. The moment of enforcement to become independent (“more responsible” and “eager”) is acknowledged openly in this example and implicitly—in the second, since the word hauling in this context has a negative connotation—it refers to a person who has to carry everything on her own. Thus, self-reliance is not necessarily considered as a positive experience. Moreover, own life experience notwithstanding, my respondents continue believing in a patriarchal ideal of a man-as-breadwinner. For example, Elena, a single educated woman in her forties, admits in her interview that cross-border petty trade is the activity for single or divorced women. In her opinion, “those who are with families, who have normal

Emancipation is More than the Freedom of Choice: Rethinking the Feminist Agenda. . .


families, you will hardly see them there, their husbands have to earn.” Marina, 55-year-old salesperson who raised her children alone when her husband abandoned her, says that her salary “is normal for a woman” as if admitting that ideally it should be supported by male provision. As I argue, the roots of this belief lie not only in the patriarchal culture but also in the economic system. Rubin wrote already in 1975 that the patriarchal ideals of sex differences between men and women and obligatory heterosexuality maintain the economic interdependencies between people: “Kinship and marriage are always parts of total social systems, and are always tied into economic and social arrangements” (Rubin 1975, p. 207). The recent scholarship within queer theory also acknowledges that desire, whether heteronormative or homonormative, is rooted into economic systems and that struggles for sexual and economic justice should be linked more tightly (e.g., Dhawan et al. 2015, p. 4). Looking at the patriarchal aspiration of Belarusian women to rely on a male breadwinner from this perspective, I (Sasunkevich 2015) show that Belarusian economy prioritizes a two-breadwinner family model, which is based on “low wages for both men and women coupled with fringe benefits for public sector jobs” (Pastore and Verashchagina 2011, p. 353). Belarusian labor market is dominated by low-wage positions (Pastore and Verashchagina 2011), and women tend to be employed in the least paid among them. Although Belarusian women continue working en masse, the gender wage gap is constantly increasing (Pastore and Verashchagina 2011) due to remarkable segregation of the labor market in Belarus and women’s greater commitment to childcare. Thus, single women and especially single women with children often finds themselves in a precarious position. In the report on poverty in Belarus (Issledovatel’skii Centr 2012), they are considered among the most vulnerable social groups. In such circumstances, independence from a man and self-sufficiency are not perceived as a big achievement. On the one hand, this experience does not find a symbolic recognition in the society with strong patriarchal ideas. On the other hand, it leads to maldistribution and precarization of women especially those who live in small cities and raise children on their own.

4 Solidarity in Precarity: A Way to Go for Postsocialist Feminism? The question I want to answer here is what the feminist agenda in postsocialism has to offer to petty traders from a small Belarusian town and what kind of solidarities, if any, are possible among very different groups of people—feminist and LGBTI+ activists and those who they supposedly represent? I use the case of petty traders not literally but rather as a way to address the gap between the struggles of feminist activists and broader groups of women including least privileged who do not always find the feminist agenda tempting and addressing their desires and needs. Following Ghodsee (2004), I argue that the appeal to the universal patriarchy, which I come


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across regularly in the postsocialist feminist debates, does not address concerns, expectations, and aspirations of many women, especially with socialist experience, for whom other types of inequalities—including economic and ethnic—are not less important than gender oppression (Ghodsee 2004). However, I want to avoid the temptation to prioritize economic inequalities (maldistribution) over identity politics (recognition). Rather, I use Butler’s notion of precarity to show that recognition (of choices, ways of life, and achievements) and redistribution should be addressed simultaneously in the feminist discourse to make it appealing to broader groups of people. As Butler argues, in the era of individualization of choices and responsibilities, precarity becomes “a site of alliance among groups of people who do not otherwise find much in common and between whom there is sometimes even suspicion and antagonism” (Butler 2015, p. 27). In what follows, I reveal how Butler’s notion of precarity links together redistribution and recognition and how it opens up a possibility for the materialist project of emancipatory politics in postsocialist feminism. My appeal to Butler with the aim of readdressing Fraser’s analytical distinction of redistribution and recognition may seem to be paradoxical taking into account the debate between two of them in Social Text in 1997 (Butler 1997; Fraser 1997a). In her essay, Merely Cultural Butler (1997) criticizes those leftist thinkers who believe in the stark contrast between cultural (recognition) and material (economic and social) in the new social movements and in abandoning the materialist project of Marxism through the focus on cultural politics. She disagrees with the notion of identity as merely cultural, nonmaterialist, and argues that nonnormative sexualities and gender identities are included in political economy since they are not simply a matter of individual choices but determined by social and economic conditions. Responding to Butler, Fraser (1997a, p. 147) acknowledges that both recognition and redistribution are material. However, as she argues, struggles over recognition are not necessarily economic and recognition of identities does not always require restructuring of economic systems since they do not threaten capitalism. Nonetheless, introducing the notion of precarity in her later work, Butler (2006, 2015) makes the economic dimension of her thinking about gender identity and sexualities explicit. On the one hand, precarity openly refers to economic and social conditions of neoliberal postindustrial societies, which are characterized by insecure part-time jobs, politics of austerity, and reduction of welfare programs (Standing 2011). Precarious economic conditions are not limited to uneducated nonskilled people, they become a part of interclass, interethnic/race, and intergenerational experience. Thus, the struggle for secure jobs, affordable housing, proper employment, and other forms of social provision may unite people with different views on identities, sexualities, and gender politics who share precarious existence. As Butler notes, the struggle against precarity requires “a coalitional framework, one that links gender and sexual minorities with precarious populations more generally” (Butler 2015, p. 28). On the other hand, precarity, in Butler’s interpretation, is also a powerful existential idea. It refers to modes of livability and the question of whose life is considered as worth and not worth supporting and living. As Butler (2015, p. 34) states, “precarity is, perhaps obviously, directly linked with gender norms,

Emancipation is More than the Freedom of Choice: Rethinking the Feminist Agenda. . .


since we know that those who do not live their genders in intelligible ways are at heightened risk for harassment, pathologization and violence.” Implying wide understanding of gender norms, Butler’s notion of precarity analytically unites women whose lives do not correspond to patriarchal ideas, as in the case of petty traders, with experiences of other marginalized groups of people including transgender persons, sex workers, and refugees. This linkage does not look obvious if we consider gender identity and sexuality within the narrow frame of identity politics. Yet, when we include in our optic material conditions of people’s existence, we can see that all these different groups of people share similar experiences of being exposed to violence, poverty, and vulnerability. One of the aims of feminist and LGBT activists could be to formulate political statements and strategies that acknowledge the material similarities between these experiences and offer ground for solidarity among various precarious groups of people. I link Butler’s theoretical understanding of precarity as a material (social and economic) condition, which determines the very essence of our life, to Coole’s (2015) materialist project of feminist emancipation for twenty-first century. Coole considers political economy as an important part of emancipatory politics. In agreement with Fraser, she suggests that “the diversion of struggles into cultural channels has served neoliberal hegemony well and that a critical engagement with political economy is timely” (Coole 2015, p. 545). Yet, her materialist project of emancipation is not reducible to economy solely. Instead, she argues that materialist orientation of feminist emancipatory politics should be oriented toward bodies, ecologies, and political economy at the same time. In this sense, her thinking about feminist emancipation is closer to Butler’s notion of precarity where gender norms and sexuality are not merely markers of personal identity but are determinants of social, economic, and cultural systems, which enforce inequalities between various lives and bodies depending on the level of their gender and sexual “normality” and intelligibility. Coole’s materialist project includes bodily politics, such as struggles against sexual harassment, partner violence, and the lack of women’s control over fertility. However, it is also open to ontological questions of human existence and the critique of disciplinary biopolitical regimes including environmental issues and global militarism. I want to conclude this line of argument with one particular example of how the materialist project of feminist emancipation can work in the activist practice. This example is taken from my fieldwork in St. Petersburg where I attended a feminist rally on March 8, 2019. The rally took place at Lenin Square and, according to organizers, gathered approximately 500 people. Although it was by no means comparable to the size of March 8 feminist rallies in other European cities, it was the biggest rally in St. Petersburg during the last few years. The rally organizers had the ambition to unite heterogeneous groups of women and representatives of different political forces for whom feminist agenda was important. The rally’s motto disseminated in social media before the event was Feminism for Each of You (Feminism dlia kazhdoi). The motto appealed foremost to women (the Russia equivalent of “each of you” had a female grammatical form) of various background


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including transgender and nonbinary persons. In the opening speech during the rally, one of the organizers specified these groups: O: Each of you who came here today has her own reason to be here, her own discrimination [. . .]. But none of us can be described by a single word. I am not just a socialist, but also a waged employee. We are mothers, we are daughters, we are wives, we are partners, we are passersby, we are citizens of the Russian Federation. (Replica from the audience) We are lesbians and queer people. . . O: We are lesbians and queer people [. . .]. We are migrants, are there migrants here? I am the former one. We know that nationalism, conservative forces, public opinion, and capitalism consider us as merely resources. And we know that none of these discriminations can be defeated if we are not in solidarity.

The rally lasted for about one hour. Representatives of various activist and political groups held their speeches. There were speakers from socialist and Marxist movement, human right initiatives, LGBTI+ organizations, and online feminist groups. The speeches covered a broad range of feminist issues including violence against women, exploitation of women’s labor in public and private spheres, gender identity, sexuality, gender stereotypes, lesbo- and transphobia, honor killings and female genital mutilation, militarism of the Russian state, political violence, and Russian military presence in Ukraine. Thus, the rally as a whole offered a complex and multilayered approach to feminist emancipation. Bodily politics (free expression of gender identity, right for abortion, condemnation of sexual and domestic violence), ecological/biopolitical (militarism, political violence), and political economy (discrimination of women on the labor market, double burden) were discussed simultaneously.

5 Conclusion In this chapter, I tried to show analytically how the feminist agenda in postsocialism can become more inclusive to the needs, demands, and interest of different groups. I employed Butler’s notion of precarity to suggest an analytical possibility for uniting various social groups in their claims for livability and social justice. As I argue, in line with Coole and Butler, the emancipatory project of feminism should include struggles for the freedom of identities and bodies. Yet, this freedom should not be framed in merely individual terms as individual autonomy and personal choice. Rather, it should be considered as part of the struggle for less-frightening social reality where recognition and redistribution are equally important. As the example from my fieldwork demonstrates, feminist activism in postsocialist countries is concerned with inclusivity and broadness of the feminist agenda and has something to offer in this regard. Hopefully, the multidirected feminist agenda presented during March 8 rally in St. Petersburg will extend the realm of public speeches and political slogans and become a part of regular activist practices.

Emancipation is More than the Freedom of Choice: Rethinking the Feminist Agenda. . .


Acknowledgments This chapter is written within the project “Spaces of Resistance. A Study of Gender and Sexualities in Times of Transformation,” supported by Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (the project leader is Wallenberg Academy Fellow Mia Liinason (University of Gothenburg)). I am grateful to Mia Liinason for her comments on the first draft of this text. I am also indebted to Hülya Arik and Selin Çağatay for our discussions of contemporary feminist issues during project meetings. The earlier drafts of this paper were presented at the conferences “GenderPower-Eastern Europe: Changing Concepts of Femininities and Masculinities and Power Relations” (June 2017, Berlin) and “‘V teme’: seks, politika i zhizn’ LGBT v Central’noi Azii” (March 2019, Bishkek). I would like to thank conference organizers and participants for their comments and questions.

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Part II

New Conflicts and Empowerment Strategies

Ukraine’s Female Combatants: The Influence of Conflict on Gender Roles and Empowerment Rebecca Barth

1 Introduction When war broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, many women assumed positions in unofficial volunteer battalions and the Ukrainian Army that were not intended for them.1 They became snipers, infantry soldiers, and drone pilots. Before the war, positions open to women in the army were limited to those with “typically female” connotations, such as medic, radio operator, seamstress, or cook. The structure alone of the distribution of tasks in the military provides an indication of the roles that women in Ukrainian society are traditionally expected to occupy: supporter, organizer, and caregiver. And, even though equal rights are enshrined in the Ukrainian constitution, society seems to continue to be male dominated. According to the United Nations, just over 12% of the members of the Ukrainian parliament are female2 (United Nations Ukraine n.d.)—compared to 31% in Germany (Deutscher Bundestag 2019). In spring 2014, Ukraine plunged into a deep crisis. Months of mass protests were followed by political chaos: The president fled to Russia, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine’s currency the hryvnia plummeted, and war broke out in the eastern part of the country. This chaos hit the Ukrainian civilian population especially hard, yet at the same time it allowed women to conquer new spheres of action. Within the volunteer battalions, in particular, women were suddenly able to occupy typically “male” posts and to take up combat positions (which, in this context, refers to positions in units that employ weapons of all kinds). 1

Translated from German by Sophie Schlondorff. With the new government, the number of women in the parliament increased by 20% in 2019. From 2005 to 2018, the increase was from 5 to 12%. 2

R. Barth (*) Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



R. Barth

The aim of this study is to examine the effect of combat experience on women and their understanding of gender roles and empowerment. In this paper, the term “empowerment” is understood as the process of expanding one’s own strength and skills. An empowered woman has freedom of choice in an area of her life in which she previously did not have it. She can shape her own life and understands the reasons for her position within society. She has critical social awareness, for it is through critical reflection and a collective agenda that she is able to gain access to control (see Kabeer 1999). In research on armed conflict, women often appear only in a secondary, civilian role. Some authors argue that crises and armed conflicts in particular reinforce traditional roles between men and women. Yet, studies that focus on women as actors in a conflict often arrive at a different conclusion. A number of authors argue that women are empowered by active participation in combat operations—that it leads to greater self-confidence, assertiveness, social mobility, and influence. These opposing positions form the basis of this study. For, as a result of the Russian attack on the country, Ukraine is in the position of having to defend itself and its borders. As a result, we can assume that the women who have decided to take up arms and to defend their country are motivated, among other things, by patriotism, not to say nationalistic ideology. This contradicts the empowerment thesis of the research to date, in which empowerment was often observed in leftwing political movements. In Ukraine, women have succeeded in occupying typically male positions above all in semilegal, unofficial structures. Yet the priority of these armed groups is not equal rights for women and men, but defense of the nation. This raises the question: To what extent does the ongoing conflict reinforce traditional social values and roles—or does combat experience also empower women in volunteer battalions? I examined this question using qualitative interviews. I begin by outlining the research methods I used. I then present the existing research on the roles of women in Ukrainian society as well as in armed conflict. Finally, in the empirical section of this paper, I describe four types of female combatants in the volunteer battalions and compare them to findings from existing research.

2 Methodology and Sampling A total of 11 qualitative interviews were conducted for this study, with both former and still active women soldiers between the ages of 25 and 48 years. Eight of the women interviewed held combat positions, while the remaining three were medics or worked in the communications service, though they also said that they “fought.” Nine of the women interviewed joined volunteer battalions, and two were mobilized officially by the Ukrainian Army. The interviews were conducted in March and April 2019 in Kyiv, Lviv, or via Skype. Snowball sampling was used to select the interviewees. As a result of this method, nine of the women interviewed are also activists in a civil society

Ukraine’s Female Combatants: The Influence of Conflict on Gender Roles and. . .


women-veterans’ group that advocates for more rights for women in the army. (This should be kept in mind for the subsequent analysis of the interviews.) Four of the women interviewed have children, two are widows, three are single, two in relationships, and two did not want to provide information about their family circumstances. The women come from all regions of Ukraine, from big cities as well as small villages. None of them received military training before 2014 and none had planned on a career in the military before the war broke out. The aim of the interviews was to get the women to talk about how they arrived at the decision to go to war, the experiences they had at the front, and what challenges they faced vis-à-vis their male comrades. The interviews then also explored their expectations concerning family planning and partnership and the actual distribution of tasks in this area.

3 Female Roles in Ukrainian Society When, in a speech he gave on the occasion of International Women’s Day in 2009, representative Volodymyr Lytvyn said that he considered bearing and raising children to be women’s primary role and subsequently thanked women for inspiring and making men stronger, better men, many women felt flattered by his statements (Rubchak et al. 2011). Already as children, in school, Ukrainians are socialized to assume traditional gender roles—with traditional in this context meaning: to be a woman means (wanting) to be a mother while at the same time working hard. In this sense, the traditional role of the Ukrainian woman still bears traces of Soviet influence; already in the 1970s, the employment rate in the Soviet Union was over 90%—compared to just between 40 and 50% in the United States (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018). In other words, the Ukrainian woman is responsible for the household while also working outside the home; not purely a housewife, she is capable of multitasking and responsible for her children’s upbringing and education. There is no strong father figure. In many cases, women raise their children alone. Twenty percent of births are registered without information about the father (Bezotcovščina 2019). “Although, structurally speaking, Ukraine is basically a patriarchal society, its constant references to itself as matriarchal renders it culturally matriarchal, so we cannot refer to hegemonic masculinity in conjunction with the nation’s men. Paradoxically, what emerges in reality is a portrait of the stereotypical male who is soft, even infantile (. . .), underscoring the cultural perception of a powerless father image” (Haydenko 2011, pp. 117f). At the same time, notions of a female ideal in independent Ukraine are closely tied to national ideas. Women’s groups and movements also reproduce this nationally influenced image of womanhood. The historical figure they invoke is Berehynia. Berehynia here denotes a figure from pre-Christian mythology, whose modern image, however, was only constructed in conjunction with the country’s independence and accompanying national consciousness. The concept denotes the idea of sacred motherhood. A real Ukrainian woman is tasked with reproducing her own nation physically and culturally by caring selflessly for her children. Interestingly,


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this concept of femaleness was readily adopted and propagated by Ukrainian academics, politicians, journalists, and its women’s movement. According to Kis (2005), the concept has become a central element of the state’s new national ideology and, moreover, is perfectly in line with nationalistic mindsets. Berehynia is the guardian of traditional values, Ukrainian culture, and identity. She represents the powerful matriarchy, which is also why she is frequently used to point to gender equality that has supposedly always existed in the Ukrainian tradition (see Kis 2005). Zhurzhenko even describes the use of this historical myth as the “new feminist myth” of the strong Ukrainian woman and “‘matriarchal’ roots of Ukrainian culture” (Zhurzhenko 2001, p. 1). She argues that the image of the strong mother absolutely could be interpreted in feminist terms and that consequently women could be not only the biological but also the spiritual reproducers of the nation (Ibid., p. 4). Kis, however, is critical: “Berehynia is used to manipulate Ukrainian women. The image encourages them to stay home, keeping them away from public political activities. This imagined gender equality helps prevent Ukrainian women from solving their real social problems” (Kis 2005, p. 118). In contrast, Rubchak et al. (2011) underscores that the neoconservative matriarchal image of Berehynia is gradually yielding to a postmodern identity in the younger generation. “Young women are beginning to respond to the new challenges by recoding older images of quintessential womanhood, and mounting increasingly serious protest against abuses of women” (Rubchak et al. 2011, p. 16). Yet, for Oksana Kis, Berehynia is not the only dominant model of Ukrainian femaleness. Rather, women can choose between two roles, which she describes as “Berehynia” and “Barbie.” According to Kis, the former ideological “Soviet superwoman” has been replaced by these two models. The one Kis describes as “Barbie” ultimately represents a Western-influenced image of womanhood. Media representations in particular depict the woman as an object whose purpose in life is to be beautiful and sexy and to find a man who will marry her. “Barbie” is not given a personality and often not even a name; she exits as, and in, the shadow of the man and is dependent on him. According to Kis, the way that women—or rather the female body or parts of it—are represented in advertisements and women’s magazines in particular turns them into consumer goods for men. “Apparently, the latent mission of women’s magazines is to make women good consumers, in order to be consumed by men” (Kis 2005, p. 119). At the same time, Ukrainian women themselves reproduce stereotypical role expectations. In a study, Yakushko (2005) was able to show that it is women above all who see themselves in a secondary role (see also Shafiro et al. 2003). Even one of the country’s most successful and powerful women—Yulia Tymoshenko—has described women’s role as spreading harmony in society. “The issue here is social harmony, and this is where the female mission lies. For the sake of humanity, which consists of both sexes, the women are called upon to make fundamental changes in the nature of society, not as a separate group but from within the existing structures” (Taran 2011, p. 209). Yet statistics show that, empirically, neither the “Soviet superwoman” who tends to home and hearth while also working on the side nor the guardian Berehynia is dominant. The employment rate of women has been falling since 2000, and in 2017,

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it was just over 43%–13% lower than that of men (Statistisches Bundesamt 2019b). And, at approximately 1.4 children per woman, the birth rate is also quite low (World Bank 2019). For comparison: In Germany, the employment rate among women rose to 54% in the last decade, just 10% lower than among men (Statistisches Bundesamt 2019a). The birth rate in Germany has also increased, reaching over 1.5 children per woman in 2018 (Statistisches Bundesamt 2019c). So, the roles presented above function primarily as discursively generated expectations that are communicated to Ukrainian women—even if, since the country’s independence in the early 1990s, its women clearly have been unable to meet them. These roles are also presented here since several of the women interviewed made reference to them.

4 Women in Armed Conflict and Empowerment In this paper, I follow the three-dimensional model of empowerment of Huis et al. (2017). The authors see empowerment as a multifaceted process that concerns both individual and collective consciousness, views, and behaviors. Their model distinguishes three levels at which empowerment can occur (see also Lombardini et al. 2017): Personal empowerment, which concerns personal views and actions, occurs at the microlevel. The meso-level regards empowerment—views and behaviors—in relation to other actors, such as spouses, family members, as well as the social community. Empowerment at the macro-level concerns the wider social context (Huis et al. 2017). If, for example, one is examining a person’s self-confidence, this would be located at the microlevel, while self-confidence in the individual’s relationship with his or her partner or other actors describes empowerment at the mesolevel. Finally, the overall position of a group within society describes empowerment at the macro-level. In this study, I concentrate chiefly on the micro and meso-levels. As a result, the analysis of the interviews focuses primarily on questions of pride and self-confidence, capacity for action, agency, understanding of roles and behavior in partnerships, family planning, and critical social awareness. Many authors argue that armed conflict leads to changes in precisely these levels. In their view, women are pushed into the role of the weak who require protection and are less capable of acting than men. They argue that in many cases a reinforcement of traditional gender roles is apparent (see, among others, Byrne et al. 1995; Golan 1997). “What is central here is (. . .) the symbolic connection between gender and nation. When nations come into conflict with each other, gender/femaleness is regularly politicized and correlated with the political identity of the group. (. . .) Attacks on the women of a community or nation are also seen as a symbolic rape of the national body” (Seifert 2005, p. 233). Masculinity is reduced to the role of defender of the nation and protector of women, while femininity is equated with the role of protector of the family and guardian of national identity and culture. As a result, Seifert (2005) describes women as “markers of the nation’s borders,” worthy of defense. Consequently, in an armed conflict, women are often given a secondary social role. Society needs to reorganize when it is in crises mode, with a certain


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degree of relevance being assigned to new roles and activities. In the case of war, defending the fatherland has priority and is considered more relevant than family duties. Therefore, a man’s role is more important than a woman’s. This social segregation into active men and passive women is already apparent in the structure of many armies and their mobilization. Even in the Israeli military—which is generally considered to be progressive since women are also required to do military service—female soldiers are basically excluded from frontline duty and are automatically eliminated from the reserve when their first child is born. In other words, women’s family role is given priority over collective obligations (Sasson-Levy 2003). Yet this patriarchal distribution of roles is legitimized not only by men but also by women—even within the army. For example, a female commanding officer of the Israel Defense Forces indicated that female soldiers in the army camps stood for the soldiers’ mothers, sisters, and girlfriends, helping them to keep up morale (see Bar-Yosef and Padan-Eisenstark 1977). Women as providers of moral support for soldiers is an argument that is reproduced by both men and women from a wide range of armed units and groups (see, among others, Barth 2002; Klein 2005; Shahnazarian 2016; Petrenko 2018). Nevertheless, time and again, women break through their socially expected role as helpers to occupy typically “male” positions in the military. Yet, strikingly, these women are often subsequently desexualized, no longer perceived as feminine by those around them. For “[t]he concept of a woman as a mother/warrior is foreign in this society. Women who become soldiers tend to lose their identities as mothers within this community” (Dowler 1998, p. 168). In addition, female soldiers are often seen adopting a male bearing. They begin to speak with lower voices, change their gait, and adopt other typically “masculine” behaviors (Sasson-Levy 2003). Yet the military as an institution also provokes this imitation of habits. In some units, for example, women are not allowed to wear makeup or perfume. On the other hand, imitating male practices can also be understood as a protective reaction against discrimination. Male comrades make fun of female soldiers’ voices and ways of walking, for example. Feminine characteristics can be construed as unprofessional in a military context, so female soldiers try to give them up (Mahoney 2012; SassonLevy 2003). What is striking is that women in a male-dominated environment often promote misogynistic positions (see Eifler 2005; Chomejčuk 2018). Female soldiers rarely advocate for greater numbers of women in the military: “In order to differentiate themselves from what they perceive as traditional, weak, and submissive femininity (. . .), they speak with condescension and disdain about most other women (certainly about women soldiers serving in traditional feminine roles), whom they regard as being inferior to men” (Sasson-Levy 2003, p. 452). Yet other studies show that armed conflict can also provide an opportunity to break down traditional gender roles and contribute to empowering women. These studies argue that the life of a female combatant gives her opportunities to reach a position that under normal circumstances would not be accessible to her (Coulter et al. 2008, p. 30). Active participation in armed conflict can result in greater social mobility for women. Through their role in an insurgent group, they can gain access to decision-making processes and alter gender roles (El-Bushra and Sahl 2005).

Ukraine’s Female Combatants: The Influence of Conflict on Gender Roles and. . .


Some female combatants reach leading positions within their militias. They act with confidence, permanently changing the relationships between men and women in civilian life (Hilhorst et al. 2017). Other studies have been able to show that former female combatants report increased self-esteem and experience social recognition through their role. In addition, in opposition groups, they often gain practical skills that may benefit them in their later civilian life—including, for example, political education or medical skills (Hauge 2008). Depending on the context of the conflict, some women only gain awareness of the social position of women in society through their activities in an armed group (Alison 2003). In yet other contexts, participation in armed combat has a positive influence on their autonomy, freedom of movement, and attainment of influential positions in social–political life after the war (West 2000). At the same time, life as a female combatant often leads to social stigmatization. It is not uncommon for former female combatants not to find a partner—not even from among the men they fought with side-by-side for years (see Byrne et al. 1995; West 2000; Coulter et al. 2008; Gjelsvik 2010). So, existing international research shows that the roles women are able to play in an armed unit and to what extent these experiences can empower them depends both on the type of armed unit (official military or unofficial guerilla) and the type of conflict. Politically leftwing guerilla groups often include women’s emancipatory aspirations in their group ideology. In ethnic conflicts with a colonial–historical background, the fight against the oppression of one’s own ethnic group has also frequently been used in the struggle to achieve a completely new social order. This has also made it possible to legitimize a new order between men and women, with women becoming equal members in these armed groups. National armies, on the other hand, often do not allow women to reach certain positions; rather, based on existing studies, they seem to promote traditional gender roles. In the Ukrainian context, it was also unofficial structures that provided women with the opportunity to reach a position not intended for them in the army. That said, the conflict in Ukraine has national connotations. The Russian aggression against the country has led to greater awareness of the relevance of defending Ukraine’s borders and, according to surveys, people feel a greater connection to their nation. “This underlines how regional differences have as a whole declined in importance in the course of the crisis, and that despite regional specifics Ukrainian society is today more united than before” (Halling and Stewart 2015, p. 4). This raises the question: Do the women in Ukraine’s volunteer battalions also embody a traditional nationalist image of womanhood, or has the experience of war been able to contribute to empowering them?


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5 Research Findings Based on the interviews,3 it is possible to infer that participation in the war represented a decidedly empowering experience for some women. Moreover, the conflict seems to be giving women an opportunity to develop a new image of femininity within Ukrainian society—though this is not the case for every woman. I distinguish here between four types of female combatants, each of which experienced a different degree of empowerment.


The Challengers of Traditional Femininity

The conflict in Ukraine has given the majority of women I interviewed the opportunity to occupy femininity in new ways to some extent. What is striking is that these women had already come into conflict with the roles expected of them during their childhood and youth. Anastasia4 spent her childhood in a small village in western Ukraine. She often played with boys and liked playing soccer; and, even when she grew older, getting married was never really a top priority for her even though that is how it was modeled to her. She wanted to achieve self-realization and financial independence and to pursue a career. I never really aspired to get married. I wanted to work (Anastasia, p. 4). I lived a simple village life. (. . .) I remember hearing‚ ‘Why are you acting like a boy?’ I came back to the village after playing soccer, my knees all dirty. Everyone was like: ‘Look at yourself! You’re a girl!’ Everyone said something to that effect. ‘Look at yourself! You’re a girl!’ (Anastasia, p. 33).

Their behavior had already caused these women to come into conflict with societal expectations early on. Anastasia acted atypically and unconventionally and was criticized for it. Angelina had the same experience. She grew up in a male-dominated environment, tried to join the boys’ group at school, and denied her own femininity for a long time. I only met my first girlfriends in college. In school, two boys sat in front of me, boys sat next to me, two boys sat behind me. (. . .) They’re sitting there talking about girls and they ask me for advice, what to get them as a gift, and I’m, like: ‘Take a look at me and think about it some more!’ Not that I’m boyish in any way, butch, or anything like that. I also had boys— was in relationships—in school, in college. I even own a little dress (Angelina, p. 32).

The women are aware that they do not correspond to the role expected of them. They nevertheless try to argue for their femininity by mentioning relationships with

3 All interviews were conducted and translated [from the Russian to the German] by the author. The quotes cited in this study have also been translated by the author. 4 All names have been changed to protect the identities of those interviewed.

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men or a certain way of dressing. Yet both wanted to leave their home towns and move to the capital at the beginning of their professional training. When, in winter 2013, the protests began on the Maidan there, both women participated from the beginning. Neither of them was politically active previously; to some extent, they had even been disinterested. But now they felt like they had to be in this place, even though they did not have a rational explanation for their decision. It just felt right, they say in conversations. Over the course of the increasingly violent demonstrations, they took advantage of the opportunity to take on new roles and penetrate new spaces. They joined the demonstrators’ self-defense units and carried out tasks that were really reserved for men. I love remembering this example. (. . .) I can and love to chop wood. I grabbed an axe and started chopping wood. My gosh! It was already morning, people came running and started taking pictures, and the guys were like: ‘What’s this? Women chop wood here?’ That’s how it was with us (Angelina, p. 19).

As the protests became increasingly radical and violent, the proportion of men among the demonstrators also rose. While, in December 2013, 43% of the demonstrators were women, by February 2014, only 12% still were (Martsenyuk and Troian 2018). “The militarization of the protest space reinforced sexist rhetoric and gender segregation in the division of labor among protesters as well as strengthened men’s privileges as warriors” (Martsenyuk and Troian 2018, p. 150). But Anastasia and Angelina stayed on—especially when it became dangerous. In conversations, they now describe their life as “before the Maidan” and “after the Maidan.” The chaos, violence, but also the success of having ousted the unpopular president represent not only a rupture in their biography but also the breaking open of their lived role as women. They took advantage of the opportunity to take on new, atypical-for-women tasks and to gain recognition for it. Anastasia and Angelina were in their early 20s at the time, wearing themselves out between their jobs and the activities on the Maidan. Anastasia was a product developer for a cosmetics company, while Angelina worked in customer services at a bank. As it became increasingly important to them to support the protests while also holding down their jobs, they barely slept anymore. Anastasia even moved out of her apartment and in with other demonstrators on the Maidan. Both women experienced what it felt like to fear for their lives for the first time but also became politicized. The Maidan contributed to the emancipation of citizenship and the politicization of women. The Maidan gave you the feeling that nothing matters anymore. (. . .) If we miss this moment, we’ll be down on our knees forever, we’ll be slaves forever (Anastasia, p. 18).

Anastasia joined the protesters’ self-defense units, moving from the role of protected to protector. In addition, this unit later revealed itself to be an important network for the young woman, helping her to join a battalion. On the 8th, the [now] deceased Dymka, code name Hruša, comes to me and says: ‘Got ID?’ I say: ‘Yes.’ He goes: ‘Shall we drive?’ I say: ‘Where to?’ And he says: ‘Well, where do you think. To protect the Luhansk SBU for five days.’ I’m thinking: I’m gonna make a quick call to work to tell them I’m sick and taking five days off. I give him my ID (. . .) I remember


R. Barth taking the backpack, seeing the suitcase with skirts for work, grabbing jeans, sneakers, a t-shirt, a warm sweater, and driving off with this backpack. We leave [Kyiv] and on the 9th we’re already near the Russian border, a village in Luhansk Oblast. May 9th . . . The day of victory [laughs] (Anastasia, p. 10).

Various push-and-pull factors often influence the decision to go to war. Many of the women heard about the situation on the ground or the desolate state of the army through personal contacts and decided to help. After the protests ended in Kyiv, Angelina continued to work in customer services for a Ukrainian bank, where she often received calls from the war zones, which motivated her to help her country. But, even at the front, the women initially had to fight for their place in the unit. They were mocked and not taken seriously by their comrades. They were made to feel that a woman does not belong at the front. But Anastasia and Angelina were persistent, confronting their commanders and earning their acceptance—sometimes even by resorting to cunning. Women weren’t supposed to stay in the zone where the first battle was, nor in the actual storm (. . .), where lots of shooting was going on. I’m thinking to myself: ‘Crap, so what am I doing here.’ I’m all covered up (. . .) and this commander (. . .) hasn’t noticed that I’m a woman. He walks towards me (. . .), I’m sitting there with my automatic, and he’s, like: ‘So, you going?’ And I’m, like, with a man’s voice, ‘Yes’ [with a deep voice] and I take the gun and go. And that’s why the city of Schastya was seized by an Ajdarovcev group with two women. That was Savchenko and me [with pride] (Anastasia, p. 27). I was 20 (. . .) small, a woman. The first deployment was Stanycja Luhans’ka. I ended up in a unit made up mostly of men from western Ukraine. (. . .) How do you think they treated me? I was still so young, so wet behind the ears (. . .). At the time, I wanted to understand the motivation of the people I was on the move with. They were all more or less grown men, around 40 or so. They didn’t think it was cool at all (Angelina, p. 34).

After the first battles, according to Anastasia and Angelina, the attitude toward them shifted. They were accepted by their comrades, but the war also changed them. According to them, war does not distinguish between men and women; they are all soldiers. Anastasia describes her transformation from “naïve woman” to ordinary soldier as follows: We were fighting and at that moment they killed my first comrade next to me. At that moment I went from being a naïve, ambitious, emotional woman . . . (. . .) I was still so naïve that [I believed] the Russians were rising up. (. . .) At that moment, when they killed him, I became a soldier. [That means I] can shoot at people. Because (. . .) during the battle for Schastya, an enemy fighter came towards me and I couldn’t. I was like: ‘Hello!’ And he replied: ‘Hello!’ I didn’t get it yet. I did shoot at cars, when you can’t see the person. But when I saw how they fight (. . .) I became an ordinary soldier (Anastasia, pp. 28f).

The women gained self-confidence and pride from their contribution to the liberation (from the Ukrainian point of view) of cities and their successful participation in the fight. Moreover, they managed to establish networks that would later help them advance their interests. Many of the women are now active in a civil society organization that advocates for the rights of women in the army. They feel empowered by their interactions with other female fighters and by their achievements in combat.

Ukraine’s Female Combatants: The Influence of Conflict on Gender Roles and. . .


Before the war I wasn’t very active. I didn’t have anyone, I didn’t have people who understand me, whom I understand (Daria, p. 2). If I’d been who I am now back then . . . that’s an example of what the war and army did for me. It’s assertiveness and the desire to achieve your goals. All of that built up at the time, I wanted to come to terms with it, but I didn’t have any support, connections, money (Angelina, p. 11). For me it’s like a breath of fresh air. I saw women in other units who dropped their business or left the war to become mothers . . . in other words, pregnancy or a child—that’s not a judgment (Angelina, p. 45).

After their deployment, these women reflect critically on their own socialization. They do not construct femininity according to the aforementioned “Barbie” or “Berehynia” models but rather present themselves confidently as fighting women. They have or had relationships with men they met in their units and subsequently signed contracts with the army. A professionalization occurs. Equality in the relationship with their partners has become important to Anastasia and Angelina. They resist traditional expectations of themselves as women. Some partners accept this, while others demand traditional behavior. The way I see it, women are equal to men. When I married . . . I had a husband who had already known me for two or three years and who knew my position. Even so, somehow, after a while, he wanted a different life. I call it the average Ukrainian family. That’s the kind of family he wanted, but I couldn’t give it to him. My position was: We’re equal. You work, I work. You clean, I cook. Some things we’ll do together in the house. If we have a child then we’ll raise it together. Well . . . we’re getting a divorce now (Angelina, p. 45).

In the interviews, the women present education and childrearing as an important factor that needs to change. They declare themselves in favor of raising children equally and are critical of their own upbringing. Boys shouldn’t be told not to cry and girls should be allowed to play with cars. Anastasia and Angelina feel like their own childhoods were marked by prohibitions and restrictions. Wartime deployment made them more aware of the inequality between men and women in Ukrainian society. My relatives think that a woman shouldn’t fight, a woman should just focus on family. If I go somewhere, I’m treated like a person who doesn’t . . . I’m always supposed to be good, always nice, I’m not allowed to get angry, (. . .) I can’t be frustrated, am always expected to smile (. . .) (Daria, p. 32).

Yet I argue that it was not participation in the war in eastern Ukraine that resulted in the transformation of the female gender role among these women; rather, these women were already in conflict with social expectations of themselves as women before the Maidan protests and the war. Already during the Maidan demonstrations, they took advantage of the opportunities that arose, acting outside of the typically female role of helper; already during the Maidan, they established relevant networks. Their participation in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine earned them selfconfidence and recognition through their accomplishments on the ground. Consequently, I argue that the conflict gave them the chance to establish a new image of femaleness that entails a claim to equal rights and the establishment of the woman as


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fighter—which, however, coexists with the image of woman as mother and wife. For Anastasia, there is nothing contradictory about being both a soldier and a mother. She left the front when she was five months pregnant. Deployment in the war helped her and the other women gain approval and recognition for this new role as well as a corresponding new family model.


The Different One

Rightwing extremist women represent an exception in this study. Already prior the Maidan and the war, Yelyzaveta had already experienced the need to assert herself in a male-dominated environment. She was politically active in the rightwing extremist Svoboda party, an environment with few other women, already before the Maidan. I argue here that rightwing extremist women create a positive self-image by distancing themselves from other women. Similarly to the abovementioned studies on women soldiers in combat positions, they present themselves as “different women,” an exception to the rule, and they promote certain misogynistic positions. For example, even though Yelyzaveta is aware that she is one of only a few women among the activists, she finds a supposedly logical explanation for it: I think it’s the nature of a woman, they always take less part in political life than men. (Yelyzaveta, p. 11).5

While both Yelyzaveta and another interviewee, Veronica, are active in a political scene that promotes a traditional family model, their own behavior is in contradiction to it. Before the war I was not interested in family. I was alone and did what I want. (Veronica, 32) Maybe I am just not ready to be in a relationship. I don’t know. My child is like nine months now. And I like it being a single mother because my parents help me a lot. It’s not hard. (Yelyzaveta, p. 57)

After her deployment in the war, Yelyzaveta tried to adopt a child to give her life new meaning. But since this is not an option for an unmarried woman in Ukraine, she conceived a child with a friend—not, however, with the intention of building a family together. Today, the man does not have any contact with his child, and Yelyzaveta does not intend to establish it. In contrast to other interviewees, the women from the rightwing extremist scene enjoy greater freedom of movement. The rightwing network serves both to protect and open doors for them at the same time. Already during the riots on the Maidan, Yelyzaveta was able to access areas that were closed off to other women.

5 The interviews with Yelyzaveta and Veronica have been conducted in English at the request of the interview partners.

Ukraine’s Female Combatants: The Influence of Conflict on Gender Roles and. . .


I was lucky because I had people that made like the conclusion for me. And that was okay for me. It was like “women are not welcome” but except me, and I was ok with that. For example, on the Maidan when we had fights on Hrushevsky street they made a border and wouldn’t let women pass. And I was going there with my camera and he goes like: “Women are not . . . ah, Lisa, it’s you! You can go.” And so, it was really okay for me that women can’t go, but I can. I tolerated that. (Yelyzaveta, p. 45)

Yet this network did not help Yelyzaveta in her search for a suitable battalion. She, too, was confronted with the widespread structural problems and prejudices in the army. She wrote to every single unit, applying for a position as a soldier, but was rejected by all of them. This is a fate she shares with many other women who were rejected because of their sex since it was not until 2016 that a number of combat positions in the Ukrainian Army were finally opened up to women. Yelyzaveta began by traveling to the warzone as a journalist and reporting from there. This allowed her to make contact with units and later also gave her the chance to join one of these units as a female combatant. From then on, she once again enjoyed a privileged position. For me it was much easier than for other women because I came there with my friends, I came there with people who I knew like for five years, from Svoboda party. And they were not like “oh you are a girl, you can’t shoot.” They were like: “Ah, no, that’s Lisa. And that made it much easier. Those people who were new to me also saw me in the context of my friends, of those people I came with. When they realized that the guys would take me as equal kinda, they would automatically do the same. (Yelyzaveta, p. 43)

Yelyzaveta’s social role also did not change directly as a result of the war. She was already integrated into a male-dominated network in which she had her place. Even though she rejects the traditional female role propagated by rightwing activists, she reproduces misogynistic prejudices. For example, she speaks disparagingly about women who hold “typically female” posts—in the communications service, for example—and claims that they are only looking for a husband. She sometimes makes derogatory comments about feminist women who, she says, see problems everywhere, and claims never to have felt discriminated against as a woman even though she herself was rejected by the army for a long time because of her sex. Her attitude is contradictory, since she can act very independent and empowered on the one hand, yet on the other supports a movement and ideology that does not really allow women this role. Based on this, one can assume that she already inhabited the same contradictory role she now holds in her battalion in the environment in which she moved before the war.


The Crossers

I describe those women who only cautiously expand the gender role they fulfill—or, to put it another way, who continue to represent a very feminine image of womanhood despite their activities as soldiers—as “crossers.” What distinguishes them from the two previously discussed types is that they began by fulfilling the


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traditional woman’s role as helper. Sophia is a young woman who married her partner in her early 20s. Then the Maidan protests began when the couple was on their honeymoon in Lviv. Sophia joined the protests with her husband. She wanted to support the revolutionaries but did not want to fight on the barricades herself; on the contrary, she was afraid to go to the Maidan without her husband. To this day, she persists in describing woman’s work as supporting men. We drove there and erected a corridor of people and didn’t let the busses carrying the public servants pass. When they arrived, they were driven out of the busses. I was there . . . well, we women were just supporting our boys (Sophia, p. 21).

Unlike other women, Sophia did not want to join a battalion after the Maidan. She began by supporting the army through material donations because her husband had volunteered for the war—without consulting with her. He informed her of the disastrous conditions on the ground, she wanted to support him, started collecting donations, and wanted to bring them to the front, but her husband forbade it. In summer 2014, Sophia’s husband died, and she started delivering donations to the front herself more and more often. Her increasingly frequent trips to the warzone allowed her to meet people and establish networks in her own right. These experiences ultimately influenced her decision to become a soldier herself. She reports about her first shooting exercises with pride, eyes shining. It was during an exercise, my first time with the grenade launcher. It was cool, but I was really worried. Somehow I shoot really well. I don’t know why, but that’s how it was. I’m a natural. I was so worried about shooting, they showed me everything and explained everything to me and then, ok, so I’m standing there, I take aim, my knees are shaking, my hands trembling. My first shot and it totally hit the mark! Bulls-eye. And I was like: ‘Wow! That was me! Cool! Awesome!’ (Sophia, p. 35).

I argue that Sophia is cautiously pushing beyond the limits of traditional femininity. She is not breaking radically with her role. She is calm and modest, and does not approach the battalion with the aim of wanting to work with weapons. On the contrary, she does whatever needs to be done, irrespective of the task. She supports the soldiers wherever she can, initially working as a medic and in the organizational sphere. As a result, she does not come into conflict with her comrades but is held in high esteem within the troop. At the same time, she acts very “feminine.” She speaks softly and calmly, but with determination, wears makeup, paints her nails, and wears her hair long. She tries to avoid conflict and is even passive in some instances. For example, she hardly put up any resistance when she was removed from her position on account of her sex and expected to work as a medic again. I said I don’t want to, and the boys wrote a report to the commander, signed by all of them. But an order is an order. That’s the army. It’s annoying of course. Honestly, I wasn’t really shocked; it was so nice that grown men in the army with whom I’d served wrote a report. I didn’t get upset along the lines of ‘Nope, I’m not leaving,’ but they did! That was very nice. But an order is an order (Sophia, p. 41).

This example shows to what degree Sophia accepts decisions she does not really support. Her reaction was similar when her husband went to war without discussing this important decision with his wife first. I suspect that it is this restraint—compared

Ukraine’s Female Combatants: The Influence of Conflict on Gender Roles and. . .


to other women who loudly demand equality—that helped Sophia be accepted by the group. Yet it is Sophia, of all the interviewees, who experiences perhaps the most pronounced development. At the personal level, she grows from a young, rather politically disinterested woman into a strong, confident activist. The skills and contacts she gained through her deployment in the war also help her in civilian life. Unlike the first type of woman, Sophia does not plan on a career in the military. She and the other women whom I also consider to be this type now all work in different professions than they did before their deployment—developments they are able to trace back to contacts they made in the war. I found work after a month. I already knew basically what I wanted to do because a director came along with our group. We became friends, and he introduced me to his friends. Then I started working in TV (Natalia, p. 9). I’m running a business, creating something. I go to a ton of readings, seminars for a wide variety of courses, training sessions. I’m learning, growing, talking to people, helping people. I love this life (Sophia, p. 58).

The women are also active in the civil society organization for female veterans and advocate for greater gender equality in Ukrainian society. Here, the war is the source of the necessary resources they need to further their interests. The work of the female-veterans’ group further empowers the women. They see their personal deployment in the war as a way to do something for their country—which is something that they would also like to continue to do after their service. I need to influence processes in society now so that something changes, so that it isn’t scary to have children anymore. I’m strong enough, I can make it happen (Diana, p. 36).

As these remarks show, the women are very determined to participate in social– political life on the one hand. At the same time, however, they associate their activities with family values. They legitimize their activism by aiming to create a better future for their potential children, playing with the Ukrainian woman’s role as a mother. They keep blurring the lines between the traditional female role and their actual activities as veterans. They assign traditional tasks to their role as women in society. For me, being a woman means finding a husband, having a child (. . .). For me as a woman it’s probably very important to find a person who is stronger than me—just to be able to feel like a weak woman next to him. To rest, to relax (. . .) (Diana, p. 38).

Some of these women have gained confidence, agency, and networks through their experience in the war. They remained in the role of supporters during the Maidan protests and also fulfilled the more typically female role of helper during the initial months of the war. All of them learned about the terrible conditions on the ground through personal contacts, which led them to decide to join an armed unit during the first two years of the war. So, on the one hand, they go beyond the traditional female gender role by taking up arms. Yet, at the same time, they have a very feminine bearing and external appearance. They evolved from young, in some cases timid students into confident young women who advocate for the rights of


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women in the military and give speeches at NATO or at the United Nations in New York. This is why I argue that these women experienced a very powerful empowerment process at the personal level and that, at the same time, a constant pushing of the limits of the established female gender role is also apparent.


The Keepers of Traditional Femininity

Participating in the war fundamentally changed the lives of all of the women I interviewed. Many of them were able to use this experience for themselves in a positive way. They gained social capital, self-confidence, and relevant networks and find themselves in a more influential position after the war than before. Yet deployment did not have a positive impact on all of the women; some stayed behind, marginalized and financially dependent. Victoria, for example, had some medical knowledge and joined a battalion that needed medics. She closed her grocery store temporarily since she planned to return after just a few weeks. But then her unit was surrounded, and she, a single mother, was seriously wounded and taken prisoner of war. After she was liberated, she was in the hospital for nine months. When she was released, she had lost her job and apartment, and she has been dependent on financial support from friends and acquaintances ever since. In addition, she seems to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. During the interview she seemed anxious and mentioned feeling ill at ease among civilians. Nobody understood why I went there. They didn’t understand it at all. While my family at least tried not to talk about the topic, at work it was a disaster. (. . .) It’s not just that there was no sympathy; there was probably disdain as well (Victoria, p. 22).

Victoria says that she lost everything because of the war—and yet she does not regret her deployment. What is striking is that the women who found themselves in a marginalized position after the war are the same ones who took on a traditional helper role in it. In addition, these women are older than the average interviewee. Victoria has an adult child, while Alina has five children and is already 48 years old. She is very religious and believes that it was God’s will that she go to the front. There, she worked in the communications service and organized the delivery of provisions and medicine to the various units. She legitimizes her deployment through her role as a mother, which she emphasized proudly and repeatedly during the interview. If I hadn’t gone, they would have taken my children. I don’t want my children to see what I saw. And, in the current situation, there’s one thing I know: that it’s easier for me there than to sit at home knowing . . . and living in fear of that phone call every second. My child is there, what are they going to tell me now? That’s worse (Alina, p. 18).

In addition, Alina takes the position that women provide moral support for men, that they are actually stronger than men, but do not show it openly in order not to offend their manliness.

Ukraine’s Female Combatants: The Influence of Conflict on Gender Roles and. . .


Morally, women are much stronger than men. Men, physically. When, for example, there are corpses . . . the men feel ill; we women take care of it. (. . .) When they feel bad, women lift the mood. They know how to lift their spirits. Honestly, statistically speaking . . . how many men have lost their minds? Not a single woman. (. . .) Women are morally much stronger (Alina, p. 20).

6 Conclusions The aim of this exploratory study was to examine the effects of combat experience on women and their understanding of their role and empowerment. As previous research on this topic has shown, female combatants from leftwing political groups or independence movements are often able to boost their confidence and improve their social mobility and influence. In other words, they are empowered by their life as female combatants. In contrast, the war in Ukraine has national connotations. However, not all of the women interviewed for this study were motivated by feelings of nationalism. Many had acquaintances or other personal contacts who were directly affected by the armed conflict and simply wanted “to do something.” They often ended up in typically male positions through semilegal, unofficial armed groups that are definitely not concerned with gender equality. Yet the crisis convulsing Ukraine since November 2013 has also given young women in particular the opportunity to discover new spheres of action for themselves. This study shows that those who benefitted especially are those women who had already come into conflict with their socially expected role during their childhood or youth. Their wartime deployment boosted their self-confidence and provided room to challenge established femininity. In addition, the women experienced empowerment at the personal level and in their interactions with others. They express themselves confidently with respect to their partnerships and professional careers. They are able to become part of a network and environment in which they feel at ease and recognized. Moreover, they became professionalized in their military environment and are now official soldiers—in positions that were unattainable to women just a few years ago. In contrast, the women who had already asserted themselves in a male-dominated environment before the war demonstrate rather limited awareness of the secondary status of women in Ukrainian society. This is true here exclusively of women from the rightwing extremist scene. They want to be “one of the boys” and distance themselves from other women, whom they consider to be weak. This finding overlaps with the behavior of women in male-dominated professions described in other studies. They tend to hold misogynistic viewpoints and deny discrimination in order to avoid being considered problematic as women in this environment. It is above all the women who only cautiously pushed the limits of their socially recognized role who experienced significant acceptance. These women are often reserved, tend to carry out a wide range of tasks, including helper roles, and associate


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the role of mother with that of fighter. They have fewer conflicts, both with their comrades and in civilian life. They, too, experience empowerment at the personal level, evolving from timid, young women into courageous social–political activists with access to powerful networks in order to call attention to issues they care about. Yet, as this study has also been able to demonstrate, participation in the war only results in empowerment under certain conditions. Injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders have a negative effect on the women’s personal development. Moreover, not all of the women succeeded in acquiring capital through the networks they established. In summary, it is possible to say that the younger women interviewed for this study in particular can be considered part of a new generation in Ukrainian civil society. As Rubchak et al. (2011) writes, established roles are being filled in new ways and, if necessary, expanded.

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Hauge W (2008) Group identity—a neglected asset: determinants of social and political participation among female ex-fighters in Guatemala: analysis. Conflict Secur Develop 8(3):295–316 Haydenko V (2011) Chronicle of children’s holidays: construction of gender stereotypes in Ukrainian preschools and elementary education. In: Mapping difference. The many faces of women in contemporary Ukraine. Berghahn, New York Hilhorst D, Van Der Haar G, Luna KC (2017) Changing gender role: women’s livelihoods, conflict and post-conflict security in Nepal. J Asian Secur Int Aff 4(2):175–195 Huis MA, Hansen N, Otten S, Lensink R (2017) A three-dimensional model of women’s empowerment: implications in the field of microfinance and future directions. Front Psychol 8:1–14 Kabeer N (1999) Resources, agency, achievements: reflections on the measurement of women’s empowerment. Dev Chang 30(3):435–464 Kis O (2005) Choosing without choice: dominant models of femininity in contemporary Ukraine. In: Asztalos Morell I, Carlbäck H, Hurd M, Rastbäck S (eds) Gender transitions in Russia and Eastern Europe. Förlags ab Gondolin, Eslöv, pp 105–136 Klein U (2005) Wehrpflicht von Frauen: Erfahrungen mit Militär und Geschlecht in Israel. In: Ahrens J-R, Apelt M, Bender C (eds) Frauen im Militär: empirische Befunde und Perspektiven zur Integration von Frauen in die Streitkräfte. Springer, Berlin Lombardini S, Bowman K, Garwood R (2017) A ‘how to’ guide to measuring women’s empowerment: sharing experience from Oxfam’s impact evaluations. Oxfam, Oxford Mahoney DJ (2012) Gender and leadership: female ROTC cadets’ perceptions of gender and military leadership. Doctoral dissertation, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America Martsenyuk T, Troian I (2018) Gender role scenarios of women’s participation in Euromaidan protests in Ukraine. In: Resende E, Budrytė D, Buhari-Gulmez D (eds) Crisis and change in post-Cold War global politics. Springer, Berlin, pp 129–153 Petrenko O (2018) Unter Männern: Frauen im ukrainischen nationalistischen Untergrund 1944–1954. Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn Rubchak MJ, Hrycak A, Phillips SD, Haydenko V (2011) Turning oppression into opportunity: an introduction. In: Rubchak MJ (ed) Mapping difference: the many faces of women in contemporary Ukraine. Berghahn, New York Sasson-Levy O (2003) Feminism and military gender practices: Israeli women soldiers in ‘masculine’ roles. Sociol Inq 73(3):440–465 Seifert R (2005) Weibliche Soldaten: Die Grenzen des Geschlechts und die Grenzen der Nation. In: Ahrens J-R, Apelt M, Bender C (eds) Frauen im Militär. Springer, Berlin, pp 230–241 Shafiro MV, Himelein MJ, Best DL (2003) Ukrainian and US American females: differences in individualism/collectivism and gender attitudes. J Cross Cult Psychol 34(3):297–303 Shahnazarian N (2016) A good soldier and a good mother: new conditions and new roles in the Nagorno-Karabakh war. J Power Institut Post-Soviet Soc. 17, Available at https://journals. Accessed 20 Mar 2020 Statistisches Bundesamt (2019a) Erwerbstätige und Erwerbstätigenquote nach Geschlecht und Alter 2008 und 2018. Ergebnis des Mikrozensus. Destatis, Wiesbaden Statistisches Bundesamt (2019b) Ukraine Statistisches Länderprofil 2019. Destatis, Wiesbaden Statistisches Bundesamt (2019c) Zusammengefasste Geburtenziffer nach Kalenderjahren. Destatis, Wiesbaden Taran L (2011) From the philosophy of a name to the philosophy of life: a conversation with Yulia Tymoshenko. In: Rubchak MJ (ed) Mapping difference: the many faces of women in contemporary Ukraine. Berghahn Books, Berlin, pp 203–209 United Nations Ukraine (n.d.) Gender equality. Available at West HG (2000) Girls with guns: narrating the experience of war of Frelimo’s ‘Female Detachment’. Anthropol Q 73:180–194


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Gender Roles in the Rear of the War in Donbas: Women’s Engagement in the Care of Wounded Combatants Ioulia Shukan

At the back of the courtyard of the Kharkiv military hospital, a blue-and-yellow flag flutters over the entrance to a dilapidated outbuilding.1 It marks the site of the office of the Sisters of Mercy ATO2/Kharkiv initiative. Inside, in a cramped, barely twentysquare-meter room, several women assist wounded soldiers who are hospitalized here. They ask about their needs, bring them coffee and snacks, and distribute personal-hygiene items (toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, razors, towels, and wet wipes) or clothing (T-shirts, underwear, and socks). This office, open 6 days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., provides a look behind the ongoing armed conflict in Donbas in eastern Ukraine. Since the conflict began in mid-April 2014, almost 13,000 people have been killed and 30,000 wounded, both civilian and military (Ponomarenko 2019). Though it has shifted from a conventional war into a low-intensity conflict over the last 5 years, violence still breaks out regularly along the demarcation line between Ukraine and its separatist republics Luhansk and Donetsk. This office also offers a glimpse of the state of the medical care provided to soldiers wounded in the war. According to the established procedure, basic operations—limited to lifesaving and stabilizing actions—are provided near the combat zones. When the wounded are ready for medical evacuation, they are transported to hospitals in Kharkiv or Dnipro, in eastern Ukraine, where they then undergo more complicated and comprehensive procedures, particularly operations to treat severe


Translated from French by Sophie Schlondorff. From April 2014 to April 2018, Ukraine’s military operations against its pro-Russian separatist territories, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, were described officially as an “Anti-Terrorist Operation” (ATO). Since May 2018, they have been categorized as a “Joint Forces Operation” (OOS).


I. Shukan (*) Université Paris Nanterre, Nanterre, France e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



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trauma from blast injuries (concussions), missile fire (multiple lesions), or metal shrapnel (ruptured organs, shattered limbs). Nervous disorders are also often diagnosed here, along with disorders of the brain, lungs, and musculoskeletal and digestive systems, resulting from the harsh living conditions in the trenches. Finally, the services provided by this office offer insight into one of the ways in which Ukrainian women are involved in the rear in Kharkiv, a large Russianspeaking city in eastern Ukraine, at least 250 km from the front. The women of Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv—which, despite its name,3 is a nonreligious charitable association—attend to the sick and wounded soldiers throughout the course of their care at the hospital. The association, which originally comprised some twenty people, is now maintained by a small nucleus of six women, between the ages of thirty-nine and fifty-three. Their activities are voluntary—that is, the work they do (specifically, practically and directly handling problems arising from the medical care of the wounded) is nonbinding and unpaid (Eliasoph 2013; Ferran-Bechmann 2000). Moreover, their joint efforts to achieve immediate and very tangible results are limited to the domestic sphere of life maintenance; indeed, it does not involve identifying the cause of these chronic problems or taking action against what or who is responsible for them. In this respect, it operates at a remove from politics (Eliasoph 2010, 2013). Consequently, the volunteers’ scope of action is determined by the shortcomings of the military system of care. Specifically, it comprises a composite collection of nonmedical support and assistance tasks, which are distinct from the work of the health-care providers but nevertheless puts these women in direct contact with suffering, sick, and/or wounded bodies: monitoring the hospitalized and their needs in the various wards (excluding the operating rooms and intensive care units); providing logistical and food assistance, and small snack services; organizing recreational activities; and offering moral and psychological support, and assistance throughout the post-treatment stages (prostheses, rehabilitation). Parallel to caring for the wounded, the volunteers of Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv also collect various types of donations, both financial and material, from the general population in order to compensate for the shortfalls in the military medical system. The initiative registered as an association in August 2014, four months after it was created, so it would be able to collect this aid formally and set up its own bank account. The contributions, delivered by hand or transferred into the account, cover the cost of numerous wounded combatants’ external fixation devices, metal-alloy implants, and post-operative care and rehabilitation. The money collected also subsidizes the acquisition of medication and medical equipment, as well as the maintenance and repair of ambulances and renovation work on the hospital

3 In May 2014, when the group’s founder, Yaryna Chahovets, had just launched calls for solidarity with the first soldiers hospitalized in Kharkiv via a Facebook page, a donor suggested this name to her. It was only later that the volunteers discovered the existence of an eponymous Catholic religious order. (Informal conversation with Yaryna Chahovets, May 2015.)

Gender Roles in the Rear of the War in Donbas: Women’s Engagement in the Care. . .


(for example, installing double-glazed windows in the operating and post-op rooms, painting the rooms), which opened in 1873 and is extremely run down. The hospital’s various divisions, from trauma surgery to psychiatry, are distributed across the seven floors of a main, modern building and its few outposts, which date to the early twentieth century. The daily reality inside these buildings is marked by worn-out equipment and materials and chronic shortages of medical supplies, medications, as well as cleaning and health-care products—a reflection of the Ukrainian health-care system as a whole, which has been eroded by years of underfunding and corruption (Lekhan et al. 2010).4 For a long time, these chronic shortcomings were offset by the hospital’s commercialization of treatments for the public at large; however, the end of this commercialization, which resulted from the admission of large contingents of military casualties, exacerbated them. The material donations collected by the women volunteers also support snack services and the distribution of personal-hygiene items and used civilian clothing for patients when they are transferred or discharged from the hospital.5 Volunteers put out daily calls for donations on the group’s Facebook page (Facebook n.d.). In the morning, one of them makes the rounds of the rooms and subsequently updates the list of needs: water, tea, coffee, sweets, socks and underwear, secondhand clothing and shoes, adult diapers, personal-hygiene products, rubber gloves, trash bags, cleaning products, and toilet paper. At the end of the day, a written and photographic overview of the day’s donations is posted online in order to publicize and sustain this solidarity. Numerous historical, sociological, and anthropological studies on armed conflicts deal with the question of women and armed violence, whether comprehensively (Capdevila et al. 2003; Goldstein 2001; Moser and Clark 2001; Virgili 2014), from the point of view of the experience of female combatants (Krylova 2010; Bucaille 2013; Martsenyuk 2016), or in terms of violence perpetrated against women (Nahoum-Grappe and Allen 1996; Virgili 2001). Women’s roles away from the battlefield, among female doctors and workers, are also assessed in sociological history-of-war studies that focus on gender (Schultz 2004; Braybon 2012; Thébaud 2013). This article aims to be a sociological contribution to the latter area of research. Without purporting to answer the broader question of the impact of the war in Donbas on the status of women in Ukraine, it proposes to analyze their role in managing its consequences—namely, in providing medical care to the wounded

4 According to the World Health Organization, the equipment and quality of the Ukrainian healthcare services has worsened steadily since the end of the USSR. In 2000, 50% of the equipment was obsolete; in 2007, 60–70%—after 20–25 years of use, which is two to three times longer than its typical useful life. 5 Evacuated from the battlefield, the wounded are transported to the hospital without personal belongings. When they are admitted, they are issued pajamas and a standard sleeveless shirt, as well as a pair of slippers. They then have to get a hold of spare T-shirts, socks, sometimes even a towel, as well as civilian clothing—all while not being permitted to leave the hospital. These circumstances make the volunteers’ logistical support especially important.


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soldiers. It also strives to understand what, in turn, the war does to these women involved in the rear. How does the armed conflict in Donbas cause the lives of the women volunteers of Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv to deviate from their ordinary course? What sets in motion their solicitude for the sick or wounded soldiers—and, beyond that, their concern for the collective—in a war situation? How does the armed conflict affect the trajectories of these volunteers as active women (married or divorced; partnered or single mothers) and in terms of the daily exercise of their citizenship? To answer these questions, an analysis at the intersection of the interactionist sociology of engagement, on the one hand, and the sociology of care relationships, on the other, seems especially heuristic. Research in the former field looks at the procedural dimension of engagement—that is, its circumstances, facts, and connections to life trajectories and historical situations (Sawicki and Siméant 2009), as well as to its various upshots, including joys, attachments, and affects (Traïni 2009; Sommier 2015). The sociology of care relationships, for its part, is committed to analyzing the working conditions of various categories of caregivers—nurses (Vega 2000), nursing assistants (Arborio 2012), and homecare aides (Avril 2014)—in terms of their interventions on the human body, or their interpersonal contact with those they assist. These studies also take into consideration the gendered division of labor between caregivers and the fact that caregiving work is assigned primarily to women—without, however, delving into the philosophical debates around care as a specifically feminine ethic (Gilligan 1986; Paperman and Laugier 2011),6 or into the issues around the social construction of inequalities between the sexes. This approach corresponds to the perspective developed here. In this article, I begin by retracing the circumstances of how these women volunteers—ordinary, non-politicized citizens, who, until 2014, were for the most part not especially concerned with building commonality—became involved in care. I then look at what specifically happens to these women involved in care, in terms of the affective and social repercussions of their collective action. Finally, I consider the impact of caregiving on their professional lives.

1 Participant Observation at the Military Hospital in Kharkiv This analysis is underpinned by an ethnographic study of the volunteers of Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv that began in May 2015. Numerous field studies between May 2015 and May 2019 with participant observations of varying lengths, ranging from 4 days to two consecutive weeks, allowed me to integrate into the group and to monitor its caregiving practices on a day-to-day basis. I was able to accompany these women within the various areas of the military hospital and to observe them in situ 6

As opposed to the masculine ethic, which is purportedly based on justice.

Gender Roles in the Rear of the War in Donbas: Women’s Engagement in the Care. . .


and in their relationships with the wounded and medical staff. I myself also took on the role of volunteer by participating in caregiving activities (going from room to room, offering small gestures of assistance, working in the office), which was possible thanks to the trust I earned from the members of the group, as well as the minimal requirements necessary to perform this role. Moments of conviviality with the volunteers provided an opportunity to ask them about how they ended up at the hospital and how they viewed themselves and their collective action. Thanks to these repeated and extended interactions with the volunteers, I was able to trace the evolution—still ongoing—of their life journeys. In this respect, one shortcoming of this ethnographic study is that it cannot give the final word on a story that is still in the process of unfolding. Another major limitation of this study is the fact that I was unable to speak with the medical staff to learn about their views of the hospital, in general, and of the volunteers’ contribution to caring for the injured, in particular. The hospital in Kharkiv has the status of a military camp and, as such, is a secure facility: Patients are not permitted to leave the grounds, and visits are limited to family members. The institution’s tendency to be closed off and secretive has intensified in times of war: The number of wounded and dead at the hospital is not disclosed, and evoking the institution’s chronic shortages is taboo. Under these circumstances, my furtive contacts with the health-care providers required utmost discretion.

2 Becoming a Volunteer: Situations Leading to Involvement at the Military Hospital The charitable work of the women of Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv reveals how the war in Donbas, combined with these women’s powerful social and emotional experiences, created fertile ground for their involvement. Initially, in spring 2014, the conflict took the form of a separatist insurrection that pitted anti-Maidan pro-Russian protesters against the government partisans who had grown out of Euromaidan, the protest movement of winter 2013–14. At the time, Kharkiv was the scene of violent clashes between these two groups (Melnyk 2014). The former were determined to storm the Regional State Administration to proclaim a separatist republic, while the latter, who mobilized in opposition to this project, were subjected to the violent acts of their adversaries. Kharkiv managed to resist, but, for better or worse, neighboring Donetsk and Luhansk slid into armed violence. The specter of war, which began to wreak havoc near Kharkiv that summer and threatened to impinge on their domestic sphere, scared these women; it tormented and affected them, by extension, when people close to them were mobilized and thrown onto the front lines. Without knowing quite how, they wanted to act in order to get a grip on their fears and daily worries. These fears, which are reflected in their descriptions of their immediate physical reactions (trembling, stomach in knots,


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blood running cold) in their accounts, gradually turned into more reflective reactions and even led the women to start taking action. These daily experiences at the beginning of the armed conflict were also connected to the volunteers’ life trajectories. They resonated with their status as women and with the affective characteristics that Ukrainian society assigns them (gentleness, love, solicitude, concern for others) and in which they recognize themselves as a result of their socialization (Hrytsak 2001). These experiences also merged with their professional lives, in terms of the manual or creative trades they exercised after earning an advanced technical certificate, completing advanced studies, or following educational paths that straddled the end of the USSR and early independence in 1991. Moreover, these challenges also intersected with their particular family configurations and marital status. Finally, for some of these women, they echoed their participation in the Euromaidan protests in Kharkiv— synonymous with intense experiences, inclusion in micro-groups, and, consequently, with new social connections (Shukan 2016). However, the lives of most of these women were characterized by inconspicuous, depoliticized citizenship, at a remove from voting and all other forms of civic engagement. Indeed, nothing about the women’s various socio-biographical features presaged their involvement in volunteer care; rather, they became activated in a situation of war. Consequently, this article will distinguish between the emotional, affective, and sentimental drivers of their engagement and its social, familial, and professional registers. But, irrespective of the individual volunteers’ reasons for acting, most of them were not consciously seeking this commitment. As Howard Becker underscores, all commitment is merely the result of “a series of acts, no one of which is crucial, but which, taken together, constitute for the actor a series of side bets of such magnitude that he finds himself unwilling to lose them” (Becker 2006, p. 188).


Emotional, Affective, and Sentimental Drivers of Volunteer Care

Emotional, affective, and sentimental registers underpin the involvement of the women in this group in helping sick and/or wounded soldiers. According to a classification of affective states developed in the sociology of social movements (Jasper 2011; Sommier 2015; Traïni 2017), the first category refers to reflective and reflexive emotions (fear, anger, shame, shock), the second to more stable, long-term effects (love of others, sympathy, attachment, respect), and, finally, the third category denotes social relationships characterized by affectivity and, above all, reciprocity (friendship, love).

Gender Roles in the Rear of the War in Donbas: Women’s Engagement in the Care. . .



Yaryna: Shock at the State of the Hospital Facilities

The volunteer career of Yaryna, the 39-year-old founder of Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv, is unique among the women in the group in that it grew out of her protest activities during the Euromaidan movement in Kharkiv. It was the Euromaidan protests that put this television director for the sketch-and-improvisation-comedy competition KVN (Klub veselykh i nakhodtchivykh) on the path to active citizenship. During winter 2013–14, alongside other pro-Europeans, she voiced her discontent at the base of the statue of Taras Shevchenko7 in the city of Kharkiv, which supported President Viktor Yanukovych unwaveringly. After Yanukovych fled, Yaryna was among those who, in spring 2014, opposed pushing the city into pro-Russian separatism. On March 1 and again on April 13, Yaryna narrowly escaped the attacks of the pro-Russian, anti-Maidan activists. It was at this point that she took charge of medically assisting wounded pro-Maidan protesters. In early May 2014, Yaryna visited two of the protesters who were being treated at the military hospital, which was just admitting the first wounded resulting from the anti-terrorist operation that Kiev had launched 2 weeks earlier in separatist Donbas. She was shocked by the desolation of the facilities and patients. The first time we met, in February 2015, Yaryna gave a particularly detailed description: “An absolute horror!” she exclaimed, before launching into a long list: “dilapidated and unequipped facilities; disintegrating carpeting in the operating room, which the nurses secured with scotch tape so they could push the stretchers; lack of materials and medication for operations and treatments; no diapers or hygiene items for the wounded . . . ”8 The young woman’s emotional shock, similar to the “moral shock” that produces indignation (Jasper 2011; Sommier 2015), soon gave way to action— all the faster since taking action was in line with her activities and social connections at the time. Yaryna launched calls for donations and solidarity on Facebook and dedicated herself to helping the wounded soldiers.


Yana, Natalia, Oksana: Concern for Wounded Strangers

Let us now focus on three other of the association’s six volunteers, whose paths to assisting the hospitalized soldiers were the result of more procedural emotional and affective dynamics and which took more circuitous routes. These women—Yana, a 37-year-old pop singer, Natalia, a 42-year-old freelance art restorer, and Oksana, a 53-year-old seamstress in a sewing shop—all emphasized a certain concern for the wounded when talking about their engagement. However, they also each pointed to different elements. Yana and Natalia’s interest in the wounded grew out of their earlier activism as protesters, both women having participated intermittently in Kharkiv’s Euromaidan movement. Even so—just like in the case of Oksana, who

7 8

A Ukrainian-language poet and iconic figure of the national revival in the nineteenth century. Field notes, February 2015.


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had no previous experience of engagement—it only took tangible form as a result of their concerns about the war, their solicitude during their initial contact with the wounded, and the attachments they developed at the military hospital. In mid-June 2014, Yana learned, through the Euromaidan Kharkiv online community, that the wounded soldiers were being treated at the military hospital in the middle of town. She decided to go there, managed to make her way upstairs, did a quick tour of the rooms, and distributed sweets and fruit. She was too disturbed by the facilities and their new “occupants” to dare strike up a conversation. After her visit, she offered to give a concert at the hospital, which then took place on July 2, 2014—a date etched in Yana’s memory because it completely changed her life. After her performance, Yana met three young wounded combatants, one bandaged from head to toe, the other two with broken legs. All three were being treated in room no. 8 of the trauma surgery division. The next day, Yana stopped by to see them and met two further bedridden patients. She subsequently returned again every day, offering food, assistance, and company. A strong bond formed between the young woman and these men. When they left the hospital, one after another, new wounded combatants took their place in room no. 8. Yana looked after these men as well, transferring her solicitude to any wounded soldier being treated at the hospital who had been assigned—by chance, based on the availability of beds—to this room. Over time, she extended her activities to other wounded men but always continued to take care of the patients in room no. 8. When the violence reached Kharkiv, in spring 2014, threatening to turn the city into another hotbed of pro-Russian separatism, Natalia fled west to Lviv with her 11-year-old son Vlas. She did not return to Kharkiv until late June, after the Ukrainian army had succeeded in pushing the front of the military operations back away from the city. While browsing a Euromaidan Kharkiv website, she came across a call to solidarity with the wounded soldiers. She and her son went to the military hospital to deliver some supplies and a little money. There, she met Yaryna, who immediately suggested she dedicate several hours to helping prepare the toiletry and personal-hygiene kits that the volunteers were now distributing to each new military patient. Natalia accepted and returned to the hospital, initially promising 2–3 h of service, always accompanied by her son, and subsequently becoming increasingly involved. In Oksana’s case, it was her businessman husband Vitaliy who got her involved. While she had watched the Euromaidan Revolution and the events of spring 2014 in Kharkiv from a distance, he had followed them with great interest, seeking out information on the Internet and sharing it with her, thereby contributing to her progressive politicization. Together, in April and May, they listened to the communications of Kharkiv’s pro-Russian anti-Maidan groups via the app Zello. “The projects they were fomenting for Kharkiv scared me,” Oksana recalls. “They scared me all the more since the conflict was becoming increasingly violent in Donetsk and the first fleeing civilians were arriving here. I had nightmares about it. Shortly before our first visit to the hospital, I dreamed that my building collapsed under the bombings. That was when I told Vitaliy that we couldn’t stay put here calmly anymore.” It was Vitaliy who found the information on Facebook about the

Gender Roles in the Rear of the War in Donbas: Women’s Engagement in the Care. . .


volunteers at the military hospital. In early July, they went there, together with their granddaughter Ioulia, who was 4-years-old at the time, to bring underwear, socks, food, and drinks. It was at the entrance to the hospital that Oksana came across several wounded men and cried at the sight of these damaged young bodies. When she went back to the hospital a second time and was asked if she would help out, she replied, “Yes.”


Nadia and Elena: Concern for Relatives Who Have Left for the Front

Sentimental drivers that fall within the scope of the registers of intimate friendship and romantic relationship, respectively, loom behind the engagement of Nadia, a 38-year-old interior architect and designer, and Elena, a 43-year-old jobseeker who had previously been active in the field of communication. In summer 2014, men from their close, personal circles left for the front. Taking care of wounded soldiers in the rear was the only way for them to have some contact with the military world— and to try to get a grip on their anxieties. It was their quest for this contact that drove them to approach the military hospital. Nadia explains her decision to devote herself to volunteer care as follows: “If I wanted to take care of wounded soldiers, it was to better understand the severe hardship a colleague and close friend of mine was going through at that very moment at the front. It was his first experience as a soldier. He was hardly prepared for it— even less so since he’s the type of person who’s shut up in his own inner bubble and disconnected from reality. And I was worried sick. The worrying ate away at my soul, making me imagine the worst scenarios happening to him. ..” To quash her anxiety, Nadia tried to join Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv. But the group did not have the proper logistical capacity to receive all the goodwill directed at it, and there was not enough room in its cramped, five-square-meter office, which was located at the entrance to the hospital at the time. So Nadia helped internally displaced persons instead. It was the first engagement for this woman, who had remained largely untouched by the big protests in 2004 and in winter 2013–14 and who had never voted before the presidential election in May 2014. Yet even as she helped forced migrants, Nadia continued to feel that she belonged in the military hospital. In the fall, she finally joined its team of volunteers. Elena’s story also shows how concern for a loved one caught in the machinery of war can transform into an act of engagement. Having kept her distance from the Euromaidan Revolution—in contrast to her active involvement as a young communications student in the Orange Revolution of 2004—Elena became increasingly concerned by events after the annexation of Crimea, especially in the face of the armed conflict. But it was above all her fortuitous encounter with a man, in spring 2014, that marked a change. A surgeon at the general hospital in Kharkiv, Serguey had been active as a doctor on Kiev’s Maidan square during the clashes between the protesters and police, and had subsequently committed to leaving for the front on a voluntary basis. The two forged a close relationship—a relationship that pushed


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Elena, whose anxiety for her beloved ate away at her, to search for her own place, simultaneously in the rear of the front lines and close to the world that Serguey had just joined. She considered going to the military hospital and, in late June, her intentions were realized when a girlfriend took her there with her. Elena offered to help the volunteers in their office and subsequently became involved in their activities on a more long-term basis. Her dedication was reinforced by a more selfinterested incentive when she realized that the volunteers helped not only the wounded but also soldiers deployed on the front.


The Nested Registers: Social, Familial, and Professional—of Engagement

While the women volunteers’ collective action grew out of their concern for men mobilized at the front, whether close to them or total strangers, it took shape according to the distinctive characteristics of their life trajectories. Their commitment to aiding the wounded is nested, first, in the processes of the socialization of girls, which, in Ukraine as elsewhere, focuses on sensitivity, self-effacing kindness, and self-sacrifice (Croity-Bezl et al. 2010) and which, consequently, produce affective dispositions. Indeed, the motivation of each of these women is situated squarely in a concern for others, which is associated with women’s work. Acting as providers of aid seems completely natural to them and perfectly consistent with what they believe to be their particular “dispositions” (love, gentleness, compassion) or character traits (concern for others), and even with the tasks (reproduction, childcare, meals, housekeeping) they accomplish daily in their domestic lives, parallel to their paid work. They seem to have internalized this gendered role so well that they themselves participate in justifying this link between women and care as being intrinsic. As Natalia explains, “It was unthinkable for me to join the army. I don’t know much about weapons. I can’t imagine myself in the trenches. I came to the hospital to do what I know how to do very well: care for, give attention to, help, and tend to others.”9 Even if, since beginning their volunteer work, several of these women have mentioned their desire to join the army, none of them have made the leap—in Natalia, Nadia, and Elena’s case because of their status as single mothers, in particular. In this way, the volunteers themselves also reproduce a gendered division of labor within their group. The few men who occasionally help them—25-year-old Anton and 55-year-old Iouri Vasil’evich—are entrusted with tasks suitable to the male role, such as buying things outside the hospital, carrying heavy packages, and transporting the wounded. Moreover, these women’s engagement is not an isolated act but is accomplished alongside people close to them (friends, husbands, parents), who help, encourage, 9

Ibid., July 2015.

Gender Roles in the Rear of the War in Donbas: Women’s Engagement in the Care. . .


and support them. Yaryna benefits from her mother’s support, her engagement taking on familial features in this respect: In May 2014, her mother helped her to prepare toiletry and personal-hygiene kits and transport them to the hospital since the group initially did not have its own space. Yaryna’s friend, Nazar, whom she met at one of the gatherings of Kharkiv Euromaidan and would marry a few months later, also started volunteering. A volunteer combatant of the Aidar Battalion, he supplied the soldiers deployed on the front and from 2014 to 2016 regularly shuttled back and forth between Kharkiv and the combat zones. The trajectories of the other volunteers confirm that those close to the women played a supporting and encouraging role on their path to engagement. For Oksana and Yana, both married, their respective husband’s attitude regarding their involvement seems to have been decisive—all the more so since, even though the women’s professional activities guaranteed them some degree of autonomy, they nonetheless remained materially dependent on their spouses, who were the main breadwinners. It was Oksana’s husband, Vitaliy, who took her to the military hospital for the first time and encouraged her in her desire to go back and get involved in helping the wounded. Above all, he provided her with the material conditions for her engagement. The couple agreed to an arrangement: While he would work to earn a living, she would volunteer full-time. They had already tried out a similar solution in the early 1990s, when Oksana, after completing her engineering studies, decided to dedicate herself to raising their daughter, resulting in a long period of professional inactivity. Today, their daughter is herself active, married, and a young mother. Yana’s situation is similar in this respect. Her husband, also a businessman, supports her engagement—provided that she does not neglect her domestic duties and her role as mother of a 9-year-old girl. This acceptance of volunteer work in Yana, Oksana, and Yaryna’s familial and sentimental universe undoubtedly reinforces their investment. Nadia and Elena, divorced single mothers—the former with two children aged 14 and 7 years, the latter with one 9-year-old child—also benefit from logistical and financial support from those close to them. Both women rely on their parents for childcare, which is even easier for Elena since she lives with them. They also receive childcare-support payments from their ex-husbands. Natalia’s situation is the most precarious in this respect, since she has no contact at all with the father of her 11-year-old son. These women’s professional situations also allow them to commit to volunteering. Since they work in creative professions (as a television director in Yaryna’s case, and as a designer/architect in Nadia’s) or are self-employed (as a freelance art restorer and pop singer, respectively, in Natalia and Yana’s cases), most of them have flexible working hours and can devote a few hours to volunteer care on top of their professional activities. Having dropped out of her doctoral studies in communication to raise her daughter, Elena is officially unemployed. Even though she helps her parents manage their communication company, she also has time to volunteer. Oksana is the only one who is compelled to give up her work as a seamstress in a private sewing shop since her long, mandatory working hours are incompatible with any other investment of her time. Finally, except for Yaryna, who


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is an active member of Euromaidan Kharkiv, none of the women belong to a militant group or to an association; as such, they are all available to volunteer. Yet Nadia and Elena were the only ones who intentionally sought out this particular type of engagement.

3 Caregiving Practices with Affective and Social Repercussions The considerate and warm caregiving practices developed by the women of Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv foster very close and affectionate relationships at the military hospital. These relationships, which exist within the group of volunteers but also connect them to certain patients, are even stronger since they are offset less and less by social connections outside the military hospital. The words, gestures, and actions performed by these women as part of their caregiving also produce various forms of affective and social recognition, which help them continue to carry out their activities and overcome various trials, including temporary discouragement, moral and physical exhaustion, and the temptation to quit. When, in summer 2014, these women set off down the path leading to the hospital—to gather information, help out, or accompany someone close to them—none of them ever could have imagined that they would stay for so long.


Attachments and Social Connections at the Military Hospital

The sociology of care relationships, as well as philosophical and sociological analyses of the ethics of care, emphasizes the relational and affective dimension of the latter and of its actions. According to Patricia Paperman, care “(re)attaches [us] to various others, whether individuals, groups, or more or less extensive communities” (Paperman 2013, p. 56). It “brings together” people, in the sense of erasing the physical distance to the body that the caregiver is close to, assisting, or caring for. It also creates attachments through mutual compassion, solicitude, and affection. At the military hospital in Kharkiv, it is above all concern for the wounded that brings the volunteers together and even integrates them into close circles that extend to other volunteer initiatives. It also creates special relationships between these providers of aid and the hospitalized soldiers, who, through random assignment, find themselves under their tutelage and whom these women refer to as “protégés” (podopetchny).

Gender Roles in the Rear of the War in Donbas: Women’s Engagement in the Care. . .



Very Close Bonds Within the Micro-Group of Volunteers

Their daily interactions at the hospital create strong bonds between the members of Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv. Long working hours involve intense periods of concern for the soldiers in their care that are shared by these women. There is also communality in their countless gestures of aid and assistance, and in their moments of deep anguish when faced with the situation at the front or with lack of news from one of their former protégés who has rejoined the ranks. There are also tears of sorrow when bad news is announced, and moments of tremendous joy when one of the wounded, at the point of death and in intensive care, rallies. Finally, there are simply moments of sociability, when the women catch up on each other’s, their families’, and their children’s news, discuss current affairs, or just chat about everything and nothing. Those who are not present on site can also share these concerns and emotions thanks to a discussion group on Facebook Messenger affectionately called “Lioubimki” (Dears). Day-to-day business is taken care of via this messaging service, including the distribution of office hours, communication of information regarding the assistance required (blending meals, distributing water bottles or yogurt, providing various gestures of aid), and the ordering of medical equipment or instruments. Organizing recreational activities for the hospitalized also fosters these very close ties. With permission from the doctors, several of these women together accompany the most severely wounded patients, who have been in curative care for months, to concerts or picnics to break up the hospital routine. These close bonds are reinforced even more by the fact that volunteering weakens social relationships that predate the armed conflict. The women’s engagement also leads them to withdraw increasingly into the group responsible for generating their new identity as providers of care, which further intensifies their dependence on it. Lack of understanding on the part of old acquaintances or friends regarding their involvement in aiding wounded soldiers, or these same people’s inaction in the face of the war, creates distance in these relationships and even causes them to drift apart. Nadia recalls: In fall 2014, when I’d leave the military hospital, the people around me were living normal lives. They acted like nothing was happening, as if the war was nothing but a bad dream. Whereas I was surrounded by wounded, sick, or maimed bodies—and that was all I thought about. I didn’t know how to talk to my friends who didn’t feel concerned by it. It was only then that I understood what it means to “not be understood.” At the hospital, some of the soldiers told us, “Girls, you don’t understand! It’s because you haven’t experienced war, bombings, fear, the rush of adrenaline.” In fact, we didn’t understand everything; but we ourselves also found ourselves facing a wall of incomprehension.10

The volunteers really do withdraw into themselves. What little contact they have with people outside the group is often with members of other charitable initiatives:


Ibid., May 2015.


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Station Kharkiv, which assists internally displaced persons, Southern Post, which helps soldiers in transit at the city’s main train station, and Help Army, which provides the army with logistical assistance. In addition, the women of Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv are also in contact with volunteers who work in other hospitals all across Ukraine. It is these women, who, like them, are also involved in care, who form their new social circle.


Special Affective Relationships with the Wounded

The aid and support services provided daily, as well as frequent interpersonal contact, abolish the distance between the volunteer caregivers and military patients, especially in the case of seriously injured and/or immobilized patients who undergo multiple surgeries and receive curative treatment in Kharkiv over extended periods of time. These close bonds are fostered, first and foremost, by the volunteers’ monitoring of the hospitalized and their needs during their daily rounds of the rooms. These rounds are, among other things, an opportunity to identify the most seriously wounded among the amputees, burn victims, immobilized post-operative patients, and those with severe facial injuries. Later in the day, the volunteers go back to see them again. After asking a simple “Everything ok?,” they follow up with personal questions about each patient’s specific condition or with various low-skill gestures of assistance, which they carry out with strict respect for the health-care providers’ monopoly on medical procedures. The volunteers help the hospitalized manage their daily lives, which have been altered by wounds or disease, sometimes replacing the nursing assistants, who are few in number and overstretched.11 They come to the rescue of immobilized patients struggling to attend to their personal hygiene or to wash themselves. They also help them shift their position in bed, get up, or move around. They feed those who are temporarily unable to do so themselves. Sometimes they even help change wounded patients who are hooked up to tubes or catheters or fitted with prostheses, attempting in the process to dispel any shame these men might feel in front of a female caregiver. “A penis and naked buttocks! Believe me, I’ve seen my share!” exclaims Nadia, placing her gestures in the intimate sphere.12 Moral support for the hospitalized soldiers—being present, paying attention to them, listening, offering therapeutic or comforting words, being available to answer questions—also contributes to creating very close affective ties. The volunteers regularly pass through the rooms, taking the time to listen to each patient’s stories, have a conversation, joke around, or share personal anecdotes. They see the wounded entirely as unique individuals and express their concern for each of

11 On average, there are only two nursing assistants per division: one for every twenty patients. They carry out many wide-ranging tasks, from cleaning the facilities to assisting patients. 12 Field notes, October 2015.

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them—whereas professional detachment would have them view these men in terms of objective characteristics (age group, disability type, etc.) and avoid falling into the “traps” of empathy and compassion (Goffman 1968, pp. 129–30; Vega 2000, pp. 193–201). The volunteers also smile, boost morale, and offer words of reassurance and encouragement, such as “You’re getting there!” or “Hang in there!” They choose each word carefully to avoid sounding fake. “I never wish my ‘boys’ who’ve had limbs amputated and are hooked up to devices and surrounded by prostheses a ‘speedy recovery,’” reports Nadia. “They’re not sick, they’re just in retraining and rehabilitation.”13 The relationships of trust that are established as a result of these interactions are further reinforced when the volunteers accompany the wounded men in wheelchairs outside for some fresh air, or when they take them to a performance outside the hospital to pull them out of themselves and their misery. Affective relationships are also fostered in the volunteers’ office. Indeed, the volunteers’ warm welcome in this cramped room and their ability to find solutions to every problem makes it a very popular place to go to for assistance and social ties. The office attracts the wounded like a magnet. Shortly before it opens, a line forms outside its closed doors. People also wait there at all other hours of the day to have coffee or tea, grab some cookies or cigarettes, ask for soap and a towel, or get a hold of some civilian clothing on their way to rejoining the ranks or transferring to another care facility. Finally, the volunteers act as intermediaries in the wounded men’s extremely limited dealings with the outside world. Strict regulations regarding the movement of patients prohibit them from leaving the hospital to go into the city. Every morning, the volunteers gather their requests, which include withdrawing money from the bank, buying a carton of cigarettes or an accessory for a cell phone, depositing money in a cell phone account, and sending a package home. The volunteers bundle these requests so they can take care of them in the afternoon or, if they do not have enough time, delegate them to the men in their group. The soldiers stuck in the hospital are especially appreciative of these services, which generate boundless gratitude.


The Social Value of Aiding the Wounded

The women volunteers’ various particularly considerate gestures of assistance make the sick and wounded men feel appreciated, loved, and supported. In return, the soldiers cared for in this way focus their affection and gratitude on these women, whose activities thus become “their own reward” (Sawicki and Siméant 2009,


Ibid., July 2016.


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p. 7).14 To begin with, there are countless exclamations of “Thank you, girls!” throughout the day and “May the Lord bless and keep you!”, which the wounded or their loved ones address to the volunteers when they leave the hospital. Small gifts are also offered: a good luck charm in the form of a cartridge case, or a poem written for a volunteer as an expression of gratitude.15 There are also offers to lend a hand, in keeping with gendered representations of the type of help men can provide (like carrying heavy bags with donated material, unloading a delivery of ice or water, or moving boxes in the office). The volunteers also derive tremendous satisfaction from seeing their protégés smile again and recover from a wound or illness. “When I walk into a room, I ask the boys, ‘How’s it going?’ to start a conversation,” Elena explains. “I keep chatting with them and, after a few minutes, I see smiles light up their faces, which had been gloomy just moments before. That’s when I feel like our presence here has a purpose and ramifications. I feel incredible joy every time. After these experiences, there’s no way I can give it all up.”16 Nadia seconds her colleague: “Some days, I get up feeling completely broken, totally drained of energy. I drag myself to the hospital. And, there, everything changes. I feed off the positive energy by helping one guy move, another cling to life. These feelings fill me, they nourish me.”17 The bond between the volunteers and the wounded is not limited to a simple relationship of aid, but also creates tremendous closeness that extends beyond the patients’ hospital stay, in the form of friendship, phone calls, and occasional reunions. For Nadia, this bond even resulted in marriage to one of her former protégés, Volodya, a contract soldier, and the birth of her third child in April 2018. The volunteers also draw on these various types of feedback to give (back) meaning to their engagement. As Elena’s account shows, it gives them a feeling of social usefulness and of being capable of acting—which is all the more important as the war persists, drags on, and continues to claim new victims. This feeling of the usefulness—the value, even—of their engagement is confirmed in particular by the rewarding image and significant legitimacy that volunteering enjoys in Ukrainian society: In December 2018, almost 63% of respondents claimed to trust volunteers.18 Finally, social recognition of the women volunteers’ actions contributes to an implicit valorization of domestic work—which is usually not very visible since it is relegated to the private sphere—beyond their family circles. These various types of feedback also elicit in these women a sense of responsibility for the wounded soldiers, especially the most vulnerable and fragile—an The authors refer to the “fast breeder reactor” side of commitment analyzed by Albert O. Hirschman (Hirschman 1970). 15 Field notes, July 2015. 16 Ibid., October 2016. 17 Ibid., January 2017. 18 In December 2015 and December 2016, these percentages were, respectively, 67 and 65%. Survey “Dovira Socialnym Instytutam 2018” (Trust in Social Institutions 2018), Kiev International Institute of Sociology, January 29, 2019,¼ukr&cat¼reports& id¼817&page¼2 (Accessed 12 June 2019). 14

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overwhelming sense of responsibility that makes them feel like they must be there under any circumstances to help, support, and comfort. “In the evening, on my way home, I feel physically exhausted,” Nadia continues. “The next morning, when I wake up, I remember that this one guy was supposed to come see me, that I’ve promised this other guy I’d help him, and that a third one asked me to buy something for him. And I force myself to get up and go back to the hospital, again and again.” This sense of responsibility also causes the volunteers to neglect their personal time, their time for themselves, as well as their health. Even when they have a fever or are sick, they all show up at the hospital, arguing that, “There’s no one else to take over, and the boys need help!” The various upshots of their activities even drive the women of Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv to act on their desire to give more and invest even more of themselves in the relationships of aid and care—as if they were emotionally dependent on them. Just like caregivers in other health-care systems (Causse 2008, pp. 85–105), they struggle to challenge the tendency to become attached, to mark a separation from those they aid. Instead, they devote even more time to the hospital and its patients, further expanding the scope of their sense of responsibility for them. The volunteers eject their family members—spouses or children—from positions they previously held. They get them involved in the care they provide, erasing the boundaries between their volunteer and private life. Nadia refused to follow her new husband to the site of his contractual service in southern Ukraine so that she could continue her volunteer activities in Kharkiv. Oksana’s husband, Vitaliy regularly works alongside her at the hospital. Their 6-year-old granddaughter, Ioulia, also accompanies her grandmother there. The children of Yana, Natalia, Elena, and Nadia, who range from seven to 14-years-old, keep office hours alongside their mothers. For these women, volunteering thus brings about a progressive shift between their friendship, affective, occupational, and even familial spheres, thereby increasing the intensity of their engagement along with the likelihood that they will remain mobilized for as long as the war continues.

4 A Professional Life Divided Between the Professionalization of Their Actions and Financial Marginalization Their commitment to assisting wounded soldiers has a significant impact on the professional lives of the women of Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv. This involvement, which is associated with the acquisition of knowledge and know-how comparable to expert skills in the hospital world (Vega 2000; Arborio 2012), actively contributes to professionalizing their actions. However, despite this, the volunteer care these women have been providing for 4 years still has not become a profession, in the sense of being their main—and above all, paid—occupation. Rather, over


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time, it has caused loss of employment and more or less significant financial marginalization.


Gradual Acquisition of Professional Know-How

The volunteers’ involvement in caregiving expands their technical skills in the area of sick and wounded bodies, as well as in medical care. Coming from creative or manual professions, these women have not had any prior specialized training, even though some of what they do as volunteers involves performing assistance techniques and even special handling techniques to avoid harming the wounded and to respect their dignity. In this regard, the volunteers are on a par with nursing assistants, who do not need any particular qualification in Ukraine. The volunteers’ very first gestures of care, aid, or attention were often guided by intuition. Through repeated experience—but also thanks to relevant information found on the Internet or discussed with the other caregivers—their amateur caregiving skills have advanced to include more elaborate care techniques, including choosing the least painful positions, preventing the risk of bedsores, and determining an appropriate diet. Today, they are skilled, self-taught caregivers. “It’s as though we’ve been doing nothing else for three years but watching and taking notes on episodes of the medical TV series ‘Doctor House,’” jokes Nadia. Elena is the only one of them who has had paramedical training, in 2015, first as part of the ultranationalist group Right Sector Kharkiv, then at the city’s Institute of Medicine, where she earned a professional qualification certificate in tactical medicine. The volunteers have also learned to read prescriptions, and they explain diagnoses and treatments, especially when doctors are not very forthcoming about them. In a confident tone, Natalia thus explains surgical debridement to an amputee, trying to reassure him with her grasp of the stages of scarring: “Don’t worry. It’s normal to have several more local surgeries after an amputation to remove infected or dead tissue and to create an environment conducive to scarring.”19 By accompanying amputated individuals on their hospital journeys, Nadia has developed extensive skills in caring for prosthetics and medical implants. She explains the difference between artificial joints, the external or internal fixation of implants in orthopedic trauma, and vertebral implants, and dispenses quasi-professional advice regarding the best suppliers of these medical devices.20 The volunteers have also developed quasi-professional work norms and practices, inspired by respect for and the desire not to offend the dignity of others. These prescriptions include, first and foremost, the imperative not to embarrass by avoiding any invasion of personal space and by putting patients at ease in situations that, outside the hospital, could be considered sensitive or offensive to their modesty. The

19 20

Field notes, October 2016. Ibid., October 2016.

Gender Roles in the Rear of the War in Donbas: Women’s Engagement in the Care. . .


women volunteers thus strive to erase the gender difference between the caregiving women and cared-for men in order to establish a relationship on equal footing, or maternal in character. They utter the phrase, “We’re not women, we’re volunteers” during their rounds of the rooms, when wounded patients find themselves losing control over their bodies in front of them or sharing intimate things with them, such as help going to the bathroom or changing diapers, placing or removing bedpans, or finding underpants that are tied with laces (for when the top of a leg is locked into an external fixation device). The women also repeat this phrase at the office, when soldiers ask them for toilet paper or a change of underpants, or when the men take off their pajamas to try on civilian clothing when being discharged, which challenges their sense of modesty. Despite this denial of gender differences, the relationships between the volunteer women and wounded men are not asexual. The absence of women in the trenches (Martsenyuk 2016) makes these men do everything to attract the volunteers’ attention and to win their favor. Games of compliments and even of seduction are common in the office and during monitoring rounds. And, despite the lack of time and money, the women strive to meet an ideal of stereotypical femininity, according to which Ukrainian women are expected to be always well groomed, nicely turned out, and seductive in the eyes of men. The rules developed on the job also dictate that these war-wounded, who necessarily have an altered image of themselves, should never be made to feel deficient, disabled, or inferior. “The best way to help them grieve is to convey to them that they are alive, whole, independent, and loved,” Yaryna explains.21 “It’s unbearable to look at these young bodies crushed in the meat grinder of war,” admits Nadia. “Unbearable to see the stump of a young amputee. But, above all, don’t pity them. You have to take these young bodies as they are. We show those concerned that, amputated arm or leg or not, they still have their personality, even when they themselves are still in denial of reality. We try to shatter their stereotypes about this issue, to push back for them the limits of what’s possible with their new body and, in this way, to make up for the lack of disability culture in Ukraine.”22 To this end, Nadia regularly organizes meetings between recent and long-standing amputees in order to help the former change how they view their amputation.23 Finally, these women strive to hide their emotions when they come into contact with these mangled bodies, to avoid betraying pity (whether pained or compassionate) in the face of seriously wounded patients or those in life-threatening conditions, horror at the sight of mutilated or amputated bodies, or disgust when carrying out various gestures of aid. They act as if nothing were the matter, even if every one of them remembers her reaction of shock, disgust, and even fear the very first time she came into contact with these bodies. Yet the volunteers struggle to distance themselves from their experiences at the hospital, to depersonalize their actions in favor of


Ibid., May 2015. Ibid., October 2016. 23 Ibid., February 2019. 22


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a more technical and medical approach to care, and, finally, to keep their emotions in check. Therein lies one of the great limits of their professionalization. These women regularly find themselves crying their eyes out when they hear that one of their protégés has died or when there is not enough money to pay for a medication, implant, or equipment that could save lives.24 “I try not to get too attached,” explains Elena, “not to get into the personal stories of each wounded patient, not to listen to them, not to record them all in my head. I try to protect myself from them. There are thousands of stories of courage, sacrifice, grief, and pain. It’s impossible to stay emotionally balanced under these conditions.”25 Oksana seconds her colleague in this regard, even as she offers her own lesson in detachment: “It’s so hard to say goodbye to our boys when they rejoin their units. I try to not look at the faces of those who come into the office anymore. I just look at their figures so I can find the right size T-shirt or pants for them. I recognize them by their figures. It’s easier to say goodbye to a figure.”26 But every new separation from someone they feel close to puts these mechanisms of psychological protection to the test.


Great Professional and Financial Precariousness

The significant availability of the members of Sisters of Mercy, which is related to the professions they exercise, initially allowed them to combine their professional and volunteer activities. However, their increasingly significant and time-consuming involvement in helping the wounded gradually turned their volunteer work into a quasi-professional—albeit still unpaid—full-time job. Inevitably, this involvement also entailed losing their actual jobs, within a more or less short period of time, and serious financial difficulties. In this respect, the volunteers’ lives are divided into “before,” when they could afford frivolous expenditures (perfume, brand-name cosmetics, new outfits, etc.), and “after,” when they had to start cutting back. Oksana was the first of the women to quit her job as a seamstress in a sewing shop after three months of volunteering. Her former employer kept her position open for her for over a year but eventually understood that she was not coming back. “I lost the know-how necessary to return to my job,” Oksana laments. Starting in summer 2015, Yana reduced her concert tours to a strict minimum. Nadia continued to juggle, for almost a year and a half, her work at an architectural firm with her shifts at the military hospital and institute of prosthetic surgery. She was spending less and less time at work, and was often late completing assignments or attending professional meetings. Finally, in fall 2015, she quit her job to become self-employed. Since then, she has only worked with a few clients


Ibid., October 2015. Ibid., October 2016. 26 Ibid., May 2016. 25

Gender Roles in the Rear of the War in Donbas: Women’s Engagement in the Care. . .


upon request, “just to have enough to make ends meet,” she explains. “I don’t have either the time or desire to do more.” Natalia, a single mother, gave up her work as an art restorer in fall 2015 to dedicate herself entirely to caring for the wounded. Putting her job on hold felt all the more necessary since the core group of volunteers had shrunk with time, forcing each remaining woman to spend more time at the hospital. However, six months later, financial pressure forced her to go back to work and reduce her involvement as a volunteer. In February 2019, she even chose the option of work-related immigration, leaving for Poland for six months. As for Yaryna, after quitting her job with KVN in fall 2013, she earned some income from an informal job as an assistant at the bailiff’s office managed by her mother.

5 Conclusion This analysis, which combines the sociology of engagement and the sociology of care relationships and is supported by a very close ethnographic observation of the volunteers of Sisters of Mercy ATO/Kharkiv and their practices, allows us to understand the role of volunteer caregiver assumed by these women at the military hospital in Kharkiv. This approach also contributes to a better understanding of the effects of their collective action, which has tangible and immediate results, and, beyond that, of the war in Donbas on their life trajectories and on their status as women in Ukrainian society. By connecting individual trajectories, primary groups, and social structures and contexts, our analysis shows, first and foremost, that these women’s investment in this gendered role is the result of a unique convergence of their daily, emotional, affective, and sentimental experiences on the home front of the war (shock, fear, worry, concern for others, love) and their socio-biographical characteristics (internalized affective dispositions; matrimonial, family, and professional situations). Based on their prior socialization, this role seems so natural to these women that they themselves participate in propagating the notion that the link between women and caregiving is intrinsic. An examination of the amateur caregiving skills that result from this engagement, as well as its relational and affective dimensions, underscores the attachments that are forged in the process of this caregiving—between the aid providers, but, above all, between them and those they serve. The affective intensity of working together, the sense of social value that it provides, and the way their daily volunteering comes to overlap with their social, romantic, and familial circles, makes it difficult for these women to imagine demobilizing as long as the conflict in their country has not been completely extinguished. Furthermore, the volunteers’ involvement in helping hospitalized soldiers contributes to their professional socialization, enabling them to develop quasiprofessional caregiving techniques (with the exception of detachment from those


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under their care), even as, paradoxically, it marginalizes these women at the professional and financial level and, in this respect, compromises their everyday lives. Finally, their volunteer work on behalf of wounded soldiers reveals a new form of citizenship experienced by these women in a time of war—citizenship that is focused on life maintenance and is confined to the private sphere but that contributes, through its daily actions and gestures, to redefining the scope of responsibility of the state and of its ordinary citizens in the medical care of soldiers. It is a form of citizenship that socially values the roles of women in the rear even as it confines these Ukrainian women to traditional domestic duties and, in this respect, only marginally changes gender relations in Ukraine.

References Arborio A-M (2012) Un personnel invisible. Les aides-soignantes à l’hôpital, 2nd edn. Economica, Paris Avril C (2014) Les aides à domicile, un autre monde populaire. La Dispute, Paris Becker H (2006) Notes sur le concept d’engagement. Tracés. Revue de Sciences humaines Braybon G (2012) Women workers in the First World War. Routledge, London Bucaille L (2013) Femmes combattantes. Critique Internationale 60:192 Capdevila L, Rouquet F, Virgili F (2003) Hommes et femmes dans la France en guerre, 1914–1945. Éditions Payot, Lausanne Causse L (2008) Les formes d’engagement des aides-soignantes dans les relations d’aide: Des mouvements d’amour contradictoires et réversibles. Nouvelle revue de psychologie 6:85–105 Croity-Belz S, Prêteur Y, Rouyer V (2010) Genre et socialisation de l’enfance à l’âge adulte. ERES, Toulouse, France Eliasoph N (2010) L’évitement du politique. Comment les Américains produisent l’apathie dans la vie quotidienne. Economica, Paris Eliasoph N (2013) The politics of volunteering. Polity Press, Malden, MA Facebook (n.d.) Sistermercikharkivukrain. Accessed 1 Dec 2019 Ferran-Bechmann D (2000) Le métier de bénévole. Anthropos, Paris Gilligan C (1986) In a different voice - psychological theory and women’s development. Cambridge et Londres : Harvard University Press, 1993. [En français :Une si grande différence (traduction de A. Kwiatek). Paris, Flammarion] Goffman E (1968) Asiles. Étude sur la condition sociale des malades mentaux. Éditions de Minuit, Paris Goldstein JS (2001) War and gender: how gender shapes the war system and vice versa. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Hirschman AO (1970) Exit, voice, and loyalty: responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA Hrytsak A (2001) The dilemmas of civic revival: Ukrainian women since independence. J Ukr Stud 26(1–2):135–158 Jasper JM (2011) Emotions and social movements: twenty years of theory and research. Annu Rev Sociol 37:285–303 Krylova A (2010) Soviet women in combat. A history of violence on the Eastern front. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Lekhan V, Rudiy V, Richardson E (2010) Ukraine: health system review. Health Syst Transit 12 (8):1–183

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Martsenyuk T (2016) Invisible battalion: women’s participation in ATO military operations. www. Accessed 8 Jan 2018 Melnyk O (2014) From the Russian Spring to the armed insurrection. https://www.danyliwseminar. com/oleksandr-melnyk. Accessed 8 Jan 2018 Moser C, Clark F (2001) Victims, perpetrators or actors? Gender, armed conflict and political violence. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke Nahoum-Grappe V, Allen B (1996) Rape warfare: the hidden genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN Paperman P (2013) Care et sentiments. PUF, Paris Paperman P, Laugier S (eds) (2011) Le souci des autres. Ethiques et politique du care, 2nd edn. Éditions de l’EHESS, Paris Ponomarenko I (2019) United Nations: 13,000 killed, 30,000 injured in Donbas since 2014. KyivPost, January 22 Sawicki F, Siméant J (2009) Décloisonner la sociologie de l’engagement. Note critique sur quelques tendances récentes des travaux. Sociologie du travail 51(1):97–125 Schultz JE (2004) Women at the front. Hospital workers in Civil War America. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC Shukan I (2016) Génération Maïdan. Vivre la crise ukrainienne Tour d’Aigues: Éditions de l’Aube Sommier I (2015) Sentiments, affects et émotions dans l’engagement à haut risqué. Terrains et Théories 2. Thébaud F (2013) Les femmes au temps de la guerre de 14. Éditions Payot & Rivages, Paris Traïni C (ed) (2009) Emotions. . . Mobilisations! Presses de Sciences Po, Paris Traïni C (2017) Registres émotionnels et processus politiques. Raisons politiques 65:15–29 Vega A (2000) Une ethnologue à l’hôpital. L’ambiguïté du quotidien infirmier. Éditions des archives contemporaines, Paris Virgili F (2001) La France “virile”. Des femmes tondues à la Libération, Paris, Éditions Payot & Rivages Virgili F (2014) Special issue ‘gendered laws of war’. Clio Women Gender Hist 39. 10.4000/cliowgh.435

Russian Vicious Circles: The Facebook Flash Mob #яНеБоюсьСказать, Biopolitics, and Rape Culture Elena Korowin

While we recognize the natural right of man over a woman, we have to recognize the innate right of the state over our bodies: the right of the power to falsify elections, the right of policemen to beat up and torture detainees, the right of the courts to make unjust sentences, the right of Russia to take away Crimea from the Ukraine and to unabashedly bomb Syrian cities for the satisfaction of geopolitical ambitions Medvedev (2016)

This chapter addresses a Facebook flash mob that was started by a Ukrainian journalist and spread to Russia and Belarus like wildfire. It unexpectedly became a major topic in the media, spawning public, mass-scale discussions about sexual violence for the first time in these countries. Here, the focus will be on Russia, the reception of the flash mob, and its contact with the violent Russian matrix, which is based on the “culture of silence” described by Paulo Freire (1985). In this chapter, I argue that the Facebook flash mob is a symptom of the diseased body of Russian society and shows the depth of the roots of patriarchal rule over human rights. The social activist, journalist, and director of the organization Studena, Anastasia Melnichenko, began the flash mob by posting her story of sexual abuse on Facebook on July 5, 2016. She appealed to women to break their silence and write about their personal stories of sexual abuse, violence, or rape on her Facebook page. “I want us—women—to speak today,” she wrote in a post detailing her experiences of harassment. “We do not have to make excuses. We are not to blame. Blame always lies with the rapist”. In an interview on July 8, 2016, Melnichenko said she had the idea to start this campaign after reading an article about a case in which a rape victim was blamed for the crime committed against her—a common occurrence in post-

All translations in this chapter are by the author. E. Korowin (*) University of Freiburg, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



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Soviet space (Melnichenko 2016). The Facebook post spawned a mass divulgence in the Ukraine followed by countless stories from Russian and Belarusian victims as well. This flash mob became one of the largest forums for victims of sexual abuse and violence in the history of these countries. Around 24,000 people shared their personal stories in the feed within 2 months; they were emotionally touching, often shocking, and very moving to readers. It was not the first story shared by Melnichenko that touched the network so deeply but all those that followed in an avalanche effect; with each story, more and more people were reached and inspired to participate. These countless stories made it painfully clear that sexual abuse and harassment were common occurrences in public space and at work and were particularly prevalent at home, within the family, and in social circles, among acquaintances. For many women posting on Facebook, it was the first time they had spoken about their ordeals, and in so doing, it gave them hope—a chance to be able to change perceptions of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence. A major topic of discussion was that in Russian and Ukrainian societies, there is still no culture of talking about violence against women; it is a taboo subject, and people who dare address it are stigmatized. The same is true for sexual harassment. The title alone, #яНеБоюсьСказать/#яНеБоюсьСказати (I Am Not Afraid to Tell), opened the floodgates of change. It provided a platform for all these narratives and thousands of them appeared on Facebook. The posts were manifold, from attempts of sexual harassment to domestic violence to serious child abuse. It would be worth analyzing the narrative structures of those posts, especially since many skeptical commenters were convinced that many of the stories were fictitious, written by women merely seeking attention on social media.

1 Posting the Powerlessness The idea of powerlessness goes back to Marx’s descriptions of the exploitation of the lower class by the ruling class. Educational philosopher Paulo Freire expanded upon this by arguing that powerlessness is the strongest form of oppression because not only does it enable the more powerful to oppress others but also provides the means for the exploited to oppress themselves through indoctrination (Freire 1985). Looking at systematic Soviet propaganda, we know that many people were so thoroughly indoctrinated and intimidated that more direct forms of oppression were not even employed. Freire sees this as the mindset of a culture of silence that weakens oppressed subjects to such an extent that they are unable to even articulate their oppression. Subsequently, this situation creates a culture in which it is taboo to talk about injustice, and the oppressed are silenced. There are different levels of silencing: When the oppressed are conscious of their situation but have no possibility to speak up, their silence remains on the surface of society. A deeper level of silencing occurs when indoctrination convinces the oppressed of their own natural inferiority, normalizing it as just a fact of life (Young 2005).

Russian Vicious Circles: The Facebook Flash Mob #яНеБоюсьСказать, Biopolitics,. . .


In Russia, the so-called inferiority of women, homosexuals, and other marginalized groups is thought to be a product of biology. Whether substantiated on the radio, television, or Internet, women are shown how to behave and how to display their inferiority in order to be more attractive to men. Ubiquitous advertising is highly sexualized and sexist in Russia, portraying women as the beautiful adornment for all kinds of products, implying that a man can practically buy women by purchasing a specific product. A very dangerous kind of subliminal indoctrination occurs on the Internet, television, radio, and in books and magazines where numerous life coaches give advice and develop rules for women about how to be beautiful, successful, and attractive in a man’s world. According to Freire, the main power of silencing and indoctrination is to give the oppressed a negative image of themselves: The negative perception becomes a fact and is consequently internalized until it becomes part of the belief system of the oppressed. Ultimately, the oppressed are no longer forced to be silent anymore—they themselves choose to be. The culture of silence is one of the main instruments of patriarchal societies like Russia. To fight against this vicious cycle, members of this society need to first achieve awareness and understanding of the problem, which can only happen through reflection and the possibility to speak out. Freire terms the development of increasing critical consciousness “conscientization.” When we return to sexualized violence, domestic abuse, or sexual harassment, conscientization is paralyzed by the shame of the victims. According to cultural critic Mithu M. Sanyal, a rape victim’s shame is not an automatic reflex but a highly complex emotion that is culturally learned (Sanyal 2016, p. 76). A cultural historical reading of rape argues that it implied the collapse of a certain societal order because the woman’s social position was questioned, but in the course of the twentieth century, the conflict shifted inward. Rape became an attack on the woman’s sexual identity. Historian Joanna Bourke describes the shift from a social to a psychological discourse, focusing on the body as a marker of identity and a place of truth (Bourke 2007, p. 425). Consequently, there is only one reaction society expects from a victim: a complete breakdown. But the reality is much more complex, and this was made evident by the Facebook flash mob that recounted not only prominent and striking cases of violence against women but also countless abuses affecting far more people than originally assumed. In Russia’s culture of silence, public discussions about sexual abuse or harassment were only possible as news items reported in newspapers, on television, on the radio, and on the Internet. The emotional indignation and controversy that follow scandals comprise an important aspect of these kinds of public media display. Highly emotional in nature, reports on serious abuse and brutal sexual violence that sometimes result in the victim’s death boost newspaper and magazine sales or earn clicks on the Internet. Characteristic of all of these stories is the idea that these are exceptional cases committed by psychotic killers and other mentally disturbed people. Allan G. Johnson explains that in patriarchal societies, publicizing the success of women in higher economic positions creates an illusion of fundamental change, but the actual presence of women in these kinds of positions continues to be generally rare (Johnson 2005, pp. 16–17). By comparing the media’s coverage of


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abuse and rape stories to that of women’s success stories, one may conclude that even positive stories are presented as abnormalities. But the thousands of stories about abuse and harassment told by women on a Facebook feed provided clear evidence against the idea that such cases were abnormal. The fact that sexualized violence, abuse, and harassment happens everywhere, all the time, and on all levels of society seemed to be a revelation to the Russian public based on the comments in the feed and media coverage. But this was not the primary reason this flash mob gained so much attention, since Russia has the largest record of violence against women on the European continent (Johnson 2009). According to the media and official statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 600,000 women in Russia are victims of domestic violence annually (Henden 2016). However, the statistics regarding sexualized violence are very different: In 2016, The National Independent Commission for Women’s Rights declared that 30,000–50,000 women suffer sexual abuse each year in Russia (StarHit 2016). Officially, 22% of all women have experienced sexual abuse, but of course one can only imagine the multitude of cases that have gone unreported (Groysman 2016). Despite such official statistics and the pervasive fear women have of going out alone after dark, walking down empty streets, or encountering other potentially dangerous situations, this social media flash mob had a very deep impact on people’s minds, or so it seemed in the beginning. In #яНеБоюсьСказать, the corpus of narrative elements consisted of personal stories by platform users. Inside a social network, users are no longer anonymous or solitary: Each user posting or commenting theoretically brings their entire network into the discussion. This has two direct consequences: First, the frequency with which the posts are read grows steadily as the platform allows reposting, commenting, sharing, and liking. The flash mob became larger, and at the same time users could see stories from people they knew in real life including close friends, family members, and acquaintances— suddenly the narratives became less abstract and more familiar. Consternation was expressed in numerous comments, revealing that many readers could not comprehend the pervasiveness of violence against the women in their social circles. For example, Artyom Loskutov, a Russian artist, wrote: “All this darkness turns out to be much closer than we believe. I really did not expect that so many people I know—women and girls—have been victims of violence and harassment, many from a very young age. It is hard to imagine how anyone can live in silence with this kind of trauma” (Melnichenko 2016). Within a few days, some prominent Russian women joined the campaign: actress Evelina Bledans; model Anna Kalashnikova; singers Victoria Deineko, Anita Tsoi, and Lolita Milyavskaya; founder of the Meduza news website Galina Timchenko; and others. Their stories resembled those of others—encountering perverts on the playground, having an admirer who turned abusive, and so on (StarHit 2016). They tried to draw attention to the fact that harassment and violence are present among all social classes, and when these prominent women started speaking publicly, the public media also began to draw more attention to the flash mob.

Russian Vicious Circles: The Facebook Flash Mob #яНеБоюсьСказать, Biopolitics,. . .


2 Initiating Collective Psychoanalysis “Leave arguments at home.” This common Russian saying expresses the culture’s attitude toward personal situations: Family matters are private and should not be discussed publicly. Russia’s culture of silence is a relic from Soviet times and may be expressed by the motto “don’t gossip and be strong.” Rather than address problems within the family, the Soviet mentality instilled the concept of focusing on positive ideological matters and the bright future that lay ahead. Such a rationale insists that ignoring a problem will make it disappear sooner or later. This is evident in the Russian term for sexual abuse: сексуальный абъюз (written in Cyrillic script but pronounced like the English words “sexual abuse”). There is a Russian word for sexual abuse, but this new English loanword, along with “harassment,” is used more frequently than the Russian one. Abuse in Russian means any kind of harassment, particularly in relation to children. The very fact that the Russian language has adopted English terminology for these issues highlights the culture’s attitude toward these problems: Harassment and abuse are considered strange episodes or even seen as imported and foreign. This perception is still vivid in many parts of society; it is supported by or intertwined with the current values of the Russian Orthodox Church, which many Russians respect and strictly adhere to. The Church discourages testimonies of sexualized violence and proscribes speaking publicly about sexualized violence, harassment, and abuse. By stigmatizing and making taboo the expression of trauma, victims’ voices are silenced and bottled up within the culture. Social network platforms finally provided a place for people to raise their voices, resulting in the sudden outpouring of stories flooding the Internet. Many posts during this flash mob started with sentences like: “It is time to tell. ..” ; “I have never told this story before. ..” ; “It is scary, but it is time to not be afraid anymore and tell. ..” ; and other similar icebreakers (Facebook n.d.). Even the narrative structure of these posts reveals the culture of silence and shame internalized by Russian society. Many commentators did not interpret this flash mob as Freire’s conscientization put into practice but rather as a platform for the first public psychoanalysis of this very sensitive topic. According to the renowned psychologist Lyudmila Petranovskaya: “To talk about such things you need qualified people and not a Facebook feed. .. this is pop sociology. Many desire to participate as interesting victims” (Petranovskaya 2016). Furthermore, she argues, this flash mob will not heal anyone’s trauma, but it does force everyone to think about things they would rather ignore. There are few organizations that can help victims, and there is no university that trains people to treat trauma, like those in Western Europe; posting on Facebook is similar to going to a therapist—it provides the victims with the possibility to articulate trauma. Petranovskaya unknowingly reproduces the structure of patriarchal society and the culture of silence when she says that victims should only speak to a psychotherapist and that these topics have no place on a public platform. She repeats what Allan G. Johnson calls the “tree of patriarchy,” a complex system of strong roots (core values, beliefs, and principals), a stabile trunk (major institutional patterns), branches (communities, organizations, groups, and other systems), and leaves (individuals


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who draw their form and life from it; Johnson, pp. 18–19). That means that everyone forms part of this organism and represents it, consciously or unconsciously. As a respected psychologist, Petranovskaya sees only the danger of this kind of public discussion and dissuades victims of rape, harassment, and abuse from participating. Other commentators insisted on silencing the flash mob, perceived to be an unbearable public striptease that could trigger retraumatization. Another popular and highly considered psychologist focused on child and young adult development, Olga Makhovskaya, supported this argument. In an interview, she stated that the flash mob was the product of a desire for easy popularity and attention, and that the real victims need psychological counseling rather than just a Facebook post. However, in a subsequent radio interview, she backtracked from her first reaction: In a discussion with another well-known psychologist, Elena Novoselova, she claimed that the storm of indignation resulted from a short interview in which she had warned victims of the danger of using their names when recounting their experiences. She was primarily concerned with the lack of experience displayed by many young flash mob participants and how little they seemed to consider the consequences of their posts: Elena and I have long been engaged in the popularization of psychology, and this topic of psychological and physical violence has been circulating for some time. The impression is that we are stuck in a dead-end. The number of victims is constantly growing; statistics are worsening. So we need to look for new formats for discussion. One of the sad consequences of this flash mob is that we— men and women—are all fighting each other. Men complain that they are being portrayed as potential rapists, and this doesn’t help to facilitate rapprochement between the sexes or among different generations. If this flash mob were just a display of solidarity for victims of violence, like flash mobs for the victims of Charlie Hebdo or something else, we could just post as avatars. I would take part in the front ranks. I recognize a meaning in solidarity actions. But all these posts in a feed—for me it looks like a bad psychological model (Harrasov 2016).

When the flash mob began to grow and the media first covered it, Maria Mokhova, the director of the Syostry (Sisters) crisis center for victims of rape, abuse, and harassment, was very enthusiastic about its impact: This is an unprecedented and momentous event. It is a big step forward for society as a whole to finally rid itself of the taboo surrounding discussions of sexual abuse. I want to thank every one of these strong, beautiful women for their contribution. The flash mob turns all eyes to the problem that must be discussed. Society must support and protect its children and guarantee their security (Melnichenko 2016).

The collective hope of the participants and supporters from the Internet and from several NGOs was that a broad reception of the flash mob would also help to raise awareness at the governmental level, thereby bringing about improvement of the legislative infrastructure for victims. As Sergey Medvedev later wrote on, this flash mob became a “séance of collective psychoanalysis for Russian society,” implying that the intensity of this action might have lasting effects on people, their opinions, and the country’s overall treatment of sexual harassment and domestic violence. Another facet of this theme was almost nonexistent: the gender boundaries of this discussion. Melnichenko herself had solely addressed women in her initial

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post, but soon men were sharing their stories, too. Melnichenko was very pleased that this barrier had been crossed, and stated that it should not even exist in the first place. She also agreed that it is particularly difficult for men in post-Soviet societies to talk about such experiences; it threatens the image of masculinity in a hegemonic society. Melnichenko described it in this way: “He can’t tell it to a man. .. he can’t tell it to a woman. And he can’t even visit a therapist because in our countries men drink instead of going to therapists...” (Melnichenko 2016).

3 Facebook and Empowerment When addressing the culture of silence or silencing, we must consider the possibilities of how to stop it and to develop forms of self-organization that have been facilitated by the development of social media during the last few decades. These new forms of global communication have the potential to create and share meanings, which can become actions and thus represent a form of social power (Castells 2009, p. 136). Social media, especially Facebook as an active network, provides individuals the possibility to find members with shared interests, opinions, and ideas, which may lead to social, environmental, and political mobilization (Downey and Fenton 2003, p. 189). Among the most prominent examples is the so-called Facebook Revolution or Arab Spring beginning in 2010, which illustrated the possibilities of empowerment offered by social media. Christian Fieseler and Matthes Fleck argue that such events prove that social media mobilization can have a positive effect on participation in public discourse (Fieseler and Fleck 2013, p. 760). But in this particular case, it did not work out in the end. Unfortunately, the effects of the flash mob did not endure, and there are several reasons for this. Although social media provides a new empowerment possibility, especially for women, and Facebook feminism is a growing phenomenon, there is still gender inequality in decision-making positions. The hashtag and social media activism of #яНеБоюсьСказать remained in virtual space, although initial reactions and media coverage seemed promising. But awareness and empowerment campaigns on social media have a common downside—they can result in silencing as well. Female journalists, politicians, or LGBTQ activists are frequent victims of online abuse and attacks. It is interesting that media reports as well as the latest research both show that threats against women and LGBTQ activists are different from those against men; while both genders are victims of physical threats, those against women and nonhegemonic males are sexualized and meant to assert dominance, silence, and intimidate. In recent years, social media has been used to disseminate misogyny and racism and has become a platform for populist networking. In the case of #яНеБоюсьСказать, this downside of social media campaigning quickly revealed itself.


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4 If the Victim Is Ashamed, It Means It is their Fault: So they Do not Need Help From the beginning of the flash mob, several Facebook commenters, both male and female, were outraged, reacting defensively on behalf of the male sex, which they felt was under attack in the campaign. Among the most common and typical reactions was so-called victim-blaming, which assumes that whatever happened must have been provoked by the victim. In cases of rape or sexual harassment, this reaction is quite typical; however, the severity of its expression differs according to cultural context, and in the Russian case, the reaction was severe (Suarez and Gadalla 2010). Many users felt the need to patronize victims by saying that there are, indeed, many psychopaths and perverts out there but that the majority of men are well-educated and do not intend to harm anyone. Again, this is a very characteristically patriarchal argument. Johnson writes that every remark about the injustices toward women inflicted by men seems to spawn an “emerging vocal movement of men who portray themselves as victims not only of the gender system but of women’s struggle to free themselves from their own oppression under it” (Johnson, p. 17). Unfortunately, the statistics from Russia seem to prove that the majority of men who commit sex crimes are actually not psychopaths or perverts (StarHit 2016).1 Furthermore, the number of unreported cases must be considered as well, and considering that most women in Russia do not trust that the police will assist them, official statistics likely exclude hundreds, if not thousands, of unreported victims. As many posts during the flash mob revealed, reporting the case to the police and initiating a criminal complaint often resulted in a second, more profound traumatic experience. Many victims told of how humiliating it was to report their case to the Russian police, who had no empathy for their situation. The accounts ranged from being advised to remain silent and just go home—which exemplifies the credo “leaving the argument at home” and assumes that such experiences are inevitable—to being told to take responsibility for the crime, which takes us back to victim-blaming (Walker 2016). Anna Rivina—a lawyer, founder of the project (No to Violence), and director of the HIV foundation Spid Zentr—has stated that statistics from the Federal Penitentiary Service show a decrease in the number of rape cases from 20,000 in 2000 to 12,000 in more recent years because women do not receive support when they seek police intervention. Only 12% of victims even turn to the police, and of those a mere 3% actually file a complaint. She adds: “Russia doesn’t have words for victim blaming or slut-shaming—people just laugh” (Dolzhenko 2016).

1 Official numbers reveal that 40% of all violent felonies in Russia occur in the home and annually 12,000–14,000 women die as the result of domestic violence. This does not include the significant number of unreported cases. The Russian National Independent Commission for Women’s Rights states that annually 30,000–50,000 women suffer sexual abuse.

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As Petranovskaya comments had highlighted, in Russia, there is a notable lack of infrastructure for victims of sexual abuse and harassment: There are not enough specialists trained to deal with such traumas. The government does not provide any hotlines or institutions that victims can access. There are several NGOs in Russia like Syostry that provide help for victims; however, these organizations say they need much more help given that the Russian government fails to provide financial or even legislative support. There were suggestions from the flash mob that women should learn self-defense techniques; as a result, many cities established such programs. Art groups like Urbanfeminism also provide workshops and safety information for women. The small booklets they produce have caustic titles like “How to come home from the club alive” (Urbanfeminism n.d.). This reveals an ambivalent point: The flash mob highlighted the importance of educating women about self-defense and security; however, nowhere in the discussion was there mention of sending offenders or potential offenders to receive psychological counseling. Should not this be treated with the same importance and attention? Should not people be appalled with the overall state of violence in their society and therefore consider creating safer environments and spaces where it is not imperative to learn kung fu to stay alive? It is here that the flash mob reveals the real biopolitics at Russia’s core.

5 The Biopolitics of Violence and Rape Culture Feminist author bell hooks criticizes the perception of rape as an isolated category. She is convinced that this form of violence is inextricably linked to all other forms of violence in our society, between people with power and people without, between the dominant and dominated. “So far, the women’s movement has focused on male violence, reinforcing the stereotypes that suggest men are violent and women are not, men are perpetrators and women are victims. This way of thinking allows us to ignore how much women in this society (along with men) accept and perpetuate the notion that it is acceptable for dominant social groups to maintain their power through coercion” (Hooks 2000, p. 118). These ideas are linked to the notion of rape culture, a term implying that rape is not a crime committed in a context-free space or genetically preprogrammed; it can either be tolerated or condemned through cultural messages and norms, like all cultural actions. Therefore, the structures in which people act have much more influence on them than do ethical standards (Sanyal, pp. 120–21). Sanyal argues that each sexually violent situation is very complex since every culture has scripts that simultaneously encourage and proscribe rape. As an example, Sanyal describes the way soldiers are trained to erase feelings of empathy, and although this does not automatically mean that the military promotes a culture of rape, such training can function as a kind of Milgram experiment for social structures, thus contributing to the potential for abuse. She concludes that social and gender justice, equality, consensus, respect, and nonviolent communication comprise the direct means of preventing social violence.


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It is precisely these conditions that are not practiced in Russia because the country’s biopolitical sphere has no interest in prevention. Michel Foucault sees biopolitical power as an extension of common state power over the physical and political bodies of the population with more subtle instruments—it is a new technology of power that can include “ratio of births to deaths, the rate of reproduction, the fertility of a population, and so on” (Foucault 1997). There is an entanglement between rape culture, biopolitics, and the Facebook flash mob. Russia cultivates a biopolitical agenda based on conservative notions of binary gender constructions and rigorously attempts to eradicate any other notions of gender and gender roles. However, governmental efforts and perks do not seem to be stimulating these traditional gender norms. Current birth rates will not meet Vladimir Putin’s projection for 154 million citizens by 2050, and the child bonus, introduced in 2007 and increased in 2018, no longer influences population growth in any significant way. In addition, the mortality rate is very high, and there is no positive trend to reverse this either (Lokshin 2017). So there seems to be a clear correlation between the overemphasis on traditional family values and conservative constructs of masculinity and femininity and population decline in Russia in the twenty-first century. Additionally, the Kremlin’s archaic patriarchal system of social conservatism in which gender stereotypes take precedence over personality leads to the production of violence. Since 2012, the new political crisis, considered a new version of the Cold War, agitates citizens with perpetual feelings of threat, generating more potential for violence. Violent structures are evident in Russia’s social institutions like schools, in sports, and in the army, while growing militarism claims to protect citizens. Thus, when a militarized patriarchy legitimates itself through the security of its citizens, it must legitimate its ideology. Citizens should believe, or pretend to believe, that nothing will happen if they follow the rules and that bad things happen to those who are weak and are to blame. Following the rules means having positive values of marriage and family, adhering to traditional female and male gender ideals, believing that sex education is harmful to children and eventually leads to decreased birth rates, that society is fighting against real pedophiles, and that people who commit sex crimes are uniquely sick individuals who will be punished. More specifically, this ideology was partly manifested in the Russian federal law entitled “For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values,” also known as the “gay propaganda law,” approved on June 11, 2013. This law “protects” Russian children from exposure to homonormativity in order to prevent damage to traditional family values. The statute amended the country’s child protection law and the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses in order to make the distribution of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships” among minors an offense punishable by fines. The Kremlin’s backing of the law appealed to the Russian far right but also gained widespread support among the population, which views and fears “homosexuality as a sign of encroaching decadence in a globalized era” (Gevisser 2013) and is another symptom of the biopolitical concept of the Russian state. This rhetoric is based on that of the bygone Soviet state, desperate to defend its comrades from any decadent Western idea and provide a bright utopian future in a communist paradise. In this

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sense, Putin’s political style is based on his early career in the KGB. As a consequence, all public and activist parades and demonstrations that defied this law were unauthorized and declared “satanic” and thought to be the product of Western activism intent on exerting its influence throughout the country (BBC News 2012). The president himself embodies this ideal masculine prototype: Putin is an alpha male who enjoys publicly presenting himself as a high-ranking practitioner of the martial arts and flaunting his physical strength. He also cultivates a violent rhetoric with phrases like “the weaker will be beaten” or “take what is yours.” In his 2018 election campaign, he continued to cultivate his brand of social Darwinism—on billboards he stands before the Kremlin, the Russian flag to his right, with the slogan “Strong President, Strong Russia!” These words suffice to describe the quintessence of Putin’s policy. He represents the hegemonic masculinity that asserts its ideological privileges over the weak, which includes women, men who are not hegemonic, the elderly or disabled, children, members of the LGBT community, and others. R.W. Connell coined the term hegemonic masculinity as a practice that legitimizes men’s dominant social role and justifies the subordination of other groups (Connell 2005). This growing ideal of male physical power is accompanied by the counterimage of female beauty and women’s sexualized bodies, ubiquitous in Russian advertisements of all kinds, which act as further stimuli for Russia’s biopolitical demographic agenda. Given Russia’s shrinking population over the last few decades, the role of women is first and foremost to serve the government by giving birth. Because of the country’s biopolitical makeup, the Facebook speakout faced a complex and deep-rooted problem. When women demand changes that shake up the patriarchal system and the notions of hegemonic masculinity dictated by the government, it is a bit like a David-and-Goliath situation. Although people heard of the flash mob, participated, commented, and even searched for new ways to deal with the issues, the fragmented nature of social media precludes real change in a country where the militant patriarchal ideology of violence is omnipresent. Some flash mob commenters thought it would change people’s minds; many articles in July 2016 expressed hope that Russian society would change, and for a while the climate was reminiscent of that surrounding the 2011 demonstrations, protests, and marches that had first generated hope for change in Russia. In Western countries, Pussy Riot became a potent symbol of new Russian feminism. Media researcher Varvara Chumakova expressed a very optimistic view of the Facebook flash mob: Television and mainstream cinema can’t drag out the pain of those who experience sexual harassment, they can only show the pain of the masses, not of individuals—they turn individuals into clichés and exotics. But now social media allows a private person to speak about private experiences, doing so not on an individual level but connecting with every private voice into a collective flow. They are able to blur the boundaries between the private world of sorrow and violence and the public world of concealing that pain. Thus, the experience of the victims becomes part of the public space, which constitutes another public discourse (Movchan 2016).


E. Korowin

But as surprisingly as these events began, they disappeared just as quickly, and everything returned to the status quo. One reason that people who post and comment on social media in Russia seldom take to the streets is because laws against demonstrations are so harsh. Although it seemed that the flash mob garnered much attention in the national and international media, some statistics say the opposite: The Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM), politically closely linked to the Kremlin, published the results of a survey according to which only 13% of the population had heard about the flash mob while a scant 4% had detailed information about its meaning (Politrussia 2016). It seems impossible that sexualized violence in Russia will bring as many people out onto the streets as the Women’s March did in Washington, DC on January 21, 2017. Just a few months after the flash mob, on September 15, 2016, a survey by VCIOM was released. Conducted with 1600 people throughout Russia on July 16 and 17 of that year, it shows that 58% think women are not protected against domestic violence by Russian law, 44% think that victims of violence and abuse are to blame, and 39% think that the public discussion of such things destroys traditional values such as family, fidelity, and love (Gordeeva 2018). Ukrainian politicians took notice of the campaign; Borislav Bereza stated that on July 12, 2016, members of parliament in Kiev demanded that Ukrainian law be on a par with the European convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Polikovska 2018). However, on January 27, 2017, the Russian State Duma passed a bill decriminalizing some forms of domestic violence; for example, it eliminated criminal liability for battery of family members that does not cause bodily harm. None of the planned protests against this bill have been sanctioned. Since sexual and sexualized violence is usually invisible, it will fall within the parameters of this bill and continue to go unpunished. This is further compounded by the widespread opinion in Russia that rape cannot occur in a marriage. According to Rivina, senior citizens, children, and women are abused in a domestic context because society allows it. In Russia, the concept of domestic violence does not exist, so statistics do not paint an accurate picture. Many cases are latent, and it can be assumed that 70 to 80% of violent cases stay in the dark and go unreported. However, official statistics from the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) show that two-thirds of murders occur within the family as a result of everyday conflicts (Dolzhenko 2016) and that abuse of one kind or another is prevalent in every fourth family.

6 What is Left to Say In this essay, I have cited American, British, and German theorists in order to explain the Russian situation of sexualized violence, harassment, abuse, and domestic violence. It is important to emphasize that rape culture is present to varying degrees in all parts of the world and that we still have a long way to go. Although more successful than its precursors, the hashtag, #MeToo revealed the persistence of

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everyday sexualized violence and sexism despite mainstream awareness and dissemination of gender and feminist theory. It is pointless to argue that in Russia this problem is worse; there is sufficient evidence to prove this cultural construct false. What differs is the way of dealing with these questions—the presence or absence of a civic society, public discourse and, of course, consensus. Sanyal is convinced that consensus is the only way to fight against rape and that this is what is deficient in Russian society (Sanyal, p. 175). The only superficial consensus present in Russia is Putin, and this is a vicious circle because of his role in shaping an image of hegemonic masculinity and the political agenda. The biopolitics of Russia are focused on demography and attempt to decrease statistics of domestic violence by decriminalizing it and silencing victims. At the same time, traditional gender roles, as well as conservative family values, are carefully supported by state authorities, advertising, and the media. Women are forced into the weak and dependent role and men have to represent the strong alpha male who can financially support a family. In recent years, propaganda posters against abortion have appeared all over cities, while it is difficult to find reliable hotlines or victim assistance centers for victims of rape, sexual harassment, and abuse. The lack of infrastructure to help victims and a general ignorance in society are other issues worth considering. Single cases that appear in the media and are intended to trigger outrage and dismay offer no solutions to the problem of sexualized violence, harassment, and abuse. Rather, they convey that such crimes are isolated cases and if one behaves appropriately, nothing will happen. The underlying idea is that if you do not provoke others through inappropriate behavior, then you will not become a victim of sexual violence. The powerlessness of victims is clearly noticeable everywhere, but only the conscientization on social media exposed the full scale of it. The Facebook flash mob #яНеБоюсьСказать was an important event that raised awareness of the problem of sexualized violence in Russia but ultimately failed to act as a catalyst for change as was initially hoped; it proved to be a weak instrument against the pervasive silencing of victims who were not believed by large parts of their audience. The Russian state remains stronger than emancipatory movements, suppressing them with a severity similar to that of the former Soviet Union. The emotionality of narrating cases of rape, harassment, and abuse created more disturbances than actually initiate a lasting and meaningful discussion about real political and social change. Ultimately, it was easier to allow this wave of indignation to wear itself out and pass like many other previous hashtags in other countries, including #NotGuilty, #RedMyLips, #Aufschrei, and others. There were Russian activists fighting against sexualized violence well before the hashtag appeared, and they will persist thereafter; it is only unfortunate that #яНеБоюсьСказать has not yet resulted in a more effective discourse in Russia.


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References BBC News (2012) Gay parades banned in Moscow for 100 years. world-europe-19293465. Accessed 14 Mar 2018 Bourke J (2007) Rape: a history from 1860 to the present. Virago, London Castells M (2009) Communication power. Oxford University Press, Oxford Connell RW (2005) Masculinities. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA Dolzhenko E (2016) Kak zhit’ posle fleshmoba #yaneboyus’skazat’. ship/2298-kak-zhit-posle-fleshmoba-yaneboyusskazat/?utm_source¼afishafb&utm_ medium¼social&utm_campaign¼%C2%ABmne-hochetsya%2D%2Dchtoby-menya-prostovzyali-i. Accessed 8 Mar 2017 Downey J, Fenton N (2003) New media, counter publicity and the public sphere. New Media Soc 5 (2):185–202 Facebook (n.d.) Yaneboyusskazatu. Accessed 20 Oct 2019 Fieseler C, Fleck M (2013) The pursuit of empowerment through social media: structural social capital dynamics in CSR-blogging. J Bus Ethics 118(4):759–775 Foucault M (1997) Society must be defended: lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–1976. St. Martin’s Press, New York Freire P (1985) The politics of education. Bergin & Garvey, Hadley, MA Gevisser M (2013) Life under Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ ban. The New York Times, December 27 Gordeeva K (2018) Vtoroye iznasilovaniye: kak rossiyskoye gosudarstvo obrashchayetsya s zhertvami seksual’nykh prestupleniy. Accessed 10 Mar 2017 Groysman S (2016) #YANeboyus’Skazat’ Harrasov R (2016) Psikhologe o fleshmobe #yaneboyus’skazat’: molchat’ o nasilii—eto prestupleniye. flieshmobie_ianieboiusskazat_molchat_o_nasilii_nil_eto_priestuplieniie. Accessed 14 Mar 2018 Henden H (2016) 600 tysyach zhenshchin ezhegodno: domashneye nasiliye v Rossii. https:// Accessed 14 Mar 2018 Hooks B (2000) Feminist theory: from margin to center. South End Press Classics, Cambridge, MA Johnson AG (2005) The gender knot: unraveling our patriarchal legacy. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA Johnson JE (2009) Gender violence in Russia: the politics of feminist intervention. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN Lokshin P (2017) Putin in der Demografie-Falle. Die Welt, December 17 Medvedev S (2016) Biopolitika nasiliya: CHto fleshmob zhenshchin rasskazal nam o Rossii. Accessed 8 June 2017 Melnichenko A (2016) Po-nastoyashchemu strannyye istorii byli na zakrytykh stranichkakh: Monolog Anastasii Mel’nichenko, pridumavshey fleshmob #yaneboyus’skazat’. https:// Accessed 12 April 2017 Movchan S (2016) I am not afraid to speak! I am not afraid to act! ukraine/2016/i-am-not-afraid-to-speak-i-am-not-afraid-to-act/. Accessed 13 Mar 2017 Petranovskaya L (2016) Proverka na vshivost’. Lyudmila Petranovskaya o fleshmobe, kotogryy stavit diagnoz obshchestvu. Accessed 18 Mar 2018 Polikovska J (2018) Ukrayina ratyfikuye konventsiyu pro zapobihannya nasyl’stvu shchodo zhinok. stosovno_zhinok_n1397485. Accessed 12 July 2016

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Politrussia (2016) VTSIOM issledoval aktsiyu #YANeboyus’Skazat’. ety/kazhdyy-desyatyy-zhitel-566/. Accessed 14 Mar 2018 Sanyal MM (2016) Vergewaltigung: Aspekte eines Verbrechens. Edition Nautilus, Hamburg StarHit (2016) #YANeboyus’Skazat’: gor’kiye vospominaniya zhenshchin o nasilii i osuzhdeniye v Seti. Accessed 1 Oct 2019 Suarez E, Gadalla TM (2010) Stop blaming the victim: a meta-analysis on rape myths. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 25(11):2010–2035. Urbanfeminism (n.d.) Urbanfeminism. Accessed 15 Oct 2019 Walker S (2016). Russian and Ukrainian women’s sexual abuse stories go viral. https://www. Accessed 8 Mar 2018 Young IM (2005) Five faces of oppression. In: Cudd A, Andreasen R (eds) Feminist theory: a philosophical anthology. Blackwell, Massachusetts, pp 91–104

The Ambivalence of the Ordinary: The Polish Women’s Strike (OSK) and the Women’s March 8th Alliance (PK8M) in a Comparative Perspective Jennifer Ramme and Claudia Snochowska-Gonzalez

In 2016, grassroots feminist activism reached a scale previously unseen in Poland. That year, the so-called abortion compromise was once again at stake. Although the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party aimed at tightening the already restrictive abortion laws, nongovernmental antichoice organizations Ordo Iuris and Fundacja Pro— prawo do życia (Pro Foundation—Right to Life) represented in the Stop Abortion committee were responsible for introducing the legislative initiative in July 2016 (No exceptions 2016; Grochal and Klauziński 2016). This new legislation called for abortion to be criminalized even when the pregnancy resulted from violence or the health of the fetus or woman was at stake (such factors had made abortion legal under existing laws). For an illegal abortion, women could be sentenced up to five years in prison. Termination would only be allowed when the life of a woman was actually in danger. In practice, this meant that pregnancy could only be legally terminated when a woman was on the verge of death. Given this potential threat to their health and lives, women took to the barricades. With the help of social media, a spontaneous grassroots movement emerged, building networks across the country and abroad. On October 3, 2016, the very day the Stop Abortion bill was debated, protests culminated in a countrywide strike known as the Polish Women’s Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet or OSK) dubbed Czarny Poniedziałek (Black Monday) by the press, when approximately 100,000–200,000 people in Poland and elsewhere responded to a call to strike. The statement “ordinary women are protesting”

J. Ramme (*) European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder), Germany Collegium Polonicum, Slubice, Poland e-mail: [email protected] C. Snochowska-Gonzalez Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Slavic Studies, Warsaw, Poland e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



J. Ramme and C. Snochowska-Gonzalez

appeared in numerous media outlets. “We are ordinary women” [Jesteśmy zwykłymi kobietami] stated many protesters and newly formed groups as well. Three days after impressive masses of people—all dressed in black—had occupied major public sites throughout the country, the bill was rejected during an emergency session of the Commission for Justice and Human Rights (Komisja Sprawiedliwości i Praw Człowieka) with a majority of 352 votes. It seemed that politicians were taken by surprise by the large-scale mobilization that took place on the streets and social media. Considering that the Polish Women’s Strike (OSK) was widely recognized as the voice and public image of “the people” and that within right-wing discourse feminists are usually contrasted to “ordinary women” (compare Kopciewicz 2011), our study attempts to understand the meaning of this very ambivalent term “the ordinary women”. We first collected information about the OSK coordinators themselves: What are their characteristics in terms of variables like age, education, and residence? Next, we sought to learn more about their understanding of the term “ordinary women,” their opinions on abortion legislation, and their previous and recent sociopolitical activity. Between March and November 2017, we conducted a representative, qualitative, and quantitative study on OSK coordinators throughout the country. This group consisted of ninety-five individuals; forty-one filled out a paper-and-pencil questionnaire during a nationwide OSK gathering in March 2017, and fifty-four completed an online questionnaire between August and November 2017, after we approached them on social media. Both questionnaires were anonymous and included the same twenty-one closed and open-ended questions. At that time, there were supposedly about 400 OSK members designated as coordinators on Facebook. Because the vast majority of highly active coordinators completed our questionnaire, we consider the results to be representative. As a comparison to the OSK, we chose the Warsaw-based feminist initiative Women’s March 8th Alliance (Porozumienie Kobiet 8 Marca or PK8M), portrayed by the right-wing media as being in opposition to “ordinary women.” Just like the OSK group, the PK8M is informal in character and conducts similar forms of actions, such as annual street protests—for example, the March 8th demonstration known as Manifa, which has taken place since 2000 in Warsaw. We estimate that 100–150 people have been involved with the PK8M organizing group since its formation. Our call to complete a similar online questionnaire (again with twenty-one closed and open-ended questions) was answered by twenty-two people, or approximately15–20% of the group. Respondents of both groups almost exclusively identified themselves as female; therefore, we refer to both groups as “women’s movements.” The comparison of both groups served as a basis to reflect upon the ambivalence of the term “ordinary women” (zwykłe kobiety) and the ways this term is instrumentalized by various political actors in Poland. Most studies on the black protests and the OSK thus far have mainly focused on the mediated public and semipublic discourse of the newly arisen movements or provided theoretical perspectives on the mobilizations (Korolczuk 2016; Kubisa 2016; Druciarek 2016; Dryjańska 2017; Chmielewska et al. 2017; Król and Pustułka 2018; Czarnacka 2016, 2018). When we began our survey, very little research had been done where the actors were approached directly. A comparable study initiated around the same time as ours (Murawska and Włodarczyk 2017) provides a great

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deal of valuable information that we have also confirmed in our study. However, this study is not quantitative, as it presents a rather small sample of twenty interviews with actors from various groups. Another important relevant study, which covers a much larger group, was conducted among approximately 1000 participants of the Black Protests and the OSK (Kowalska and Nawojski 2019). More recent empirical studies, conducted in 2018, include qualitative interviews, providing valuable insights into the subsequent development of these movements and address aspects such as, for example, the organizers of strikes on October 3, 2016 outside of Poland or in Polish rural areas (Gober and Struzik 2018; Muszel and Piotrowski 2018; Kubisa and Rakowska 2018). Our study has shown that contrary to the PK8M, most OSK activists consider their protests to be those of “ordinary women,” although their personal understanding of the term does not align with right-wing interpretations. This difference in interpretation can only be understood when considering the sociopolitical context— for example, the popularity of elites—the people dichotomies within political discourses but also the centralization (elitization) of political life in Poland. Therefore, we not only look at ordinariness (zwykłość) in its various political functions but also contrast different definitions and claims of representing ordinariness with statistical averages and center-periphery analyses. We hope that our contextual analysis of the emergence of a new subject known as “ordinary women” will contribute to both feminist theory and practice.

1 Conceptual Approaches: Ordinariness and Populist Elites—the People Dichotomies The appearance of a women’s movement that defines itself through ordinariness can only be understood by acknowledging the populist context of Poland’s current political landscape, which is shaped by an antagonistic discourse. There have been many debates on whether populism is a buzzword (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2017) used to replace ethno-nationalism. We would argue that the popular versions of nationalism and right-wing politics, but also the opposition (such as the black protests and the OSK) in contemporary Poland (and elsewhere) cannot be explained without taking into account its populist character. As early as 2006, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński attacked the “mendacious elites” (łże-elity) and declared in the Polish Sejm that his political coalition would restore order in the “interests of the ordinary people, the ordinary Poles” (Kaczyński 2006, p. 266). Ironically, Kaczyński himself is a doctor of law and has roots in the intelligentsia and inhabits its orbit. This paradox exemplifies the complexity of elites—the people dichotomies in the Polish context including their long history.1

1 This complexity results from the entanglement of various historical legacies and political practices, rethorics, and discourses, including, for example, official propaganda of the PZPR party during state


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Although protofascist traces can be found in their discourse, contemporary populist ethno-nationalists legitimate themselves through democratic procedures and elections. PiS, the political party that gained power after the 2015 elections, justifies its ideological positions by claiming to represent the people, the majority, the masses, and the average. Populist right-wing discourse claims that ordinary people are suppressed and dominated by a narrow elite or establishment; thus, ordinariness is a marker that positions one on the right side of the people versus the wrong side of illegitimate elites. As Ruth Wodak observes with regard to rightwing populism, the “respective definition (of the people), however, always serves specific political agendas and interests” (Wodak 2017, p. 6). In Polish political discourse, the term “ordinary” is used as a means of selflegitimation by various sides of the struggle. The very meaning of the term is quite fluid, denoting the common, the average, and the standard as phenomena of everyday life and equivalent to the terms “normal” and “normality.” Since ordinariness can be understood in so many different ways, it is important to discuss theoretical approaches to the term. In his extensive study on “normalism,” Jürgen Link suggests that concepts of normality as everydayness or normativity should must be distinguished from one another. He argues that modern understandings of normality are based on knowledge generated through statistics, the aggregation of data, and their display. Thus the modern determination of normalities occurs through a regime of data processing and statistical distribution (Link 2014, p. 8). According to Link, “‘normality’ thus presumes—quite fundamentally—statistical dispositifs and is defined in relation to ‘averages’ and other statistical sizes.”2 Such an understanding of normality is close to the term “average,” as defined, for example, in quantitative science (sociology, politology) or national or supranational institutions that use statistics for developing, legitimating, and implementing policy.3 In this analysis, we will additionally compare such statistical averages with definitions and claims of

socialism (a prominent example is the anti-Semitic and anti-intellectual campaign of March 68). An important heritage that shapes elite-people dichotomies is the master-lout opposition (opozycja pany-chamy) that can be seen as one of the key oppositions in Polish public life (Tokarska-Bakir 2005; Buchowski 2008). This opposition is used to define the perceived roles of actors in public life and produces long-lasting fissures. As described by Smoczyński and Zarycki (2017), the lout (cham) is an anti-citizen unable and unauthorized to act in the public sphere but is also the essence of the (ethnicized) nation; the master (pan) category describes the exploiter who has no idea about the life of ordinary people and pretends to act on behalf of everybody but in reality acts in his own interest. As we can see, the residues of class divisions overlap here with cultural and even “civilizational” distinctions, resulting in an extremely divided society. The distinctions between the ordinary and the people are an important element in Polish populist discourse (see Stanley 2012). 2 Such understandings of normality as the average can be found in modern “statistically transparent” societies (2014, p. 8). 3 However, as researchers, especially of intersectional or queer theory, we know that by choosing certain categories to consider research (especially in quantitative studies), we automatically exclude others. This means that in designing our study, we are already exclusively focusing our attention on certain areas.

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ordinariness, while keeping in mind that addressing the problem properly would also require complex qualitative research that pays attention to individual biographies and social situations. As the title “The Ambivalence of the Ordinary” already suggests, our research takes not only a deeper look into the meanings of ordinariness within particular (discursive) political practices but also attempts to contrast various claims of representing ordinariness. In order to address the problem of right-wing populism and its elites, the people dichotomies, an examination of perceived and actual center–periphery relationships are helpful. This would mean looking at actual privileges and disadvantages of the groups that are placed within these dichotomies as well as possible structural elements that create and maintain center–periphery relationships, thus limiting some people’s social participation on equal terms. The distinctions between statistical normality, the quotidian, and normativity are helpful to approaching those differences deployed in populist discourses, be they right-wing, left-wing, or even feminist expressions of populism. We define populism as a political discursive practice that legitimates its speaker’s position by claiming to represent the people, the average, the normal, the “real” ones. The term “ordinary” in our research cases needs to be understood as a relational concept that describes a positioning of individuals and groups within a dichotomy of the ordinary versus the non-ordinary, organizing itself along the populist axis of “the people” versus “elites.”

2 “Ordinary People” and “Ordinary Women” in Poland as a Subject of Research: Possible Contexts The fact that the participants of the Women’s Strike protests and their organizers have frequently been referred to as “ordinary women,” whereas feminists active prior to the 2016 mobilization were labeled “degenerate elites” by the right-wing press, raises a number of questions: In comparison to whom are they “ordinary” or “elite” and in what sense may ordinariness become a weapon in political struggles? “Ordinary women” can be understood in various ways and placed on different axes of social divisions. This leads us to the question of the social and political context of the ordinary people—elite dichotomy and the question of which political ideas shape these dichotomies. The ideology of the National Democracy party (Narodowa Demokracja), created at the turn of the twentieth century, still has a major influence on Polish politics. Within this ideology, the concept of “the people” is understood as the material, biological basis for the existence of the nation. The people are ethnically Polish, though they are not always aware of their Polishness—a biological reservoir in whose body the soul of the nation is hidden. The governing PiS party draws from this tradition in many ways: First, it places a great deal of emphasis on preserving the nation’s biological substance by focusing on issues related to reproduction— maintaining an appropriate fertility level, promoting the traditional family model


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as the best generator of Polishness (both biological and spiritual), limiting women’s right to make decisions about their own bodies and lives, including denouncing the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, attempting to tighten anti-abortion law (see Ramme 2019a), and transferring the responsibility to care for dependents—children, the elderly, and disabled—exclusively to women. Secondly, as was the case of the National Democracy party, PiS transformed a democratic populist definition of the people in opposition to the political regime into a form of ethno-nationalist populism where the struggle and agency of the people is subordinated to an ethnic nation as a universal political entity whose only legitimate representative is the party itself. Thirdly, PiS refers to the National Democracy tradition by racializing its political opponents as a hostile force. The discussion about reproductive rights and women’s rights in general must be contextualized within the ideological project of National Democracy and the Catholic and Christian religious fundamentalism that forms its base. According to this ideology, “ordinary women” are opposed to feminists fighting for abortion rights: The former are identified within the ethno-nationalist discourse as representatives of the Polish norm, fulfilling their national duties, and thus defining themselves primarily as Polish mothers (matki-Polki), while the latter are perceived by the far right as representatives of an alienated elite, a metropolitan minority who desires to impose its demands on these ordinary women who have completely different priorities (see Kopciewicz 2011; Król and Pustułka 2018). Within such ethnonationalist elites—the people dichotomies, ordinariness appears as a normative concept used to define out-groups. But this is not the only context that must be acknowledged while unpacking the ordinariness of the OSK. Studies on sociopolitical activity in Poland show that it is largely well-educated, middle class, big-city inhabitants who are politically active (CBOS 2016a, b; Domański 2015). In order to explain the rather low sociopolitical engagement in Poland, researchers frequently point out the legacy of stateauthoritarianism, as well as the introduction of the concept of “civil society” and the professionalization of many areas of sociopolitical engagement (e.g. ngo-ization in the 1990s)—the consequence of which (in case of the latter) would be the performing of this activity by people who are presumably best prepared. Sociopolitical engagement historically belongs to the ethos of Polish intelligentsia (CzepulisRastenis 1985; Janowski 2008; Jedlicki 2008; Micińska 2008; Walicki 2005; Zajączkowski 1961; Zarycki 2009b; Zarycki and Warczok 2014). This ethos sometimes includes elitist and paternalistic components as well as aspirations to lead the social masses and instrumentalize their strength. Even the history of Solidarity, a large, grass-roots “popular” social movement, can be analyzed as a gradual de-proletarization of the movement and the increasing division between (perceived

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as more and more demanding and politically inexperienced) “people” and the (more and more exclusive and liberal) “elites” (Ost 2007; Siermiński 2016).4 Considering all the mentioned dimensions, it could be argued that they directly influence the shape of democracy and the possibility of taking part in it. “Ordinary people” are placed in a realm where they appear as politically passive and deprived of agency. OSK breaks with the idea according to which only the intelligentsia or the professional lead the masses, as it endorses not only grassroots activism, but also the activism of those who have not been engaged before. In order to understand contemporary political dynamics, it is important to notice that at the same time there are some vivid anti-intelligentsia or anti-expert sentiments and discourse used to distinct from the so-called intellectual (“cultural”) elites or its supposed hegemony. Anti-elitist forms of anti-intellectualism (Rigney 1991) are common features among the populist conservatives and far right in Europe, the USA, and elsewhere (see e.g. Motta 2018), although as Motta argues, these forms are not simply “a proxy” for (conservative) “ideology” (Motta 2018, p. 271). In Poland, the anti-elitist and anti-intellectualist distinctions have a very complex history and are deployed by various political spectrums. Paradoxically, they are deployed partially by the intellectuals themselves (see e.g. Kulas 2018, p. 24; Kulas 2017, p. 16; Kulas and Śpiewak 2018; Nowicka-Franczak 2018) and political actors with roots in the intelligentsia who position themselves as representatives of “the people” against so-called intellectual “elites” or wykształciuchy. The practices of distinction from the so-called elites gain an additional dimension when they are politically instrumentalized as friend–enemy dichotomies that serve to gain exclusionary political power and justify group-based discrimination, and violence. Besides the problem of using the distinction as means to gain hegemonic position and privileges in comparison to other social groups, it is also important to acknowledge that within contemporary societies and states, including Poland, inequalities in terms of access to resources and representation are still lived social experiences. Such structural inequalities that affect social groups and individuals depending on their locations, capital, and identity-ascription (but also other variables) can manifest themselves as asymmetrical relationships. Such asymmetries between differently positioned social groups can take the shape of center–periphery relationships, which equip actors with different political agency. Consequently, for some actors, established and influential political institutions become far out of reach. In case of the centralization of power, representation, and resources, along with the simultaneous marginalization of large sectors of society, such sociopolitical inequality may be described within this elites—the people dichotomy. A center–periphery relationship can be identified in many aspects of social life. Geographically, it can be understood as a relationship between the metropolis Although, the “Solidarity movement” is one of the most important references of national heritage in official state discourses after 1989 and till today, Poland has one of the most restrictive collective dispute acts—a law introduced along with other 1990s neoliberal reforms, making the organization of a strike (an example of political activity) extremely difficult (Czarzasty 2019; Orliński 2019; Stanowisko Komisji Krajowej OZZ Inicjatywa Pracownicza 2013; Urbański 2018). 4


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(capital city, large cities) and the so-called interior (places outside the large cities like small towns and villages)—the criteria defining both sides of the dichotomy refer to the size of particular locations and the spatial, cultural, and economic infrastructural distance between them. According to Tomasz Zarycki (2009a), peripheriality and centrality may be defined as the context of interpreted social behaviors, which affects the possibilities of playing with various types of capital given to entities located in various sites along geographical center–periphery axes. The capital available on the periphery may have different social dimensions there and compensate for those disadvantages that are product of the local’s peripheral location. This, along with the relative invisibility of local sociopolitical activity compared to activities in central metropolises, greatly complicates the thesis about the elitization of the public sphere in Poland. In addition, the Polish periphery cannot be treated as a monolith— the very type of the local social structure (whether it is based on labor, farming, gentrification, etc.) significantly affects its character, for example the scale of its inhabitants’ sociopolitical activity or their views on women’s roles (Halamska 2019). The same activity in various parts of the Polish periphery may therefore have different meanings and require overcoming different obstacles or using different facilities. Researchers who conducted interviews in mid-2018 among OSK organizers in small towns argue that the context and the environment of small towns significantly differs from big cities, requiring different action plans and providing a whole other set of discursive, cultural, and political opportunities (Muszel and Piotrowski 2018). The obstacles they identify are traditional gender roles, a dominant conservative discourse and the strong influence of the Catholic Church (see Ramme and Snochowska-Gonzalez 2018, p. 77) that produce a hostile environment, and a dearth of political allies on local and national levels. Moreover, the lack of anonymity among activists in small towns exposes them far more than those in big cities (Muszel and Piotrowski 2018). Potential reasons constraining political participation (including feminist activism) in small cities and the countryside might result in restricted access to media outlets (Muszel and Piotrowski 2018, p. 104). Center–periphery relationships may also be understood in a more metaphorical way, as a reference to systems of representation, social recognition, and visibility, or as an example of the distribution of (discursive) power. Practices of centralization and peripherialization can be traced in genealogical narratives about feminist activities (Ramme 2016) and are the main subject of discussions (in feminist and leftwing circles) about “who owns Polish feminism” (as the title of a recently published article suggests; Broniarczyk and Staśko 2018). Using mother-daughter narrations and applying Western wave metaphors (concepts invented in the so-called center) to describe the history of Polish feminism or the higher visibility of academic and liberal (integrative) feminist practices results in the marginalization and peripherialization of feminist groups and activities that are distant from centers of power or do not fit into these patterns of conceptualization—for example, anarchistfeminists groups, informal activities or organizations, and women active before 1990 (Ramme 2016).

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According to Broniarczyk and Staśko (both feminist activists; Broniarczyk is one of the contemporary organizers of Manifa in Warsaw), the everyday feminism of ordinary women remains invisible because the media focuses only on feminist celebrities who seem incapable of acknowledging so-called peripheral feminists, thus reproducing the dichotomous vision of the world where an ordinary woman cannot possibly be interested in women’s rights (Broniarczyk and Staśko 2018). This example shows that even activists situated in large cities feel marginalized by the mainstream media, which focuses on a very reduced number of representatives, so that the movement appears to be “elitist”. The center–periphery relationship is not the only dimension that plays a role in elites—the people dichotomies. The presence of so-called ordinary women in the OSK can also be seen as an example of women’s engagement in sociopolitical activity, which makes the notion of ordinary people (as those who are not politically active) more complicated. Traditional markers used to describe the place of individuals within social structures—such as occupation, social class, attitude to property— prove insufficient in relation to women, because, as many researchers have argued (Michalska 2016; Dale et al. 1985; Risman 2004; Ridgeway 2009; Titkow 2007; Domański 1992), the performance of specific roles in various spheres does not have the same consequences for women and men in improving their social situation (Michalska 2016). Due to their different positioning within social structures, women’s social and political activity has its own specificity in relation to similar activities undertaken by male relatives or men occupying similar social positions. The results of our survey among OSK coordinators on their definitions of the term “ordinary women” revealed that the activists first of all understood it as a form of diversity, whereby peripheral location (small towns and villages) and political inactivity were most frequently mentioned as something that informs the inclusive concept of ordinariness (Ramme and Snochowska-Gonzalez 2018). All of this makes the emergence of the subject of ordinary women an interesting subject of sociological analysis—if ordinariness refers to small-town women who were previously politically inactive, as understood from the perspective of the center. Such an analysis requires extraordinary intersectional sensitivity and a careful examination of the diversity of social positionings, including their entanglements and interdependence.

3 Approaches to the Concept of “Ordinary Women”: The Polish Women’s Strike and the Women’s March 8th Alliance Social movement scholars analyzing contemporary mobilizations have noted that “the political activism of such nationalist movements and that of more progressive movements seem to share one source: citizens’ dissatisfaction with institutions that govern them” (della Porta and Felicetti 2017). Simultaneously, they emphasize that


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“giving movements their due is an important step forward, as popular participation is a core element of a living democracy” (della Porta and Felicetti 2017). Elites—the people dichotomies deployed by social movement discourse assume the existence of an unjust distribution of privilege and the domination of one social group by another and are meant as a critique of these (alleged) social relationships. If we agree that these dichotomies are not only used as political weapons, but can also express an authentic dissatisfaction with existing forms of governing and social relationships, it might be worth looking at how the actual positions of those social actors who claim to represent “ordinariness” actually look like. What place do our respondents (but also their opponents) occupy on possible axes of specific determinants of “ordinariness” or “elitism”? One possible understanding of these axes is to organize them according to statistical ordinariness (the average) and statistical exceptionalism based on popular statistical variables such as age, education, occupation, and place of residence. Would this prove that OSK organizers are, in fact, “ordinary” while PK8M organizers are “elite”? Data from our survey does show variations between both groups, but these differences are not always consistent with the aforementioned dichotomy. First of all, our research shows that OSK coordinators were much more diverse than PK8M coordinators in terms of age, education, and place of residence. In the case of education, both groups were more likely to have pursued higher education than the general population. In 2016, 30.1% of women and 20.3% of men in Poland held a university degree (GUS 2017a, pp. 47–48) whereas almost 70% of OSK coordinators held a university degree (BA, MA, or PhD) while PK8M coordinators all had at least a master’s degree. It can be therefore assumed that both groups have a higher cultural capital than the average population in Poland. The fact that protests took place all across the country, including mid-sized and small towns, has frequently been described (by commentators and activist groups themselves) as one of the greatest successes of the OSK protests that took place on October 3, 2016. This prompted us to look at the geographical dimensions as well. When looking at the size of the place of activity (Poland-wide OSK) or the place of origin (capitol-based PK8M), it turns out that the majority of OSK coordinators based their actions in small towns (31.58% in cities with a population of 100,000–500,000 inhabitants, 29.47% in cities with a population of 20,000–100,000, and only 27.37% in cities with over 500,000 inhabitants). Activists of PK8M, although it is Warsaw-based coalition organizing the 8 of March in the capitol, consist in 50% in actors who migrated to Warsaw and whose origin is not big cities. Our results show that many feminist activists frequently portrayed by the right (and left)-wing press as representatives of “alienated elites” from large metropoles, although they are active in the capitol of Poland, actually come from smaller towns. Therefore, neither the Polandwide OSK nor the Warsaw-based PK8M confirm assumptions of exclusively metropolitan origin. Recalling the studies on constrains for feminist activism in small towns and villages (e.g. Muszel and Piotrowski 2018), the better opportunities to engage politically for gender-equality in big metropolis might also lead women from villages and small towns to migrate and struggle for their cause there (although it could be only one of many reasons of their decision to

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move). It is significant that while the overall population in Poland consists of more women than men, the migration causes underrepresentation of women in productive age living in the country side (GUS 2017b). Our results show that the OSK mobilized a large group of new feminist activists. The majority (75%) of our overall respondents who are now coordinators of local groups stated that they had not previously acted as coordinators for women’s issues activism. However, 30% of them had taken part in such events as participants. If we look at respondents from cities that have less than 500,000 inhabitants, only 18.84% organized such events while 30.44% participated in them before 2016. In large cities, 46.15% of the coordinators were active as organizers prior to 2016. Respondents’ answers to questions about their sociopolitical activity apart from the organization of the 2016 strike or Manifas were also interesting. Here, the results certainly differ from the Polish average. Nationwide studies on the Polish situation show that the degree of participation in political, social, and civic activity, although continuously growing,5 is still quite low in comparison to many other countries. A public survey conducted in January 2016 (CBOS 2016b), before the first Polish Women Strike protest in October, shows that 44% of respondents (men and women) in Poland claim to have carried out any form of social or civic activity, such as voluntary and unpaid work for their local community or for people in need (20%) or activity in civic organizations (37%, 2.6% in women’s organizations). Thirty six percent of respondents engaged in political activity during the previous (2015) year (CBOS 2016a). Overall social and political activity was positively correlated with a higher professional position, higher education, highest incomes, residence in the largest cities, and the highest religiosity (the latter feature relates particularly to activities in church initiatives) (CBOS 2016a, b).6 If ordinariness is understood as a complete lack of sociopolitical activity (in a very broad sense), organizers from neither the OSK nor the PK8M can be described as “ordinary,” although differences can be noted between members of the two groups, and in the latter group, between residents of larger and smaller towns. Our research showed that almost 75% of OSK organizers were already socially and/or politically active before 2016 (for example, as members of local associations, interest groups, or local governments, by organizing protests against PiS policy or joining trade unions, parties, and some also in women’s organizations); although previous activity at the local and community level was more frequent among those


For example, overall social and civic activity increased from 44% in 2015 to 50% in 2016 (CBOS 2016b, 2018, p. 7). 6 It could be argued, that especially underprivileged social groups that possibly would benefit the most from political activity (for example, those with lower income or holding professions with less social prestige) are less likely to engage in it. A way to understand “ordinariness” within the described political struggles is to associate it with less efficiency and less access to the public sphere: lower political engagement, less frequent formulating of public statements and feeling less entitled to articulating such opinions, and thus having a smaller impact on the social reality. The strength of this dependency is linked not only on the degree of centralization and professionalization, but as well of elitism of a given society.


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OSK organizers who lived in cities of over 500,000 inhabitants (more than 80%) but only slightly lower among those from smaller towns (about 71%). Among PK8M coordinators, only one of our respondents did not participate in any initiative other than the PK8M while the vast majority are activists in other women’s, LGBT, environmental, and human rights groups. Among the most telling parts of our research results were opinions about the meaning of the concept of ordinariness. We asked respondents whether the events (women’s strikes or Manifas) they organized were protests of ordinary women. The difference between the responses of OSK and PK8M members was striking: Over 90% of the latter group answered affirmatively, while the PK8M members had more varied answers with almost a half finding it hard to decide between either “yes” or “no”. Next to this almost a third was answering in the positive and almost a quarter in the negative. Justifying their opinions, regardless of the choices in answering the question, most members of the PK8M described the term ordinary as ambivalent and rejected the simple dichotomy between representing the ordinary and the non-ordinary. Many of the respondents distanced themselves from the term ordinariness seeing it as a normative concept that serves to divide women. Other argued that Manifa is a protest that serves ordinary women or that it is a protest of both ordinary and not-ordinary. Respondents critical of the term “ordinary women” associated it with a normative concept of ordinariness. As mentioned above, according to such normative concepts, a woman involved in struggles aimed at fighting gender-based disadvantage and declaring herself a feminist ceases to belong to the categories of ordinary people or ordinary women. The fact that especially PK8M activists from Warsaw were critical of the term comes as no surprise. Within the overwhelming right-wing discourse, an “ordinary woman” is dedicated to family life, her husband, care taking, reproduction, religion, and patriotism. Feminists use to be contrasted with “ordinary women” and portrayed as “importing” so-called foreign concepts, while feminist activism and a critique of patriarchy have been described by the right wing as a reaction to imaginary problems that are of no concern to “real” or “average” women (see Kopciewicz 2011; Kubisa 2017). Within the right wing, but even within some (comparably marginal) left-wing discourses, one can find dichotomies limiting the entire spectrum of feminist initiatives in Poland (after 1989) to a particular type of feminism, complicit with the project of neoliberal reforms in post-socialist Europe (while supporters of far-right ideologies are portrayed as underprivileged economic victims) or describing feminism as a project “designed” by a “western elite” and imposed on the “ordinary people”. Such framings not only mirror far right discourses, but as well negate the diversity of feminist initiatives and their complex history (see Ramme 2019b, pp. 24 f.). Julia Kubisa describes how feminists in Poland are accused of not doing enough or of not “representing the real interests of women and their social problems,” while the dominant neoliberal and conservative discourses both fail to link tradition and culture to material issues. Therefore, an important task of feminism is to acknowledge the bodily dimension of exploitation (Kubisa 2017, pp. 9–10).

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The portrayal of followers of far-right ideologies as underprivileged economic victims and right-wing preferences and politics as a defense against e.g. economic precarisation “imposed” allegedly by “elites from abroad” supports right-wing people and elites dichotomies. A closer look at antifeminist right-wing actors and their followers dismantles such simple oppositions. For example, Ordo Iuris, the organization that stood behind the 2016 Stop Abortion bill, belongs to an international network called Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP)—an elitist, traditionalist network that includes a notable amount of members of the European aristocracy (see e.g. Suchanow 2018). When it comes to PiS supporters or the far right in Poland, things as well become more complicated. According to public opinion polls, the majority of radical far-right sympathizers are young men from big cities (Podgórska 2017; Instytut Spraw Publicznych 2017), while Maciej Gdula’s research of a small Mazovia town has shown that PiS supporters there aim to maintain their local (peripheral) elite status, distancing themselves from both the “social disease” (refugees, the unemployed, alcoholics) and an urban elite (Gdula 2017). The fact that a new political subject struggling for women’s rights referred to itself as “ordinary women” was met with suspicion among those who have been struggling for gender equality since well before 2016. But the results of our survey among local OSK coordinators did not confirm assumptions that the term “ordinary women” is used to distinguish the movement from existing feminist initiatives and NGOs. Local coordinators’ understanding of the term was not contrasted to the term “elites,” nor did it align with a right-wing populist application, where the (ordinary) people are described as a homogeneous unit. However, qualitative research conducted about organizers of the black protests and the OSK protests indicate that there exist some hostility toward NGOs and older feminist activists (Murawska and Włodarczyk 2017, p. 8). A distinction from other types of feminist activism could be observed in public statements made by leaders of the new movement: “It’s us, the ordinary women—not connected with any feminist or women’s organization, human rights or citizen’s organization or political party—who want change.”7 Furthermore, some feminist academics declared that the 2016 mobilization was the “beginning of a feminist movement in Poland” (Majewska 2016). Ironically the issue of “who started feminism in Poland” and if it even exists there yet, has been an issue for several decades now (Graff 2007; Limanowska 2007; Ramme 2016). When it comes to feminism on a mass scale, it is obvious that it certainly is a new phenomenon, but there was a movement even before this critical moment in 2016 when attempts were made to introduce a very repressive abortion law. The use of such distinctions appears paradoxical as it simultaneously undermines calls for female solidarity by discursively excluding all those from the movement who were engaged in promoting gender equality even before the situation became so critical.

The original statement reads: “To my, zwykłe kobiety—niezwiązane z żadną organizacją feministyczną, żadną organizacją kobiecą, z żadną organizacją działającą na rzecz praw człowieka czy obywatela, niezwiązane z żadną partią polityczną—chcemy zmiany.” We discuss this issue more in depth in another article: Ramme and Snochowska-Gonzalez (2019).



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Organizers who described the protest called the Polish Women Strike (OSK) as a protest of ordinary women, listed (among others) the following features of “ordinariness”: a lack of prior sociopolitical activity, diversity, acting beyond divisions, a common goal, the fact that it was open to all women and represented the majority. Some also mentioned that the protest was of ordinary women because of its low entry point—it was easy to get involved and become part of the protest. According to the survey answers, the diversity of the women striking in October 2016 was manifest in the following categories: age/generation; education; political views, worldview; profession; place of residence (big city, small town, village); social status; family situation (having children or not); class; gender. The category of “ordinary women” described in the survey by local OSK coordinators was inclusive to the highest degree, representing the widest spectrum of the abovementioned variables or welcoming women regardless of these variables. PK8M coordinators, however, rejected the term “ordinary” in their own self-descriptions, highlighting its normative character (its ethno-nationalist applications) and frequently mentioning other unprivileged groups (immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees). Our goal was also to analyze our respondents’ attitude toward abortion. One of the most powerful manifestations of the ethno-nationalist, populist dichotomy— "ordinary women” versus feminists from “the metropolitan elite”—is the division between women who are mothers and therefore oppose the right to abortion, and women who choose not to be mothers and thus fight for this right (Król and Pustułka 2018, p. 14; Kopciewicz 2011). This division is not just a difference between two positions: According to the ethno-nationalist dichotomy, views on abortion are also a measure of normality, respectfulness, and attitudes toward what is presumed to be the most important female role: reproduction on behalf of the national body (see Graff 2008, 2009; Mosse 1985; Yuval-Davis 1997). In contrast, for feminists in Poland, the attitude toward abortion is usually a touchstone of feminist engagement. Thus, we wanted to know to what extent the “ordinary women” among OSK coordinators support women’s right to abortion and whether their protest was a defense of the status quo or a call to liberalize the abortion bill, and whether the “feminists” from the PK8M are unanimously pro-choice, fighting against this law. At first sight, our respondents’ answers confirmed these predictions: Slightly above 10% of OSK coordinators said that the act should remain as it is only more care should be taken to implement it (as it is now not always the case even with such restrictive abortion law—women have problems with enforcing the right to abortion in three cases specified by law), secondly they were afraid that any change might mobilize the other side even more. Contrary to this, none of the PK8M coordinators agreed with this response. However, when we analyzed the reasoning behind such answers, it was clear that OSK coordinators were being strategic—opting to introduce changes gradually in order to avoid polarization, not because they were opposed to abortion rights. The remaining nearly 90% of OSK coordinators and 100% of PK8M coordinators were in favor of liberalizing the law. However, we were also curious about whether they supported the right to abortion only in specific cases or they advocated a policy of abortion on demand. About 70% of women from the OSK and 70% of women from the PK8M were in favor of liberalizing the law to

The Ambivalence of the Ordinary: The Polish Women’s Strike (OSK) and the. . .


allow abortion in specific cases, while approximately 15% of women from the OSK and 30% of women from the PK8M supported abortion on demand. Interestingly enough, while justifying their answers, they all appealed not too difficult life circumstances that would justify the termination of a pregnancy (to the so-called social reasons), but to women’s autonomy—their right to decide and their bodily sovereignty. This sense of sovereignty united women from both groups and was the most important motivation to engage in protests. In our opinion, it was also a proof of transgression of the conceptual frames imposed by PiS and by the ethnonationalist right wing more broadly. “Ordinary women” from the OSK and “feminists” from the PK8M rejected attempts to deprive women of their autonomy and sovereignty over their own bodies. PiS, claiming to represent the “sovereign” Polish nation that voted for the party, would have to accept that sovereign women do not allow their rights to be limited. Answers to the questions about the motivations for engaging in the strike shed additional light onto the possible meaning of ordinariness. The description by OSK members of their newly arisen subjecthood as “ordinary women” should first of all be understood in reference to right-wing and conservative contexts: It is the female “people” postulating their (bodily) sovereignty in opposition to a narrow group of men in power in parliaments, government, and the Church (Ramme 2019a; Ramme and Snochowska-Gonzalez 2019).

4 Conclusion The concept of ordinariness is highly ambivalent and can assume different meanings and functions depending on the context and political goals it serves. Therefore, a claim to represent “ordinary women” must be understood in relation to its sociopolitical context. When deployed as a way to refer to “the people,” ordinariness can be understood in an inclusive or exclusive way—that is, either as a monolith that maintains its alleged purity or (as the results of the survey with OSK coordinators revealed) a multiplicity united in its diversity. Meanwhile, references to ordinariness were met with suspicion among feminist activists from the P8KM because this concept has been previously used to divide women (into those who fulfill norms and those who do not) and to discipline those who struggle against sexual orientation/gender-based inequalities and exploitation. However, the subject of the ordinary women described by OSK coordinators needs to first of all be understood as an expression of popular sovereignty. As our research shows, the importance of the OSK protests lies in the fact that a subject calling itself “ordinary women” has generated a series of demands that do not correspond to the PiS party’s program for “ordinary women.” They demanded the right to make decisions about their own bodies, as opposed to the government or Catholic Church, and celebrated their diversity. Another dimension of ordinariness we took a look at was the statistical average. While aware of the limitations of such statistic approaches (especially regarding constraints and oppression experienced due to gender and sexual orientation), we decided to test some determinants of ordinariness in populist elites—the


J. Ramme and C. Snochowska-Gonzalez

people distinctions through quantitative research. We compared claims of ordinariness linked to geographical location (center–periphery), education (cultural capital), and sociopolitical activity by comparing results from our qualitative survey (ordinariness as the statistical average) with countrywide surveys. We were able to show that the work of local OSK coordinators is mainly based in small and mid-sized cities and that half of PK8M members are of small-town origin, therefore complicating assumptions about feminists being representative of metropolitan elites. The centralization or elitization of sociopolitical life in Poland might have a significant impact on the agency of differently positioned social groups. However, within the frame of this article, we mainly focused on such dimensions as geographical center–periphery positions and education, excluding many other important aspects that impact the ability to participate equally in sociopolitical life (such as sexual violence, binary gender norms, classism, nationalism, ageism, ableism, and racism, among others). There are differences between the two groups we studied—for example, their approach toward abortion legislation but also the identity categories, intersectionalities, and dimensions of inequality both groups address. However, our analysis of the public discourse and activities in 2018 also shows that both groups have more and more in common, especially because the OSK is a rapidly developing movement. The social significance of difference depends, among other things, on what kinds of relationships are generated between different elements: whether it is a conflict, disregarding differences, or their coexistence. In the available comments on the heterogeneous masses of women supporting the protests of OSK, three approaches may be identified: (1) The conflict is underlined, saying that the OSK was the protest of underprivileged women from small towns and villages rather than those from the big-city elite, and that is how “feminism began in Poland”; (2) The “abolition” of differences between women united by a common goal is emphasized—as if these differences no longer mattered (see Majewska 2018); and (3) The diversity, intersectionality, and cooperation of very different people and milieus is emphasized without masking possible conflicts, interests, and inequalities within the society and the movement itself (dealing with these differences is seen as the best school for a renewed democracy). The third approach is the most promising for political struggle today, given the crisis of democracy and the threat of right-wing neo-authoritarianism.

5 Annotation The article partially includes results published in Ramme, J. and SnochowskaGonzalez, C. (2018). Solidarity despite and because of diversity. Activists of the Polish Women’s Strike. Praktyka Teoretyczna 4(30)/2018, pp. 75–100 and. Ramme, J. and Snochowska-Gonzalez, C. (2019). Nie/zwykłe kobiety. Populizm prawicy, wola ludu a kobiecy suweren (Un/Ordinary women. Right wing populism, the

The Ambivalence of the Ordinary: The Polish Women’s Strike (OSK) and the. . .


people’s will and the female sovereign), in: Korolczuk, E.; Kowalska, B.; Ramme, J.; Snochowska-Gonzalez, C. (Ed.), Bunt kobiet. Czarne Protesty i Strajki Kobiet, Europejskie Centrum Solidarności, Gdańsk, p. 85–117.

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Part III

Work, Money, and Power

Putting Care at the Center: Women Organizing Trade Unions in the Care Sector in Poland Julia Kubisa

The undervaluation of care and care work is a social and economic problem observed across the globe. Feminist scholars and activists have argued that the relations of production cannot be viewed without acknowledging the value of reproductive labor. However, care and care work are still considered a natural vocation and innate to women, who perform it as a so-called labor of love. When care becomes a profession, it is undervalued in terms of wages and working conditions. Within the labor market, women dominate the healthcare, social assistance, and education sectors in Poland—all of which are undervalued. Yet, at the same time, the social need for care workers and care work is increasing—due to an aging population, a greater participation of women in the labor market, and changing gender roles. Social tension arises from the discrepancy between the need for care and the persistent undervaluation of those who provide it. In this chapter, I discuss the activities of women in Polish trade unions active in the caresector. I focus on strategies of organizing women in female-dominated care professions, ways of understanding care work, and forms of negotiating its value and social recognition within the framework of what Linda Briskin has termed the politicization of caring.

J. Kubisa (*) University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



J. Kubisa

1 The Politicization of Caring Care is relational. As noted by Judith Philips (2009), care is dealt with throughout life and permeates all its different dimensions so that it is difficult to clearly define what care is. You can receive care from your loved ones in the private sphere and give it back. Throughout our lives, we participate in the functioning of institutions that specialize in care, such as healthcare, education, and social assistance, as well as nongovernmental organizations and public administration. Care skills are often considered natural in the private sphere, especially for women. As noted by historian Edward Shorter (1976) in his research on women’s work patterns in preindustrial societies, the type of work performed by women, the three Cs—cooking, cleaning, child care, are considered innate to their gender. Care work in the public sphere— within the labor market—is a standardized service subject to regulation by specific institutions (Philips 2009). However, due to the ubiquity of care in the private sphere and its emotional character, care, even in the public sphere, is thought of as an emotionally charged vocation (Tronto 1993; Hochschild 2012) whose symbolic rewards (for example, a sense of contributing to the good of society) make up for its material devaluation. The intimate contact with the body of another person often involved in care work—considered “dirty work”—further reduces its status (Twigg 2001). Therefore, despite requirements for the formalization and standardization of care work, its association with emotional relations within the private sphere penalizes it in the public sphere, where it is thought of as unskilled work and, in consequence, poorly remunerated (Philips 2009). In this chapter, I focus on care as it is performed by professionals. The transition from the private to the public sphere is problematic, as care becomes undervalued in terms of wages and working conditions. The resemblance to activities performed for family members within a domestic sphere, perceived as innate to women and thus gendered female, makes care vulnerable to exploitation on the labor market—despite the fact that care as a profession is sought after and more urgent than ever. Economic and social changes, such as an increase of women in the labor force, an ageing population, and shifting gender roles, result in an increased demand for professional care. This demand, however, does not translate into higher wages or adequate working conditions, a situation that can be interpreted in terms of the relationship between productive and reproductive labor. The latter term may be understood as work that focuses on aspects of daily life—physical or mental health, food preparation and service, cleaning, and personal care—or care for the next generation (Glenn 1992; Duffy 2007). Federici (1975) has applied a productive labor framework for the conditions of housework. She argues that what is called love is actually unpaid work, frigidity is a form of absenteeism, and miscarriage should be perceived as a workplace accident. Additionally, she considers neurosis, suicide, and desexualization to be occupational hazards. As she points out, productive labor was never possible without the input of reproductive labor, which is performed at home for free: “Housework is already money for capital” she states in her Wages Against Housework manifesto. The system of production needs housewives to take care of the

Putting Care at the Center: Women Organizing Trade Unions in the Care Sector in. . .


domestic sphere, where they work as reproductive laborers, sustaining the system of production without compensation. Care has always been a form of invisible labor performed at home and naturalized as a woman’s duty. Therefore, the transition of care from a domestic to a professional context can be read as the transformation of an unpaid activity into a paid service. This transition of care from the private sphere to the public one transforms individuals who provide care into workers. Federici (2008) discusses the possibilities of resisting reproductive labor but not how this affects the relationship between caregivers and those cared for. She calls for a distinction between the creation of human beings and the reproduction of future workers as a form of labor power. Thus, the struggle against reproductive labor is not directed at people who are cared for but against the systemic processes and mechanisms of oppression that deny women control over reproduction and caregiving. Sylvia Walby’s work on gender regimes explains how the transfer from private to public patriarchy is present in six interrelated structures: paid work, household production, culture, sexuality, violence, and the state (Walby 1990, 1997). Thus, reproductive labor and its value should be seen as part of a socioeconomic system, regulated and controlled by the gendered state. In current gender regimes, care and care work are still considered a natural vocation innate to women, who perform it as a “labor of love.” The feminist framework of reproductive work and care work recognizes social reproduction and care as work, the exploitation of individuals performing this work in a gendered state and within gendered capitalist relations, and the potential for caregivers to resist their oppression in order to define and perform reproduction and care work on their own terms. A useful framework to understand the struggles of care occupations can be found in Linda Briskin’s work (2013). She draws attention to strikes by nurses—an occupational group that provides professional care—which illustrate “the politicisation of caring, that is, a recognition of the collective responsibility for caring, and the impact of deteriorating conditions of nursing work on quality care; the rejection of essentialist claims that women are responsible for caring work by virtue of being women; the demand that the skills involved in caring work be recognized and rewarded; and the willingness to mobilize collectively to these ends.” (Briskin 2013, p. 120). Within this framework, I would like to examine two cases of women’s trade union activity in care work in Poland: nurses and nurseries’ workers.

2 Women and Care in Poland When addressing the relationship between women and care in Poland, it is useful to contextualize the situation of working women by looking at labor market statistics. Polish women are generally less economically active than their male peers. According to public statistics, 48% of women over 15 years old are economically active: employed or unemployed, in comparison to 65.1% of men (GUS 2018). The employment indicator in the population older than fifteen is 45.8% for women, while


J. Kubisa

for men, it is 62.2% (GUS 2018). There are other significant differences: women (33.2%) are more likely than men (16.7%) to work in the public sector. Indeed, women dominate the sectors of healthcare and social assistance (approximately 82%) and education (approximately 78%). In cases of difficult and problematic working conditions, the experiences of men and women differ. Among the small group of workers enduring life-threatening working conditions (7.8%), most are men (83.8%). However, in cases where working conditions (meaning work demands, not work environment) are arduous, women dominate (35.7% of women compared to 22.9% of men). Occupational or economic passivity is another significant statistic that reflects gender differences—especially in terms of reasons for not being employed or actively seeking a job. For men, an economically passive status is mostly the result of chronic illness (43–55% of men between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-four). Family responsibilities come in a distant third place for the 21% of economically inactive men between the ages of thirty-five and forty-four. For women, family responsibilities come first for the group aged 25–54 years old— from 53% of the eldest to 79% of the youngest unable to work for this reason. Women are economically passive because of illness in far smaller numbers: only 9% for 25–34-year- olds, with a maximum of 31.5% for those aged 45–54 years old. Nurses represent the largest occupational group in the Polish healthcare system, and this group is predominantly female. According to the database of the National Chamber of Nurses and Midwives (2019), there were 288,774 women and 6707 men certified to work as nurses in 2018, approximately 194,000 of whom, according to Poland’s Central Statistical Office, actually worked with patients (GUS 2018). The National Chamber of Nurses and Midwives publishes annual statistics comparing Polish nurses to their European counterparts. The number of employed nurses and midwives per 1000 citizens is 8.1 in the Czech Republic, 7.5 in France, 9.6 in Germany, and 9.2 in the United Kingdom, while in Poland, it is only 5. Low wages have long been a major problem for nurses working in the Polish healthcare system, forcing them to seek supplementary forms of income. In the early 2000s, nurses were usually also employed as cleaners. According to current data from the National Chamber of Nurses and Midwives, the number of nurses is decreasing, with more nurses retiring than beginning their careers, so that additional work within the occupation is increasingly possible on a part-time basis. Depending on the local labor market offer, nurses provide part-time in-home care and work part-time in public and private clinics, and in hospital wards, which require intensive teamwork.

Putting Care at the Center: Women Organizing Trade Unions in the Care Sector in. . .


3 Nurseries1 Polish nurseries have a troubled history, from their broad-scale introduction in the 1950s to allow women to work in factories during the country’s rapid industrialization, to the whittling down of investment in care facilities that began in the 1960s. Since then, the quality of care and working conditions have deteriorated. Following systemic change, the new approach to public budgeting was based on the assumption that social policy expenses created a burden that should be limited. Nurseries were underfinanced and many of them forced to close (Heinen and Wator 2006). The percentage of children in nurseries leveled at 2%. Changes in the labor market and gender roles renewed discussions about the availability of childcare: In 2011, President Komorowski signed the Ustawa Żłobkowa (Nurseries Act) into law, which aimed to increase the number of nurseries providing institutional care for children under 3 years old. However, numbers remain low. The public statistics are quite difficult to decipher as they state that “children up to the age of three are cared for in nurseries and children’s clubs for 1,000 children aged two to three.” What is certain is that the numbers are slowly increasing. In 2012, there were 45,111 children in Poland in nurseries and children’s clubs, while in 2017 that number rose to 99,409 (GUS 2019). However, the total number of children in the nursery age is about 1,2 million. Nursery and children’s clubs for children under three employed 19,400 workers in 2017; of those, 98.9% were women—61.2% of them caregivers, while the rest were teachers, nurses, midwives, or had other roles (GUS 2019).

4 Women in Trade Unions Trade union membership in Poland is relatively low: According to a 2017 survey conducted on a representative sample, 5% of all respondents and 11% of those employed are trade union members. The majority of members belong to two trade union confederations—NSZZ Solidarność (3% of employed respondents) and OPZZ (5% of employed respondents)—while the third confederation, Forum Związków Zawodowych (FZZ), represents 1% of employed respondents. Two percent of employed respondents belonged to trade unions that are not confederations (CBOS 2017). According to extensive research conducted by GUS (Statistics Poland) in 2014, 1.6 million people belonged to a trade union. Trade union members constituted 5% of the Polish adult population including 11% of all employed people, 17% of those employed on the basis of a contract of employment (and not civil contract for example) and 19% of employees in workplaces with more than nine employees. Men are more likely than women to be members of a trade union and constitute 54% of all members. Individual trade unions were diverse in terms of gender 1

Nurseries—child care centers for babies and toddlers up to 3 years old.


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representation and consistent with the employment structure of any given industry. A clear dominance of men was observed in trade unions operating in construction, mining, energy production, water services, agriculture, and transport: The average male participation rate among members of these companies was 80–88%. A higher participation of women was evident in trade unions operating in healthcare and social assistance (79%) as well as financial and insurance industries (73%). In total, men constituted over three-quarters of members in 36% of unions, while in 27%, the share of women was equal (GUS 2015).

5 Research Focus As statistics show, women are most active in the care domain. They dominate the care and education sectors (including early childhood education in the form of nurseries, which combine care and education), and care is the primary reason for their economic inactivity. Therefore, it can be assumed that care is gendered and naturalized as an activity innate to women. I would now like to show two cases of trade unions that were founded with care as the focal point of their agenda. They are both highly female, which is relatively unusual for trade union membership in Poland. I do not aim to make a one-to-one comparison, because the scope of their activity and their sizes are different. Instead, I suggest presenting them as two slightly different cases that both answer the question: What happens to care when care workers organize? I will present their activities according to one framework: the origins of these trade unions and why they were established, their primary goals in the beginning and how they developed, their membership characteristics, positions with respect to other unions, forms of protests, approach to care in their agendas, and approach to professionalism in care work. I would like to answer the following questions: What has changed due to union organizing? Do the activities of these unions constitute a politicization of caring? If so, how is it formulated?

6 Methodology This chapter is based both on qualitative research comprised of semistructured interviews, nonparticipant observation, analysis of documents, media coverage, and secondary data analysis (see Denzin and Lincoln 2011; Silverman 2013) as well as my own personal contacts with both occupational communities developed throughout my years of research. The first part of the research—forty-three interviews and my own observations—was conducted in 2009 and 2010 for the purpose of a PhD project about the trade union activity of nurses and midwives in Poland, which was initially oriented more toward women’s activity patterns in trade unions. The issue of the relationship between job quality and quality of care emerged from

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the research material and brought a new angle to the analysis. I managed to gain the trust of the nurse community and am in frequent contact with them, which allows me to update my research material. I conducted three press interviews with union leaders and moderated a debate between union activists, National Chamber of Nurses and Midwives representatives, and the head of the nursing department at the Polish Ministry of Health; moderated two workshops for activists from the Polish National Trade Union of Nurses and Midwives organized by the F. Ebert Foundation; and held a lecture and debate with nurses (both unionized and nonunionized) in western Poland. The meetings, debates, and interviews broadened my knowledge and understanding of the tensions between job quality and quality of care as experienced by nurses. The research on the patterns of organizing caregivers in nurseries is less extensive—it is based on three qualitative interviews with union leaders and the analysis of documents, online materials, and manifestos. The organization is active only in one city and represents seventy-six people, while the group of activists engaged in negotiations is much smaller. I also have broader knowledge about the organization and the trade union know as Workers’ Initiative, where caregivers are federated, due to contacts with union activists, participation in the events and protests, and conducting training for union organizers.

7 Women’s Trade Unions in Care Occupations The two trade unions that I will discuss are the All-Poland Trade Union of Nurses and Midwives (OZZPiP) and the Inter-Company Committee at Nurseries Units in Poznań (OZZIP Nurseries)–All-Poland Trade Union Workers’ Initiative. They are very different in scale: OZZPiP was founded in the early 1990s and gained nationwide status by the middle of that decade, while OZZIP Nurseries was founded in Poznań (Poland’s fifth largest city) in 2011 and has retained its local character. Nevertheless, their origins are quite similar. The establishment of OZZPiP coincides with the period in which nurses and midwives began to organize. Activists from these groups had no previous union experience and did not want to join either the NSZZ Solidarność or OPZZ unions. They believed that the big trade unions were neglecting the issues of nurses and midwives despite the fact that they comprise the biggest occupational groups in healthcare. Years later, after creating their own large trade union, they decided to join FZZ in order to gain representation at the national level. The healthcare sector was historically underfinanced until the late 1990s, when it began to be restructured in terms of management, financing, and employment levels. Nurses and midwives were typically underpaid, so this issue became the driving force of their union activity. However, their agenda focused on the close connection between their wages and working conditions and the quality of care for patients, which is threatened by both poor working conditions and the economizing of healthcare. In their long history of struggle, they used different forms of protests to become one of the most militant trade unions in contemporary Poland. However,


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the decision to organize a highly visible protest or strike is often difficult because nurses want to avoid any resulting harm to patients. Their main strategy, therefore, has been to organize protests that will have minimal negative impacts on patients and hospital routines—which is somewhat contradictory, given that strikes are meant to disrupt normal operations. Forms of protest organized over the last 20 years by nurses have included demonstrations, street and border crossing blockades, the occupying of public buildings (for example the prime minister’s office or the visitors’ gallery in the Polish parliament), and the organization of protest camps in front of public administration buildings—the 2007 Białe Miasteczko (White Village) the most prominent among them. They often engage in hunger strikes, while trying to minimize the risk of harm to patients: During a 6-day hunger strike in 2000, nurses continued working. They became exhausted by the intense work coupled with the lack of food, which may have posed a certain threat to the well-being of their patients (Kubisa 2014). We always left the head ward nurse in charge, organized an ER team, and every hour two of us walked through the wards to check on patients and the number of doctors. If anything serious happened, they called us on the phone, and we immediately returned to the wards. (A nurse and regional trade union leader)

During strikes, the work is provisionally distributed among doctors and nursing management. Nurses admit the difficulty of having to restrain themselves from taking care of patients. Thus, during a strike they often come up with a method that enables them to participate in the protest while continuing to care for their patients. The nurses gather in one room to refrain from working. However, in the event of an emergency they will answer the call and perform any necessary tasks. Providing care while striking is the ultimate realization of their “no harm to patients” doctrine, but it places an additional burden on the striking nurses. It also weakens their bargaining position, as the employer is aware that in emergencies nurses will still work. Additionally, this strike format also makes it unnecessary for employers to cover any resulting vacancies by hiring external nurses. Over the years, nurses and midwives engaged in multiple protests and collective disputes, but their gains were not proportional to their efforts. Their wages were so low that they were forced to regularly take on supplementary jobs. This, along with grueling working conditions, has resulted in a significant decrease in new nurses and midwives. The nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals wards were very bad; cases of thirty patients to one nurse were not uncommon. Hospital administrators filled vacancies by having nurses work double shifts. The quality of care was heavily compromised due to overextended nurses working overtime. Among the most memorable strikes in recent history was at the Children’s Memorial Health Institute, where nurses demanded better pay and improved working conditions, including a more favorable nurse-to-patient ratio—existing conditions meant that there was often only one nurse for twenty children in the ward (Kubisa 2016). The strike was not entirely successful: Nurses did receive modest wage increases, but poor nurse-to-patient ratios were not improved. The OZZPiP agenda is focused on a new vision of a healthcare system that provides high-quality care and opposes the “race to the bottom.” OZZPiP has tried to

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take up the politicization of the caring approach to alert public opinion about how decreasing wages and poor working conditions compromise the quality of care for patients. In recent years, the union achieved two goals of systemic character: In 2015, it threatened a general strike just before parliamentary elections and gained wage increases implemented over four consecutive years. Since 2019, there are formal nurse-to-patient ratio rules that prohibit situations where a sole nurse must care for thirty patients. However, neither of these achievements has been completely successful. Wage increases after tax were still relatively low, so nursing jobs are still not an attractive option. Hospitals administrators have limited the number of beds in order to meet the new ratio limits, which is perhaps a safer solution than a one-tothirty ratio, but it now means that fewer patients have access to hospitals (Leśniewski 2019). Without doubt, the strategy of politicization of caring has had some positive effects, one of which is that the situation of nurses and midwives is no longer unacknowledged. Activists have managed to make this a mainstream issue and a salient topic of public and political debate. Nevertheless, care work is still undervalued and arduous. Nurseries workers have tried to improve their working conditions and increase their wages for an even longer time without any positive response from the municipality. Their demands for wage increases have been ignored, and in 2011, they received a letter from the mayor of Poznań stating that all wages in their sector would be frozen until 2032. His effrontery and bluntness motivated childcare workers to organize. They needed trade union structures but did not want to join either of the two most recognized confederations—NSZZ Solidarność or OPZZ—as they were afraid that their specific agenda would not be understood and drowned out by the unions’ other agendas. “We wanted something else,” said one of the activists, and they found what they were looking for in the Polish National Trade Union Workers’ Initiative (Inicjatywa Pracownicza or IP), a radical organization with anarchist and left-wing roots that operates in several sectors in Poland, founded in 2001. The union is not representative on a national level; however, its protests and strikes have garnered significant media coverage. Unlike other larger trade unions, IP is openly political. According to Mrozowicki and Maciejewska, “These forms of unionism are economically oriented, being workplace-based and struggling for better working conditions, while also consciously opting for political activity by building the opposition to neoliberal marketization.. .. The second important difference, resulting from the roots of both unions, concerns their ideology, which is basically more explicit within IP. IP openly opposes the idea of social dialogue and social partnership as a main strategy of trade unionism. In its documents and leaflets, IP calls for the building of a class consciousness, based on the rejection of repressive state and exploitative capitalistic social relations, as an organic task of union activity and far-reaching goal of its existence.” (Mrozowicki and Maciejewska 2017, pp. 71–72). However, choosing IP was more based on the scope of independence and lack of trade union hierarchy than the political statements this union is known for. The founding of trade unions in Poznań nurseries brought about significant change to the situation of their workers. They were given the formal possibility to engage in social dialogue with the municipality, beginning with a trade union picket in front of the


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city hall and protest actions at nurseries—both forms of protest that came to characterize this organization. Nurseries workers employed by the municipality cannot strike, which significantly lowers their bargaining position. At the same time, they are underpaid and their working conditions may be characterized as poor, in terms of the child-to-caregiver ratio. Workers began wearing black protest badges at work, which provoked questions from parents. They responded by informing parents about their working conditions, low wages, and the municipality’s failure to address these. The picket organized in front of the city hall was a new strategy that had never before been utilized by municipal workers. Members of other organizations belonging to the IP federation joined the picket in solidarity. Along with the picket, members of the nurseries trade union organized a demonstration in which they blocked traffic by lying down on tram railways. You know, as they say, women and fish don’t have a voice. Everybody was talking about schools while nurseries were ignored, as if we did not exist. Before, we were anonymous; now we have faces. (Nursery activist 1)

The right to strike is a complex and almost controversial issue for nursery workers. They point out that they have a responsibility to not leave the youngest children without adequate care. While they have a strong desire to protest against their employer’s hostile approach and decisions, they see a refusal to work as being more detrimental to the children they care for than to their employer. At the same time, their demands focus upon quality of care, as expressed in their protest demands: WE REQUEST a maximum of five children per caregiver; WE REQUEST a maximum of twenty-five children in the group; WE WANT TO increase the number of places in nurseries by increasing the financing of the care sector; WE WISH to clarify the concept of a child who needs special care; WE REQUEST shorter working hours; WE REQUEST a change in terminology: from opiekun [the grammatically masculine version of caregiver] to opiekunka [the feminine version]. (Protest Manifesto)

Trade unionists in nurseries put care at the center, prioritizing quality of care in social dialogues. They present themselves as childcare specialists, pointing out that they often provide expert advice to parents. Our work is not fairly compensated. We are responsible for very young children. We cannot sleep at night; we are constantly under stress.. .. The municipality, our employer, acknowledges the scope of our responsibility, but they don’t do anything about it. (Nursery Activist 3)

However, in both cases the relationship between the professional caregiver and the person in need is presented as prior to any form of class conflict. The representatives of both occupational groups present their situation in terms of exploitation. However, in their view, the obligation to provide care makes their position different to that of other workers in labor disputes. This is interesting, especially in relation to the nursery trade union that is part of IP, a union explicit in naming class conflict. Nursery workers emphasize that they feel welcome and supported by IP but that they

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are free to choose the extent of support for more general class-conflict issues. Nevertheless, their engagement in broader social issues is exercised in a different manner. They have become active in the Women’s Social Congress, an annual event organized by women active in trade unions, the tenants’ rights movement, and cultural institutions, mostly from Poznań and Warsaw (Women’s Social Congress 2018). This congress was launched as a socialist-feminist response to the Women’s Congress, an annual event since 2009 that has a liberal-feminist profile and focuses on entrepreneurship. In contrast, the Women’s Social Congress focuses on issues where gender, class, and work intersect and is organized by trade union members (mostly from IP). The agenda combines a bottom-up, participatory approach to organizing, defying the rule of profit, expanding public services and access to healthcare regardless of citizenship or employment status, antiprivatization, antieviction, and housing rights. The members of the nurseries union have benefitted from participating in the congress because it has made them aware that their occupational problems are part of a broader picture. The congress also serves as a platform to share experiences and practices of resistance. Their demands have been included in the general list of demands formulated by members of the congress. Additionally, cooperation between women from different groups has continued beyond the timeframe of the congress with activists supporting each other during demonstrations and pickets. Nurseries’ trade union activists began participating in the annual Women’s Day demonstration in Poznań. These demonstrations are organized around different issues, from political participation to workers’ rights to reproductive rights. Some union activists distance themselves from certain reproductive rights, especially abortion on demand—“I would not carry a banner with this slogan”—but this does not discourage them from participating in the demonstration. Thus, while the nurseries workers’ union is explicitly political, it is still carving out its own particular agenda in relation to that of IP. This agenda is focused on the politicization of care for children, making its value visible by highlighting the scope of responsibility and the needs of children and parents that must be considered in order to provide quality care.

8 Conclusions I have employed Linda Briskin’s concept of the politicization of caring to analyze the activities of female trade union activists in nursing and childcare. In both cases, the politicization of caring strategy prioritizes care within militant trade union activity. This is progressive on several levels, as it translates into women-led action in trade unions and transforms the usual trade union agenda by prioritizing caregiving, understood as work that requires a set of professional skills, as a relation and a proxy for new forms of trade union mobilization. However, care plays a twofold role in the activity of both unions: Its quality forms the center of the union agenda, and in both cases, its relational aspect is explicitly highlighted, with an emphasis on


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responsibility. This very element prevents or makes it very difficult to organize a strike (although childcare workers cannot strike formally, they generally distance themselves from the idea). In both cases, activists prioritize their relationships with patients and children—in other words, they care about these relationships. Aligning their own interests with those of the people they care for garners support from the public while making their position more vulnerable in terms of collective bargaining.

References Briskin L (2013) Nurse militancy and strike action: workers of the World. Int J Strikes Soc Conflict 1(2):105–134 CBOS (2017) Działalnośc związków zawodowych w Polsce. Instytut Wydawniczy Związków Zawodowych, Warsaw Denzin NK, Lincoln YS (2011) The Sage handbook of qualitative research. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA Duffy M (2007) Doing the dirty work: gender, race, and reproductive labor in historical perspective. Gend Soc 21(3):313–336 Federici S (1975) Wages against housework. Falling Wall Press, Bristol Federici S (2008) Precarious labor: a feminist viewpoint. https://inthemiddleofthewhirlwind. Accessed 28 March 2019 Glenn EN (1992) From servitude to service work: historical continuities in the racial division of paid reproductive labor. Signs. J Women Cult Soc 18(1):1–43 GUS (2015) Związki zawodowe w Polsce w 2014 r. Związek Zawodowy Maszynistów Kolejowych w Polsce, Warsaw GUS (2018) Statistical yearbook of the Republic of Poland 2018. GUS, Kraków GUS (2019) Methodological report. Nurseries and children’s clubs. GUS, Kraków Heinen J, Wator M (2006) Childcare in Poland before, during, and after the transition: still a women’s business. Soc Polit 13(2):189–216 Hochschild AR (2012) The managed heart: commercialization of human feeling. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA Kubisa J (2014) Bunt białych czepków. Analiza działalności związkowej pielęgniarek ipołożnych. Wydawnictwo Naukowe Scholar, Warsaw Kubisa J (2016) From better job quality to higher-quality care–Polish nurses’ collective struggle with the public healthcare system. Emecon Employ Econ Cent Eastern Europe 6(1):1–14 Leśniewski B (2019) Normy zatrudnienia, czyli pielęgniarki (na 90 proc.) wygrały. https://www.,32597.html. Accessed 25 Aug 2019 Mrozowicki A, Maciejewska M (2017) ‘The practice anticipates our reflections’–radical unions in Poland. Transfer Eur Rev Labour Res 23(1):67–77 Philips J (2009) Troska. Sic! Warsaw Shorter E (1976) Women’s work: what difference did capitalism make? Theory Soc 3(4):513–527 Silverman D (2013) Doing qualitative research: a practical handbook. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA Tronto JC (1993) Moral boundaries: a political argument for an ethic of care. Psychology Press, Brighton Twigg J (2001) Bathing the body and community care. Routledge, London Walby S (1990) Theorizing patriarchy. Blackwell, Oxford Walby S (1997) Gender transformations. Routledge, London Women Social Congress (2018) Women social congress demands. Accessed 25 Aug 2019

Questioning the Retraditionalization Thesis: Gender Differences in Paid and Unpaid Work in Bulgaria (1970–2010) Gergana Nenova

1 Introduction The problem of persisting gender inequalities in paid and unpaid work remains unresolved in Europe despite EU gender mainstreaming policies and rising female employment. Within a European context, Bulgaria represents an interesting case where a dual-earner model coexists with a highly gendered division of unpaid work, which until now has received only limited attention in the academic literature (Hofäcker et al. 2013). Both a high participation of Bulgarian women in the workforce along with the burdensome “second shift” can be traced to the socialist past. However, it is unclear how this pattern relates to the transition from a centrally planned to a market economy. A possible starting point for the understanding of this dynamic is the popular retraditionalization thesis, according to which women in postsocialist countries returned to the domestic sphere and withdrew from public life. My two principal aims in this article are to explore the historical dynamics of gendered patterns in paid and unpaid work in socialist and postsocialist Bulgaria and to question the relevance of the retraditionalization thesis in describing them. By exploring gender differences in paid and unpaid work between 1970 and 2010, I attempt to find out if they actually increased, as suggested by the retraditionalization thesis, and to disentangle the complexity of gender relations within the domains of work and family. A focus on the gender division of paid and unpaid work provides the opportunity to capture the materiality of gender relations, the everyday manifestations of gender inequalities, and their outcomes. In the first section of the article, I provide an overview of the retraditionalization thesis’s claims and arguments while interrogating some of its basic premises and assumptions. In the second section, I analyze the existent statistical data on two

G. Nenova (*) Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, Sofia, Bulgaria © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



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major indicators of gender equality: the employment rates of men and women and the gender pay gap. In the third section, I use the data from five nationwide time use surveys to analyze gender differences in time spent in unpaid work, both in general and for specific types of unpaid activities. As unpaid work includes diverse activities, each of which is gendered to a different degree, I examine the changes for the different categories of unpaid work, including farmwork. I also pay attention to the gender differences in the total workload as an important consequence of the intersection of gendered divisions in paid and unpaid work.

2 The Retraditionalization Thesis Revisited: Why and How? The retraditionalization thesis appeared shortly after the collapse of socialist regimes to describe the new gendered realities of postsocialist countries in Central and Eastern Europe. According to Kligman, for example, “the transition has also bolstered a movement toward what may be called ‘retraditionalization,’ a return to traditional values, family life, and religion. For women, this means that their roles in society are being redefined; women’s proper place is again supposed to be in the home” (Kligman 1994, p. 256). Kligman argues that economic necessity made it impossible for most of the region’s women to stop working but that their political participation, reproductive choices, and social assistance have been seriously curbed. Describing the same process, Brunnbauer speaks of the “domestication” of women in postsocialist countries as a result of policies and public pressure on women to retreat from public life. This “domestication” is manifested in the decreased political participation of women, the feminization of poverty, the rise of female unemployment, the return of the abortion debate, the increased influence of religious institutions, and the emergence of nationalist discourses (Brunnbauer 2000). The retraditionalization thesis is closely related to the claim that the change to a market economy was detrimental to women in Eastern and Central Europe because of the withdrawal of social support and the corresponding vulnerability of women in times of unregulated economic relations (Ferge 1997). Peggy Watson claims that the transition to a market economy was accompanied by a process of exclusion of women from the new social and political realities and resulted in the creation of a “man’s world” (Watson 1993, p. 472). A market economy is assumed to “favor what are established male practices and prerogatives and limit those of women” (Pine 2002, pp. 102–3); therefore, forcing them to “retreat from the workforce” (Ghodsee and Mead 2018, p. 129). However, some of the research based on quantitative data contradict the claims of the retraditionalization thesis. Drawing on statistical data in several domains of gender equality (employment, care, household income, time, and political

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participation) for eight Central and Eastern European countries,1 Pascall and Kwak conclude that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, women in these countries have retained their positions in dual-earner households and that despite traditional politics regarding abortion and motherhood, there is not much evidence to support a return to “traditional gender divisions” (Pascall and Kwak 2005, p. 65). Several international studies of the changes in the gender pay gap in transitional economies were conducted with the expectation that in the process of the marketization of these economies, the differences between men and women’s earnings would increase. These studies found no upward tendency in the gender pay gap; instead they found that in some Eastern European countries, differences in earnings along gender lines actually decreased (Newell and Reilly 2001; Brainerd 2000; UNICEF 1999). Drawing on their quantitative research of the attitudes toward gender roles in Croatia, Brajdić-Vuković, Birkelund, and Štulhofer conclude that “Croatian society is markedly influenced by the global process of decreasing gender inequality, in both the public and private spheres” (Brajdić-Vuković et al. 2007, p. 49). What does the debate around the gendered aspect of transition look like in relation to Bulgaria? Mariya Stoilova speaks of the retraditionalization in Bulgaria after 1989 as produced by “neo-traditionalist intentions of returning to the male breadwinner/ female homemaker model” (Stoilova 2015, p. 198). From different perspectives, Luleva and Ghodsee agree that there has been a process of returning to traditional patriarchal traditions, values, and roles (Luleva 2016, p. 94; Ghodsee 2003, p. 466; Ghodsee 2005, p. 39). Ghodsee’s argumentation relies mainly on claims about the overall positive effects of socialist regimes on the situation of women, while Luleva bases her analysis on public discourse in postsocialist Bulgaria. While Ghodsee claims, for instance, that Bulgarian women withdrew from the labor force “in an ironic demonstration of their freedom” (Ghodsee 2003, p. 466), Luleva holds that the cultural construction of women predominantly as mothers and wives has not altered Bulgarian women’s employment patterns. Luleva also criticizes Ghodsee for her generalizations and argues for a more differentiated approach toward Bulgarian women and the postsocialist gender order (Luleva 2016). Daskalova, on the other hand, argues that gendered transformations in postsocialist Bulgaria should not be cited as examples of retraditionalization because the socialist regime never really questioned the traditional power asymmetry in gender relations (Daskalova 2000). Following this argument, it is useful to question the meanings attached to the word “tradition” as they constitute the core of the retraditionalization thesis. Within this rhetoric, “tradition” refers to the assumption that women have historically been assigned predominantly domestic roles. While this presumption may be true within a Western context, Bulgarian women were active workers well before the establishment of the socialist regime, when a mostly rural female population was already engaged in work on family farms (Todorova 1993). The commonalities of rural life and financial necessity consolidated a tradition of high female workforce participation very different to the image depicted by


Poland, Estonia, Hungary, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, and Slovakia.


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the retraditionalization thesis. A failure to acknowledge this tradition in favor of a Western version prioritizes a Western gaze, neglecting the historical accomplishments of Bulgarian women. In the Bulgarian case, the retraditionalization thesis also overlooks the complexity of the macrosocietal changes in the family and work domains. Since 1989, there have been massive transformations of family relations in directions that can hardly be called traditional—a steep decline of marriage rates,2 a dramatic increase in the share of children born outside marriage,3 the establishment of a cohabitation model (Chengelova 2011), a decrease in fertility rates (Dimitrova 2005), and an increase in divorce rates.4 In 1990, the restrictions on abortion established as part of pronatalist socialist policies were removed, granting Bulgarian women full reproductive freedom. Under socialist legislation, Bulgarian women were the object of special legislative protection in their function as mothers.5 The socialist state’s generosity toward mothers peaked in the 1986 labor code, which granted them the right to 2 years of paid maternity leave, one additional year of unpaid leave for the third year following the birth of a child, legislative protection against dismissal if they had children under the age of three, and many other measures. Most of these legal provisions were preserved after 1989 with the first, better paid part6 of the maternity leave extended to 315 days in 2007 and 410 days in 2009.7 As a result, contemporary Bulgaria has the longest maternity leave in the EU at 52 weeks. Despite the availability of childcare centers prior to 1989, most children in Bulgaria—especially those under 3 years old—were raised at home8 and cared for not only by their parents but also by relatives.9 The high participation of relatives caring for children during the years of socialism was possibly due to the low retirement age for women (55 years old). After 1989, the increase in retirement age along with urbanization meant that grandmothers were not necessarily free to care for their grandchildren. At the same time, formal childcare for children under


Between 1990 and 2010, the marriage rate decreased from 6.8 to 3.2% (NSI 2015, p. 33). In 1992, the share of children born outside marriage was 18.5%; this number increased to 42% in 2001 and to 58.8% in 2014 (NSI 2015, p. 26). 4 Between 1990 and 2005, the divorce rate increased from 1.3 to 1.9 (NSI 2015, p. 31). 5 The principle of the protection of mothers was guaranteed in 1947 under the first socialist constitution. 6 During this first part of the maternity leave, mothers receive 90% of their salary. 7 Payment during the second year of maternity leave is very low and is currently below minimum wage. 8 According to a 1977 sociological study of 5993 Bulgarian families, only 13% of children younger than three and 35% of children between the ages of three and seven were placed in formal care; 48% of children under 3 years old were cared for by their mothers, 10.5% by the whole family, and 26% by relatives (Kiuranov et al. 1987, p. 141). 9 A quarter of children under seven years old were cared for by relatives (Kiuranov et al. 1987). 3

Questioning the Retraditionalization Thesis: Gender Differences in Paid and. . .


three became even more unpopular.10 All these factors may be interpreted as leading to increasing social pressures on mothers to stay at home for as long as possible. In 2004, the view that preschool children suffer if their mothers work was supported by 62% of Bulgarian participants in the Generations and Gender Survey (Panova and Buber-Ennser 2016).11 In the domain of paid work, there are several significant changes that have actually contributed to the improvement of women’s economic positions after the transition to a market economy. The expansion of nonindustrial sectors following the collapse of industrial production in Bulgaria has been identified as a prerequisite for greater participation by women in the labor market (Ilieva 1993). Utilizing data from the International Labor Organization for the early 1990s, Brainerd notes that Bulgaria is among those Eastern European countries where “the decline in male labor force participation in the early years of transition exceeds that of female labor force participation” (Brainerd 2000, p. 157). In the twenty-first century, it is already obvious that the rapid development of the service sector has provided women with better employment opportunities (Stoilova 2012) because of the specificities of their human capital and educational preferences.12 Bulgarian women’s economic activity has also been fostered by legislative changes concerning retirement age. The increase in women’s retirement age means a better integration of women in their fifties and sixties in the labor market. According to the current Eurostat data, Bulgarian women fare extraordinarily well among women in the EU in terms of labor market positions. In 2017, Bulgaria placed second in the EU-wide ranking of countries with 49% of all managerial positions held by women (Eurostat 2019). The year before, Bulgaria was among the four countries with the smallest gap between full-time male and female employment in the EU; on average, 63% of Bulgarian women and 71.1% of Bulgarian men between 20 and 64 years old worked on a full-time basis as compared to 56.2% of women in the EU and 74.4% of men (European Commission 2017).13 In 2017, Bulgaria also had the highest proportion of women (26.5%) in the EU employed in information and communication technologies (Eurostat 2018). Thirty years after the start of the transition to a market economy in Bulgaria, it is difficult to interpret these facts as part of the socialist legacy. Given that these complicated and contradictory processes in the family and labor market are part of the postsocialist reality in Bulgaria, does the retraditionalization


According to Eurostat 2007 data, only 8% of children in this age group were enrolled in formal childcare: .do?tab ¼ table&plugin ¼ 1&language ¼ en&pcode ¼ tepsr_sp210. 11 This places Bulgaria in the group of European countries that preserve traditional attitudes (Panova and Buber-Ennser 2016). 12 Szalai provides a systematic account of an identical process in Hungary, where women have managed to make use of the skills they learned under socialism, acquiring relatively good positions in the newly developed service sector (Szalai 2003). 13 The percentage of people working part-time in Bulgaria is negligible: 2% of 20–64 year olds in 2018. See


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thesis actually describe the lives of men and women after 1989? As already stated, I will address this question by exploring the historical dynamics of the gender division of paid and unpaid work. As socialism is not monolithic and there are many political, social, and economic turns that provide a background for those that occurred during the transition, I will explore the available data on the gender differences in paid and unpaid work between 1970 and 2010. I will review the existent statistical data on paid and unpaid work collected by the Central Statistical Office (Centralno Statistichesko Upravlenie or CSU 1991),14 National Statistical Institute (NSI), and Eurostat and make a secondary data analysis—mainly labor market statistics and the data from the five time use surveys conducted in 1970–1971, 1976–1977, 1988, 2001–2002, and 2009–2010 by CSU and NSI. In order to avoid methodological mistakes and to ensure comparability, I will use uniform measures, variables, and methodologies.

3 Bulgarian Women in Employment (1970–2010): Stability Not Retreat In this section, I focus on two well-established indicators for the degree of gender inequality: female employment rates and differences in wages between men and women. I also pay attention to men’s workforce participation and labor statistics for the entire Bulgarian population, as this helps to estimate changes in women’s workforce participation as part of nationwide processes. As all socialist countries, Bulgaria before 1989 saw a significant rise in the number and share of employed women. This process continued into the 1980s, and in 1989, women already comprised 50.2% of the employed population (Ilieva 1993, p. 50). The transition to a market economy in 1989 changed this situation quickly: By 1991, Bulgarian women constituted only 48.7% of the employed population (Ilieva 1993). The years between 1993 and 2010 showed remarkable stability in the share of women among the employed population, representing 46 to 47% of all workers (Table 1). Therefore, despite an initial steep decline in the share of employed women between 1989 and 1993, women have managed to retain their positions within the labor market. The information about the percentage of women in the employed population provides only a rough picture of female employment patterns. An important indicator of gender equality in paid labor is the female employment rate—the share of employed women in the adult female population. According to the National Statistical Institute data, between 1995 and 2001, there was a decrease in the employment rate of the entire Bulgarian population over 15 years old—from 44 to 40.6%—but this decrease was smaller for women (2.7%) than it was for men (4%) (NSI 2002,

14 The Central Statistical Office (Centralno statistichesko upravlenie or CSU) was created in 1953 and existed until 1991, when it was replaced by the National Statistical Institute.

Questioning the Retraditionalization Thesis: Gender Differences in Paid and. . .


Table 1 Percentage of women in the employed population (1993–2010) Year 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010

Total number of employed people in Bulgaria 2,994,600 2,868,700 3,031,500 3,085,400 3,030,100 2,920,700 2,811,000 2,735,500 2,628,200 2,704,400 2,834,000 2,922,200 2,980,000 3,110,000 3,252,600 3,360,700 3,253,600 3,052,800

Total number of employed women 1,395,200 1,336,300 1,421,800 1,448,400 1,413,900 1,367,200 1,311,000 1,282,400 1,256,600 1,284,700 1,334,000 1,371,500 1,388,700 1,457,200 1,521,100 1,567,800 1,521,300 1,444,500

Percentage of women in the employed population 46.59 46.58 46.90 46.94 46.66 46.81 46.64 46.88 47.81 47.50 47.07 46.93 46.60 46.86 46.77 46.65 46.76 47.32

Source: NSI (2012): 10. Data based on the Labor Force Survey. Percentage calculations are mine Note: (In 1993, the National Statistical Institute began to examine the labor force on a regular basis using the Labor Force Survey and adopting the internationally established definition of “employed” as a person who has worked at least 1 h for payment during a given week. More about the survey’s methodology can be found here: ology_EN.pdf)

p. 22). Changes in employment rates are also different for the various age groups of women, and the decrease was mainly for women aged between 25 and 44 years, whereas for women between 55 and 64, there was an increase of 8.2% (NSI 2002, p. 23). Eurostat’s database provides information on the female employment rates in Bulgaria for the period between 2002 and 2010 along with information on male employment rates and the share of employed people between the ages of 20 and 64 (Table 2). According to these data, despite the stability in the share of women in the employed population, there have been some significant changes in the behavior of women in the labor market. From 2002 to 2008, there was a considerable increase in the rate of female employment with 13% corresponding to an even higher increase in male employment rates (almost 17%) and the general population (15%). Following the 2008 financial crisis, the female employment rate once again dropped, but in 2010, it still remained 8% higher than in 2002, while the increase in the male employment rate for this period amounted to 9%. The difference between male and female employment rates peaked during the economic growth prior to 2008, reaching 10.7%. It seems that favorable economic conditions and the corresponding


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Table 2 Employment rates of the Bulgarian 20 to 64-year-old population in percentages (2002–2010)

Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010

Employment rate 55.8 58 60.1 61.9 65.1 68.4 70.7 68.8 64.7

Female employment rate 52.3 54 56 57.1 60.4 63.5 65.4 64 60.8

Male employment rate 59.4 62.2 64.4 66.8 69.9 73.4 76.1 73.8 68.6

Difference between male and female employment rates 7.1 8.2 8.4 9.7 9.5 9.9 10.7 9.8 7.8

Source: Eurostat data: statistics

need for a larger workforce influenced men much more positively than women, leading to an increase in gender differentiation in the labor market, although temporary. To summarize, female employment rate data provide no evidence of a retreat of Bulgarian women from the labor market. Rather, it paints a rough picture of an initial decrease in women’s workforce participation in the first years after 1989 with men slightly dominating in employment. Afterward, however, the share of women in the employed population remained stable. Female employment rates have been positively influenced by a nationwide process of employing a larger percentage of the population in the twenty-first century. This means that generally Bulgarian women have remained well integrated into the labor market and have managed to adapt to the new economic realities. The available data on the gender pay gap in postsocialist Bulgaria confirm this conclusion. Because of the socialist leadership’s official claim of having achieved gender equality, there are no statistical data on the differences in men and women’s salaries before 1989 (Anachkova 1995, p. 57), but there are studies revealing that they were substantial. For example, a sociological study of Bulgarian families conducted in 1977 by the Institute of Sociology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences discovered a difference of 28% between the salaries of men and women (Kiuranov et al. 1987, p. 40). It seems that shortly after the transition to a market economy, the differences between the salaries of men and women increased— according to the data from the MONEE Database Project, between 1990 and 1995, the monthly gender pay ratio in Bulgaria fell five percentage points from 0.74 to 0.69 (Newell and Reilly 2001). However, the years that followed saw the opposite trend: Between 1997 and 2000, women’s gross monthly salaries increased from 70.8 to 75.8% of men’s (NSI 2002, p. 76). Eurostat’s available data for the period 2002–2010 reveal a diminishing gender pay gap, especially between 2002 and 2006 (Table 3).

Questioning the Retraditionalization Thesis: Gender Differences in Paid and. . . Table 3 Gender pay gap in unadjusted form as percentage of the average gross hourly earnings of men in Bulgaria (2002–2010)

Year 2002 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010

165 Gender pay gap 18.9 12.4 12.1 12.3 13.3 13.0

Source: Eurostat, tab¼table&init¼1&language¼en&pcode¼sdg_05_20& plugin¼1

These findings show that following the transition, and especially in the twentyfirst century, Bulgarian women’s relative financial resources have increased and the restructuring of the Bulgarian economy has favored women in terms of salaries and economic positions. Claims to the contrary—the withdrawal of Bulgarian women from the labor market or increasing economic vulnerability and dependence following the introduction of a market economy—are highly exaggerated. While they may reflect the difficulties faced by specific groups of women, they are in no way valid for Bulgarian women as a whole.

4 “Return” to Home? Characteristics of the “Second Shift” in Bulgaria (1970–1971 to 2009–2010) In this section, I will explore the changes in the gender differences in unpaid work utilizing the data from five national time use surveys conducted between 1970 and 2010. Time use surveys provide not only a detailed and comprehensive picture of the different activities inside and outside of the household but also an opportunity for describing historical changes in time allocation. As this research focuses on historical changes, it is of utmost importance that the data be comparable. I have not had access to raw data but have used the comparison between the 1970–1971, 1976–1977, 1988, and 2001–2002 time use surveys conducted by Elka Iakimiva (NSI 2005, p. 28). These comparable data, however, include children over the age of seven, which means that the average values and the difference between the women and men’s average times are not representative of the time use patterns of adult men and women. Therefore, I decided to focus on the ratio of men-to-women’s average time in order to minimize the effects of the data on children. The 2009–2010 time use survey includes children over ten, so I used these data separately. According to the time use data, between 1970–1971 and 1988, both men and women decreased the time they spent on unpaid work: In 1988, men spent 43 min less per day than in 1970–1971 and women 24 min less (Table 4). In 1988, the time men dedicated to unpaid work also decreased in relative terms, decreasing from 56 to 45% or less than half of the time dedicated by women. According to Anachkova’s


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Table 4 Average daily time (in hours) dedicated by men and women over 7 years old to unpaid work (1970–1971 to 2009–2010) Year 1970–1971 1976–1977 1988 2001–2002

Average time for men 2:50 2:48 2:07 2:33

Average time for women 5:04 4:59 4:40 4:40

Male to female ratio 0.56 0.56 0.45 0.55

Source: NSI (2005), p. 28. Ratio calculations are mine

analysis, this decrease was exclusively for the time spent on farmwork and childcare (Anachkova 1995, p. 59). The data on the time use patterns of employed women interpreted by Anachkova reveal the same trend of a growing gender differentiation of time patterns of unpaid work (Anachkova 1991).15 This resulted in larger gender differences in the total workload with employed women’s being 7% higher than that of employed men in 1970–1971 and 14% higher in 1988. What these data imply is the emergence under socialism of what has been termed the “second shift” (Hochschild and Machung 2003), given the high number of employed Bulgarian women and the fact that in the late 1980s they were half of the employed population. The restructuring of the domain of unpaid work—the decreased importance of farmwork according to Anachkova—also meant that women dedicated much more time to household activities at home and less time “outside” the home, on the farm. In 2001–2002, Bulgarian men increased the time they spent on unpaid work by 26 min per day so that their relative contribution to unpaid activities increased to 55% of women’s share (Table 4). These data, however, require further exploration of what exactly stands behind the decrease in the gender differentiation of unpaid work. Table 5 provides a detailed picture of the time men and women dedicated to the main categories of unpaid activities for the years 1988 and 2001–2002 and allows a thorough analysis of the gendered changes in these different domains. The data show activities that not only occupied a great deal of the respondents’ time but were also highly gendered—like doing laundry (usually done by women) or construction and repair (done predominantly by men). Excluded are activities performed almost equally by men and women, like shopping or caring for the elderly. According to the time use data, farmwork was the most time-consuming unpaid activity for Bulgarian men both in 1988 and in 2001–2002. Between 1988 and 2001–2002, there was an increase in the time both men and women dedicated to farmwork: Men’s time doubled while women’s increased by roughly 50%. As a result, gender differences in this domain grew. An increase is also observable in the activity “procurement of water and electricity”—also related to the realities of rural life—with the male-to-female ratio growing from 2.25 in 1988 to 4.15 in 2001–2002.

15 This was due to a legislative change introducing a five-day workweek and a decrease in weekly working time by three and a half hours (Anachkova 1991, p. 127).

Women 59.06 28.59 28.13 36.57 26.83 2.94 3.54 27

Difference 52.16 24.16 27.09 25.68 8.07 17.75 4.42 20

Male to female ratio 0.12 0.15 0.04 0.30 1.30 7 2.25 0.26

Source: CSU (1991), pp. 224–231 and NSI 2005, pp. 38–41, my calculations

Food preparation Washing dishes Laundry and ironing Cleaning of the house and yard Farmwork Repair and construction Procurement of water and electricity Childcare

1988 Men 6.90 4.43 1.04 10.89 34.90 20.69 7.96 7.06

2001 Men 14.1 4.5 1.1 8.7 64.4 14.8 10.8 6 Women 87.8 32.6 23.1 33.3 38.7 1.8 2.6 18.8

Difference 73.7 28.1 22 24.6 25.7 13 8.2 12.8

Male to female ratio 0.16 0.14 0.05 0.26 1.66 8.22 4.15 0.32

Table 5 Average daily time (in minutes) dedicated by men and women over 7 years old to different categories of unpaid work (1988 to 2009–2010)

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In existing Western literature on the gender division of unpaid labor, farming is usually assimilated under housework because of its diminished importance in a Western context, but in Bulgaria, as in many other Eastern European countries, this kind of work has retained its historical significance both before and after 1989. Given the conditions of a shortage economy under socialism, farming contributed substantially to the procurement of food for the majority of Bulgarian families. In postsocialist times, economic instability and the rise in unemployment and poverty led to the increased importance of small-scale subsistence farming (Kostov and Lingard 2002). For many families, the domestic production of food became a main strategy for coping with material difficulties (Luleva 2010). One possible explanation for the increase of the male and female time spent on farm activities is the increased number of elderly people and the financial difficulties they faced after 1989 when their pensions became too modest to even ensure their material survival. Due to the decline in birth rates and the large number of young and middle-aged people who emigrated for economic reasons, a quarter of Bulgaria’s population in the early twenty-first century had reached retirement age.16 Most of these elderly people engaged in farm activities in order to obtain food for themselves and their families. Between 1988 and 2001–2002, there were also important changes in the time spent by men and women on household activities. Increased male participation can be observed in repair and construction activities where the ratio between male and female time grew from 7 in 1988 to 8.2 in 2001–2002. For several activities performed exclusively by women, there is an increase in the absolute time difference between female and male time, but there is a small and gradual increase in the share performed by men. This is true for those activities related to food preparation, which consumed the greatest amount of women’s time among all unpaid activities—almost 1 h daily in 1988 and 1 h and a half in 2001–2002. In 1988, Bulgarian men spent 12% of the time women spent on cooking, and in 2001–2002, this share rose to 16%. The same trend can be observed in childcare, where men’s share rose from 26% to 32% of women’s. The male contribution, however, to cleaning activities decreased from 30% of the female contribution in 1988 to 26% in 2001–2002. For activities such as washing dishes, laundry, and ironing, the change in the relative contribution of men is negligible. According to the time use data for 2009–2010, the degree of gender differentiation in unpaid work remained unchanged. Bulgarian women continued to spend on average twice as much time as men on unpaid work on a daily basis: 4 h and 26 min compared to 2 h and 13 min (NSI 2018, p. 114). According to a report of the European Institute for Gender Equality, in 2016, Bulgaria had the largest gender gap in cooking and housework with 13% of Bulgarian men and 72.9% of women engaging in cooking and housework every day for an hour or more (EIGE 2017). The actual extent of the differentiation in paid and unpaid work and total workload of adult men and women in terms of absolute value can be determined


24.5% of the Bulgarian population in 2001 (NSI 2019, p. 4).

Questioning the Retraditionalization Thesis: Gender Differences in Paid and. . .


Table 6 Average daily time in hours dedicated to employment, domestic work, total workload, and leisure by Bulgarian men and women aged 20 to 74 years old in 2001–2002 according to HETUS Employment Domestic work Total workload Leisure

Men 3:32 2:37 6:09 4:46

Women 2:34 5:01 7:35 3:47

Difference 0:58 2:24 1:26 1:01

Male to female ratio 1.37 0.52 0.81 1.26

Source: HETUS:, my calculations

by excluding children from the average data on time use. The harmonized data on time use within the HETUS project17 provide time use data for Bulgarian men and women between 20 and 74 years old based on the data from the time use survey conducted in 2001–2002 (Table 6). According to the HETUS data, Bulgarian women’s daily total workload (paid and unpaid work) is approximately 1 h and 26 min more than men’s, resulting in substantial gender differences in leisure time, which grant men one additional hour daily. As a whole, the available time use data provide no evidence for a growing gender differentiation in unpaid work and a retreat of women to the household following the transition to a market economy. While there are some changes in the gender distribution of farm activities and childcare as men began engaging more in this kind of work, the distribution of other domestic activities remains stable. Despite women’s high participation within the labor market, the relative increase of their financial resources, and the growing instability of nuclear families, in the twenty-first century, Bulgarian women continue to dedicate significant amounts of their time to unpaid activities while men’s share remains relatively low. In many ways, the situation of Bulgarian women in the twenty-first century continues to reflect the ambiguities of women’s emancipation under socialism: Their participation in the labor force does not seem to influence the extent to which they perform most domestic duties.

5 Conclusion This study contributes to the debate around postsocialist gender relations in Bulgaria by questioning the relevance of the retraditionalization thesis for describing the gendered transformations in Bulgaria through the analysis of available statistical data on gender differences in paid and unpaid work before and after 1989. The data reveal a complicated picture of the changes in the gender division of paid and unpaid work during the 40-year period examined here and allow for several important


The HETUS (Harmonised European Time Use Survey) project provides statistical information about fifteen European countries. The data are available at StatMeanMact1.html, accessed on 11.08.2020


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conclusions to be made, which concern both the socialist past and the postsocialist situation. The development of the labor market under socialism included women on equal terms as a share of the working population, but the differences between men and women’s salaries were significant. Although more and more women were employed, their contribution to domestic work increased, so the second shift became a social and cultural norm in Bulgarian families. As expected, the changes in the gender division of paid labor after the collapse of socialism contradict those presupposed within the retraditionalization thesis. Despite the fact that women no longer comprised half of the employed population, women retained their favorable positions in the labor market, and their income more closely approximated that of men. Following the transition to a market economy, gender differences in unpaid work decreased. However, there is no single pattern of gender dedifferentiation in all unpaid activities; rather, in some activities they increased while in others they decreased. The differentiation between men and women’s contributions deepened for those activities performed predominantly by men (work on the farm, construction and repair, and procurement of water and electricity) while decreasing, although only slightly, for some activities usually performed by women (cooking, childcare). A closer look at the data for unpaid work reveals a trend that, appropriating the language of the retraditionalization thesis, we may call a “return” to farmwork—not only for men but also for women. This conclusion confirms observations of the increased importance of subsistence farming during those years of transition but also complements them by analyzing the gendered implications of this increase and showing that its consequences predominantly affected men. The trends in time use for farmwork and domestic activities are probably a combined result of financial necessities, the rise in unemployment during the years of transition, and the social and demographic changes that forced large segments of the Bulgarian population to produce and prepare their own food. All the contradictory trends and complexities in the gender divisions of paid and unpaid work outlined here are evidence that the retraditionalization thesis does not describe the actual lives of men and women in postsocialist Bulgaria. Depicting Bulgarian women as victims of capitalism and/or immanent traditionalism simplifies the postsocialist situation and reifies universalist assumptions about tradition, marketization, and women. However, in both postsocialist and socialist Bulgaria, gender remains a crucial axis around which the time allocation of paid and unpaid activities is organized and especially housework remains a highly gendered domain. The persistence of the so-called second shift raises serious concerns about the leisure and well-being of Bulgarian women.

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NSI (2005) Prebroiavane na naselenieto, zhilishtnia fond i zemedelskite stopanstva prez 2001 godina. Izvadkovi izsledvania. Biudjet na vremeto na naselenieto, vol 6. National statistical institute, Sofia NSI (2012) Statistical yearbook 2011. National Statistical Institute, Sofia NSI (2015) Population and demographic processes 2014. National Statistical Institute, Sofia NSI (2018) Zhenite i mazhete v Republika Balgaria. National statistical institute, Sofia NSI (2019) Naselenie i demografski protsesi prez 2018. National Statistical Institute, Sofia Panova, Ralina, and Isabella Buber-Ennser (2016), Attitudes towards Parental Employment: A Ranking across Europe, Australia, and Japan. Journal of Research in Gender Studies 6(2): 11–37. Pascall G, Kwak A (2005) Gender regimes in transition in central and Eastern Europe. Policy Press, Bristol Pine F (2002) Retreat to the household? Gendered domains in postsocialist Poland. In: Hann CM (ed) Postsocialism: ideals, ideologies and practices in Eurasia. Routledge, London Stoilova R (2012) Pol i stratifikatsia. Siela, Sofia Stoilova M (2015) Mind the gap: the changing face of gender (in)equality in Bulgaria after 1989. In: Hassentab C, Ramet S (eds) Gender (in)equality and gender politics in southeastern Europe: a question of justice. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke Szalai J (2003) From informal labor to paid occupations: marketization from below in Hungarian women’s work. In: Reproducing gender: politics, publics, and everyday life after socialism. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, pp 200–225 Todorova M (1993) The Bulgarian case: women’s issues or feminist issues? In: Funk N, Mueller M (eds) Gender politics and post-communism: reflections from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Routledge, London, pp 30–38 UNICEF (1999) Women in transition. UNICEF, New York Watson P (1993) Eastern Europe’s silent revolution: gender. Sociology 27(3):471–487

Autonomy as Empowerment, or How Gendered Power Manifests Itself in Contemporary Russian Families Alya Guseva and Dilyara Ibragimova

1 Introduction What constitutes power in the household, and how much power do contemporary Russian women have vis-à-vis their husbands? Research on intrahousehold gendered power has typically focused on three contexts: employment and relative earnings, the division of household labor, and patterns of money management in the family. Here we focus on intrahousehold power as it pertains to access to household money, asking whether wives share equal control and decision-making power over family money with their husbands. Contemporary Russian households present a particularly interesting case for the study of relations of power between spouses because both sets of factors that are usually associated with intrahousehold power—the resources one brings into the household and the values around gender roles and gender equality that spouses hold—have been in flux since the start of the postcommunist transition. The Sovietera policies guaranteeing formal equality to women, including access to education, employment and regulated wages, reduced gender gaps in education and employ-

A. Guseva Boston University, Boston, MA, USA Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia e-mail: [email protected] D. Ibragimova (*) Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



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ment1 and improved women’s standing vis-à-vis men. All the existing evidence suggests that Soviet women commanded significant control over the lives of households, because the Soviet gender ideology framed the household as the women’s domain, whereas masculinity was exclusively tied to contributions in the labor market or the public sphere. Men’s contribution to the domestic sphere, at least in urban areas with little heavy housework, was reduced to bringing home their paycheck and handing it over to their wives (Kiblitskaya 2000; Ashwin 2006). The postcommunist transition brought a change to employment patterns and personal earning capacities, as well as to gender ideology. Employment is no longer compulsory, incomes diverge greatly, and social welfare spending is reduced, which affects the availability and affordability of daycare, while the Russian state’s pronatalist policies have been nudging women to “return to the hearth” amidst the rise of traditional gender values (Attwood 1996; Rivkin-Fish 2010). While most Russian women continue to work, many now earn much less than their husbands as private sector earnings in some industries skyrocketed, while some other wives have stopped working altogether. In this chapter, we explore the concept of power, as it applies to spousal relations in the household, and in particular, to accessing and disposing of household money. We situate this discussion in the context of the Soviet gender ideology legacies, in particular, the concept of the Soviet male breadwinner as the “bigger earner” with a fully employed wife, and the household as women’s sole responsibility. We propose to shift the attention from the theories of power that focus on how power is exercised by the more powerful, to how it is experienced (and resisted) by those with less power, and we introduce the concept of financial autonomy as empowerment. To illustrate our point, we draw on interview data with Russian spouses and discuss patterns of power and resistance in contemporary Russian families. Traditional household surveys collect data on household practices from a designated “head of [the] household,” treating the household as a unified decision-maker, and concealing possible conflicts, disagreements and tensions as well as the unequal distribution of power between spouses. It is only when the researcher has a chance to interview spouses separately that the information about disagreements, dissatisfaction or negotiations over decisions may be revealed. We highlight the importance that the wives of breadwinning husbands place on having their own earnings that they spend only on themselves, while husbands’ earnings are earmarked for household expenses. Rather than trivializing women’s earnings as “pin” or “butter” money (Zelizer 1997), we consider the extent to which this arrangement serves as a source of empowerment for women. The chapter proceeds as follows. The next section examines the different theoretical approaches and debates in the study of power and introduces the concept of autonomy as empowerment. Then we discuss the approaches to studying gendered


The gender pay gap was never eliminated and stood at about 30%, according to the only publication on this topic during the Soviet era (Katz 1997), but overall women also received a disproportionate amount of welfare payments, such as maternity and childcare benefits.

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power in the household, including the “resource” and “gender ideology” perspectives. We then turn to highlight the basic principles of the Soviet gender ideology and consider the ways in which the patterns of power and management of money in the household have changed more recently. We bring in empirical data to discuss tensions around power and access to money in a sample of families where wives do not work or earn only a small fraction of what their husbands do. In conclusion, we summarize the results of our empirical analysis, discuss our contributions to the theoretical debates, and raise additional questions for future research.

2 Theories of Power Theories of power in sociology have progressed from defining power solely through the lens of coercion and conflict following Marx and Weber (overt power), to also considering dissatisfaction with or silent resistance to the way things are (covert power), and finally the power to influence what the other wants (latent power) (Bachrach and Baratz 1970; Lukes 1974). In other words, the absence of open conflict does not mean there is no power asymmetry in a relationship, as one party may exercise covert power over the other, so that a practice or decision (for example, the structure of the family budget, however unsatisfactory or unfair) may be perceived as set in stone simply because it never comes up for discussion (Vogler 1998). Moreover, some arrangements, like male breadwinning and female primary responsibility for the household, may furthermore be perceived as hegemonic and natural because of the unquestioned acceptance of certain gender ideologies about the proper roles of men and women in the home and in the labor market. Unlike Marx, who traced the power of different classes to material resources (i.e. means of production), and relegated ideology to a secondary, dependent role, the theory of latent power puts ideology front and center: it is the ability of the dominant party to frame the interests of the subordinate party in a way that makes any seeming power asymmetry look like it benefits the subordinate party. In Lukes’ words, the exercise of latent power may, in fact, “prevent people, to whatever degree, from having grievances by shaping their perceptions, cognitions and preferences in such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things, either because they can see or imagine no alternative to it, or because they see it as natural and unchangeable, or because they value it as divinely ordained and beneficial” (Lukes 1974, p. 24). Komter, working to adapt Lukes’ tri-part model to family relations, proposed her own variation: (1) explicit or manifest power as the attempt to make or prevent changes to one or another sphere of family life, the frequency and severity of conflicts; (2) hidden power as the desire for a change or the absence of such a desire based on the fear of negative reactions or consequences; and (3) invisible power that is not evident from behavior or latent discontent, but which manifests itself in systematic gender differences in self-esteem, the respect of the other spouse, and in perceptions of everyday reality. Komter concluded, on the basis of the in-depth interviews of 60 couples from Nijmegen(Netherlands), perhaps not surprisingly, that


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husbands exercise more of both explicit and hidden power in the family than their wives. Latent power, in turn, is more fundamentally based on the adoption of gender roles and gender identity as natural and immutable. Therefore, “[t]he concept of gender itself, with its implied hierarchy in values, symbols, beliefs, and statuses, is a cornerstone of the edifice of gendered inequality” (1989, pp. 213–214). Complementary to Lukes’ conceptualization of latent power as rooted in ideology, the Foucauldian approach focuses on discourse as an instrument of power. Just as in latent power, dominant discourse operates as ideology, because it presents the existing distribution of power as the natural order of things, discounting alternative ways of understanding the world and narrowing the range of what is possible. However, the power-as-discourse approach can accommodate a more complicated picture of reality than Lukes’ ideology-as-a-basis-of-latent-power theory because it allows several discourses to co-exist or compete. A similar, useful complement to Lukes’ model was offered by Dobbin and Jung (2015), who, concerned with the way power has been theorized by economic sociologists, identify “the fourth dimension of power.” Just like the latent power à la Lukes, the fourth dimension of power is also rooted in ideology, but unlike it, ideology is not solely a tool of the elite classes, but rather the provenance of numerous experts who “define the interests of groups and the means of pursuing those interests [. . .] Power struggles today are largely carried out among expert groups, rather than between dominant and dominated classes, and the tools of struggle are ideological” (Dobbin and Jung 2015, p. 177). Particularly useful in the present analysis of gendered power in the household is that it presents ideology itself as a field of power struggles among many competing discourses about money management within a household. At the very general level, there is the discourse on equality, based on the fact that marriage is a union of two equal human beings and, therefore, all the money that the household has is to be shared equally, regardless of the personal contribution of either spouse. On the other hand, many couples actively articulate the entitlement discourse, according to which, the breadwinner (or the higher earner) should have all (or more) of the household budget control privileges (Burgoyne 1990; Kenney 2006; Ibragimova and Guseva 2017). Thus the relative financial power of spouses will depend on the relative strength of these or other discourses. One can imagine, for instance, that the entitlement discourse may legitimize the husband’s control of family finances irrespective of whether the wife is employed or not. Most of the accounts we discussed above, however, focus on studying power from the point of view of the powerful, rather than the powerless. James Scott’s work on the “weapons of the weak” (1985) draws our attention, instead, to the powerless and the strategies they employ to resist domination, power and authority. His work details small-scale hidden strategies of peasant resistance in a Malaysian village, including foot-dragging and evasion (of taxes or conscription), which are practiced without openly challenging oppressive norms. If one way to exercise power is “seeing like a state” (Scott 1998)—making citizens legible—then one form of resistance by the powerless is to evade the all-seeing eye and become at least partially or temporarily invisible. What we propose here is a concept of

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empowerment as practiced by the less powerful: resistance without a direct challenge to existing power relations, empowerment as autonomy to evade dependency and control. For several Russian wives we quote later in this chapter, having a personal income—even if small—separate from the household money which their breadwinning husbands provide and largely control, is a form of financial and consumer autonomy and is empowering: women do not have to ask for money and they do not have to explain what the money is for; thus, at least on this limited scale, they can avoid being legible (Scott 1998).

3 How Has Gendered Power in the Household Been Studied? The two main perspectives on the study of gendered power in households are the economic resource perspective (Blood and Wolf 1960), and the gender roles and ideology perspective (Hochschild 1989; Brines 1994; Zelizer 1997; Rake and Jayatilaka 2002; Ferree 2010). According to the economic resource perspective, whoever brings in more income will play the dominant role in making the household financial decisions. Greater monetary contributions should also legitimize doing less housework, so employed wives should exert more power (to avoid unpleasant tasks, among other things) than the nonworking ones, and the wives who work full-time should have more power than those in part-time employment. The resource perspective approach has been criticized as gender-neutral, despite the fact that both the earnings and their expected consequences—the distribution of household responsibilities, financial decision-making, money management and so on—are differentiated by gender (Brines 1994, p. 654), whether because of existing gender inequality in the labor market, or within-family mechanisms to compensate for the effect of the resource factor. Contrary to the resource perspective, the gender roles and ideology perspective views marriage as an opportunity for spouses to claim and fulfill their pursuit of gender identity, so that rather than spousal economic contributions, it is cultural ideas about gender-appropriate domestic responsibilities, including the management of the financial resources of the household, that determine how money is managed in the family. By entering into marriage, people not only channel their resources into it but also enter into socially-sanctioned agreements about their (gendered) roles as partners. From this perspective, the importance of the individual income of each spouse should be considered in conjunction with the existing gender norms. It is the deeply rooted idea of male breadwinning that can explain why a dollar earned by a woman is not equal to the dollar earned by a man (Zelizer 1997), and why the increase in women’s earned income does not translate into a corresponding increase in the amount of her financial power in the family, and her ability to make key financial decisions (Blumstein and Schwartz 1991). Empirical studies of statusreversal couples further undermine the resource approach, demonstrating that in


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these families the wife often consciously delegates the right to veto and the final say to her husband (Tichenor 1999). From the perspective of gender ideology, the situation where the wife earns more than her husband is counter-normative, as it contradicts the social expectations about the role of the male breadwinner, and the increase in her power in the household would only further violate the norm. Thus, such wives strive to offset the anomaly by delegating more decision-making power to their husbands. It is no coincidence that the gender display concept is also called “doing gender” (West and Zimmerman 1987) or deviance neutralization. Men and women employed in gender-atypical occupations spend more time doing gendertypical housework than men and women in gender-balanced occupations do (Schneider 2012). Recent studies offer a more nuanced perspective on the social significance of the individual income of spouses. For example, psychologists have found that, regardless of gender, the higher the participants’ income category, the more gratitude they received from spouses and the more appreciated they felt, and women who outearned their husbands reported no negative consequences (Deutsch et al. 2003). Another study found that it is not so much whether women work outside of the home, but how much they earn that determines how much housework they do (Gupta 2007). While at first glance this seems to lend straightforward support to the resource perspective (i.e. earning more allows women to buy themselves out of housework), Gupta puts forward the autonomy hypothesis: earnings buy women a degree of autonomy in those areas of family life where the responsibility is normally assigned to the wives (Gupta 2007, p. 415). We extend the idea of autonomy to be both a discourse and a practice of empowerment that Russian women employ to resist the traditional power of the household breadwinner. Contrary to conceptualizing power as an ability to exert influence (whether overt, covert or latent), or “power over others,” we draw attention to “power as an ability to do something”—in this case, to evade control and exercise relative independence. We interpret such autonomy as empowering. We highlight the experiences of relatively well-to-do families where men are the sole earners or where both spouses work but the men earn significantly more than women. In cases where both work, but men earn significantly more, the family financial arrangement is often characterized as “his money is theirs, her money is hers”: the husbands’ much higher income is treated as family money, used for shared household expenses, while the wife’s income is her own and can be spent or saved as she pleases. Rather than simply dismissing the woman’s money as “pin money,” we argue that it allows women an appreciable amount of autonomy while maintaining men’s undisputed claim to the breadwinning role. These cases are contrasted with those where women used to work but no longer do. Some of these wives wistfully remember the times when they had less money as a family, but they shared power over resources equally with their husbands; today, not having an income of their own, some have to ask their husbands for money to spend on themselves, and the feeling of dependency is a source of distress for them. Before we discuss how gendered power manifests itself in Russian households, we need to explain the nature and the persistence of the Soviet gender order, in

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particular, its paradoxical conception of the male breadwinner as the higher earner, normative labor participation for both genders, and women’s primary responsibility for household work. While the dominant gender ideology and gender order may not determine the configurations of power relations in every household, they are important factors that shape how the different household members negotiate power.

4 The Soviet Gender Order The Soviet revolution of 1917 and subsequent reforms ushered in an unprecedented political and economic experiment: the nationalization of land and industrial production, near elimination of the ruling class and a transfer (largely symbolic) of political power to the workers and peasants, as well as the introduction of guaranteed (and compulsory) universal education, healthcare, and political and labor participation. Notably, the Soviet project also created a particular gender order: important and lasting changes in gender and family relations, with new gender norms affecting the behavior of men and women in employment, childrearing and the management of households. Sarah Ashwin describes this gender order and the underlying gender ideology in the following way (2006, pp. 33–34): Work was central to the Soviet project and was defined by the 1918 constitution as ‘a duty of all citizens of the republic’ (Akhapkin 1970, p. 156). Work was not only seen as an economic duty of men and women but also considered crucial to their social and political integration. Women, however, were also deemed to have a demographic duty to the state, and correspondingly their prescribed role was that of ‘worker-mothers.’ At the same time, they were expected to be household managers, since early Bolshevik dreams of the transfer of domestic functions from the private to the public sphere were never realized except to a limited extent in the realm of child care. None of the Bolsheviks, not even Aleksandra Kollontai,2 challenged the idea of domestic work as inalienably feminine (Ashwin 2000, pp. 11–12). This acceptance of supposedly natural sexual difference on the part of the new communist elite informed both the terms on which women were integrated into the labor force—as second-class workers (Filtzer 1992)—and what was expected of them as wives and mothers. Men, meanwhile, had an at once more limited and higher status role to play. They were to serve as leaders, managers, soldiers and workers. In the early postrevolutionary period, the new Bolshevik authorities perceived the traditional patriarch as a bulwark of the old regime, a little Tsar, whose influence needed to be restricted. Initially, the state struggle with the patriarch was conducted through a combination of legislation and coercion, which served to undermine male prerogative within the family (Kukhterin 2000). After the compromise with the new Soviet family in the 1930s, this campaign was relaxed, but the private power of men continued to be regarded with suspicion. This distrust found its expression in a notable silence about men’s domestic role: while mothers were glorified, Soviet men were not allowed to compete with the father-figures who led the Party. Men’s self-realization was thus to be confined to the public sphere, where their dominance continued to be seen as legitimate and “natural.”


Aleksandra Kollontai was a well-known Marxist feminist who famously called for the elimination of the institution of marriage and family in socialism as an oppressive property-based relic of the old order.


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The Bolsheviks took a sustained interest in dealing a blow to what they considered to be the backbone of bourgeois society—the patriarchal family. To diminish the domestic power of the patriarch, they tried to undermine the core on which this claim to power was based—his breadwinner status (Kukhterin 2000). Universal employment was expected of both men and women. And while women’s wages were typically 60–70% of what men earned, men were not paid a “family wage,” making two incomes a necessity. The 1977 Soviet Constitution (Chap. 6, Article 35) guaranteed formal equality to men and women, “according women equal access with men to education and vocational and professional training, equal opportunities in employment, remuneration and promotion, and in social, political and cultural activity, and by labor and special health protections for women.” The list concluded with measures enabling women to combine work and motherhood, including generous social benefits intended to make women more dependent on the state than on their husbands. Moreover, in another article, the Constitution proclaimed equality of spouses “in their family relations,” but only focused on shared responsibilities in child rearing—“to train them for socially useful work, and to raise them as worthy members of socialist society,” stopping short of defining other household tasks as a shared responsibility. As a result, Soviet women were among the most educated in the world (currently, women’s level of education in Russia surpasses that of Russian men3), and their employment rates, at least in the European part of the Soviet Union, were similar to that of men. In 1970, 89% of working-age women were in full-time employment or study (Shapiro 1992, reported in Ashwin and Isupova 2018), yet women performed 75% of domestic chores (also a 1970 statistic, reported in Hansson and Liden 1983). The 3:1 wives-to-husbands ratio of housework hours did not change in the 1990s, according to the 1998 ISITO household survey: men on average spent 9.5 h per week doing housework, and women—26.3 h (reported in Ashwin 2006, p. 46). The Soviet regime weakened the resource basis of male breadwinning, and it made gainful employment normative for both men and women. But it turned out to be powerless to significantly change gender ideology. The resulting gender order can be characterized as transitional (Hochschild 1989), or falling between traditional and egalitarian views: both men and women were employed, but men were expected to be higher earners, and women were primarily responsible for the household. The idea (or, more accurately, the ideal) of men’s breadwinning as the basis of true masculinity has persisted throughout the Soviet era and into the twenty-first century, as illustrated by the longitudinal qualitative data collected by the Ashwin research team (Ashwin 2006; Ashwin and Isupova 2018). The vast majority of men and women in their sample, irrespective of age, and including those highly educated and


According to the 2015 Russian Census, 33.9% of women between age 25 and 64 had completed college, compared to 24.6% of men ( pdf)

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employed, supported the idea of male breadwinning: 72% of women and 79% of men said that men should be primarily responsible for family provision, while 80% of women and 72% of men stated that women should continue to work even if this was no longer a financial necessity. Among women under 35, 90% asserted that they would continue to work. Women report that working is, for them, an important source of identity, because it “provides them with a sense of meaning, of being socially useful, and is a source of companionship and support, even when the work itself is unpleasant and provides little intrinsic satisfaction” (Ashwin 2006, p. 35).4 Furthermore, 65% of women and 47% of men stated that women were expected to take primary responsibility for the household, and only 32% of women believed it was supposed to be a joint responsibility (43% of men agreed with this) (Ashwin 2006). Ashwin cautions that “joint” often means “organized along gendered lines” with men tasked with repairs and maintenance, and women with daily cooking, cleaning and washing (similar to [1989] “upstairs and downstairs” metaphor). Ashwin notes that, when it comes to urban households, men have few regular tasks in the home. This becomes particularly apparent in situations where men fail to perform their role as breadwinners. Ashwin writes that, “[s]horn of the breadwinner role, the basis of men’s integration into the household and wider society is undermined” (2006, p. 38). The turbulent 1990s deprived many men and women of gainful employment, but it dealt a bigger blow to men: those of them unable to work and earn were robbed of much more than just a paycheck because their identities were squarely based on the ability to provide. Domestic chores were problematic for most unemployed men because households offered few “manly” tasks. Moreover, in some cases, their working spouses objected to such a gender-role reversal (Ashwin and Lytkina 2004). The ideology of the male primary breadwinner is responsible for securing women’s position as the primary managers of the household, entrusting them with family money, but also assuring them an exhausting double burden, particularly in the context of limited incomes, while men, especially the ones failing to fulfill the breadwinning role, were rendered all but superfluous in the household. Has Soviet gender ideology weakened since the 1990s? Yes and no. Ashwin and Isupova (2018) report the results of the ISSP longitudinal study of gender ideology (ISSP Research Group 2016). Three data points are reported: 1994, 2002 and 2012. There is overwhelming and steady support for the statement “Both the man and the woman should contribute to household income” across all three data points: between 71 and 78% of women respondents agree with this, and between 67 and 75% of men. And there is a decline in support for the statement “A man’s job is to earn money; a woman’s job is to look after the home and family.” While the percentage of both women and men agreeing with this statement reduced (for women—from 64% in


Hansson and Liden (1983) in a Soviet-era analysis of a handful of interviews collected from Moscow women in 1978 suggest that such eagerness to work must also have been an escape from the burdens of housework.


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1994 to 54% in 2002 and to 53% in 2012, and for men—from 70% in 1994 to 62% in 2002 and to 53% in 2012), both genders now appear split over this issue.

5 Money and Power in Soviet Families and in Russian Families Today Money management is different from other types of household labor because access to and decision-making about money is both a chore (in the sense that it has to be done, and it is particularly tough to do when money is short and one needs to make ends meet), and a source of power (particularly if decisions have to be made about discretionary spending). There is a dearth of data on family money management in the Soviet period, but whatever is available suggests that managing household money was part of the overall household responsibilities, and therefore, a woman’s task. Men’s successful performance of their breadwinning role often concluded with handing their pay over to their wives, as illustrated in a more recent interview reported in Ashwin (2006) (a similar observation was made in an even more recent qualitative study of lowerincome Ukrainians, Anderson [2017]): I brought home the money and gave it to my wife. Of course, if [we were buying] something big, then yes, we discussed it in advance, kind of saved up. And where the rest went—I didn’t poke my nose into that business. I took my dinner money, and that was all (Ashwin 2006, p. 42).

Another (female) respondent from the same wave of interviews concurred, extrapolating from “running the household” to “managing money”: Who should take responsibility for running the household? The woman, probably. Men are all stupid. They don’t know how to manage money. A woman should do that. . . (Ashwin 2006, p. 44). Women’s central role in managing household money during the Soviet period is corroborated by our own qualitative data.5 We asked how the money was managed in respondents’ parental families. As expected, an overwhelming majority of those who remembered how their parents managed household finances reported that it was their mothers who were in charge of the money. One of the men in the sample did not know exactly how money was managed in his wife’s family, but guessed it was the


Our qualitative dataset is based on semi-structured face-to-face interviews with a convenience sample of Russian couples (156 couples), married or cohabiting, interviewed separately. Interviews focused on decision-making and practices related to managing finances in the family and other domains of family life, including household labor, childrearing, work, leisure, consumption and credit. Interviews were conducted under the guidance of the second author in Russia in 2011–2016. Description of the sample and the questionnaire are available upon request from the authors. We recorded, transcribed and analyzed the interviews using NVivo.

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same as in his own, and everywhere else’s at the time: “this was how our parents did it. . . how the whole generation, their generation did it.” This way of managing money—husbands turning their earnings over to their wives, who buy household necessities—corresponds to how money was managed at the turn of the twentieth century in American working-class families (Zelizer 1997). In both cases, the resources were limited and the money mainly went towards necessities with little discretionary income left. In upper-class families in the US, on the contrary, it was the men who were in control of the family money, while their wives received a household allowance. Our earlier work based on a representative survey of Russian households demonstrated that about half of contemporary two-partner Russian families pool their money fully or partially and manage it together (Ibragimova and Guseva 2017). In this chapter, we focus on both two- and one-earner couples whose money is not pooled and control over it is not shared. Many such couples have been married for a long time (15–30 years), and in some cases, the wives no longer work, while in other cases they do work (often full-time) but earn a fraction of what their husbands earn. In the earlier years of the marriage, when the two incomes were more comparable in size, the spouses pooled their money, but with the couples we discuss below, they no longer do: as men’s earnings have increased (in absolute terms, but, importantly, vis-à-vis their wives’), women have completely lost control over family financial resources. Some women in the sample state that they do not know exactly how much their husbands are earning, in part because their incomes are not regular, maybe in part informal, or are derived from a variety of sources (for instance, investments) to which the women have no access. Many women long for the time when they and their husbands earned comparable incomes, and control over household money was shared. One such interviewee, Margo,6 is in her 40s, and has been married for more than 20 years. She and her husband have two children, one in college and another one in secondary school. Margo works but her income is a very small portion of her husband’s earnings. He is the main provider and gives Margo money for household expenses. He also “dictates the rules,” as she puts it, while she “spends a lot of time” with their school-age son. She states that she is financially totally dependent on him, and she clearly resents this arrangement. Margo is nostalgic about the way household money used to be managed—shared via a common pool—when her and her husband’s earnings were more similar: “Earlier it was different, because the difference in incomes was smaller, and the money was pooled and spent together.” But, she says, it is impossible to pool it now in their family, since she has “nothing to contribute to the common pool.” Anna, also in her 40s and also married for more than 20 years but not currently employed, echoes Margo’s lament. She receives an allowance for household expenses from her husband but reports that, when she used to work, they both got salaries, pooled them together and distributed money together: “Everything worked 6

The names have been changed.


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like a clock [vsyo bylo samo soboy]. We worked together and spent together,” regretting this sense of togetherness recently lost. Olga, 59 years old and married for more than 30 years, also receives a household allowance from her husband, who keeps the rest of the money under his control. Asked whether this was how money was always managed in her family, Olga says: “It was not like this. Everything was equal [bylo vsyo porovnu]: we put everything together and paid out of the pooled amount.” Olga further explains that her husband now earns many times more than she does. Earlier the difference was small and everything was put into the common pot [v obshchem kotle vsyo bylo], and according to an interviewer’s note, Olga has her regrets. Some wives’ incomes are so small compared to their husbands’ that the women’s money is considered unessential—“pin money” to be spent on their own needs (Zelizer 1997), not on family needs, which are seen as their breadwinning husbands’ sole responsibility. We call this peculiar arrangement between working and often similarly educated spouses “his money is theirs, but hers is hers alone.” What these women stress, however, is that rather than feeling that their incomes are trivialized, they appreciate the financial autonomy they gain by not having to ask their husbands for money for their own personal needs, which may come with strings attached or at least with an emotional toll of feeling dependent and subordinate. Having a small income they can call their own affords these women the autonomy to control their own spending decisions; this, we suggest, is empowering. Responding to the question of whether her income was important for the family budget, Natalia (in her 40s, married for 21 years) said: “I think that for my family my income is not very important, since it is not particularly noticeable in the common budget, but it means a lot to me. With my salary I can repay my personal loan, buy cosmetics, clothes, i.e. spend money on myself. My husband gives me money only for the family’s needs, so I have to earn for my own personal needs.” Inna (in her mid-30s, married for 15 years) is an economist like her husband (they met as students at the same university), but she contributes only about 5% to the family budget. She makes a similar point: “My income is absolutely irrelevant to the family, it is only important to me, so that I do not ask [my husband] for money, and can decide how to spend it myself.” The women in such marriages attach particular value to their earnings, as they regard them as a source of autonomy and as a means of empowerment to spend as they see fit, while their husbands play the role of the provider (Ibragimova and Guseva 2017, p. 15). Instead of being a traditional breadwinner + housewife household, however, this is a breadwinner + workingwoman household, a hybrid form, or perhaps a peculiar transitional form of a traditional husband and a wife who has a limited (but cherished) financial autonomy. The sense of autonomy expressed by working women, who use their incomes solely for their own purposes while treating their husbands’ incomes as family money, is similar to what Zelizer reports in her historical research: “Couples in which the wife was employed were asked what her money was used for: ‘Keeps it all for herself. . . saves it, spends it, just as she likes,’ was a common response. ‘The important thing [is] . . . she mustn’t help her husband out’” (Ray 1932, p. 11, quoted in Zelizer 1989, p. 367).

Autonomy as Empowerment, or How Gendered Power Manifests Itself in Contemporary. . . 185

But some women, particularly in younger couples for whom cohabitation is still new, realize that some ways of managing money in the family come with values they may not espouse. This young woman, Katya, explains that she and her partner (both in their early-to-mid 20s, cohabiting for 9 months) spend their money largely independently, paying for things as the need arises. Katya’s partner has a higher income and pays for more of the shared expenses (“it happens that he spends more, he pays more than I do for the apartment, transportation, the car”). But she likes it that she has a “sufficient amount of money to pay for [her] own needs.” Katya concedes that her partner “often tries to give [her] money to buy food and other things, like the things [she] may want” (“hotelki” as she calls them). “But I refuse,” she claims, probably because she wants to maintain a sense of independence and autonomy. She further clarifies below, when the interviewer asks her, whether in the future she would like to have a common, pooled family budget or “basket”: “Honestly speaking, it is difficult for me to imagine this common basket, when both people work, and have these intense lives of their own. For example, take my parents: my mom stays home, so she and my dad have a shared basket. My dad puts money into the basket and they spend it together. But when you do not stay home, you want to have your own means and spend them when you want and when you need to. It is more convenient to have separate money (otdel’no udobnee).” Her income is small and may only be sufficient for her personal needs and a small portion of the shared expenses, but unlike her mother, she does not want to depend on her partner, even refusing his money when hers runs out. Katya and her partner’s household is notably different from several of the families discussed above: they have lived together for only 9 months and do not yet have children, and therefore their shared expenses are probably relatively limited. Similar to the women in the older couples, Katya values the autonomy and independence that having her own money to spend affords her. While she reasons that keeping her money separate from her partner’s aligns well with her independent lifestyle (relative to that of her stay-at-home mother), for the older women quoted above, having their own money is akin to having the human dignity of an adult—being able to make purchases without asking for money. Those women, who no longer work, wish they did, so that they could claim some money as theirs and theirs only, and not have to ask their husbands for money. Those who do work, but whose relative earnings vis-à-vis their husbands’ have dropped over the years, lament that they no longer share control over the money equally with their husbands, yet emphasize the importance of having their own money—no matter how little—to spend on their own needs.

6 Conclusions The essence of breadwinning as it was understood during the Soviet era—the husbands as primary earners in two-earner households—has changed in the course of the postcommunist transition, with the end of universal employment and state-


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determined wages, privatization of the economy and a growing gender wage gap. While about half of the Russian two-earner households pool incomes together and manage household money together (Ibragimova and Guseva 2017), in this chapter, we have focused on the experiences of a particular subset of families: those couples where husbands are either true (sole) breadwinners, or earn so much more than their wives that the wives’ earnings are considered nonessential to household needs. We call this arrangement “his money is theirs, her money is hers.” What this means in practice is that, husbands pay for all common household expenses but keep the rest under their full control. Their working wives are free to spend their (small) earnings on their own needs, while extolling the significance of this money for their dignity, autonomy and self-esteem; nonworking wives, on the other hand, find themselves in the much more difficult position of not having any money they can call their own. What makes this a particularly poignant illustration of how the family dynamics and the distribution of domestic power and control over money is changing in postSoviet households is that, most of the couples we quote here have transitioned from a more egalitarian to a more hierarchical power dynamic over the course of their marriages. What do these findings signify in terms of theories of power and household money management? On the one hand, the fact that the increase in the relative earnings of husbands results in their increased control over family resources yields support to the resource theory of household money management: household power is proportionate to one’s provision of household resources. On the other hand, this should not be taken to mean that gender ideology is unimportant. On the contrary, since the majority of two-earner Russian couples state that money in their families is pooled and managed together, and in most cases husbands outearn wives (sometimes by a lot), whether very unequal earnings will result in similarly unequal distribution of household power will be mediated by the gender ideology to which spouses adhere. Those husbands who espouse traditional gender ideology (like most husbands whose wives we quote here) will seize control as their share of household income increases. It is also possible that how spouses perceive family dynamics may depend on their gender ideology vis-à-vis their spouses. Almost all of the wives we quote here, with the exception of Katya, long for the egalitarian sharing of resources and power that was practiced in their households in the past; moreover, next to their traditionalist husbands who prefer to keep most of the family income under their sole control, these women feel the unfairness of the arrangements particularly acutely. Thus particularly strong is their drive for (some) financial autonomy: without directly challenging intrafamily inequality or their husbands’ views, women resist by emphasizing their individual financial autonomy. Even if power is not shared equally in the household, having their own money to spend or save is empowering for these wives and probably a second-best alternative to egalitarian sharing. The husbands eagerly go along with this arrangement and do not lay any claims to the wives’ earnings because being the sole provider further strengthens their claim to breadwinner status. We suggest that, for these women, working, earning and keeping their small earnings to themselves is one of the “weapons of the weak” (Scott 1985): silent resistance to their husbands’ traditional views while longing for more

Autonomy as Empowerment, or How Gendered Power Manifests Itself in Contemporary. . . 187

egalitarian sharing of power, but also a joyful appreciation of providing for their own needs, not having to ask or explain, avoiding dependency and evading control. While recent analyses of money management in Western families point to growing financial independence of spouses via “separate purses” (Treas and Widmer 2000; Ashby and Burgoyne 2008; Burgoyne et al. 2007; Vogler 2005; Vogler et al. 2006; Heimdal and Houseknecht 2003), we draw attention to an emerging trend of hybrid traditional-progressive money management among at least relatively well-todo Russian households. Just as the Soviet model of breadwinning was different from that in traditional Western families, because Soviet wives, rather than being homemakers, worked alongside their “higher earner” breadwinning husbands, the postSoviet breadwinning is different still: instead of supporting nonworking spouses, some post-Soviet breadwinning husbands are now solely responsible for household provision, whereas their working wives earn money that is theirs only. Rather than discounting women’s earnings as “pin money,” however, we emphasize that these earnings are experienced by the women as a source of autonomy and empowerment. It is important to note that these accounts of resistance and empowerment most likely coincide with a significant degree of intrahousehold inequality, as women and men have access to very different amounts of personal spending money, an inevitable consequence of maintaining “separate purses” by the spouses if these purses contain radically unequal amounts of money. This analysis raises many intriguing questions about the relationship between gender ideology and resource perspective that our data cannot address, but would be important to explore in the future. Are individual gender ideologies stable over time, or can they change in response to changed material circumstances? For instance, can husbands become more traditional as a result of starting to earn disproportionately more than their wives? Similarly, do breadwinning husbands discount their wives’ earnings as essential to the household only because they are relatively small? Would they change their views if the earnings increased over time to more closely match theirs? Besides directly contributing to the literature on microinteractions around money and power in contemporary Russian families, our work heeds the call to highlight the importance of examining the institutional context in considering the issues of money, power and intrafamily inequality (Treas 1993; Yodanis and Lauer 2007, 2014; Lauer and Yodanis 2011, 2014).

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Ashwin S (2006) The post-Soviet gender order. In: Ashwin S (ed) Adapting to Russia’s new labour market: gender and employment behaviour. Routledge, London, pp 32–56 Ashwin S, Isupova O (2018) Anatomy of a stalled revolution: processes of reproduction and change in Russian women’s gender ideologies. GendSoc 32(4):441–468 Ashwin S, Lytkina T (2004) Men in crisis in Russia: the role of domestic marginalization. GendSoc 18(2):189–206 Attwood L (1996) The post-Soviet woman in the move to the market: a return to domesticity and dependence? In: Marsh R (ed) Women in Russia and Ukraine. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 255–268 Bachrach P, Baratz MS (1970) Power and poverty: theory and practice. Oxford University Press, Oxford Blood ROJ, Wolf D (1960) Husbands and wives. Free Press, New York Blumstein P, Schwartz P (1991) Money and ideology: their impact on power and the division of household labor. In: Blumberg RL (ed) Gender, family, and economy: the triple overlap. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, pp 261–288 Brines J (1994) Economic dependency, gender, and the division of labor at home. Am J Sociol 100 (3):652–688 Burgoyne CB (1990) Money in marriage: how patterns of allocation both reflect and conceal power. Sociol Rev 38(4):634–665 Burgoyne CB, Reibstein J, Edmunds A, Dolman V (2007) Money management systems in early marriage: factors influencing change and stability. J Econ Psychol 28(2):214–228 Deutsch FM, Roksa J, Meeske C (2003) How gender counts when couples count their money. Sex Roles 48(7–8):291–304 Dobbin F, Jung J (2015) The fourth dimension of power: the social construction of interest in the new economic sociology. In: Aspers P, Dodd N (eds) Re-imagining economic sociology. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 174–194 Ferree MM (2010) Filling the glass: gender perspectives on families. J Marriage Fam 72 (3):420–439 Filtzer D (1992) Soviet workers and de-Stalinization: the consolidation of the modern system of Soviet production relations 1953–1964, vol 87. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Gupta S (2007) Autonomy, dependence, or display?The relationship between married women’s earnings and housework. J Marriage Fam 69(2):399–417 Hansson C, Liden K (1983) Moscow women: thirteen interviews (trans: G Bothmer, G Blecher, L Thygesen-Blecher). Pantheon Books, New York Heimdal KR, Houseknecht SK (2003) Cohabiting and married couples’ income organization: approaches in Sweden and the United States. J Marriage Fam 65:525–538 Hochschild A (1989) The second shift. Avon Books, New York Ibragimova D, Guseva A (2017) Who is in charge of family finances in the Russian two-earner households? J Fam Issues 38(17):2425–2448 ISSP Research Group (2016) International social survey programme: family and changing gender roles IV. GESIS Data Archive, Cologne Katz K (1997) Gender, wages and discrimination in the USSR: a study of a Russian industrial town. Camb J Econ 21(4):431–452 Kenney CT (2006) The power of the purse: allocative systems and inequality in couple households. GendSoc 20(3):354–381 Kiblitskaya M (2000) Russia’s female breadwinners: the changing subjective experience. In: Ashwin S (ed) Gender, state and society in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Routledge, New York, pp 55–70 Komter A (1989) Hidden power in marriage. GendSoc 3(2):187–216 Kukhterin S (2000) Fathers and patriarchs in communist and post-communist Russia. In: Ashwin S (ed) Gender, state and society in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Routledge, London, pp 71–89 Lauer SR, Yodanis C (2011) Individualized marriage and the integration of resources. J Marriage Fam 73(3):669–683

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Part IV

Changing Concepts of Masculinity and Fatherhood

Masculine Strategies in Russian Orthodoxy: From Asceticism to Militarization Boris Knorre

1 Disproportion in Russian Orthodoxy and Its Dynamics A firm belief in the overrepresentation of women among Russian churchgoers is well established not only among researchers—the sociologists who focus on Russian Orthodoxy—but also in the public media. It was not by chance that the predominant and permanent category of Soviet-era parishioners was called babushkas (grandmothers), because women of high retirement age indeed made up the bulk of parishioners. However, Russian researchers continue to postulate, when referring also to the post-Soviet period, that women attend church more often, observe fasting more often, and have more trust in the Russian Orthodox Church than men. Moreover, this overrepresentation of female churchgoers is accentuated as something more strongly in contrast with the rest of the Christian world (Belyakova et al. 2011); (Barannikov and Matronina 2004, pp. 102–107); (Lokosov and Sinelina 2008). As noted by the Russian researcher of Orthodox church culture, K. Mikhaylov, “the amazing history of St. Matrona’s cult is a vivid example of female influence in modern Orthodoxy” (Mikhaylov 2015). “Twenty years ago, she was an unofficial, locally venerated saint with a way of living that seemed weird in a church perspective because her cult incorporated a great number of folk elements. However, now, quite opposite, Matrona is not only officially canonized as a saint, but also has become perhaps the most popular saint of the Russian Orthodox Church, and in Moscow she is almost second to none. The cult of “Dear Mother Matronushka” is predominantly female, and it is the key role of women in modern Russian religious life that made its rapid development possible” (Mikhaylov 2015). However, if we consider the dynamics of the gender disproportion change, we can see that a tendency of its leveling out has persisted over a fairly long period of

B. Knorre (*) National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



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time. For example, the Russian sociologist M. Tarusin (Tarusin 2006), in his paper “Religion and Society,” shows an empirical leveling out of the gender disproportion indicated by church attendance near the end of the Soviet period and in the first 15 years of the church life renewal in Russia. On his data many more men attended worship services in 2006 than in the late Soviet period, with the disproportion shifting from 1: 4 to 1: 3 by 2006 (Tarusin 2006). As for the gender proportion in the later period, we rely on 2012 data from the sociological service “Sreda” for the indicator “attendance at Orthodox services.” According to Sreda, 31% of women and 16% of men attended church services several times a year in 2012 (Poseschenie 2012). Since participation in worship is a key feature, we can argue from the data on it that the gender gap in Orthodox parishes has been diminishing, but this gap has survived to date. This means that while the disproportion has not disappeared over the post-Soviet period, it is being leveled out. Let us try to analyze and explain this development.

2 The Standard Russian Model of Masculinity in the Consumer Era To analyze masculinity in post-Soviet Russian Orthodoxy, we take as the current masculinity model the features of masculinity as conditioned by modern globalization and democratic changes in the world since the Second World War. That is, we proceed from a fairly common conclusion, postulated in particular by the researchers (Kon 2009; Kosterina 2012; Zdravomyslova and Temkina 2001; Tartakovskaya 2000a, b, 2010, 2013) and (Yurchak 2002), that over the past 50 to 70 years, traditional masculinity stereotypes have shifted from some primordial standard of masculinity to a “liberal democratic” type.1 This is a shift affecting even conservatively biased social groups that showcase their commitment to centuries-long traditional behavioral attitudes. Of course, some of the “sacred cows” of primordial masculine identity remain effective today (potential use of physical force, willingness to risk one’s own life, virility, dominant patriarchal relationships in the family, and homophobia) (Kosterina 2012, p. 83). Nevertheless, there are obvious signs of a transition from this primordial masculinity in which physical strength is at the top of the behavioral hierarchy, to a new masculinity type valuing completely different qualities, for example, intellectuality, education, consistency, and indulgence toward others. Masculinity in the context of the educated urban environment, developed information technologies, and the information age is associated to a greater degree not

1 A “liberal democratic” type of masculinity means, in accordance with (Oushakine 1999) and (Skobtsova 1998), a model which allows men to realize their masculinity through personal autonomy, private ownership, economic independence, rationalism, and liberal rights which allow and active political participation.

Masculine Strategies in Russian Orthodoxy: From Asceticism to Militarization


with physical domination, but with leadership of a more complex order—selfexpression in social and political life, ideological initiative, and the capability to achieve material and financial benefits and career success. One way or another, the modern sources of masculinity now comprise status, money, signs of prestige, family, and career. These elements and associated masculinity strategies fit into the overall “consumerist” mental attitude (Radina and Nikitina 2013). Accordingly, Radina and Nikitina have noted that today the “highest level of psychological well-being” can be found among “men centered on themselves and their appearance,” and largely committed to consumerist values and practices. It turns out that caring for oneself is beneficial, and consumerism contributes to psychological adaptability (Radina and Nikitina 2013, pp. 123–124). That is, the new masculine trends of today are above all egalitarianism, “soft masculinity,” selfcare, and individualism. These qualities are normally expected today in educated urban men, who are often ranked as the “creative class.” In this situation, what are the prerequisites for implementation of these masculine strategies within the Orthodox social milieu? Several key sociocultural factors should be noted: an imperative to social action, and behavioral patterns and attitudes in Russian Orthodoxy that affect the possibility of expression of the new masculine behaviors. First, let us consider the church’s attitude toward success as such—whether it be success in achieving a high standard of living and well-being, or success as career, work, or professional realization. There is here a certain systemic inconsistency: at the theological, ecclesiastical, and ascetic level, Orthodoxy has failed to develop respect toward and recognition of the importance of mundane human activity, since Orthodox theological thought never occupied itself with socioeconomic problems for a long time (Koval’ 2010, pp. 76–79). Such theologians as G. Fedotov, Fr. J. Meyendorff, and Fr. Sergiy Bulgakov point out the problem of the lack of lay ethics in Orthodoxy. As Fr. I. Meyendorff notes, in Orthodoxy “no attempt has been made to develop a ‘mundane’ ethic for man in general” (Mejendorf 2001, p. 320). The monastic ideal serves as a guideline and normative model with which not only monks but all believers should comply. According to Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, “everyone is called to be an ascetic monk in his heart” (Bulgakov 2011). The mental attitude of eschatological, otherworldly, or “supernatural values, which lie outside human life, and where a temporary earthly existence is perceived as smoke, steam, ash, dust, and stench,” corresponds well with the monastic ideal according to a wellknown monastic teacher (Velichkovskij 1990), as well as with the overall tendency of self-debasement expressed in a category of kenosis. As Tatiana Koval’ demonstrates, these attitudes have survived in modern Orthodoxy (Koval’ 2008, Koval’ 2010). In the post-Soviet period and in the process of the Orthodox revival of prerevolutionary models from different periods, the above-mentioned mental attitudes linked to monastic culture, stylistics, and kenotic consciousness were replicated. Accordingly, one of the predominant ethical paradigms that manifested itself apparently enough in the church of the 1990s was to not approve of success at all, but


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on the contrary to encourage failure and weakness as a kind of virtue. A. Maler depicts the situation in the first 15 years of post-Soviet Orthodoxy: “a sin that is least forgiven by the church is the attempt to say that success can be a virtue” (Maler 2009). For post-Soviet Orthodoxy, it was not only a statement of the imperfection and sinfulness of human nature (emphasizing the dogma of original sin) that was plain to see, but also the stereotypical image created that vividly expressed this imperfection. Weakness and self-humiliation have become a kind of Orthodox self-presentational style in mutual interaction. This is reflected even in the church manuals on “church etiquette.” For example, the booklet by hieromonk Aristarkh (Lokhanov) entitled “What you need to know about church etiquette” says that “very often it is a look—a meek, humble, downcast look—that immediately betrays a well-educated person, in our case a church-going person” (Lokhanov 1999). With such attitudes the church subculture of the 1990s produced a peculiarly positive image of a person who is not socially well adapted and prefers not to get involved in social affairs, remaining “a monk in the world” (monakh v miru) (Knorre 2009). Such mental attitudes were often people’s excuse for being social losers, withdrawing from social life and career, saying that it all had no value in the eyes of God. Thus, on the whole, the sociocultural masculine stereotype of post-Soviet Orthodoxy does not favor masculine strategies of consumerist and professional realization, the achievement of secure status, the conquest of prestige in society, and so on since these are utterly contrary to it. The traditional church subculture of the post-Soviet period has demonstrated not only depreciation of men’s attractiveness in any way related to professional position and career, but also of the attractiveness associated with external appearance, social lifestyles, and ways of communicating with women. As Konstantin Mikhaylov notes, the normative masculinity of the Orthodox environment “implies negligence (within reasonable limits), lack of attention to appearance, a peculiar fear of bodily beauty as a quality firmly associated with women” (Mikhaylov 2016, p. 118). We would add that this negligence in the church milieu is associated with the general attitude toward earthly things and the flesh as “dust,” having no real value in the eyes of God; but if it attributes any value to physical concerns, they are probably only purely instrumental in nature. This bodily side, and physical appearance, should be taken care of to an extent that does not distract from spiritual life and “does not interfere with it,” which means that concern over one’s own appearance should be of low priority. Notably, the attitude toward sexual relations and openly sexual impulses in Orthodoxy, especially in Russia, is very cautious and even suspicious (Pushkareva 1995, pp. 55–70). For quite long in the history of the Russian Orthodox tradition sexual relations were legitimated only within marriage: “the purpose of Christian marriage is the birth and upbringing of children; however, the very sexual instinct is considered wicked, and its realization practiced for pleasure is sinful” (Shashkov 1898, p. 141). At the beginning of the post-Soviet Orthodox revitalization, accompanied by the prevalence of monastic ethics, under the charm of which many lay people had fallen, sexual relations were still considered something not per se good, and could be

Masculine Strategies in Russian Orthodoxy: From Asceticism to Militarization


justified only in marriage and only for the sake of childbirth. Moreover, in the 1990s the idea of abandoning sexual relations, even in marriage, if the spouses already had children or if they could no longer conceive a child for physical reasons, was popular among church adherents. For example, such an idea was practiced in the communities ruled by the well-known elder archimandrite Naum (Baiborodin) (Mitrokhin 2006, pp. 126–148). In “The Basis of the Social Concept of Russian Orthodox Church” accepted by the ROC Archbishops’ Council in 2000, the view on sexual relations has been expressed with a more positive spin: “the Church does not at all call to abhor the body or sexual intimacy as such. For the physical relations between man and woman are blessed by God in marriage in which they express chaste love, complete communion and the ‘harmony of the minds and bodies’ of the spouses” (The Basis 2000). However, in general, even in the modern Russian tradition, the view of sexual attraction and desire remains in many aspects negative (Berkhin 2016). The very thought of sex in the ascetic literature is considered something not good and is designated by the negative word pokhot (lust), and one’s personal inclination to engage in sexual relations as a personal habit is called by the negative term sladostrastie (voluptuousness). In this regard, the very thought of sex should be blocked or driven away. This negative assessment of sexuality is fixed in particular in repentant practice including daily prayers that are supposed to be recited by the laity. Ascetic literature encourages fear of sexual thoughts so much that even health and good physical form can be perceived very ambiguously—with both a “plus” and a “minus” valuation, because it is thought to provoke sexual impulses. An eloquent statement by the priest Arkady Shatov about enduring sickness suggests considering not only the “cons,” but also the “pros,” of sickness—because a human being in sickly physical condition is subject to less temptation to sexual desire, so that it becomes easier to combat voluptuousness: Tell me, please, how do these three things—health, wealth, and fame—and their opposites—illness, loss, and slander—relate to the three main passions? Health is fraught with lust, glory with self-conceit, and loss with avarice. So you see, it turns out that the Lord, letting us suffer such temptations, wants to burn our main passions. Therefore, if we are sent a disease, we must thank God, because He teaches us to avoid lust (Shatov 2010).

3 Money and Opportunities for Material Achievement The pursuit of material well-being and financial and material achievements under the conditions of the post-Soviet ecclesiastical social milieu also cannot be part of masculinity in the church milieu, because welfare in itself is not seen by the church as a normative model one should strive after.


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Despite such a phenomenon as “Josephitism,”2 in the Russian Orthodox tradition it is somewhat typical to justify poverty and the failure of a person, while at the same time justifying the need for the possession of land and other material resources by the church. Church authors, following “Lives of the Saints” (a special genre of Church literature—the biographies of a saints or an ecclesiastical leaders), usually try to convey to believers a peculiar variant of non-possession (Malinov 2009). The ecclesiastical edifying literature—the most popular type among Orthodox readers—advocates a peculiar ethics of poverty permeated by the idea of the righteousness of the poor and the depravity of the rich, a sermon built on the conviction that “poverty and wretchedness,” combined with “faith and piety, with patience and submission to the will of God, are not poverty, but acquisition, not punishment, in a sign of God’s love” (Muretov, 1889, pp. 496–497). In the post-Soviet, 1990s onset of the Orthodox revival, this kind of church ethics of poverty found good ideological support. The monastic ideal promoting weakness as a value turned out to be very popular. Accordingly, a lack of funds, poverty, and socioeconomic difficulties in general were regarded as a symbol of a special “God’s chosenness,” while a calm, prosperous life in a materially everyday sense was something non-standard, exceptional, and unnatural (Knorre 2009). Maxims such as “it’s bad to be unwilling to be poor” (Chrisostomos 2009) turned out to be a characteristic element of the church’s edifying discourse, and the desire for material well-being and financial solvency was often characterized by the negative term “acquisitiveness,” meaning a certain sinful passion that church asceticism must counter. The ROC thus offered men a model of masculinity different from the new type promoted in post-Soviet Russia. The transformation of Soviet Russia into the Russian Federal Republic shaped concepts of masculinity quite opposite to those encouraged by the church culture. Secular concepts of masculinity from the beginning of the 1990s focused on material security and economic independence. This new post-Soviet type of masculinity was called “the masculinity of the autonomous, liberal owner” (Zdravomyslova and Temkina 2001, p. 450), as it implied the realization of male identity through active political participation, economic independence, and taking opportunities to confirm their sexuality and virility. And this type implemented its own stylistic design in the image of “a physically strong, healthy, rich, expensively and tastefully dressed man” (ibid, p. 450), close to the “modern


Josephitism—a Church-political movement in Russian history and in the history of Russian Orthodox church, which defended the right of monasteries to land ownership and ownership of property for the purpose of carrying out extensive educational and charitable activities by monasteries. However indeed it realized to be an ideological trend supporting close Church–state relations and Church–state collaboration where the Church implements and helps the state in its political policy. Accordingly, the ecclesiastic elite assumes many of the cultural and aesthetic standards that are inherent in the state elite, and seeks to keep up with the state’s top officials in their material support and education. Historically Josephitism is founded by the Russian Saint Josef of Volotsky and his monks-ancestors at the end of XV–beginning of XVI. See for more details Alexeev (2011).

Masculine Strategies in Russian Orthodoxy: From Asceticism to Militarization


hegemonic masculinity of Western men of that time—autonomous, rational owner with liberal rights” (Oushakine 1999). Obviously the ROC offered something quite different from this type. It seems that the Orthodox model, connected with “aesthetization of weakness,” “detachment from secular activity,” and from pursuit of career success, was more appealing to those who did not master the transformation period successfully in the material and financial sense, who could not fit into the new market culture and to those of a contemplative type of character not inclined to adapt to rapid social changes. Clearly, within these church cultural settings, it is difficult for men to pursue a strategy of well-being and a high standard of living. If some do, it is contrary to the church value system and not because of it. Here we may reasonably ask how this correlates with the fact that church leaders do not shun friendship with businessmen and strongly emphasize their importance as church benefactors. This seeming contradiction in the church system can be understood by the fact that the involvement of businessmen in Orthodox church life as a rule does not entail the necessity for them to assimilate church standards or adopt its ascetic rules and ethics. While these are normally operative for average parishioners, church norms are understandably not on businessmen’s agendas (Köllner 2013, pp. 37–52). Yet another “sacred cow” of masculinity— self-confidence and reliance on one’s own strengths and capabilities—is also not supported by the Orthodox sociocultural matrix in which such mental attitudes as the presumption of one’s own guilt, an a priori guilty disposition (part of church etiquette requiring a person to declare their own guilt), utter insolvency, and non-compliance with requirements [imposed] “from above” all work against masculine self-confidence (Knorre 2011, pp. 317–40). Recalling that the masculinity of the modern consumerist type promotes the option of individual self-expression including an individual style of male fashion as a form of protest against the standardization of appearance, it turns out again that church culture does not advocate this component of masculinity (Lokhanov 1999). More generally, the commitment to the monastic ideal by religious men brings about at least indirectly limitations on their possibilities for individual selfexpression and expression of will. This limitation on the new masculinity strategy of self-expression in society and on the sociopolitical plane restrains individual initiative and ideas, due to the presence of such ethical-behavioral principles as “obedience” in the Orthodox social milieu (Zabaev 2007, p. 19). To some extent the church culture mistrusts a person’s mental impulses in general. These need to be legitimized through the “blessing” of a priest and the “obedience” imposed by a priest on the person in the church milieu. The maxim expressed by Fr. Vladislav Sveshnikov in his “Sketches of Christian Ethics”3 is rather typical: “Obedience, if accepted heartily, completely eradicates the ‘I want’ principle—the basic principle of sinful existence” (Sveshnikov 2000, p. 196). He

Students in the spiritual Orthodox schools and institutes study the discipline “Moral Theology” using this book.



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proposes we consider the impulse of will in human nature as something fundamentally negative. Distrust of personal will as a cultural attitude, a scheme devoid of religious reflection, is copied and transferred the sphere of relations between people in the church, thus becoming one of the standards of its communicative culture. Obviously, this curbs the manifestation in the church milieu of leadership qualities which for many men are inherent elements of their masculinity. But such mistrust also means that social activity, awareness of rights and freedoms, and any political protest find no support in the church milieu. In the context of the laymen’s modern life, the ascetic principles of obedience in monasticism offer a rationale for the “escape” from responsibility for this world, and from an active social position, and make Orthodox men inclined to an individualistic closure within themselves rather than to an active role in.

4 Ways of Men’s (Hyper)Compensation In the previous section we tried to show how many strategies of masculinity popular in today’s “globalized” values are blocked by Orthodox ascetic norms and church ethos. Accordingly, the question arises in what ways church-going men involved in church life compensate for the lack of “masculinity implementation.” There are several ways: 1. “Consumerization” of the church environment and adaptation of the behavior of the Orthodox faithful to consumerist standards. 2. Rejection of “individualization”: instead of which the ambition to implement an alternative masculinity inspired by the global “neo-imperial” [political] project. 3. Militarization, brutalization, and the commitment to use physical force to demonstrate the dominance of patriarchal domestic values over liberal, “westernoriginated” traditions, and to demonstrate imperial military power. The consumerization of church life, the adaptation of the Orthodox believers’ behaviors to consumerist standards, is the process of a departure from stereotypes associated with the church’s ascetic paradigm of monasticism. This process actively started in the second half of the 2000s, after about 15 years of church life revival in post-Soviet Russia, when the Russian Orthodox Church began to focus on the fact that Orthodoxy in Russia had acquired the status of a public or in some aspects even civil religion (Knorre 2014, pp. 50–61). When Vladimir Putin became Russia’s ruler and started regular demonstrative participation in solemn festive Orthodox “Divine Services” many state officials and some politicians began to express ideas of closer collaboration between state and church, and some even started to propose different forms of church–state relations. Among these officials appeared something like a “fashion of Orthodoxy”: active participation in Orthodox holidays, fasting, and “dipping into icy water” on the day of Epiphany. Orthodox-believer officials have formed a pro-church lobby in the governmental elite—so that, one can posit the existence—from the beginning of the

Masculine Strategies in Russian Orthodoxy: From Asceticism to Militarization


2000s—of a certain new elite group: a subculture of Orthodox-oriented elites in Russia. Such a phenomenon is reflected in the emergence of various calls (from both church officials and politicians and officials) for Orthodoxy to be state ideology, a mechanism to achieve consensus in Russian society, and for strengthening national security (Knorre 2014, pp. 50–53). Accordingly, joint church–political projects supported by state grants emerged, as for example, the youth-based “Orthodox Corps” within the framework of the ideological movement “Nashi” (Knorre 2014, p. 52). Accordingly, the public role of Orthodoxy began to significantly transform itself into a public religion respectable in the eyes of the political establishment—a process that some researchers assess as elaborating a specific Orthodox identity in Putin’s Russia (Agadjanyan 2017). An important step in this transformation came in the second half of the 2000s, when the church began to proclaim a strategy called a “broader social mission” to broaden the involvement of different subcultures and professional communities within the orbit of church social activity, and the very church conceptualized the extension of parish social services to compensate for the lack of state institutions of social support. As part of change in the social role of Orthodoxy in Russia, the transition from narrow church ghetto to religion of the masses, a church discussion about revisiting the behavioral stereotypes of the Orthodox faithful became imminent. Part of this discussion reiterated the necessity to overcome the image of the Russian believer as a weak, ascetic person focused on monasticism and patterns of behavior that limit various social initiatives (Maler 2009). Some church press releases of that time suggest that the issue of overcoming the monastic-oriented paradigm associated with the aestheticization of weakness began to be actively discussed in the church environment. See for example: Kuraev “It’s time for the Orthodox to feel the taste of career” (Kuraev 2008a, pp. 150–152) and Anna Pal’cheva “Why do some Orthodox look like dead fish?” (Pal’cheva et al. 2007). This discussion implied the necessity for Orthodoxy to break out of the semi-closed church subculture. Also, church polemists began to advocate the expansion of forms of church life defending the right to go beyond the ascetic “typikon type” of piety described by Maria (Skobtsova 1998). At this time in some parishes there appears a restoration of some culturally pre-revolutionary Russian traditions, such as centers for “Slavonic-Goritsky wrestling” (Filatov 2005) and Russian national dances (Filatov 2009). On the other hand, along with the process of partial rehabilitation of Soviet culture, elements of the Soviet “monumental style” were reproduced in the official ceremonies of the church (Volkova 2009). Orthodoxy, increasingly in contact with consumer culture in the process of its revitalization in Russia, in one way or another has been faced with the necessity of accepting some elements of it. One can observe how, in their desire for a more extensive outreach in the mid-2000s, church missionaries themselves began to imitate consumer marketing trends, employing glamorous media styles in church representational material. For example, some church publications were released in


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“glossy” style, in particular the magazine Foma, which reported on examples of successful Orthodox people with photos and biographies, to demonstrate that Orthodoxy can be part of an up-to-date lifestyle, not a religion of the poor, but one suitable for rich and socially prominent people. There church leaders and priests take the position that strict dress code is not required of Orthodox believers. This discussion was marked by a landmark analysis in Foma entitled “Do jeans interfere with salvation?” by Vladimir Legoyda, editor of Foma and head of the ROC Synodal Information Department from 2009 (Legoyda 2001). With the advancing consumerization of church culture, men in the church are getting the chance to implement some masculinity strategies within consumerism’s legitimization process in the church milieu. Church culture has become less homogeneous. Different subcultures, for example, bikers and rockers, have started affiliating themselves with Orthodox culture, disregarding, of course, the traditional ascetic ideals, and they are nevertheless still included in the church social milieu at the level of worshipers and participants in extra-liturgical communities or “special interest clubs.” Sometimes they have carried out activities under the banner of Orthodoxy, as when, for example, bikers hold motor rallies “for the sake of the triumph of the Orthodox faith and national glory of Russia.”4 Although this process is criticized by more conservative Orthodox believers (Kholmogorov 2004, 2010), it has gained momentum and is supported by some in the church hierarchy (Kuraev 2008b). Consumerization of the church space is not the only cultural turn in the ROC. Many pre-revolutionary imperial symbols and forms of cultural representation have been rehabilitated, which in turn is more than just a cultural phenomenon. The ROC is involved in certain neo-imperial project (Krasikov 2009), as it has its own geopolitical strategy in international politics. As part of this imperial trend and the ROC’s international policy, the second option of behavioral strategy became possible for men—the rejection of individualization and the masculine strategies characteristic of consumerist culture, for the sake of participating in the global project. We are referring to a way of overcompensation for the lack of opportunities to realize a masculine strategy in the church space, through the project of an alternative to Western-inspired globalization, that is, of resistance to the West in a mission of global spiritual and cultural “war.” Such self-awareness allows men to feel like “heroes” and “warriors” on the geopolitical front, and accordingly is a prerequisite for high self-esteem. The goal of Russia’s self-assertion as a new empire, “the salvation of the whole world from destruction,” fills life with a special meaning and is felt to be a commensurate price to pay for the restrictions imposed by church culture on masculine strategies. This is similar to the overcompensation scenarios presented in the USSR, as noted in (Zdravomyslova and Temkina 2001, p. 442): “The life of a Soviet man of the previous generation was full of meaning. Serving the

See the websites of the main Orthodox motorbike association “Motobratiya vo Khriste” [Motobrotherhood in Christ] and 4

Masculine Strategies in Russian Orthodoxy: From Asceticism to Militarization


Homeland (state) was his male vocation. This ministry is worthy of reward—so he became a hero.” In the Soviet Union this compensatory model was the ideal of a Soviet hero, a man acting as a builder of a great power. Sacrificial service to the Homeland, loyalty to the principles, and commitment to military-protective functions were the main features of the Soviet man—a representative of a great imperial power (ibid.).

5 Militarization: Another Masculine Strategy Part of the strategy of inclusion of the global imperial project is another important masculine (hyper-)compensation option participation in the global project of militarization and brutalization. This inclusion of the global project is worth separate mention because as the sociocultural transformations of post-Soviet Orthodoxy make their way, the traditional monasticism-inspired ethos has been overcome not only along the path of consumerization and ideologization, but also on that of militarization as such, which can be related to ideologization or independent of it. In the 1990s Orthodox neophytes maintained an ambivalent attitude toward the Russian army. On the one hand, the church—as always—regarded the defense of the Homeland as a virtue. However, at the onset of the post-Soviet revival of Orthodoxy, the Russian army as such was perceived by believers as an institution inherited by post-Soviet Russia from the Soviet past and thereby raised suspicions in church people, so that the majority of church communities were not ready to regard it as a church-friendly force. In the church discussion over the military, a reference to the Canon rule of St. Basil the Great was often cited warriors who killed someone in a righteous battle, “had to keep themselves from the Holy Communion as having unclean hands for three years” (Canon 13 of St Basil). In addition, wariness of the army in the church milieu of the 1990s was also due to the contemplative prayerful mood prevailing in the newly opened churches at the onset of the post-Soviet revival of church life in Russia (Knorre 2009), which was difficult to reconcile with the aesthetics of weapons. This, however, raised objections on the part of certain believers. We cite as an example the perplexity expressed by one parishioner of St. Nicholas’s Church at Kuznetsy in 1996: So why is the holy cause of military service so unwelcome and why does it cause so much disapproval? Why have we adopted such a negative attitude towards weapons? This is a sphere of life that cannot but evoke admiration and mystical thrill in one’s soul. The weapon itself is fascinating and charming. In our Church people are continually urged to be meek, so Christianity is in a losing position versus [warlike] paganism. (Artem Nikolaev, Moscow, 1996)

We see that the process of revising the contemplative and compliant prayerful attitude in favor of the militant-romantic one has been developing among some men in the church milieu, sometimes accompanied by a mystical glorification of war and weapons, which also has worked against the general perception of Orthodoxy as a pacifist religion. This rethinking has become so strong over time that the author has a


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sufficient basis for speaking of such a phenomenon as the “Orthodox theology of war.” The popularization of military service as a religiously motivated sphere provides men with the opportunity to implement masculinity strategies that are largely legitimate despite oppressive church attitudes of obedience, suppression of initiative, and rationalism. A war waged for the protection of the church, shrines, and Fatherland (Chaplin 2007) is considered as quite permissible (almost a priority), even within the framework of oppressive monastically oriented culture. For example, within the educational shelter of the Bogolyubov monastery (a fundamentalist center with a rather pronounced oppressively totalitarian ethos) under Vladimir, pupils are preparated for prospective military service and even for service in hot spots (Mikhaylov 2016, pp. 118–119). Within the logic of this phenomenon, the use of physical force and violence is legitimized as an essential element of primordial masculinity. This model makes it possible to at least performatively implement the patriarchal character and orientation to archaism, as well as visibly represent traditional values and a patriarchal ideal at the level of aesthetics. Besides that, for men in Orthodox circles there are certain expectations based not only on Russian Imperial ideology, but also, as Helen Zorgdrager correctly remarks, on the pressure of popular images of the “hypermasculine ideal” deriving from the general Russian cultural context (Zorgdrager 2013, pp. 221–222.). These are the images associated with the romanticization and partial transfer of prison culture to the civilian environment, the spread of thriller films as well as state propaganda in which Vladimir Putin is considered a kind of hypermasculine role model. All these models in one way or another have had an impact on the Orthodox environment. The factor contributing most to “church militarization” in Russia for the last 15 years is a media culture devoted to re-creating the “Great Patriotic War” in newly made films. In circles of Orthodox parishioners, to this is added a traditionalist view of the function and role of men in the family, frequent recollections of the pre-revolutionary experience, Cossack and military aesthetics, and the “victories of Russian arms” under Orthodox banners. The consequence is the image of the “Russian hero” and “Orthodox warrior” popular in Orthodox journalism. During the post-Soviet period the Second World War also receives a specific adoption in Orthodox conscience—a spiritual reinterpretation as a great spiritual event. Anna Briskina-Müller (2015) analyzes the process of the reception of the symbols of the Second World War in church rhetoric, while drawing attention to the church’s comprehension of the victory of the USSR in the Great Patriotic War as a spiritually significant mystical phenomenon deriving value categories from Soviet military attributes and symbols of the military reality of the 1940s. In her work today’s ecclesiastic leaders in Russia and public figures are introducing new code words into the figurative language of the church, highlighting the idea of “militaryexpansionist” Orthodoxy. Andrey Desnitsky also focuses on the church’s reinterpretation of the trials of the Great Patriotic War as a spiritual achievement of the church. The ecclesiastic consciousness of the value of the Great Patriotic War has led to a certain “religion of victory” as a new civil religion in Russia.

Masculine Strategies in Russian Orthodoxy: From Asceticism to Militarization


On the whole, one can find a similar tendency in the manifestation of masculine militaristic strategies implemented already in the Soviet period. Notably, the compensatory masculinity models offered in the framework of the ROC overlap with options from the Soviet era. Accordingly, for (Zdravomyslova and Temkina 2001, p. 441), “A real man is primarily a participant in the heroic industrialization of the country and the Great Patriotic War. This image was replicated by Soviet cinema, literature, art as a positive socio-anthropological type.”

6 Conclusion Finally, we offer some explanations for the gender disproportion in Russian Orthodoxy, where men are by far less present than women. As we see, the church ethos includes a set of sociocultural attitudes that hinder the realization of the most usual contemporary masculine strategies suggested by a globalized world. In spite of the changes brought by globalization, the achievements of the technological era, and the development of social institutions, Russian Orthodoxy still upholds lifestyle preferences peculiar to the primordial standard of masculinity. While the values of modern masculinity are rationalism, intellectual leadership, good physical shape, entrepreneurship, professional realization, and the ability to achieve financial well-being, traditional Orthodox culture does not encourage men to realize these inclinations. On the contrary, guilt feelings, self-belittling, restricted self-expression, a culture of “obedience,” and the rhetoric of poverty justification are cultivated. However, we can also observe sociocultural trends and processes in the church culture that allow men, within limits, to compensate for the lack of masculinity in other ways. Some groups of Orthodox male believers are extending stepwise the types of accepted church-parish activity, including rock music, motorbikes, sport fighting, dancing, and other entertainments, while slowly also legitimizing consumeristic standards inside the church social milieu. Other groups of male believers find their way to masculinity compensation by involving themselves in the ideological “neo-imperial” project. A third category finds compensation in militarization and brutalization that has led to the justification of war actions from the point of view of church soteriology and elaborated a certain “theology of war.” This last path to masculine compensation seems to be the most dangerous and dark effect to the limitations that the church ethos imposes on men. Acknowledgments This article was prepared within the framework of the Academic Fund Program at the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) in 2018–2019 (grant №18-01-0094), and thanks to the Russian Academic Excellence Project “5–100”. The author is also grateful to the Aleksanteri Academy for its Academic Visitors Fellowship in 2019. The author thanks HSE PhD student Svetlana Glebova (Vinogradova) for word processing, literary editing, discussions, and encouragement throughout the entire process of preparing this article.


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Kuraev A (2008b) Pust’ budut batyushka-roker, batyushka-bajker, batyushka-got. Komsomol’skaya pravda. Accessed 18 Oct 2018 Legoyda V (2001) Meshayut li dzhinsy spaseniyu? Foma. Accessed 18 Oct 2018 Lokhanov A (1999) Chto nuzhno znat’ o tserkovnom aetikete. Zavet.Ru. etiket.htm. Accessed 18 Oct 2018 Lokosov V, Sinelina Y (2008) Religioznoe sostoyanie sovremennogo rossijskogo obshhestva (sotsiologicheskie aspekty). Interfax. ru/. Accessed 30 July 2018 Maler A (2009) Vybor Patriarha. Katekhon. patriarha. Accessed 18 Oct 2018 Malinov A (2009) Iosiflyanstvo i nestyazhatel’stvo v istoriosofskoj perspektive. Nil Sorskij: Nasledie i tradicii. K 500-letiyu so vremeni konchiny drevnerusskogo podvizhnika-myslitelya. Izdatel’stvo Sankt-Peterburgskogo universiteta, St. Petersburg Mejendorf I (2001) Vizantijskoe bogoslovie. Luchi Sofii, Minsk Mikhaylov K (2015). Russkaya pravoslavnaya tserkov’ v aepokhu gendernogo bespokoystva. Polit. Ru. Accessed 30 June 2019 Mikhaylov K (2016) Obraz veruyushhego v sovremennoj tserkovnoj polemike: gendernye i natsional’nye aspekty. Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow Mitrokhin N (2006) Arkhimandrit Naum and ‘Naumovtsy’ kak kvintessentsiya sovremennogo starchestcva. In: Agadjanyan A, Rousselet K (eds) Religioznye praktiki v sovremenoy Rossii. Novoe izdatel’stvo, Moscow, pp 126–147 Muretov D (1889). Polnoe sobranie propovedej Dmitriya arhiepiskopa Hersonskogo i Odesskogo (Muretova). Moscow Nikolaev A (1996) Interview to Boris Knorre, Moscow Oushakine S (1999) Vidimost’ muzhestvennosti // Zhenshchina ne sushchestvuyet; sovremennyye issledovaniya polovogo razlichiya. – Digest of articles. Ed. by I. Aristarkhova. – Syktyvkar university, pp 116–131 Pal’cheva A, Orlova A, Gadzhinskaya S (2007) Delovoy khristianin. Neskuchniy Sad 7:65–69 Poseschenie (2012) Poseschenie sluzhb, soblyudenie posta, noshenie kresta i molitva. Non-profit research based consulting “Sreda”. Accessed 30 July 2018 Pravmir (2018) Motosoobshchestvo Pravoslavnogo Duhovenstva vypustilo blagotvoritel’nyj kalendar’. Accessed 18 Oct 2018 Pushkareva, N. (1995). Sem’ya, zhenshchina, seksual’naya ehtika v pravoslavii i katolicizme. Perspektivy sravnitel’nogo podhoda. Etnograficheskoe obozrenie, 3 Radina N, Nikitina A (2013) Sotsial’no-psikhologicheskaya adaptirovannost’ muzhchin s raznymi variantami razvitiya muzhskoĭ identichnosti / Sposoby byt’ muzhchinoj. Transformacii maskulinnosti v XXI veke / Ed. by Irina Tartakovskaya. Heinrich Böll Stiftung: Izdatel’stvo “Zveniyz”:117–137 Shashkov S (1898) Istoricheskiye sud’by zhenshchiny, detoubiystvo i prostitutsiya, Saint Petersburg Shatov A (2010). Kak dobrovol’cam izbezhat’ professional’nogo vygoraniya. Accessed 18 Oct 2018 Skobtsova, M (1998) Types of religious lives (trans: A. Smirensky). RPCZ, Obzor Sveshnikov V (2000) Ocherki khristianskoy aetiki. Palomnik, Moscow Tartakovskaya I (2000a) Muzhchiny i zhenshchiny v legitimnom diskurse. Gendernye issledovaniya 4:246–265 Tartakovskaya I (2000b) The changing representation of gender roles in the Soviet and post-Soviet press. In: Ashwin S (ed) Gender, state and society in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Routledge, London, pp 118–136


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Tartakovskaya I (2010) Smertel’naya nosha maskulinnosti. DemoskopWeekly. http://demoscope. ru/weekly/2010/0425/analit02.php Accessed 10 April 2019 Tartakovskaya I (2013) Sposoby byt’ muzhchinoj. Transformacii maskulinnosti v XXI veke. Heinrich Böll Stiftung: Izdatel’stvo “Zveniyz” Tarusin M (2006) Issledovanie “Religiya i obshhestvo” Kul’turnaya ehvolyutsiya. http://yarcenter. ru/articles/religion/andsociety/issledovanie-religiya-i-obshchestvo-1431/ Accessed 30 July 2018 Velichkovskij SP (1990) Kriny sel’nye, ili Cvety prekrasnye. Vvedenskij stavropigial’nyj muzhskoj monastyr’. Optina Pustyn’ Volkova E (2009) Religiya i Khudozhestvennaya kul’tura: Khudoy mir luchshe dobroy ssory. Dvadtsat’ let religioznoy svobody v Rossii. ROSSPAeN, Moscow Yurchak A (2002) Muzhskaya ehkonomika: “Ne do glupostej, kogda kar’eru kuesh’”. O muzhe (N)stvennosti. Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, Moscow Zabaev I (2007) Osnovnye kategorii hozyajstvennoj ehtiki sovremennogo russkogo pravoslaviya. Social’naya real’nost’ 10:36–62 Zdravomyslova E, Temkina A (2001) Krizis maskulinnosti v poznesovetskom diskurse. Open Women Line. Accessed 18 Oct 2018 Zorgdrager H (2013) Homosexuality and hypermasculinity in the public discourse of the Russian Orthodox Church: An affect theoretical approach. Int J Philos Theol 74(3):214–239

Questioning Gender Stereotypes Under Socialism: Fatherly Emotions and the Case of Single Fathers Peter Hallama

In recent years, research on men and fathers has developed into a productive academic field, deconstructing the idea of masculinity as the invisible norm and a stable category throughout history (Connell 2005).1 As Todd W. Reeser states, “masculinity has no natural, inherent, or given meaning . . . [and] whatever meaning it has is in constant movement” (Reeser 2010 p. 11). Historians, particularly in Great Britain and the United States, are increasingly adopting this approach and studying not only the transformations but also the diversity of masculine and paternal identities in history (King 2015; Strange 2015; Fuchs 2008; Childers 2018; Tosh 1999; Frank 1998; LaRossa 1997). However, research on masculinities in Central and Eastern Europe during state socialism is still scarce (Wöll 2016; Clements et al. 2002). This gap is all the more evident given that the situation of women in socialist and postsocialist Eastern Europe is well researched (see, for instance, Harsch 2014). Indeed, debates about the very notion, meaning, and mere existence of a feminist movement under socialism have been the subject of much controversy since the early 1990s (Aspasia 2007; Funk 2014; Ghodsee 2015; Krylova 2017). In this article, I will analyze the evolution toward affective masculinities: the increasing representation of fatherly emotions. I suggest that the issue of fatherhood had great critical potential in relation to traditional gender stereotypes. It actually

The research this article is based on has been funded by the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), Paris, as part of the project “L’avenir de l’homme. La paternité socialiste entre utopies révolutionnaires et quotidien,” as well as an Ambizione grant of the Swiss National Science Foundation. 1 Recent encyclopedias, handbooks, and journals—Men and Masculinities, for instance—testify clearly to the establishment of men’s studies as an academic field (Flood et al. 2007; Kimmel et al. 2005; Pringle et al. 2006).

P. Hallama (*) University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



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opened up a space for frank criticism of one of communism’s central claims: equality. Questions about fatherhood under socialism have been almost entirely neglected by historians up to now. This essay endeavors to offer a new perspective by discussing the potential of applying the history of masculinities and fatherhood to socialist Eastern Europe. To this end, I will present several possible approaches rather than a single case study, concentrating on representations in the media and film as well as debates among experts (sociologists, educational scholars, and lawyers). To illustrate the critical potential of fatherhood in challenging gender stereotypes, the issue of single fathers will form a special focus. This will allow me to also consider everyday fatherhood and fathers at work. Therefore, I will draw on sources from company archives and trade unions. My examples stem from two countries: the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and Czechoslovakia.

1 Hegemonic Masculinities? Society and Ideology Under State Socialism Prior to discussing these issues, it is imperative to address one of the main problems and shortcomings when issues of men and masculinities are applied to state-socialist Eastern Europe: the equation of hegemonic masculinities—the most influential concept within men’s studies—with norms, ideals, or propaganda. Several studies have rightly pointed to the masculine value system behind the vision of the Soviet “new man,” a utopian biopolitical vision that coupled the possibility of overcoming gender or even sex differences with a general “rise of vitality and virility” (Hagemeister 2009, p. 21; Haynes 2003; Kaganovsky 2008; Bonnell 1999). This vision draws upon the ideal of a man as a worker, hero, and soldier who sacrifices his life for communism. Scholars have rightly identified what may be termed “hypermasculinity” during socialism, particularly in the Stalinist period (Petrone 2002, p. 185). Whereas these studies are mainly interested in the representations of masculinities in official discourse, ideology, and (especially) propaganda, several authors have argued that this heroic and virile masculinity—with military and work as its central elements—formed what Raewyn Connell first identified as hegemonic masculinity.2 Highlighting the shortcomings of the application of hegemonic masculinity to socialist societies is important insofar as this application often reflects a perception that these societies were homogeneous and compliant with communist ideology. This, in turn, is a heritage of the Cold War paradigm of totalitarianism that historiography is still struggling to overcome, in its reluctance to acknowledge individual

2 That said, even if authors do not explicitly draw on the concept of hegemonic masculinity, many publications reveal the difficulties in distinguishing state-sanctioned models of masculinity from socially constructed and accepted perceptions of what it meant to be a man (see, for instance, Chernova 2012; Ripp 2000).

Questioning Gender Stereotypes Under Socialism: Fatherly Emotions and the Case. . .


agency and Eigensinn (self-will, obstinacy) beyond political resistance and opposition or to account for social diversity and inconsistencies. The few studies on men and masculinities under socialism that concentrate on individual appropriations, subjectivities, and everyday life demonstrate the discrepancies between propagated models of masculinity and lived experience. In her research on East Germany, the sociologist Sylka Scholz has concluded that, indeed, work and employment are important points of reference in men’s individual life stories, as is the experience of military service, while official socialist ideals of masculinity do not play any important part in individual constructions of masculinity (Scholz 2001, p. 9). According to Scholz, normative models such as the worker-hero or the soldierhero should not be considered examples of hegemonic masculinity; rather, they are models that have endured solely based on the state’s enforcement and promotion of such ideals (Scholz 2001, p. 10; see also Brandes 2007; Scholz 2008, 2016). At this point, it might be helpful to return to Raewyn Connell and James Messerschmidt’s definition of hegemonic masculinity. Clearly opposed to the idea that social hegemony may be achieved through the exercise of force and violence, they argue that while hegemonic masculinity can be supported by the state it cannot be reduced to “a pattern of simple domination based on force” (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005, p. 846). Additionally, they stress the importance of “practice” as opposed to discourse, as well as compliance and consent. The idea of consent is particularly crucial since it implies some sort of individual agency—and this is also a fundamental issue in socialist societies as the debates about Eigensinn have shown.3 Thus, when approaching masculinities and fatherhood under socialism, I suggest focusing first and foremost on multiple and contradictory masculinities rather than attempting to identify a singular category of hegemonic masculinity. Returning to the writings of Connell and Messerschmidt can be useful since they emphasize the “dynamics of masculinities” and particularly the “layering, the potential internal contradiction, within all practices that construct masculinities” (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005, p. 852). Indeed, even when remaining focused on the official discourse, which is the intention of this article, it is striking to observe so many variants and internal contradictions. The examples I will draw upon illustrate very clearly that there was no singular official model of masculinity designed and propagated by the communist leadership. Indeed, studies on heroic and virile masculinity under socialism have overlooked that the representations of men as fighters, soldiers, and strong workers did not entirely suppress other constructions of men—as caring husbands and fathers, for example (in relation to the Soviet Union, see Carlbäck 2017; Kay 2006).

Thomas Lindenberger describes Eigensinn as “a useful historiographic concept for understanding individual behaviors and actions that impact the sphere of power and domination: submission and revolt, resistance and dropping out.” He further specifies that the notion “designates the ability and the need of an individual in a relationship of domination to perceive and appropriate reality as well as to act” (Lindenberger 2015).



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2 Fatherly Emotions and the Media Representations in the media that portrayed a new image of the socialist father are an extremely rich source of one part of the official discourse that did not correspond to the stereotypical image of a communist hero. During the late Stalinist period in the Soviet Union, the role of the father had been weakened, as several scholars have shown. Family policies were exclusively oriented toward women and children thanks to Stalin’s cult of motherhood and the massive industrialization that necessitated the widespread migration of male workers. As a result, Soviet fathers were marginalized within the family or completely absent (Kukhterin 2000; Chernova 2012; Rodin and Åberg 2013). However, in that same period, positive images of involved fatherhood already appeared, for instance, in the East German media. To cite only one example of these representations of a new kind of fatherhood, let us take an article that appeared in June 1950 in the East German magazine Frau von Heute (Today’s Woman)—the publication of the communist mass women’s organization. In the article, the father humorously describes how he cares for his baby while his wife makes a one-day excursion with her company: With a childcare guide at hand, he discovers activities like bathing, changing, and feeding a baby (Komoll 1950). Several photographs accompany the article. They show a caring, loving—and happy—father in all the daily activities with his baby. As the illustrations suggest, the experience is depicted in a very positive way, highlighting the benefits for the father–child relationship and the father’s own pleasure. Thus, the article promoted both the idea of a politically engaged mother and a “new” father involved in early childhood care. This may seem hardly surprising given the context of a women’s magazine. However, the large number of letters to the editor authored by men suggests that a rather significant number of men read and reacted to the articles in Frau von Heute.4 Additional representations of a new socialist father can be found in Frau von Heute. As early as the GDR’s first year of statehood, a similar article appeared that presented a father who cares for the household and the children—cooking, ironing, and darning stockings—while his wife travels (“Ich geh fort,” 1949). Another article that year addresses the reactions that a father must face when pushing a stroller in public. The article’s author, Elly Niebuhr, advocates a greater participation of fathers in childcare, which, she argues, strengthens father–child relationships while enhancing the relationship between the parents themselves. Furthermore, says Niebuhr, an involved father “does not lose his superiority but gains a new comrade—his child” (Niebuhr 1949).5 Twenty years later, her appeal to challenge the perception of a “henpecked husband,” when seeing a father pushing a pram, seemed to have worked. An early 1970s handbook for married couples points to the still existing inequalities between men and women while observing some changes: “a young 4 Archival documents from the early 1960s indicate 15–20% masculine writers (see, among others, “Leserbriefanalyse für das Jahr 1964” 1965; “Bericht über den Inhalt” 1963). 5 All translations of quotes from primary sources are by the author of the article.

Questioning Gender Stereotypes Under Socialism: Fatherly Emotions and the Case. . .


father, pushing the stroller—formerly the archetype of a fool—does not cause any stir” (Grandke et al. 1973, p. 184). Representations of fatherhood changed over time. Fifteen years after the establishment of communist rule in East Central Europe, Josef Molín drew a cartoon for the Czechoslovak satirical magazine Dikobraz. The cartoon shows a father, desperately sitting over a math problem, which is visibly part of his son’s homework. The son blames his father—seemingly unable to help with his homework—for having forgotten how to do math during the holidays (Molín 1964). Molín, thus, contributes to the denigration of the biological father, who fails to set an example for younger generations, having lost his authority. He visualized what different scholars have described as a “crisis of masculinity” in post-Stalinist Eastern Europe. Cinematic representations of father–child (mostly father–son) relationships in East Central Europe form an illustrative example of this crisis, as Ewa Mazierska has shown (Mazierska 2008). In several films from the late 1940s and 1950s, the position of biological fathers was undermined in favor of “surrogate” father figures, particularly party officials and leaders. Sometimes—as was the case of Pavlik Morozov in the Soviet Union—the privileging of surrogate over biological fathers even led children to denounce their fathers as enemies of the socialist cause. When Czechoslovak authors and filmmakers began to cautiously criticize Stalinism in the 1960s, they often ridiculed this older generation of surrogates. At the same time, their main interest shifted away from political symbols of fatherhood to actual biological fathers. They portrayed how communist policies had infantilized and marginalized men within the family—resulting in “emasculated . . . victim[s] of a socialist nanny state” (Mazierska 2008, p. 106). Fathers were often depicted as figures without authority over the younger generation and were ineffectual educators: powerless and unable to act as role models for their children. Authors of literary works also expressed this “void” of male models for younger generations of men and fathers (Oates-Indruchová 2006). This evolution had a national component as well: The idea of male emasculation was used metaphorically to address Czechoslovakia’s subordination to the Soviet Union. Thus this “crisis of masculinity” (the idea of weak men lacking authority) paralleled the “crisis of the nation,” that is, the idea of missing (male) leadership for the Czech and Slovak people (Thomas 2007, pp. 171, 189). While I do not wish to employ this “crisis of masculinity” as an analytical tool, I would argue that historical crises function as important markers of the perception (of at least part of society) of an ongoing change. This perception is often linked to uncertainty, fear, and the will to overcome this crisis—either by establishing new gender relations or by trying to preserve old ones (see Opitz-Belakhal 2008). One of these changes can be described as a “depoliticization,” “normalization,” or even “nationalization” of fatherhood. Indeed, while representations such as Molín’s demeaned the figure of the father, they also contributed to the portrayal of the everyday life of “ordinary” fathers, caring for their children and confronted (and


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often excessively challenged) by mundane problems.6 Rather than interpret this evolution in a negative way—as a crisis—I would like to suggest that beginning in the 1960s representations of fatherly emotions began to replace those of a severe, all-knowing, untouchable (communist) father. I also include doubts and uncertainty, like those expressed in the cartoon, in this category of emotions. However, I will concentrate on representations of the affection and love displayed by fathers toward their children, as they were often connected to the above-mentioned promotion of father’s involvement in early childhood care. Indeed, the idea that love and emotional bonds—between spouses as well as parents and children—formed the (only) basis of marriage was seen as something particular to the socialist context. Citing Friedrich Engels’ reflections on the origins of the family, socialist authors pointed to the economic motivations of marriage in capitalist societies, suggesting that socialism’s abolition of private property liberated marriage from pragmatic and economic considerations. “Under socialism, marriage relies essentially on emotional ties” (Pinther 1984, p. 10). The authors of one marriage manual argue that because socialist marriage is based on “mutual affection and love” and the principle of an equal partnership, it creates “a completely new relationship between parents and their children” (Grandke et al. 1973, p. 16). In the media, the ideal of loving and caring parents was also very present. Returning to the 1950 article mentioned above, the father who cares for his baby while his wife travels describes the importance of forming an emotional relationship with his daughter. He insists that such an intimate bond cannot be established on weekends alone. It is only through everyday contact, care, and “exhausting responsibilities” (Komoll 1950) that the father can achieve the same sort of seelische Verbundenheit (emotional bond) that exists between mother and child. Thus, this father perceives the intense relationship between parent and child not as something natural but as something that must be constructed. Another interesting aspect of this article is that it challenges the stereotype of men as logical thinkers who blindly subscribe to scientific knowledge. While the father does consult a childcare manual in order to master all the required tasks, he does question certain recommendations that contradict his own intuition, such as the idea that parents should not share their bed with their babies. In response to this he asks, “Where does that leave human warmth” (Komoll 1950)? From the 1960s and 1970s on, representations of affective fathers—initially often abstract and idealized—became more concrete and realistic. When the East German women’s magazine now known as Für Dich (For You), for instance, published an extensive series of articles under the heading Junge Männer heute (Young Men Today) in 1979 and 1980, the question of fatherhood was foregrounded. The articles’ authors report a closer emotional and physical proximity or intimacy between fathers and their children.7 Men were also encouraged to talk about the

6 For a similar point, see Jakub Macheks’s analysis of masculinities in Czechoslovak TV series (Machek 2012). 7 They use the German word Hautnähe, meaning, literally, the proximity of the skin (Häßler 1980).

Questioning Gender Stereotypes Under Socialism: Fatherly Emotions and the Case. . .


new perceptions and understandings of a socialist man and father. In the series, their points of view were not only articulated in the different articles (dealing with such topics as employment, household chores, partnership, and fatherhood) but also in numerous letters to the editors written by men and women alike. While some women criticized the presentation of young men of the time as (still) idealized rather than faithful to reality (Steineckert 1980), many men claimed to be actively involved in early childhood care and everyday domestic duties. They very clearly challenged the idea of mothers as better suited for caring activities, tenderness, and emotional relationships. In particular, they described their own conceptions of masculinity and fatherhood as something new, in contrast to their fathers’ generation, describing fatherly involvement and the equal distribution of household chores as “modern” or “progressive.”8 The same can be observed in other interviews with men. During late socialism in the GDR, conducting and publishing interviews with ordinary people became so common that scholars have categorized such publications as “protocol genre” (Holschuh 1992; McLellan 2011, pp. 23–24). By far the best-known example is Maxie Wander’s collection of protocols Guten Morgen, Du Schöne (Good Morning, Beautiful), first published in 1977. However, there were also two lesser-known collections conducted only with men and published in the mid-1980s (Müller 1985; Lambrecht 1986). In Christine Lambrecht’s Männerbekanntschaften (Male Acquaintances), for instance, the 32-year-old toolmaker Lutz commented upon his son’s upbringing. For him the idea that men should be strong and never cry was obsolete: He always encouraged his own son to express his emotions and feelings (Lambrecht 1986, p. 18). Twenty-two-year-old Jörg, another man interviewed by Lambrecht, also shared this new conception of men as able to openly display their emotions and being able (allowed) to cry (Lambrecht 1986, p. 51). Additionally, Jörg commented on the joy and anticipation he shared with his fiancée about the forthcoming birth of their first child. Notably, he mentions the very corporal dimension of his fascination when feeling the fetus’s movements in his fiancée’s belly, which helps him initiate a relationship with his future baby (Lambrecht 1986, pp. 53–54, also 264). These examples suggest that Scholz’s conclusion that fatherhood (Vaterschaft) is addressed in men’s interviews and life stories but that men rarely speak about fatherly emotions and feelings (Väterlichkeit) is lacking in nuance (Scholz 2004, p. 236). Although contemporary surveys have shown that East German households never quite managed to overcome the unequal division of labor in the domestic sphere (among others, Gysi 1989, pp. 156–167), men’s participation in household chores and especially fathers’ involvement in childcare and education were progressively normalized as a positive element of new family models that necessitated that mothers Most of the reactions to the articles revolved around the discussion about “outdated” values and behaviors, contrasting the new generation of young men and fathers to their fathers and grandfathers. See, for instance, the published letters to the editor: “Ist Martin im Recht oder ‘von gestern?’” (Junge Männer heute), Für Dich no. 3 (1980), pp. 18–19; “Väter und Söhne im Meinungsstreit” (Readers’ Comments, Junge Männer heute), Für Dich no. 4 (1980), pp. 30–31. 8


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work and fathers participate in daily tasks. In some cases, fathers spent more time at home than mothers, when, for instance, the mother worked full time while the father studied (Peter Maffax interview cited in Scholz 2004, p. 228). In this context, the legal possibility, introduced in 1986, that fathers with “legitimate” cases benefit from the one-year parental leave should be mentioned (Verordnung 1986; Bouvier 2002, p. 271; Trappe 1995, p. 74). In Czechoslovakia, a new law introduced in the 1980s made it equally possible for men to go on leave for two years; however, this applied only to single fathers. Beginning in 1985, they could apply for maternity allowance (mateřský příspěvek) when the respective law was amended (Sbírka zákonů 110, částka 23, November 15, 1984), and in 1987 the leave time was extended to three years. However, research on this topic has been scarce and there are only sporadic references to individual cases of what Czech journalist Marie Formáčková called men on “maternity leave” (Formáčková 1987; Schwarz 1987; Helwig 1987, 1988, pp. 474–475; Groeben 2011, p. 3). While fathers on paternity leave were too rare to spawn any significant debate, the issue of single fathers was not only debated within society but provoked changes in social policies as well as in family and labor legislation.

3 Single Fatherhood Under Socialism The phenomenon of single fatherhood is extremely revealing when researching gender perceptions and arrangements. Indeed, the mere existence of single fathers, especially those caring for infants, called into question traditional ideas concerning the importance of the mother–child bond. Single fatherhood (fathers with sole custody) was a very marginal phenomenon, and it was precisely its rarity that was increasingly addressed as contradicting the idea of equality between men and women. It had critical potential in relation to social and family policy as well as to legal practice (see also Schäffler 2017, p. 209). I will draw on two examples in order to demonstrate the importance of the debates about single fatherhood: the East German monthly holiday for domestic work and the 1981 Czechoslovak short film S tebou, táto (With You, Daddy). Single parenthood and single fatherhood under socialism are scarcely researched topics.9 A rare survey about single-father families, published in Czechoslovakia in 1978, emphasized that the central authorities of social policies had “no research findings” concerning these families. The authors of the survey also claimed that theirs was “the first effort to research this phenomenon within the entire socialist camp” (Schimmerlingová 1978, pp. 1–2). Therefore, there is very little (sometimes contradictory) data about the quantitative importance of fathers living alone with underage children. In an East German trade union document published in the early

9 For the ideological reasons behind not studying single parenthood in communist regimes see Gysi and Meyer (1993, p. 145).

Questioning Gender Stereotypes Under Socialism: Fatherly Emotions and the Case. . .


1970s, the number of single fathers was estimated at 10,000 (“Information über die Gewährung,” n.d. [early 1970s]) while a 1981 source estimates 20,000 single fathers in the GDR (or 4% of all single parents) caring for 25,000 underage children (Hempel 1990, p. 264; Niepel 1994, p. 17).10 Some authors cite lower figures, estimating that single fathers comprised a mere 1% of all single parents in 1981.11 There is no more reliable data from the 1980s, but the number of East German single fathers obviously increased. In 1990, estimates place single fathers in the former GDR at a total of 33,000 or 6.8% of all single parents (Niepel 1994, p. 17) while the following year their number had almost doubled to 60,000 or 12.2% of all single parents (Niepel 1994, p. 17). In Czechoslovakia, statistics about single parenthood were equally rare, but they show that single fathers made up a larger percentage of all single parents in comparison to East Germany. According to the 1970 census, fathers headed 16,550 of the approximately 160,000 “incomplete” families with dependent children in the Czech part of Czechoslovakia—that is, more than 10% of all single families. In almost 60% of these cases, the fathers were widowers; in 35%, they were divorced fathers who had gained custody of their children. Throughout the 1970s, divorced fathers were awarded custody of roughly 6–7% of all children, or between 3000 and 4000 children, each year (Schimmerlingová 1978, p. 7).12 This figure grew only incrementally: In 1990, the courts awarded custody to the father in 7.8% of the cases, and during the remainder of the decade this figure hovered around 8% (Bakalář and Kovařík 2000, p. 268). However, the number of single-parent families grew considerably, as was the case in East Germany. The 1991 census shows that fathers headed over 30,000 of the more than 250,000 “incomplete” families with dependent children in the Czech part of Czechoslovakia (Sčítání lidu 1991). Ten years later, after Czechoslovakia had been divided into the Czech and Slovak Republics, almost 43,000 of the more than 340,000 single-parent families with dependent children in the Czech Republic were single-father families (Sčítání lidu 2001). This small percentage of single fathers was the product of court practice that almost systematically granted custody to mothers (Gysi and Meyer 1993, p. 146; Sozialreport 1992, 237; Wierling 2002, pp. 413–15). Scholars have highlighted the 10 These figures are contradictory since the number of single parents would then be 500,000. However, according to the 1981 East German census, 358,000 parents were single parents (Sozialreport 1992, p. 236; Meyer 2011, p. 344). 11 It’s important to note that multiple authors concede that the 1981 census provided the first reliable data about single parenthood. However, their figures differ. Jutta Gysi, Dagmar Meyer, and Gunnar Winkler make reference to the 18% “incomplete” families in 1981; of these, only 1% consisted of “father families” while 99% were headed by single mothers (Gysi et al. 1993, p. 236). The same figures are cited in Gysi et al. 1990: 112–13. In another publication, however, Jutta Gysi and Sibylle Eichhorn (Gysi 1989, p. 268–69) report 14.5% “incomplete” families in 1981: 13.7% headed by a single mother and 0.8% by a single father. This, however, would mean that single fathers represented 5.5% of all single parents. In yet another publication, Gysi and Meyer estimate single fathers among all single parents at 1–2% (Gysi and Meyer 1993, p. 146). 12 The same number (6%) is cited by the Czech psychologist Eduard Bakalář in Sommerová’s S tebou táto (1981). See also Hermann 1982.


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case of the GDR in contrast to West Germany, where courts awarded custody more frequently to single fathers, who comprised 12% of all single parents in the late 1980s (Hauser et al. 1996, p. 264).13 However, the practice of automatically favoring mothers in custody hearings was increasingly condemned beginning in the 1960s (Kiessling 1965, p. 81; Ansorg 1970, pp. 27–32; Strasberg and Rohde 1988, p. 58). In the middle of that decade, the East German Ministry of Justice highlighted the contradiction between the principle of equality between men and women and actual jurisdiction that awarded custody to fathers only in exceptional cases (Ministerrat der DDR 1965). Similarly, in a 1982 article the Czech lawyer Stanislav Hermann denounced legal practice as too traditional in the obsolete manner it treated men differently from women in divorce hearings (Hermann 1982). The perceived discrimination against fathers in child custody proceedings was increasingly expressed in the GDR in individual petitions addressed to the Ministry of Justice or other authorities, media reports, and letters to the editor (Schäffler 2017, pp. 204–213; Schröter 2018, pp. 195–198). Nevertheless, there was no substantial change in legal practice until the end of socialism (Möhle 1997; Frick et al. 1990).

4 With You, Daddy The 1981 Czechoslovak short documentary film S tebou, táto (With You, Daddy) is a unique source about single fatherhood in late socialism. It gave a voice to those fathers who successfully acquired child custody following a divorce. Director Olga Sommerová, then a recent graduate of the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague, was interested in the everyday life of single fathers as they cared for their children. She portrays emotional and loving fathers who are affectionate with their children, play with them, and do the housework (cook, iron, make preserves, and so on). Thus, she challenges gender stereotypes by addressing the perception that children without a mother suffer from a lack of affection. The film concludes with an ironic allusion to representations of a “traditional” family: While the father cooks the meal, his son recites the lyrics to a Mother’s Day song he learned at school. Apart from showing the everyday lives of single fathers with their children, Sommerová’s film also served, in some way, as a forum for these fathers to report on their difficulties attaining custody and complain about legal practices and their disillusionment with the socialist principle of equality. Sommerová was also a wellknown feminist and showed how single fathers were discriminated14 against in custody proceedings—one single father interviewed in the film stated that a mother


Hauser et al. approximate that 3% of all single parents in the GDR were single fathers at that time (Hauser et al. 1996, p. 264). 14 “Discrimination” is the word Olga Sommerová still uses today in reference to her film and the situation of single fathers in the 1980s (Sommerová 2018).

Questioning Gender Stereotypes Under Socialism: Fatherly Emotions and the Case. . .


was leading 10 to 0 from the start just because of her gender. Thus, while criticizing legal practices’ reproduction of traditional gender stereotypes (the “natural” bond between mother and child) and advocating father involvement as an important issue in Czechoslovak society, the film also heroicizes fathers in their struggles to win custody of their children, adopting what Terry Arendell has called the “masculinist discourse of divorce” (Arendell 1992). Yet it is important to remember that this was one of the first public expressions of a discourse centered around fathers’ rights. It was not until nearly the end of that decade, in 1988, that the first association defending fathers’ rights in Czechoslovakia was established: the Svaz mužů (Men’s Union) renamed Unie otců—otcové za prava dětí (Fathers Union) in 1994 (Bakalář and Kovařík 2000, p. 271). Sommerová’s film won prizes in 1982 at the short documentary film festival in Leipzig, East Germany (Zaoralová 1983), the festival of Czechoslovak film in Piešťany (pz 1982), and the Academia Film Olomouc festival of documentary films (Olga Sommerová-filmová ocenění n.d.). Interestingly, however, reactions to the film in Czechoslovak media failed to acknowledge the film’s critical potential in questioning not only gender stereotypes but family policy and legal practice (see, however, Zvoníček 1982). Rather, the film was interpreted as showing broken homes (Pilátová 1983) or incomplete families missing their mothers (Jablonská 1982b) or as an “appeal against the divorce rate” (Jablonská 1982a; Festivalový spravodaj no. 4, 1982, p. 3). Only the student jury at the Academia Film Olomouc science documentary film festival appreciated the “unconventional, sensitive, and humorous depiction of this unique solution of the problem of incomplete families” (Hodnocení studentské poroty 1982). Thus, although Sommerová herself likened the film’s impact to the explosion of a bomb due to its original approach and topic (Sommerová 2018), media reactions tended to relate the film to an overall attempt in “normalized” Czechoslovakia to strengthen the traditional family and combat the high divorce rate.

5 Single Fathers and the East German Haushaltstag In the GDR as well, the issue of single fathers was significant enough to eventually be integrated into labor legislation in the 1970s. During preparations for the new Family Law Code promulgated in 1965, the East German Ministry of Justice entered into a broad discussion with the media and various social actors about the bill. Based on feedback pertaining to equality between spouses, the ministry highlighted three main points: the shortage of daycare spots, the insufficient quality of household products and technology, and company managers’ failure to consider men’s requests to reconcile fatherhood with work (Ministerrat der DDR 1965). Among the concrete propositions put forward by the ministry was the introduction of measures encouraging fathers to stay home to care for a sick child as well as granting them the option to take advantage of the monthly domestic work holiday: the Haushaltstag or Hausarbeitstag (Ibid.; see also “Zum bisherigen Verlauf” 1965, p. 414). This


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holiday, originally introduced during the Nazi regime and afterward unique to East Germany, provided an extra day each month to do housework, shopping, and other domestic tasks (Sachse 2002). For a long time it was reserved exclusively for women and mothers. Only in 1972 were company managers officially encouraged to grant this day off to single fathers who asked for it; in 1977 the requirement to do so was made law by new labor legislation (Arbeitsgesetzbuch 1977). However, well before this legal amendment the gendered character of the Haushaltstag had already been subject to harsh critique. In the immediate postwar period, communist officials suggested that this holiday should be granted to both men and women (Sachse 2002, p. 243). But it was not until the 1960s, during the drafting of the new Family Law Code, that the struggle of fathers to have their own monthly domestic work holiday clearly began to resonate. The media reported on (often unsuccessful) attempts by fathers to benefit from the Haushaltstag (“Dem Vater gleiche Vergünstigungen” 1960). The situation of single fathers was specifically highlighted, given such blatant discrimination. During the 1960s and 1970s, letters and requests from single fathers addressed to the trade union and the trade union’s press increased considerably (“Leserzuschriften in der Redaktion Tribüne” 1973; Rechtsabteilung: “Information” 1973; “Information über die Gewährung” n.d. [early 1970s]). Single fathers denounced the fact that the denial of a Haushaltstag purely based on gender amounted to a social injustice that contradicted the principle of equality (Remisch 1981). In 1976, Für Dich published a long article about single fathers, presenting them in a very positive way and challenging the idea that mothers were more capable of meeting children’s needs than fathers. It argued that fathers also possessed all the necessary rational and emotional capacities to care for children. The article pointed at workplace measures (including the Haushaltstag)— along with solidarity between workers— that allowed single fathers to reconcile their domestic and work requirements (Hafranke 1976). More research is necessary to ascertain whether this was the result of pressure from individual fathers, society, or the media, but multiple documents refer to individual arrangements between companies and single fathers. Even before the law obliged them to do so, some companies granted single fathers rights that legislation reserved for mothers or single mothers —apart from the Haushaltstag, these rights took the form of shorter work weeks and more holidays (Abt. Frauen: “Aktennotiz” 1973; “Information über die Gewährung” n.d. [early 1970s]). In the twilight years of the GDR, the rights of single fathers in relation to labor regulation seemed, at least in some cases, to be guaranteed.15 For example, a single father interviewed in that period mentions that, contrary to the situation in the reunified Germany of the 1990s, his absence from work to take care of a sick child or his use of the monthly holiday did not cause any problems with company management (cited

15 Beatrix Bouvier conveys a different, contradictory, impression, citing one case from 1987 when a single father did not benefit from the Haushaltstag. Bouvier fails to mention that this was probably because the father in question was 55 years old (and his child was over 18); she offers no other examples of single fathers who managed to take the monthly holiday (Bouvier 2002, p. 275).

Questioning Gender Stereotypes Under Socialism: Fatherly Emotions and the Case. . .


in Nestmann and Stiehler 1998, p. 178). This is consistent with the general view that single parents in the GDR faced less difficulties and discrimination than in West Germany (Schneider et al. 2001, pp. 18–19; Hauser et al. 1996, p. 263).

6 Conclusion The examples I have drawn upon certainly do not reflect mainstream opinion or family, social, or labor policy priorities. A film such as Sommerová’s S tebou, táto, for instance, must be seen as unique.16 Yet, it was an official production that was sanctioned by the state and won several awards. New models of masculinity did not necessarily replace older ones; rather, they coexisted. In this essay I have attempted to point to the oft-neglected diversity of socialist societies and to underline representations and debates about fatherhood that prompted East German and Czechoslovak societies to discuss and potentially question traditional gender arrangements. Additionally, I have sought to stress the limits of a perspective focused exclusively on social policies. As the case of fathers on parental leave demonstrates, there were different appropriations of political measures originally designed for women and mothers. To conclude that official family policies in the 1970s and 1980s allocated no roles to fathers (Ostner 2004, p. 152) seems consistent with socialist policies’ fixation on motherhood as part of the struggle to increase birthrates. However, this rather narrow conclusion reveals a historical perspective that focuses too much on state-sanctioned political actions while failing to acknowledge individual and local appropriations. Further research is necessary to compare socialist countries in East Central and Eastern Europe and to evaluate to what extent the debates in Czechoslovakia and the GDR presented here were unique. However, recent research about masculinities and fatherhood in other state-socialist countries does suggest that masculine and paternal models and practices were more diverse than has often been assumed (Hüchtker 2018; Hüchtker 2015; Carlbäck 2017; see also Krylova’s plea for a more diverse and less linear history of communism, Krylova 2017).

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16 Sommerová herself describes the fathers of her film as a minority in Czech society (Hrbek 2006, p. 187).


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Schimmerlingová V (1978) Sociální situace neúplných rodin v čele s otcem. (Výsledky sondážního průzkumu neúplných rodin s dětmi do 15 let svěřenými do výchovy otcům). Československý výzkumný ústav práce a sociálních věcí, Praha Schneider N, Krüger D, Lasch V, Limmer R, Matthias-Bleck H (2001) Alleinerziehen. Vielfalt und Dynamik einer Lebensform. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart Scholz S (2001) Sozialistische Soldatenpersönlichkeiten und ‘Helden der Arbeit.’ Hegemoniale Männlichkeiten in der DDR? Paper presented at the Tagung der AIM Gender “Männlichkeitskonstruktion, Mannsein und deren Auswirkungen auf Kultur und Gesellschaft in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, Stuttgart-Hohenheim Scholz S (2004) Männlichkeit erzählen. Westfälisches Dampfboot, Münster Scholz S (2008) Sozialistische Helden. Hegemoniale Männlichkeit in der DDR. In: Scholz S, Willms W (eds) Postsozialistische Männlichkeiten in einer globalisierten Welt. Lit, Berlin, pp 11–35 Scholz S (2016) Everyday socialist heroes and hegemonic masculinities in German Democratic Republic, 1949–1989. In: Wendt S (ed) Extraordinary ordinariness: everyday heroism in the United States, Germany, and Britain, 1800–2015. Campus, Frankfurt am Main, pp 185–216 Schröter A (2018) Ostdeutsche Ehen vor Gericht: Scheidungspraxis im Umbruch, 1980–2000. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin Schwarz G (1987) Im ‘Vaterjahr’. Für dich 30:7–9 Sčítání lidu (1991) Sčítání lidu, domů a bytů 1991 v datech. Tab. 46: Cenzové domácnosti podle počtu členů domácnosti, podle druhu domácnosti a počtu závislých dětí Sčítání lidu (2001) Sčítání lidu, domů a bytů v roce 2001 v datech. Tab. 41: Cenzové domácnosti podle počtu členů a podle druhu domácnosti a počtu závislých dětí Sommerová O (2018). Interview with Olga Sommerová, interviewed by P. Hallama, Prague Sozialreport (1992) In: Winkler G (ed) Daten und Fakten zur sozialen Lage in den neuen Bundesländern (1993). Morgenbuch, Berlin Steineckert K (1980) Ich bin einem Mann begegnet. Für dich 17:47 Strange J-M (2015) Fatherhood and the British working class, 1865–1914. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Strasberg W, Rohde U (1988) Liebe ade-scheiden tut weh: Über Familienrechte und Familienpflichten. Staatsverlag der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, Berlin Thomas A (2007) The Bohemian body: gender and sexuality in modern Czech culture. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison Tosh J (1999) A man’s place: masculinity and the middle-class home in Victorian England. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT Trappe H (1995) Emanzipation oder Zwang?: Frauen in der DDR zwischen Beruf, Familie und Sozialpolitik. Akademie Verlag, Berlin Verordnung über die weitere Verbesserung der Arbeits- und Lebensbedingungen der Familien mit Kindern (1986) Gesetzblatt der DDR, Teil I, 15 (28 April):241–243 Wierling D (2002) Geboren im Jahr Eins: Der Jahrgang 1949 in der DDR: Versuch einer Kollektivbiographie. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin Wöll A (2016) Männlichkeitsforschung in Russland und Ostmitteleuropa. In: Horlacher S, Jansen W, Schwanebeck B (eds) Männlichkeit. Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch. J.B. Metzler, Stuttgart, pp 42–51 Zákon ze dne 13 listopadu o změnách zákona o mateřském příspěvku (1984) Sbírka zákonů 110, částka 23 Zaoralová E (1983) Lipsko 1982. XXV. Mezinárodní týden dokumentárních krátkých filmů pro kino a televizi. Film a Doba 29(2):85–87 Zum bisherigen Verlauf der Diskussion über den FGB-Entwurf (1965) Neue Justiz 19(13):414–416 Zvoníček P (1982) S tebou táto. Scéna 7(18):5

The East German Man: “Brown Perpetrator of Violence,” “Sensitive Father”? An Exploration of Media Discourses and Scholarly Studies Sylka Scholz

1 Introduction: Polarizing Constructs of Masculinity in Public Discourse In the last 30 years after the political turn (“Wende”) in the GDR and the reunification of the two partial German states that followed, the topos of the “Brown East” has become established, which is connected to a gendered ascription: the Brown East is male.1 If one glances at a current front cover of the political magazine Der Spiegel, it depicts a fisherman’s cap, printed in black, red, and gold, the colors of the German flag. The title: “So isser, der Ossi” (“That’s How He Is, The Ossi”; Spiegel 24.08.2019).2 The fisherman’s cap, in turn, is a symbol of the rightwing populist movement that emerged in Eastern Germany, PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamification of the Occident). Although only the fisherman’s cap is depicted, most observers will associate it with an East German man, since the image refers to a concrete event.3 This chain of associations corresponds to the fact that more East German men than women vote for the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). The threat to West German democracy appears to emanate from the East German man with latent Brown tendencies.


Translated from German by Sophie Schlondorff.¼spon&utm_campaign¼inhaltsverzeichnis 3 Between two PEGIDA protests on the occasion of a visit by chancellor Angela Merkel in the city of Dresden on 16.08.2018, a television crew filmed a man with a fisherman’s cap; he insulted the reporters; subsequently, there was a conflict between the police and the crew of reporters that received widespread media attention (see, for example, 2

S. Scholz (*) Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Jena, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



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Functioning as a counter-image to this right-wing East German man is that of the caring, active, West German father. This construct also already has a long history: in the 1980s in West Germany, a media debate about the so-called “New Fathers” began, and a type of fatherhood research was constituted that proved the great importance that fathers have for the socialization of their children. It’s a construct of masculinity that is assessed thoroughly positively, regarded as a way out of the “crisis of men” or “crisis of masculinity” (see Meuser and Scholz 2011) diagnosed in the media. Men from the West German middle class in particular are considered to be the bearers of a transformation of gender relations toward more gender equality. In the following, I seek to critically question this ascription of the progressive, modernized West German man and the traditionalist, right-wing extremist East German man. In my contribution, I first describe the institutional framework conditions that have led to a West German discursive hegemony. As a second step, I demonstrate how the discursive construction of the “Brown East” and therefore of the “Brown East German Man” occurred. In the third section, as a contrast, I turn to East German practices of fatherhood. I demonstrate that already in the GDR, a specific reproductive culture formed that has been perpetuated up to the present. In a concluding fourth part, I discuss the question of why the specific East German fatherhood construct of the pragmatic, self-evident father constitutes a gap in the media discourse, and what potentials for the transformation processes in German– German gender relations might be unfolded by a discursive opening of perspective toward East German fathers.

2 The Formation of a Western Discursive Hegemony After the Political “Wende” In the autumn of 1989, the citizens of the GDR initiated a fundamental political transformation that resulted from dissatisfaction with the political system of democratic centralism, the restriction of freedom of opinion and travel, but also with restricted possibilities for consumption and leisure. If the peaceful revolution was initially open-ended in terms of its political orientation, already in the late autumn of 1989 the idea of a political reunification of both German partial states developed. This happened as the accession of the GDR to the FRG, made possible by Article 23 of the Basic Law of the FRG. A rapid and comprehensive transmission of West German institutions occurred, which the historian Andreas Rödder has also referred to as the “Federal Republicanization of the GDR” (Rödder 2015, p. 820). Connected to this was also a West–East transfer of elites, which has had effects into the present. People with an East German biography4 are a “minority” among the elite in Eastern Germany (Kollmorgen 2015, p. 23), and among the elite of Western Germany, they

4 The category “East Germany” is determined in different ways: in the studies of elites, a person is considered East German if they were born before 1975 and spent most of their lifetime in the GDR

The East German Man: “Brown Perpetrator of Violence,” “Sensitive Father”? An. . .


have an “exotic status” (ibid., p. 24). The few Eastern German elite positions are more frequently occupied by women than by men (see Jacobs and Bluhm 2019). And last but not least, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in office since 2005, symbolizes the rise of the (few) East German women. In terms of the sociology of masculinity (see Scholz 2012), one can speak of an enormous loss of power by the male gender after the political Wende. For the media landscape, this transfer of elites means concretely that East Germans are not at all represented in the leading positions of the nationwide German newspapers and magazines that determine the discourse (see Kollmorgen 2015, p. 23). Things look a bit better in the case of the 13 regional newspapers, which mostly emerged from the district newspapers of the GDR. But there as well, a shift has also occurred in the last ten years: if in the meantime more than half of the editors-in-chief are East Germans, ownership relations have changed; almost all newspapers now belong to West German publishing houses and 90% are managed by West German managing directors (see Jacobs and Bluhm 2016, p. 13). An East German public has hardly established itself as an institution to this day, and often leads a marginal existence that is ridiculed through the magazine Superillu or the broadcaster Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR) (see Dieckmann 2005; Mau 2019). The framework conditions just depicted lead to a situation where the media landscape bears the stamp of both West German executives and West German ownership, which has an effect upon the manner in which Eastern Germany is reported upon. I therefore speak of a West German discursive hegemony. Following Reiner Keller, discourses can be understood as more or less successful attempts “to stabilize attributions of meaning and orders of meaning, at least temporarily, and to institutionalize them in a social ensemble through a collectively binding order of knowledge” (Keller 2004, p. 7). They are a procedure of knowledge production, and themselves systematically produce the objects that they deal with (see Scholz and Lenz 2013). Correspondingly, they determine what can be said in a society or what can’t be said, what counts as “true” or “false.” Discourses are at the same time connected with internal and external systems of exclusion. These can lead to a complete tabooization and/or exclusion of objects. Within discourses, certain objects and persons can be marginalized or delegitimized by the comments and positions of the author(s), and therefore excluded from the realm of what can be said. That which is not discussed, or cannot be discussed, is at the same time considered illegitimate and not a component of normality. Social reality is produced discursively (see Keller 2004; Scholz and Lenz 2013). Actors in the media play a central role in this. They are often connected to each other in a network and constitute discursive communities. They hold central speaking positions and formulate offers of subjectivity and identity. This dominance of West German speaking positions in the media is strengthened by the fact that within other social elites as well, such as in business, public administration, and politics, East

(see Kollmorgen 2015). Other studies consider people who were born in East Germany after the Wende, grew up there, and reside there to also be East German (see Jacobs and Bluhm 2016).


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Germans are underrepresented (see Kollmorgen 2015; Jacobs and Bluhm 2016, 2019). People with West German biographies are called upon as experts, which in turn contributes to the hegemony of West German positions. In terms of hegemony theory, one can speak of a specific form of domination: power relations are generated and legitimized through the creation of a cultural consensus (see Lindenberger 2011). But even if there is agreement on the part of the ruled with the rule, symbolic violence is exercised in the mode of rule as hegemony (see Scholz 2012). This symbolic violence is displayed in the specific “East Germany discourse” (Heft 2018, p. 359) that has been constituted since the political Wende of 1989. The East is discursively depicted as different through the deployment of specific topoi such as “particularity,” “deviation and (necessary) adaptation,” “provenance,” “weakness,” and “burden” (Kollmorgen and Hans 2011, pp. 125f.). The otherness of the East is manufactured in particular by recourse to the GDR past. The “historical-cultural discourse” (Lindenberger 2011, p. 603) is determined by the processing of the political structures of domination and the rehabilitation of the victims of the SED dictatorship. At the center stand the “GDR Unrechtstaat” (“state of injustice”), “the secret police or Stasi,” “mechanisms and instruments of rule,” “imprisonment,” “the wall, flight, division,” “victims,” “opposition and resistance” (Heß 2016, p. 211). In this way, a “standardized public image of memory” (ibid., p. 100) emerges about life in the GDR, and a “fiction of unity” (Matthäus and Kubiak 2016, p. 7). What is meant by that is “a notion that political unity corresponds—and must corresponds—to a cultural unity” (ibid.). Lives not characterized primarily by experiences of repression and personal persecution have no place in this public culture of memory. The otherness of the East is contrasted to an “unmarked, West German universality” (Heft 2018, p. 357). This is at the same time a “construction of alterity” (Ahbe 2004, p. 21). Qualities are attributed to East Germans that West Germans believe they have discarded. As we shall see, this pattern plays a central role in the construction of the “Brown East.” However, not only should the East and East Germans be understood as discursive constructions; the West and West Germans are as well. For the West as well, the reunification led to the construction of cultural unity. According to the social scientist Thomas Ahbe, nothing had “so united” the West “as the accession of the East Germans” (Ahbe 2004, p. 21).

3 The Discursive Construction of the “Brown East” Since the racist pogroms at the beginning of the 1990s “the characterization of the East as per se right-wing is a recurring interpretive framework in the media and public discourse” (Heft 2018, p. 358). Over the past 30 years, this ascription has repeatedly been subject to cyclical fluctuations. After the racist riots in Hoyerswerda and Rostock-Lichtenhagen at the beginning of the 1990s, these upswings are mainly determined by further racist acts of violence. In 2011, the Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (NSU), founded by the East Germans Uwe Böhnisch, Uwe Mundlos,

The East German Man: “Brown Perpetrator of Violence,” “Sensitive Father”? An. . .


and Beate Zschäpe, revealed itself. For many years, the NSU and its network of supporters committed an undetected series racist murders, bomb attacks, and robberies (see Schmincke and Siri 2014). The five-year criminal trial of Beate Zschäpe also kept the topic in the media. Starting in the middle of the decade, the electoral successes in the East of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), for example in the 2017 federal elections and the three state elections in 2019, sparked another wave of reporting. In the following, I will analyze how the discourse about the “Brown East” is gendered. I argue that it has a specific function, rooted in concealing right-wing populism and extremism in Western Germany. The discursive gaps are related to this concealment function, and are subsequently revealed. Finally, I address the constructs of masculinity in right-wing discourse, and mediate them with the discourse about the “Brown East.”


The Gendering of the “Brown East”

The discourse about the “Brown East” has an implicit as well as explicit gendered dimension. Even if it is not directly stated, attention is directed at male, often young, perpetrators of violence (see Dierbach 2010). They are the ones who can be seen in pictures and in documentary—but also fictional—films. This implicit gendering is rooted in the fact that violence and masculinity are closely linked culturally and symbolically. Despite the civil prohibition of violence, violence is an important component of male socialization processes (see Meuser 2002). An injurious power is culturally attributed to men. They are constructed exclusively as perpetrators, whereas femininity in contrast is culturally associated with vulnerability to injury and victimhood. The media focus on young men results from this deeply rooted cultural interpretive framework. An explicit thematization of masculinity can be found when—in the discourse concerning the “Brown East”—the question of “(un)contemporary masculinity” (Heft 2018, p. 361) is dealt with. In particular, the coverage of the 2017 Bundestag elections was linked to a debate on the AfD’s electoral success among East German men. Every fourth East German man had elected this party, and accordingly they were identified as “guilty and troubled children” (ibid., p. 361). The East German man was allegedly frustrated, left behind and angry, loser of the Wende, and of heteronormative gender relations. He supposedly suffers from emancipation and feminism, symbolized by gender madness and the asterisk used to render German nouns gender-neutral (see also Heft 2015). The West German masculinity of the family breadwinner—understood as the sole breadwinner and paterfamilias—functions as a foil for these attributions. The fact that this construction of masculinity corresponds neither to the reality of the GDR nor to living conditions after the political Wende is not discussed; rather, the East German man is classified per se as traditional and anachronistic.



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The Concealment Function off the Discourse

The discursive construction of the “Brown East” has a—and this is central— concealing function: it makes it possible for West German society to not deal with right-wing extremist attitudes in the West German population (see Lessenich 2013; Quent 2016, 2019). In order for this attribution to function, the causes for right-wing extremism have to be displaced into the GDR past. Reasons given include the compulsory anti-fascism of the GDR, which at the same time served to legitimize the state, as well as exclusive nationalism, with its isolationism toward foreigners, for example, contract workers from Vietnam or Mozambique. In addition, a “psychosocial structural homology” is assumed (Best et al. 2015, p. 98). The claim is made that from the early experiences of socialization in an authoritarian state, an authoritarian personality—or at least, authoritarian attitudes—results. In the simple figure of discourse—but highly effective in the media—of the “potty thesis” (Schochow 2013, p. 175), this formative approach was represented by Christan Pfeiffer. Briefly, the thesis maintains that the separation from the mother and the joint potty-training education in the crèches of the GDR, in particular the simultaneous sitting on a potty, leads to the development of an authoritarian character. This, in turn, was the cause of right-wing extremist collective violence. This concealment also occurs through a specific mode of processing scholarly inquiry by the media. Surveys on the extent of right-wing extremist attitudes are considered “hard” facts in media discourse. The first nationwide surveys of rightwing extremist attitudes occurred in 1994. A critical review by Matthias Quent (2016) shows that in 1994, the recruitment potential for the extreme right-wing in the West was twice as high as in the East; it was not until 1998 that the East overtook the West (see also Ahbe 2004; Best et al. 2015). Although one could thus consider refuting the argument that right-wing extremist attitudes are a consequence of GDR socialization, the results of corresponding studies are cited in the media in a dramatic manner. Thus, for example, in the media debate, those individual aspects are selected from the so-called “Mitte” (“Center”) studies5 that prove an allegedly large difference between East and West Germans. A closer reading of the studies, however, reveals that the differences between West and East Germans with a closed right-wing worldview are not very far apart.6 However, it also shows that the figures for xenophobia in East Germany are permanently higher than in West Germany, with a good 30% in 2018 compared to 22% in West Germany (Decker and Brähler 2018, p. 83; see also Best et al. 2015). A further topic is satisfaction with democracy: These are two panel studies: the “Mitte” studies of a research group at the University of Leipzig (Decker and Brähler 2018) and a research group at the University of Bielefeld (Zick et al. 2019), both of which are published every two years since 2002. 6 The Leipzig “Mitte” study identified in the year 2018 8.5% East Germans and 5.4% West Germans who advanced a closed right-wing worldview (Decker and Brähler 2018, p. 111). The Bielefeld “Mitte” study found no difference in 2018/19: 2.4% of both East and West Germans had a rightwing extremist orientation (Zick et al. 2019). It should be noted that the studies use different theoretical concepts, but these aspects are not reflected in the media. 5

The East German Man: “Brown Perpetrator of Violence,” “Sensitive Father”? An. . .


although East Germans affirm the form of government of democracy as positive, they regard its implementation in German society much more critically than West Germans (West: 54.9% to East: 46.9%, Decker and Brähler 2018, p. 111). These peculiarities are highlighted and often dramatized in the media. However, it should be noted that right-wing extremism is not an “originally East German phenomenon” (Quent 2016, p. 110), even if East German peculiarities exist.


Gaps in the Discourse

If, for example, the assessments of civil society actors, who are often marginalized in the hegemonic discourse of the “Brown East,” are taken into account, a gap becomes clear in the media debate: the right-wing transfer of institutions in the shadow of the fall of the Berlin Wall (see Miteinander e.V. 2015; Quent 2016). This is noteworthy to the extent it can explain why right-wing extremist attitudes spread in the 1990s. The extensive lack of discussion, in contrast, is closely connected to the concealment of right-wing extremist attitudes in West Germany. West German right-wing extremist actors use the anomic situation in East Germany, which arose due to not-yetfunctional state institutions, in particular the police. In this manner, right-wing parties and groups could be established that were able to resort to already existing networks with actors from the right-wing youth culture of the GDR (see Quent 2016).7 Thus for young people who sought an orientation after the political Wende, “systematic coincidences” (ibid., p. 100) arose for joining a right-wing clique. In the first years after the Wende, a “temporary hegemonic capacity for a right-wing youth culture” emerged (Miteinander e.V. 2015, p. 8). The successful construction of a right-wing youth culture was strengthened by the transfer of specific socialpedagogic concepts. In particular, the controversial concept of “accepting” youth work, developed in the 1980s in the West for social work with right-wing oriented youth, was transferred to youth social work in the East and unwillingly strengthened the right-wing youth culture (see Stützel 2019). A not inconsiderable section of predominantly male youths was socialized in the aforementioned well-known and less common racist riots (see Miteinander e.V. 2015 for an overview). David Begrich speaks of a “Generation Hoyerswerda” (ibid., p. 25), to be understood as a subset of the post-Wende generation. It possibly constitutes the personnel the current rightwing populist develops.


This dimension cannot be further addressed within the framework of this article. It indicates that the German–German history of “right-wing orientations, organizations, violence, and right-wing extremist terror” (Quent 2016, p. 102) must first be adequately reconstructed.



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Interpellations of Masculinity in Right-Wing Discourses

Contemporary right-wing discourses address East German men, who are devalued in the media discourse about the “Brown East,” in a valorizing manner. What is propagated is nothing less than the “regaining of masculinity” (Kämper 2018, p. 256), which is to occur by defending traditional gender roles. The “invocation of the fighter” has a special significance here. Gabriele Kämper, for example, in the publications of the Institut für Staatspolitik (IfS), identifies “the whole range of fortified male virtues that traditionally characterize the ideological canon of the new right” (ibid., p. 262). These include honor, glory, courage, toughness, and strength, ruthlessness, but also fecundity. The candidates of the AfD also appeal to such “apparently timeless, imagined fortified male character” (ibid., p. 263). “The little man on the street” (Sauer 2018, p. 315) is called upon to defend his wife, and in this way defend and maintain the nation. Is it just this construct of masculinity that attracts East German men and motivates them to vote for the AfD? Heft argues in a socio-psychological manner and assumes that East German men can possibly obtain (negative) recognition by voting for this party: they are no longer losers, unemployed, or victims, but rather a “danger” (Heft 2018, p. 362). But this re-sovereignization of masculinity is accompanied anew with the attribution of an “apparently unbroken traditional masculinity” (ibid., p. 363). Can other perspectives on East German men be developed? In the following section, I direct my view toward the role of men in the family and the significance of fatherhood.

4 Fatherhood in East Germany: A Discursive Gap The discourse about the “Brown East” can be seen as part of a negotiation of contemporary masculinity, in which a West German family breadwinner masculinity functions as an implicit and unquestioned norm. With the division of Germany after the defeat of Nazism, however, two different sets of gender relations with different gender contracts formed in the two German states, which still continue to operate even 30 years after the Wende (see Scholz 2012, 2018). In order to understand how masculinity, family, and fatherhood are linked to each other in East Germany, it is therefore necessary to first describe this historical act of formation in its relation to femininity, family, and motherhood. I will then turn to developments after the political Wende. The East German gender contract encountered a West German gender contract that, in central aspects, had a fundamentally different structure. I will analyze how these differences affected practices of fatherhood in East and West Germany.

The East German Man: “Brown Perpetrator of Violence,” “Sensitive Father”? An. . .



A Look Back: Fatherhood in the Gender Contract of the GDR

A gender “contract” is understood as a cultural consensus that emerges in a society. It regulates the integration of the genders into society by means of cultural role models and legal norms (see Pfau-Effinger 1993). Rules and patterns of behavior are prescribed with regard to the following questions: Of which areas of society are the main spheres of the integration of women and men? How do the ideas of equality, inequality, or complementarity determine the spheres of life of marriage partners? To which social spheres does child-rearing assign priority? And what social importance does the family have in comparison to other forms of living? The gender contract is realized in individual gender arrangements, in which it serves as a point of orientation for the activity of the people in a relationship. It is linked to a specific reproductive culture. This encompasses “the social rules of reproductive activity and the associated specific structuring of the reproductive course of life” (Helfferich 2008, p. 442). Collective interpretative frameworks for the ability to shape the reproductive course of life emerge, from which subjective convictions with regard to the plannability and feasibility of fatherhood (and motherhood). The gender contract of the GDR was characterized by the integration of both genders in the sphere of employment (see Scholz 2012). This was, on the one hand, economically necessary due to the labor shortage, but, on the other hand, also politically motivated by the socialist idea of equality. The state guaranteed men and women job training as well as a job and thus a livelihood. The bourgeois family model of the provider marriage with male breadwinner eroded, and the “doubleearner-model” (Dölling 2005, p. 23) emerged. A state-run childcare system and extensive support measures, such as a monthly household day or inexpensive canteen meals in schools and workplaces, were developed as part of a patriarchal paternalistic welfare policy. On the one hand, women were integrated into society in a gender-neutral manner through lifelong, full-time gainful employment, but, on the other hand, they remained normatively and practically responsible for care work. The emancipation policy of the GDR was directed in a one-sided manner toward the integration of women into the employment system. The reproductive culture was determined by the young age of parents at the time of childbirth, the rapid return of mothers to employment as well as the so-called baby year,8 and was accompanied by a use of public child care and other state support that was considered a matter of course (see Helfferich 2017). As corresponding studies demonstrate, the often-fulltime employment of women increased the participation of men in care work from generation to generation (see Scholz 2012). At the end of the 1980s, childcare became a field of make engagement in the family (see Gysi and Meyer 1993): half of all fathers brought their children to public childcare facilities together with their partners, or alternating with them; playtime in particular was a domain of fathers. The “baby year” was introduced in 1976. It was a leave period of 12 months, during which a portion of the previously earned wage continued to be paid.



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Whereas responsibility for housework continued to reside with mothers, over the course of the GDR period, social practices of fathers were transformed into active fatherhood. At the discursive level, the first indications of this transformation already started to show themselves in the 1970s (see also Hallama in this volume): in the illustrated magazines, images of young fathers increasingly appeared, shown in close physical contact with small children. In this regard, Irene Dölling speaks of the discursive construct of the “sensitive father” (Dölling 1991, p. 216). In the 1980s in popular periodicals, articles and photo series of active fathers were increasingly published. In this discourse, the figure of the “family man” (Familienvater) (Schochow 2009, p. 82) or the “caring father” (Dreßler 2018, p. 47) was constructed: young men about the age of 30 who are sensitive and emotional, engaged in both their jobs and families. They were shown as tolerant, understanding, and helpful partners to their wives, which Sabine Dressler interprets as a “turn to parenthood in partnership” (Dreßler 2018, p. 47). The transformation in the representation of masculinity remained limited, however, to the private sphere of the family. In the sphere of work, the mode of representation followed hegemonic notions of masculinity: the man was portrayed as a skilled worker and at the same time as a “builder of socialism” (see Dölling 1991; Scholz 2016).


German-German Gender Relations after the Wende

After the political Wende of 1989, the GDR gender contract encountered a contrary cultural consensus on shaping the arrangement between genders. In the postwar era, the gender contract of the “provider marriage” was dominant in West Germany (Pfau-Effinger 1993, p. 644), with the male breadwinner and female housewife. Childcare was performed within the private sphere by mothers. This gender contract shifted gradually from the late 1960s onward toward a “modernized provider model” (ibid.), with employed husbands and fathers as well as a wife and mother working part-time. The integration of women into the labor force was, in correspondence with this cultural consensus, considerably lower than in the GDR; part-time work was typical, often with a very low number of hours. Childcare, particularly of small children under the age of three, continued to be assigned to the private sphere. With regard to external care, the idea of a “damaging paradigm” (Behnke 2012, p. 115) was shared. It was assumed that children would suffer a lack. Despite the increasing integration of mothers into the workforce, housework and childcare remained tasks for women. The reproductive culture was determined by an “antagonism and the irreconcilability of family or child-raising on the one hand and professional life on the other” (Helfferich 2017, p. 257). Corresponding to this collective interpretive framework was the fact that there was no extensive system of public childcare. State support for families occurred via tax measures, and not so much through concrete support for reconciling the two spheres as in the GDR.

The East German Man: “Brown Perpetrator of Violence,” “Sensitive Father”? An. . .


As mentioned at the beginning, in West Germany as well, a discourse concerning active fatherhood started to set in during the 1980s. This discursive formation was a consequence of the gradual integration of women, and mothers in particular, into the workforce, and emerging desires for involved fathers. But critiques of the patriarchal family within the framework of the second women’s’ movement can also be considered a cause. Furthermore, there was a transformation of the values of work and achievement toward a greater interest in leisure and personal development. In this context, male needs for emotional relationships were also valorized, which were supposed to be fulfilled by their interactions with their own children (see SteinHilbers 1991). Compared to the GDR, however, this discursive formation was initially not yet linked to a stronger engagement on the part of fathers in their families. The “new” fathers were primarily a media construct (ibid.) that was an expression of the very different desires of mothers and fathers. This discussion about the “new fathers” has not ceased since then. The valorization of fatherhood was institutionalized by the introduction of the two fatherhood months9 as part of the Elterngeld benefit in 2007. One of the main themes of the fatherhood discourse is the gap between attitudes toward active fatherhood and the relatively low level of involvement of men in care work. It is “at the same time a discourse about inequality in couples’ arrangements with gendered connotations” (Behnke et al. 2013, p. 193). The bourgeois figure of the family breadwinner is contrasted with “the discursive figures of the ‘new’, ‘active’, ‘engaged’, or ‘involved’ father” (ibid.). They are associated with expectations for equality in family life. If one obtains an overview of which social group is at the center of the discourse on fatherhood, it is not surprising—under the conditions of the Western discursive hegemony already described—that they are West German fathers from an ofteneducated bourgeois milieu. This is the case for reporting in the media, for the protagonists of contemporary autobiographical novels (see Tholen 2015), as well as for the case studies in the new, booming genre of fatherhood advice books (see Scholz 2013). The implicit Western orientation also applies to numerous empirical studies. Often, it’s not even acknowledged that only men from West Germany are surveyed (see for example Koppetsch and Speck 2015). Or the difference between East and West is regarded as insignificant, as is the case with the relevant studies on men and boys commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs (Bundesfamilienministerium, BMFSFJ) (see Volz and Zulehner 2009; Wippermann et al. 2009; Wippermann 2013; Meuser et al. 2013). Accordingly, the examination of the progressive gender arrangements of East German fathers is marginal not only in media discourse, but also in research. However, this does not exclude the possibility that there are occasional reports about East German fathers.

9 So-called Elterngeld is paid for a total of 14 months, and is based upon the income of the parents. Two months can be taken only by the father; otherwise, they are cancelled.



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The Practices of East and West German Fathers in Comparison

I will now turn to the often-overlooked practices of East German fathers. The few available studies also prove—beyond the gender contract in the GDR—that East German fathers are more often involved in household chores and caring for children compared to West German fathers (vgl. Helfferich 2017; Behnke et al. 2013; Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für die neuen Bundesländer 2018). What is notable is their daily and regular participation, even if to very different extents. Women continue to perform—as was already the case in GDR times—the greater share of housework. Both genders are still integrated in the workforce; correspondingly, there is a higher proportion of mothers working full-time than in West Germany. As in the GDR, men hardly earn the household income on their own, and less frequently fulfil the role as male breadwinners. The male breadwinner model has little support and “the complementary part of the housewife is not occupied” (Helfferich 2017, p. 255). The reproductive culture in East Germany and thus also the practices of fatherhood are therefore still shaped by the “tradition of a socialist family and labor market policy” (ibid., p. 256). Support by the state is viewed positively, and serves the goal of women in particular being able to reconcile work and family life. This is also reflected in the higher level of approval for and use of public childcare, especially for young children before they reach the age of four (see also Diabaté and Beringer 2018; Statistisches Bundesamt 2018, p. 69). A comparative East–West study on paternity practices by Cornelia Behnke, Diana Lengersdorf, and Michael Meuser et al. (2013) is revealing with regard to West German discursive hegemony within the field of scholarship. As an introductory part of the interview, participants were asked about the transformation of fatherhood. It was taken up in a rather reserved manner in the East. The researchers state self-critically that they had “assumed the West German-influenced discourse on active fatherhood to be universally valid” (ibid., p. 196; see also Behnke and Scholz 2015). In the further course of the interview, West German discourses certainly provided a frame of reference for their own positioning. Yet reference to East German traditions is not seamless and without contradictions. The male desire for a traditional bourgeois family with a housewife appeared to be a longing in some couples with a high level of education, but was judged unrealizable because they wished to share employment and parenthood as a matter of course. This model is thus “de-traditionalized” (Behnke et al. 2013, p. 203). It’s possibly a case of “efforts at distinction by upwardly mobile East German circles” (Behnke 2012, p. 89) who in the future seek a stronger orientation toward the Western-bourgeois gender contract. Another reference to West German discourses is the explicit demarcation from the West German middle-class father, who is regarded as a negative foil, as one who only talks and does little. What is overarching in all cases is the fact that paternal engagement is not framed by gender politics.

The East German Man: “Brown Perpetrator of Violence,” “Sensitive Father”? An. . .


In contrast to East Germany, there are differences in fatherhood practices in West Germany according to which educational milieu one belongs to.10 The West German couples surveyed from the higher educational milieus, the middle classes, were receptive to the impulse given by the researchers to transform fatherhood in comparison to the East German couples. The ideal of quality plays an important role in these relationships. Because it can hardly be implemented within the couples’ relationship, the women took it upon themselves in the interview to emphasize the achievements of their husbands in the realm of family work. They did so on the condition that they would continue to be considered more competent than their partners in this realm. The fatherhood construct is “a fatherhood primarily concerned with external perception” (Behnke and Meuser 2010, p. 5) in comparison to an East German fatherly commitment that is often practiced in the manner of a “rather casual matter of course” (Behnke et al. 2013, p. 202). The fatherhood practices of West German couples with lower educational qualifications (skilled workers and basic salaried employees), in contrast, are more similar to those of East Germans. The employment of mothers is to a large extent an economic necessity, which means that men are more involved in family work (see also Helfferich 2017). In this constellation as well, women take on the greater share of family work; the support of the men is desirable as long as “a certain difference in competence and status is maintained in their favor” (Behnke and Meuser 2010, p. 4). However, in contrast to those with higher educational qualifications, these couples do not raise any claim to an equal division of labor. In comparison to East Germany, there is a strong distance with regard to state care services and family relief. What they all have in common, however, is the lack of gender policy framing of paternal involvement. In general, the East German fatherhood construct can be described as a pragmatic, self-evident one. The practices of active fatherhood as a casual matter of course handed down over the generations (so far) are bound up with a pragmatic orientation toward activity (see Scholz 2004; Behnke 2012). The daily lives of two working people make it necessary for fathers to take part in childcare and household chores. This matter is passed on of course and the everyday necessity about which little is said (see also Scholz 2004). The gender-political framing of the fatherhood discourse does not seem to convey the economic experience of East German couples. They understand themselves to be equal as a matter of course, even if equality with regard to the division of care labor is only implemented incompletely. Their actions are more pragmatically motivated, rather than by political demands for equality. Behnke, Lengersdorf, and Meuser conclude from this that East German practices of fatherhood are more egalitarian in comparison to West German ones, and “more sustainably grounded than the gender-political ‘enlightened’ attitude of West German [middle class] fathers” (Behnke et al. 2013, p. 206).


Helfferich has also reconstructed a reproductive culture in East Germany that spanned social groups and has differentiated two different cultures in West Germany according to the demarcation between lower and higher educational milieus (see Helfferich 2017).


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5 Discussion and Plea for a Pluralization of Discourses The media construction of a “Brown East,” with its depiction of the East German man as right-wing populist, nationalist, or even violent, stands in contrast to the family engagement of East German fathers. How is it that the East German man is regarded as right-wing, while the familial engagement of East German fathers is not taken into account? I suspect that the differences in the hegemonic constructions of masculinity between the GDR and the FRG are a central cause both for the imputation of the “Brown East German man” and for the non-perception of East German fatherhood practices. In the following I describe the differences between East and West German constructs of masculinity, take up again the question of the responsiveness of East German men to right-wing populist discourses and formulate further research questions. In the GDR, proletarian masculinity combined with a more petit-bourgeois culture was hegemonic. The relevant everyday structures and forms of expression of aesthetic taste were “proletarianized” (Brandes 2008, p. 68). In its self-image, the GDR was a “workers’ society” (“arbeiterliche Gesellschaft”) (Engler 2002; Mau 2019). Accordingly, masculinity was determined by professional skilled work, which was integrated into a laboring community and less individualized. Corresponding to the dominance of industrial labor, physical power was highly valued. Eating and drinking habits with a high level of meat and alcohol consumption had positive connotations. After the political Wende, this masculinity construct encountered an entrepreneurial masculinity that bore the stamp of the culture of the middle and upper classes. It is characterized by disposal over economic capital and status symbols, professional success, pronounced competitiveness and dominance as well as success with women (Brandes 2008). Apart from the importance of work, this hegemonic masculinity differs fundamentally from that in the GDR. Community-oriented “heroes of work” stood in contrast to individualized “workaholics” after the political Wende (ibid.). This worker masculinity was extended by an active fatherhood in the 1970s. However, in contrast to the women’s model of the working mother (Dölling 1991; Merkel 1994), employment and paternity in the men’s model merely stood alongside each other in an unconnected way. While there were extensive debates in the GDR about the link between motherhood and work, the change in masculinity by caring for children was hardly discussed. A model of manhood oriented toward heavy industrial work stood alongside the images of sensitive and playful fathers. As if under a burning glass, this model of masculinity is displayed in the film Gundermann (2018) about the excavator operator Gerhard Gundermann, who worked in opencast lignite mining. The East German film director Andreas Dresen has created a memorial to this model of masculinity and at the same time lent it individual traits. Not only did Gundermann work in opencast lignite mining; he also translated his experiences as a worker and father—in particular with regard to his youngest daughter Linda—into poetic songs, which he already successfully performed with his band Die Seilschaft in the GDR. He died of a stroke in 1998 at

The East German Man: “Brown Perpetrator of Violence,” “Sensitive Father”? An. . .


the age of 43. The film focuses upon his critical engagement on behalf of building socialism, which involved the protagonist in informal activity for the Stasi, which he had to process after the political Wende of 1989. The film was a success with both audiences and critics. I suspect that this success is also based on the fact that it honored the construction of masculinity of the GDR. Thus creating an offer of identity to older GDR generations, but also opening up a positive reference point for the younger generations to GDR history, which, as already described, is often presented in a one-dimensional way in historical-cultural discourse. Even if among the younger GDR generations there was increasing criticism of heroic constructs of heroes of labor created by the political elite of the GDR, work remained central to men’s identity construction until the end of the GDR (Scholz 2004, 2016). After the collapse of the GDR, many men (and women) continued to perceive themselves as workers (Ahbe 2004; Mau 2019). I suspect that the cultural distance of media actors to these working people and their habitus leads to ignorance with regard to practices of gender and fatherhood, and makes easier the imputation of right-wing and nationalist attitudes. Thus, the fisherman’s cap mentioned at the beginning stands for a male hobby attributed mainly to men in lower social classes. It would be a worthwhile task of research to more closely examine the media images in the discourse on the “Brown East” for such class aspects. I have shown that the discursive figure of the active father is occupied in the media in a West German-bourgeois manner. If discourses first create the objects that they deal with, then that explains why an East German pragmatic, self-evident fatherhood does not exist in public perception; it is a discursive gap. One could therefore speak of the symbolic expropriation of East German men. I choose to refer to the symbolic violence associated with it as “classism” (Kemper and Weinbach 2016). The concept refers to discrimination and devaluation on the basis of real or ascribed social background. This classism structures West German discursive hegemony with regard to reporting on the topics dealt with here. It is accordingly more precise to describe it as a West German-bourgeois discursive hegemony. The cultural devaluation of working-class masculinity, in association with the experiences of unemployment, professional reorientation, and often discontinuous professional biographies in the last 30 years, could serve to explain why some East German men are receptive to right-wing populist addresses. The AfD party in particular takes up the experiences of declassing of the working class, appeals to their masculinity, and promises them cultural valorization. The family also plays a central role, albeit in the form of traditional gender concepts of a breadwinner and protector masculinity. But in comparison with the discursive gap of an East German pragmatic-self-evident fatherhood, the right-wing populist addresses at least contain linkages to a family masculinity, since the traditional family is highly valued in right-wing discourses (Kämper 2018; Sauer 2018). Right-wing masculinity therefore does not exclude family orientation; on the contrary, both can be linked well. David Begrich thus raises the fact that the young men of the “generation Hoyerswerda” now have families and, as fathers, pass on their right-wing attitudes to their children, but also bring them into kindergarten and school as “concerned parents” (Miteinander e.V. 2015).


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Nonetheless, not all men who allow themselves to be addressed by the right-wing populist AfD have entrenched right-wing or even right-wing radical attitudes. It is another open research task to reconstruct the complexity of biographical experiences in the GDR and the transformation process after reunification, and to examine why it led to a receptiveness to right-wing populist discourses on the part of some men, but not others. Those men who do not vote right-wing, do not participate in racist violence, or who are even engaged politically against the right are far too infrequently in the focus of the media. One way of differentiating and pluralizing the stereotypical image of the East German man would be to cast a glance at these life realities. The discursivizing of the East German gender arrangement both in the media and in scholarship could be a way of achieving such a differentiation. In this respect, the hitherto untapped potential of East German men and women for shaping the change in gender relations could be used and made visible. For, as shown, East German practices are more egalitarian than those of the West German elites who determine discourse. The opening up of the discourse and the dismantling of classism could furthermore also have positive effects upon the perception of the practices of fatherhood of West German men with lower educational qualifications, which, as I have shown, are also more egalitarian, but are just as marginalized. The discursivation of men, masculinity, and care is from my perspective a central theme for the transformation of East-West German gender relations and currently goes beyond the immediate context of the family. On the agenda is a social reorganization of care relations, also encompassing the care professions (Scholz and Heilmann 2019). Nursing care for the elderly and the sick and early childhood education are expanding fields of employment which young men from East and West Germany are increasingly entering, but they also represent an important field of employment for young refugee men. An opening up of discourses beyond West German middle-class fathers could over the long term create an expanded image of men and masculinity and developed new forms of address beyond right-wing populism and racism. It’s time to bid farewell to the discourse about the “Brown East” and the “Brown East German man,” and to perceive right-wing populism and radicalism for what they are: as problems for Germany as a whole. Acknowledgments I would like to thank Diana Lengersdorf for the discussion of the initial idea for the text and my scholarly collaborators Aaron Korn and Kevin Stützel for the instructive conversations that accompanied my writing process.

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Schochow M (2009) Der ‘Familienvater’. Von der Produktion einer DDR-Männlichkeit im Kontext demographischer Wissensbestände und sozialpolitischer Praktiken. In: Nagelschmidt I, Wojke K (eds) Typisch männlich!? Peter Lang, Berlin, pp 77–98 Schochow M (2013) Erzählungen über ein fremdes Land. Die Töpfchen-These oder: Von der richtigen Erziehung. In: Pates R, Schochow M (eds) Der ‘Ossi’. Mikropolitische Studien über einen symbolischen Ausländer. Springer, Berlin, pp 175–187 Scholz S (2004) Männlichkeiten erzählen. Lebensgeschichtliche Identitätskonstruktionen ostdeutscher Männer. Westfälisches Dampfboot, Münster Scholz S (2012) Männlichkeitssoziologie. Studien aus den sozialen Feldern Arbeit, Politik und Militär im vereinten Deutschland. Westfälisches Dampfboot, Münster Scholz S (2013) Liebe und Elternschaft auf Dauer? Zusammenfassende Auswertung der Ratgeberanalysen und weiterführende Forschungsfragen. In: Scholz S, Lenz K, Dreßler S (eds) In Liebe verbunden. Zweierbeziehungen und Elternschaft in populären Ratgebern von den 1950ern bis heute. Bielefeld, Transcript, pp 299–340 Scholz S (2016) Everyday socialist heroes and hegemonic masculinity in the GDR, 1949–1989. In: Wendt S (ed) Everyday heroism in the United States, Germany, and Britain from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. Campus, Frankfurt am Main, pp 185–216 Scholz S (2018) Postsozialistische Männlichkeiten. Kontinuitäten und Brüche in ostdeutschen Männlichkeitskonstruktionen. In: Hochreiter S, Stoller S (eds) Mann–Männer–Männlichkeiten. Interdisziplinäre Beiträge aus den masculinity studies. Wien, Praesens, pp 112–129 Scholz S, Heilmann A S (2019) Caring Masculinities? Männlichkeiten in der Transformation kapitalistischer Wachstumsgesellschaften. Oekom, München Scholz S, Lenz K (2013) Ratgeber erforschen. In: Scholz S, Lenz K, Dreßler S (eds) In Liebe verbunden: Zweierbeziehungen und Elternschaft in populären Ratgebern von den 1950ern bis heute. Transcript, Bielefeld, pp 49–75 Statistisches Bundesamt (2018) Statistisches Jahrbuch 2018. Destasis, Wiesbaden Stein-Hilbers M (1991) Die sogenannten ‘Neuen Väter’. Veränderungen und Überhöhungen eines Eltern-Kind-Verhältnisses. Widersprüche 40(11):43–52 Stützel K (2019) Jugendarbeit im Kontext von Jugendlichen mit rechten Orientierungen. Springer, Berlin Tholen T (2015) Männlichkeiten in der Literatur. Transcript, Bielefeld Volz R, Zulehner PM (2009) Männer in Bewegung. Zehn Jahre Männerentwicklung in Deutschland. Nomos, Baden-Baden Wippermann K (2013) Jungen und Männer im Spagat: Zwischen Rollenbildern und Alltagspraxis. BMFSFJ, Berlin Wippermann K, Calmbach M, Wippermann K (eds) (2009) Männer: Rolle vorwärts, Rolle rückwärts? Barbara Budrich, Leverkusen Zick A, Küpper B, Berghan W (2019) Verlorene Mitte: Feindselige Zustände. Rechtsextreme Einstellungen in Deutschland 2018/19 [online] [31.07.2019]

Russian Fatherhood: From Distance to Participation Elena Rozhdestvenskaya

1 Introduction Modern research shows that fathering practices and the idea of fatherhood itself are closely linked to the concept of masculinity and gender contracts. This means that changes in masculine and fathers’ roles are due to actively shifting configurations of women’s educational, labor, and maternal responsibilities. Thus, the social institution of fatherhood is under pressure from both the public and private spheres. Fatherhood is clearly changing in modern society since patriarchal family structures have been largely destroyed, gender roles have changed, and new identities of mother and father have emerged. The social process of remodeling family roles stimulates the mutual redefinition of social positions within the family, but fatherhood is undergoing particularly radical transformations. This can be succinctly described as the return of the father to the family and the recognition of his important contribution to family affairs. This change is central to family socialization and the father-mother-child triad because it implies the social recognition of the father’s role in the family and the reconfiguration of the impact of socialization. To develop my proposed thesis, I utilize the social sciences concept of recognition—as developed by the German social philosopher Axel Honneth—while further considering its gender connotations. Additionally, I will review the main trends and patterns of how the field of social studies treats fatherhood, leading to the essential content of paternal competence: interaction, accessibility, and responsibility. Then I will describe the This research is supported by the HSE Science Foundation (Grant 15-01-0126 “Reconfiguration of the Father’s Role: Generational Dynamics, Paternal Competences and Practices”).

E. Rozhdestvenskaya (*) National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 K. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Gender and Power in Eastern Europe, Societies and Political Orders in Transition,



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specificities of fatherhood in Russia through the prism of the concept of gender contracts, as well as the three main sociohistorical periods in the Soviet and postSoviet gender contracts that led to the statist type of gender order in Russia. At the level of quantitative analysis, the transition to research in the Russian context shows significant gaps between general ideas about paternity and attitudes derived from everyday fatherly practice. My discursive analysis of online communities shows a desire for the social recognition of fatherhood and the protection of fatherly masculinity. Finally, as an empirical illustration, I have implemented a qualitative study of the generational change of fatherly patterns to show the vectors of changes in fatherhood as a practice.

2 The Concept of Social Recognition as a Theoretical Framework for the Reconstruction of Involved Fatherhood The social context of the twentieth century gave rise to the figure of an absent father who participated in his children’s upbringing distantly (if at all) and was often the result of forced military and labor mobilization. In the 1950s, the German sociologist Alexander Mitscherlich even proposed the term die vaterlose Gesellschaft (fatherless society) to characterize Germany at that time (Mitscherlich 1970). This phenomenon of fatherlessness is also familiar to the Russian context. Since then, fathers have become more present within the European family and public discussions have necessitated that their participation in family life be more active. This has raised a number of new questions about fathers’ roles in raising children, their competence in such matters, and a possible shift from the role of sporadic assistant to a full-fledged participant in the process of socializing and raising children. Finally, there is the question of whether public discourse acknowledges average fathers in this new capacity. This chapter, then, departs from an ideological issue: the concept of recognition that is born at the intersection of social inquiry and individual need. Honneth has generated perhaps the most substantiated discussion of recognition within the contemporary literature (Honneth 1996). He believes that recognition is necessary for self-realization but that motivation is important for understanding and justifying social and emancipatory movements, for example, the so-called new fathers and ideational/cognitive ideological masculine communities. Following Hegel and Mead, Honneth distinguishes three “areas of interaction” associated with the three “forms of recognition” necessary for the development of an individual’s positive attitude toward themselves: love, rights, and solidarity (Honneth 1995, p. 92). Love as a form of recognition refers to our psychophysical needs and emotions that are satisfied by those who constitute our primary relationships (close friends, family, and partners). It provides basic self-confidence that can be destroyed through physical abuse. The form of recognition known as “rights” refers to the development of moral responsibility experienced in the framework of our

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relationships with others. This is a mutual recognition form in which “an individual learns to see themselves from the point of view of their partner in interaction as a carrier of equal rights” (Honneth 1996, p. 194). Finally, “solidarity” refers to the social recognition of our traits and abilities. This is important for the development of our own dignity and for how we become an “individual” since these are the unique characteristics and abilities that determine our individual differences (Honneth 1995, p. 122). Therefore, in contrast to the relationship of love and rights, which express the universal features of human subjectivity, dignity “requires a social environment that must be able to channel the characteristic differences between people in a universal way, more specifically, in an intersubjective form” (ibid.). Thus, while adapting the philosophy of recognition to social analysis, it should be noted that social recognition is a willingness to recognize participants of social interaction as capable and contractual. This is an integral part of social exchange; in its absence, social interaction is impossible. Besides this, the term “recognition” emphasizes the meaning of symbolic reward for the effectiveness of this social interaction with its positively evaluated content. Social recognition provides the necessary external confirmation of the self in order to maintain a stable mental state. Therefore, individuals actively avoid negative public recognition by seeking positive social recognition. To accomplish this, they try to establish their affiliation and distinguish themselves from others. These theoretical conclusions refer to the need to consider the social phenomenon of fatherhood not only at the level of empirically detectable fathering practices but also from the point of view of Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities”—which can act in an ideological and normative manner. This reformulates the question of the recognition of fathers not only in the eyes of the family/wife/children but also in the eyes of the cumulative imagined and real community of fathers. How is a gender-sensitive recognition policy possible? Nancy Fraser offers a valuable starting point: She addresses the primary contradiction between the “theory of cultural justice,” which promotes the recognition of differences and the “theory of distributive justice,” which advocates the equitable distribution of resources in social movements (Fraser 1997). Fraser offers a “critical recognition theory” that identifies and protects only those versions of the cultural policy of discrimination consistent with “the social policy of equality” (ibid., 12). Fraser rightly emphasizes that what needs to be recognized is not an individual identity as such “but the status of individual members of the group as full partners in social interaction” (Fraser 2000, p. 113). The moral logic of such a statement is generated by what Fraser calls the dilemma of “recognition-redistribution.” This dilemma arises from the fact that recognition statements tend to differentiate groups, confirming the distinctiveness of certain groups, while redistribution requirements “often demand the abolition of the economic mechanisms that underlie group specificity,” for example, the transformation of class structures and gendered divisions of labor. In relation to our object of analysis—fatherhood in its sociocultural context—the dilemma is realized to varying degrees of sought-after recognition. That is, paternity is typologically diverse. Not every social type of fatherhood is associated with the problem of social recognition. Among these types, we must first name the traditional


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type: breadwinner. Fatherhood here is unreflective: It simply emphasizes the productive function of fatherhood and the role of family breadwinner. Traditional fathering is fully revealed through the provision of material resources and the protection of the family. A modern breadwinner, along with the classical functions of supporting and protecting the family, also plays the role of a father who is represented in everyday life and who manages to build close relationships with his children. But at the same time, it is mainly the wife who is responsible for the care and upbringing of children as well as domestic work. The “reflexive” father —a term coined by Stephen Williams (Williams 2008)—can clearly be found among nontraditional fathers who aim to be more than just the breadwinner and are distinguished by an attempt to individually review the role of the father. The next type is the holistic father, who is a complex father-mother type—almost completely interchange with the mother. For this type, fatherhood is something special: It does not occur spontaneously but is a result of a conscious decision. Fatherhood is defined here as contributing to the family through interactions and responsibility. According to Margret Bürgisser (2006), the egalitarian father is, in many respects, similar to the previous one but shares responsibilities for supporting the family and raising the children with a partner 50/50. This typology would have been incomplete since the task of studying it was stimulated by the deficits of the father’s role in modern society. Therefore, it is appropriate to turn to the classical model of the absent father, not as a result of the social and historical disasters of World Wars I and II but as a rejection of concern for the next generation. Finally, in reaction to the awakened public interest in the figure of the father and his modern, egalitarian, variations—but also skeptical of burdening him with a professional role—Heinz Walter has suggested a more sober and pragmatic designation of a new, empirically recognizable type known as the “fairly good father” (Walter 2008). This position legitimizes the prospect of studying forms of fatherhood that are positive—in the sense of an expanded norm and positively experienced without frustrations—and the social conditions for their wider implementation. Obviously, not all of the listed types of modern paternity correspond to a request for social recognition. But reflexive, holistic, and egalitarian father types purport a meaningful ideology of fatherhood balanced at the intersection between self-realization and social recognition. Thus the preamble to the concept of social recognition introduced in the discussion is justified through the gender analysis of the social phenomenon of fatherhood that stratified in Russian society into various socially determined forms and is developing toward a model of socially responsible, involved fatherhood. Using both Honneth and Fraser’s concepts of social recognition, we can identify those practices of fatherhood and the forms of their legitimation that are associated not only with individual paternal identity but also with group paternal identity and consciousness. Following Fraser, it is important to understand, within the framework of the Russian case, how the policies of distinction in paternal practices are consistent with the policy of social gender equality. The empirical question to be answered is whether the need for social recognition of the father’s role is a reciprocal or autonomous process: Does the father adapt his role in response to his partner/wife’s demands or is it more of an internal process?

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3 The Conceptualization of Fatherhood as a Social Phenomenon and Field of Social Research The field of the social study of fatherhood has remained relevant for over twenty years. Frequently mentioned and well documented is the fact that men who become fathers often experience a crisis of male identity (Pleck 1981) as they succumb to an unprecedented variety of pressure (social, economic, historical, and political) while seeking to resolve “many conflicting problems and requirements they face because of their male gender” (Gentry and Harrison 2010). Accordingly, the links between masculinity and fatherhood are less clear than the links between femininity and motherhood (Miller 2011). Although recent studies have highlighted the changing paradigms of fatherhood (ibid.), the idea of a breadwinner remains influential and widespread (Brannen and Nilsen 2006; Coskuner-Balli and Thompson 2012). Many men define themselves as capable of supporting their family financially (Henwood and Procter 2003). Men experience social pressure to be the main breadwinner as the defining masculine role (Connell 1987), but this potentially impedes their socializing and educational role in family life (Russell 1986; Williams 2008). The studies also show that there is a difference between normative fatherhood and actual fathering. Fathers’ participation in raising children is still different from that of mothers. Fathers are indeed more involved than they were in the past; however, they tend to dedicate more time playing games with children than they do taking care of them as compared to mothers, who are still the main caretakers. It should also be noted that the growth of active fatherhood as a trend is accompanied by a tendency toward an increase in the number of families where the father is completely absent (Lamb 2000). Significant, as well, is the fact that there are a number of different factors that influence the presence and participation of fathers in families and their children’s lives. There are fathers who, for various reasons, prefer to avoid raising their children, but there are external factors that can affect fatherhood—for example, the structural processes that have taken place in connection to industrialization. Most researchers now agree that what fathers do with and for their children is more important than simply living with them or having frequent contact with them (Parke 1996). Exploring the various types of fatherly involvement, Michael E. Lamb and his coauthors (Lamb et al. 1985) have proposed three main components of successful fatherhood: engagement, accessibility, and responsibility. Engagement refers to the direct contact of the father with his child through the provision of assistance and joint activities. Recent measurement strategies in this area pay attention to the form and content of engagement, distinguishing between play, training and care, and suggest evaluating the quality of engagement as well as the time dedicated to it. Accessibility is a characteristic also associated with this and aimed at the potential availability of the father for interaction due to the presence or accessibility of the child. Responsibility refers to the role that the father assumes to confirm that he has taken care of and created resources for access to the child both inside and outside the home. This type of parental management is one of the least


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studied aspects of fatherhood, but it is among the most important (Parke 1996). And while mothers continue to act as the primary childcare managers in the vast majority of households, evidence suggests that at least some fathers are taking a more active role in this area (Coltrane 1996; Pleck 1997).

4 Fatherhood in Russia The context in which issues of fatherhood in Russia have become prioritized is the demographic crisis caused by the population decline. As a result of this crisis, the Russian state has begun to actively engage in family and demographic policies. Any ideology surrounding fatherhood is almost completely absent in Russian state policy, while notions of good mothering practices are clearly articulated. At the same time, studies have shown that fatherhood as a social institution and fathering as a practice have important consequences for society, particularly because the behavior and attitude of fathers affect not only their own physical and mental health but also that of the mothers of their children and the children themselves. It is impossible to determine contemporary Russian fatherhood in isolation from norms relating to motherhood, masculinity, family structures, welfare regimes, and larger socioeconomic factors. It should be analyzed within a broader context that considers the gender contract—that is, the gender division of labor at work and at home. The identities of men as workers, partners, and fathers are closely intertwined with the identities of women as workers, partners, and mothers; they are linked through the construct of a gender social contract. What is meant by a social contract? It is an exchange of expectations between social agents (groups) that involves the fulfillment of certain roles and generates certain practices and methods of legitimation. The distinction between vertical and horizontal social contracts indicates the interweaving of macro, meso, and microlevels of possible analysis that create a complex arrangement of structural, institutional, and social-group factors, all of which determine the content of the contract. Obviously, different social groups have different social contracts. But it is also clear that the violation or imbalance of social contracts, which are institutional in nature, is provoked by a crisis of social institutions. Social change or breakdown calls the systems of functioning contracts into question and devalues them but also generates new social contracts. Anna Temkina and Anna Rotkirch distinguish between “official” gender contracts, which include state policy, ideology, and legislation, and “everyday” gender contracts based on the roles and behavior of household members (Temkina and Rotkirch 2002). In other words, a gender contract has a social dimension, which includes a social welfare system, and a private dimension, including things like family relationships. Fatherhood in the social dimension largely depends on the social welfare system and general socioeconomic structures and processes. One of the most significant social changes in the industrialized world is a decrease in the birth rate and an increase in the participation of women in the labor market. This transformation is, of course, directly responsible for the declining role of women as stay-at-

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home mothers. However, while children and their upbringing ceased to occupy most of their mothers’ time, mothers continued to act as primary caretakers despite their work commitments outside the home. This new state of affairs has required women to balance work and family, which has created a new function for the welfare state. Thus, welfare regimes have become a strong source of ideological influence. The historical development of the welfare state and the differences between different welfare regimes are closely related to the historical models of fatherhood as they reflect and support the values and norms of gender as well as determine the legal and economic conditions of parenthood. In a narrow sense, the private dimension of fatherhood is related to the relationship between a male parent and his biological and/or stepchildren. Fatherhood also has consequences on the father’s relationship with the mother, affecting, for example, the father’s role in the family—regardless of whether he provides support during pregnancy or takes part in childbirth—and to what extent he is involved in childrearing tasks. These relationships are influenced by the social norms and attitudes as they play out within the private sphere. This applies both to the attitude toward the mother (and to the satisfaction with the marriage) and to the mother’s feelings about the father’s participation in his children’s upbringing. Studies show that a father is more involved when he is married to the mother and she encourages his participation. The relationship between marriage (or stable relationships and cohabitation) and parenthood is more relevant to fathers than it is to mothers. The less biologically determined (at least during pregnancy and infancy) connection between father and child makes their relationship more sensitive to contextual factors. Moreover, a man’s relationship with his own father (or other fathers) and relatives, as well as friends and colleagues, also plays a role. In her study, Anna Avdeeva concludes that involved fathers engage in a wide range of activities aimed at children and associated not only with their care but also with their early education as well as discussions about education and well-being (Avdeeva 2012, p. 103). At the same time, fathers’ priorities are also important. The author mentions two types of such priorities, namely executor (work is most important) and manager (along with work, family is also important). “A working “involved” father, regardless of his priorities, faces the need to combine professional activities and fathering, so he has to develop strategies for optimizing time and space in the private sphere. The involved father may share responsibilities with the spouse or perform them with her in turn, combine several tasks at once, compensate for the lack of attention to the child with “quality time,” or delegate responsibilities to grandmother, nanny or kindergarten” (ibid. 103). However, according to Avdeeva, the main imperative of involved fathering is “to avoid creating obstacles for the father’s (professional) employment” since “the involved father continues to be the (main) breadwinner, which entails mainly the traditional division of responsibilities in the family” (ibid.). This restriction—that fatherly involvement should not interfere with work— becomes clear in view of the general context of the labor market and institutional regulation. As Zhanna Chernova writes, a significant factor here is “the position of the employer on this issue, as well as the idea of the hegemonic masculinity


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characteristic of a given society. The employer and corporate support provided to the employee at the enterprise play the role of an intermediary between the legislatively established norms and individual fathering practices” (Chernova 2011, p. 102). Thus, the attitude of an employer who perceives a man with fathering responsibilities primarily as an employee limits the willingness of a working father to give up working time in favor of parental responsibilities. Ascertaining this position, given the dominance of a leading gender contract where the man is a breadwinner, partly helps to understand the limited repertoire of social opportunities for fatherhood in Russia. But, obviously, the repertoire of Russian gender contracts is a problem. Alexandra Lipasova has analyzed gender policies in several different countries, concluding that “gender equality is also difficult to achieve without public discourse around the division of labor in the family, equal opportunities in the labor market, and social inequality. The state family policy should contribute to the formation of not just one family contract but rather many of them” (Lipasova 2016, p. 46). This gender contract is affected by parallel, but interdependent, social processes in the private and public spheres, which in turn can influence the social institution of fatherhood or the social practice of fathering. Ralph LaRossa suggests that changes in fathering norms can be explained by changes in mothers’ behavior, such as their more active participation in the labor market, which, in turn, is connected to a lower birth rate, the rise of a social welfare system, and other general social changes (LaRossa 1988). However, the presence of traditional norms of masculinity within the gender contract should also be taken into account. That is, although the ideals of fatherhood and motherhood changed during the twentieth century, traditional gender stereotypes remain stable in many cultures and influence the practice of fathering on a broad scale. In Russia, the private sphere—including family, parenthood, and raising children—was actually not that private but largely controlled by the state so that the Soviet gender contract or gender order were “etacratic”1 in nature (Zdravomyslova and Temkina 2003). Johnny Rodin and Pelle Åberg have defined three main periods in the development of the Soviet gender contract that have had significant consequences for family, parenthood, and fatherhood as social institutions and practices (Rodin and Åberg 2013). The first period—from the 1917 Revolution to the early 1930s—included liberalization carried out in the Bolshevik style that deemed it necessary to combat the bourgeois family structure enslaving women within the patriarchal family. At the same time, women, especially illiterate female peasants living in rural areas, were perceived as politically backward and in need of ideological indoctrination. These circumstance legitimized and facilitated state intervention within the private sphere. The policy of Soviet emancipation, aimed at undermining the traditional family, led to a high degree of labor mobilization of women in the sphere of social labor. To this end, the work of caring for and raising children had to be socialized and transferred

1 Gender order in Soviet society was etacratic (from l’état); that is, it was largely determined by state policy and ideology, providing opportunities but also constructing barriers for people’s actions.

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to the public sphere. Thus emerged a childcare infrastructure serving the gender contract of working mothers. It should be emphasized that the Soviet state and a normative “working mother” entered into a social alliance, while the normative “father” was forced out into the public sphere as a worker and defender of the fatherland. This social gender contract was not voluntary. Moreover, the ideological and institutional resources of the state were invested in its legitimation and Soviet law dictated mandatory universal labor as well as a periodic ban on abortion. The second period—from the 1930s to the 1950s—was a time of war followed by intensive modernization and industrialization, all of which resulted in the phenomenon of the absent Soviet father. Labor migration and accelerated urbanization made it difficult to create and maintain a family. Thus, the Soviet gender contract established a gender order that seriously undermined the conditions necessary for the implementation of a traditional male breadwinner model. Fathering as a social practice was marginalized and often completely absent. Until the end of the 1960s, fathers were deprived of a number of legal rights related to parenthood, and the financial responsibility for children was entrusted to the state even more than to fathers, with the state basically assuming the role of the family’s main defender. Between the mid-1950s and the end of the 1980s, a sort of etacratic position still dominated; however, there was a growing distance between the public and private spheres. Since that time, demographic problems have emerged as a result of depopulation due to low birth rates, poor health, and high mortality. The state took a conservative position in that struggle and began popularizing a policy of returning to the family by promoting early marriages and large families, and by preventing divorce. Thus the Soviet gender contract was retraditionalized. Men were still considered more or less “out of brackets,” and the “take care of men” discourse shifted emphasis to the problem of their high mortality. Subsequent reforms from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s obliged fathers to provide child support after a divorce and mandated support for women’s childcare leave. The father’s role in the family continued to be very limited, whereas in the public sphere, men had to focus on selfrealization in their careers and on their role as builders of communism and defenders of the country. Against this background, fatherhood became nothing more than a distraction from the duties of the father. Thus, the Soviet regime and an etacratic gender policy undermined the foundations of traditional masculinity in the private sphere, abolishing private property and disavowing the role of the breadwinner in the family. The Soviet economy was built on a dual-earner family where both husbands and wives had equal claims as breadwinners. The structure of authority was blurred and reduced to situational practices. While motherhood and its obligations were symbolically and financially supported by the state, no such attention was paid to the role of the father. The transition period and perestroika had a great impact on processes within the family and on fatherhood. By that time, a conservative discourse seeking to restore the model of the masculine breadwinner was already present. Leveling the role of the state, the breakdown of institutional support for motherhood and childhood, and the introduction of the institution of private property increased the expectation that men be financially responsible for families. This discourse was even referred to as a


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patriarchal renaissance. Along retraditionalism, liberalization also affected parenting practices. In the second half of the 2000s, researchers noted a “parental boom” as a social process that accompanied a temporary increase in fertility in Russia. Researchers (Kukulin and Maiofis 2010) describe a large-scale shift in new settings that contributed to the wider adoption of new parenting practices in Russia—that is, a more responsible approach to family planning than before (based on a gradual shift in Russia’s contraceptive culture); a more advanced maternal age at first childbirth; changing psychological patterns of fathering, including the willingness of men to be present at births; the gradual rejection of corporeal punishment of children (especially boys); and a conscious choice of new institutions. According to Ilya Kukulin and Maria Mayofis, “the formation of non-imperative parenthood is deeply paradoxical. An appeal to family values is considered to be one of the foundations of a conservative political discourse, but the new trend has a pronounced reformatory character. It is a result of the tendency toward psychological gender equality in the family; in contrast to traditionalist principles, the wife and husband acknowledge their equal responsibility for psychological harmony in the family and for the distribution of household responsibilities” (ibid. 11).

5 Fatherhood Studies In terms of methodology, fatherhood has usually been studied in connection to social constructivism in recent decades (Hobson and Morgan 2002). From this point of view, fatherhood is seen as neither a given nor fixed but as a politicized social construct that is subject to regulatory pressure from political, religious, and social institutions, as well as from a set of more private norms on how to be a father. Of course, fatherhood as a norm and fathering as a practice are intertwined. Based on our analysis of families (the sample consisted of 994 married couples), a study about private life in Russia in the mid-1990s confirmed that the Russian population tends toward very traditional views about the biological conditionality of the labor division between men and women (Rimashevskaya et al. 1999). Despite the obvious need for two sources of income and the fact that 70% of the surveyed women were actively employed, both genders believed that the husband’s main task is the material support of the family. In other words, most men and women subscribe to the concept of the masculine breadwinner. The gender stereotypes of spouses are very close in their patriarchal content. A quarter to half of all respondents believed that women should not exhibit so-called male qualities and behavior and vice versa. Only half of male respondents agreed that women could work as much as men, but they still confirmed to normative expectations by expressing the belief that women should focus on the home. The phenomenon of the absent father was still present in the division of domestic work; that is, there is a father in the family, but he does not take an active role in his children’s socialization. At the same time, male dominance as the head of the family is virtually nonexistent in terms of decision-making within the family. In general, the

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situation is quite traditional: Women see themselves largely relegated to the domestic sphere whereas men situate themselves in public life. However, satisfaction within the marriage depends on the extent of men’s involvement in family affairs. Judging by the empiricism of late 1990s Russia, the traditional role of men as providers of the family remained very popular. Men only helped woman with family and domestic responsibilities without taking a more active role. Paradoxically, three quarters of couples were satisfied with the spousal division of labor despite differences in opinions. Modern gender-meaningful surveys—and there are very few of them—show that fathering as the actual participation of men in the upbringing of and caring for children has changed much less than the discursive ideas and norms related to it. Thus, according to a representative survey “Fatherhood in Russia Today” (Rimashevskaya et al. 2016), a liberalized ideological idea of the father’s role is clearly formulated: • “95.7% of respondents confirmed that fathers’ participation is crucial for the formation of social communication skills in children; • 93.5% agreed that their participation in raising children increases the level of children’s intellectual development and school performance; • 8.1% of fathers believed that their involvement helped reduce conflicts and indicators of deviant behavior among boys while encouraging girls to develop a healthy self-esteem and awareness of their rights (90.9%); • 91.2% of respondents believed that fathering makes men happier and healthier; • 87% of respondents believed that fathering contributes to the well-being of men and gives them a sense of purpose and satisfaction with life; • 80.6% of men agree that fathers who have close relationships with children have fewer mental and physical health problems in old age; • 73.3% of respondents agree with the statement that fathers who establish close relationships with their children based on the principle of nonviolence live longer; • 71.6% of respondents believe that fathering helps reduce criminal behavior; • 90.6% of men believe that both mother and father are responsible for the conception of a child; therefore, they have the same measure of responsibility for her upbringing” (ibid., p. 111). Other data from the same study provides a different, more restrained picture of fathers’ participation once the focus changes from generalization to individual attitudes: • “Only 53% of fathers recognize their personal responsibility and indispensability in raising children; • slightly more than half of the fathers—56.8%—maintain close communicative contact with school-age children, that is, they talk with them about their problems on a daily or weekly basis; • in fact, only a third of fathers—37.2%—try to dedicate all of their free time to their children, doing various types of activities with them” (ibid., p. 112).


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The data indicates a significant gap between general ideas about how modern fathers should behave and attitudes toward fathers’ everyday lives that more closely reflect fatherly practices. Perhaps this gap is a consequence of the variability of common gender contracts that range from liberal to traditional views about the relationship of gender obligations. Thus the Russian context shows a process of reinvention of parental roles—not only the mother’s role but also the father’s. Moreover, the essence of this reinvention is not related to the essentialism of the way these gender roles are perceived. On the contrary, gender roles are problematized and are subject to change and management. It is important, however, to note that there was an impulse from the active female gender role of working mother to involve the father, which stimulated both a wider set of fathering practices and changes in the identity of fathers as a platform for men’s self-realization. However, a significant condition should be taken into account: The Russian phenomenon of fatherhood is socially differentiated, and the practice of middle-class fathering discussed above in connection to trends of fatherly involvement differs from working-class fathering practices. Working-class fathers tend to consider themselves primarily as breadwinners and have little contact with children, whereas the strategy of “planned development” and involved fathering are more characteristic of middle-class fathers living in large cities (Lipasova 2017).

6 The Search for Social Recognition of Paternity and the Issue of Fathers’ Masculinity: Online Format A separate and important subject rarely addressed in fatherhood studies is the set of masculine characteristics associated with fatherhood. The decisive factor in the institutional support of such gender constructs are the homosocial communities whose internal solidarity contributes to the reinforcement and reproduction of a sense of “normality” in relation to individual ideas and practices of masculinity, as well as social-group ideologies of masculinity. Online communities that actively discuss current issues surrounding men and fathers also appear to be an important space to formulate requests for the social recognition of the significance of the father’s role within a Russian context. Linking the ideas of Honneth and Fraser with the current argument, it is important to note that these discussions involve discourses of rights, morality, and solidarity in response to the infringed rights of fathers and their lack of public recognition. Over the last decade, there has been a growth of online communities that address the problem of masculinity in Russia. Consensus models of masculinity are being constructed within such communities in reaction to the costs of traditional hegemonic masculinity but are barely surviving within the Russian social context. New models of masculinity are being built at the intersection of various discourses of masculinism, among which there are both pro-feminist and neopatriarchal discourses. Examples of such online public discussion on the VKontakte social network

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are being carried out by communities such as “No Name Commune” and “Male Movement” that claim men’s rights are being violated and openly identify themselves as masculine. A discourse analysis of the content of these discussions identifies, among other things, the question of fathering and the way it is thematized at the level of group representations of a masculine homosocial community. In general, the topic of fathering is one of the key themes of masculinism but tends to focus on issues around the problem of absent fathers—that is, those who have failed to gain custody following a divorce. Moreover, children are discussed exclusively in reference to separated parents, whereas fathering within a marriage is rarely discussed. Thus, the discussion of this hotly debated issue is linked to divorce and its aftermath, and criticism is directed at both the judicial system and the mother, both of whom impede paternal custody. The fact that in Russian judicial practice children remain with their mothers by default due to traditional gender roles and the belief that the mother is more significant in the child’s life and better adept at caring for them than the father is subjected to moral scrutiny given fathers’ claims for equal consideration as an alternative social actor. The issue of alimony also proves to be extremely affective. Men express the fear of economic exploitation by mothers. Such discussions aim to alter family law relating to alimony and minimize paternal support following a divorce. This happens to correspond to the second part of the recognition-redistribution dilemma outlined by Fraser, which argues that egalitarianjustified redistribution requires the abolition of economic or legal mechanisms that underlie group specificity—for example, the transformation of social structures and the gender division of labor. Thus, fatherhood is quite a marginal theme in the discussions of online masculine communities. The lack of fathers’ recognition as a social group is dealt with there in the context of divorce (in terms of violated men’s rights and economic threats they face). Nevertheless, as already mentioned, there is another group context of the phenomenon of non-imperative parenthood in Russia that discusses more active fatherly participation. But framing that public discussion are the ideas of gender justice, work–family life balance, and an understanding that fathers want to be involved in caring for their children. Both discussions—that of online masculine communities and the broader discussion about new parenthood in Russia—may generally be seen as a sign of the “discursive detraditionalization of fatherhood” (Meuser 2005, p. 93) and the possibility to reconfigure roles within the private sphere in response to an emancipated gender order as well as to revised notions of both femininity and masculinity. Thus, transformative processes characterized by the coexistence of old and new gender orders are evident when all these levels of social discrimination can be found in discursive practice. This raises the question of the (theoretical) interpretation of this disjunction of father’s participation in the private and discursive reproduction of gender differences. For this purpose, Judith Butler proposes the term “ambivalence,” which refers to “at least two wishes at work, two true motives struggling to coexist despite their incompatibility” (Butler 2014). The concept of ambivalence, therefore, refers to an extremely controversial simultaneity associated with the disjunctive position of the father, suggesting that a significant change in fatherhood is limited. This is related to the role of the breadwinner, that is, to employment structures. The father speaks as a “secondary parent” (Wall and Arnold 2007) who always comes after the mother.


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It could be argued that these limits to the emancipatory change in fatherhood are associated with a limiting repertoire of masculinity. In broad cultural contexts, the latter is normatively associated with a focus on employment, the repression of emotions, and the exercise of dominance (Bauer and Luedtke 2008; Hanlon 2012). Therefore, new ideas about fatherhood—with their emotional and practical investments in emotional work and care—acquire symbolic tension. Nevertheless, the masculinity of fathers who are actively involved in the private sphere and care for their children is now no longer considered as culturally unsecured: Their masculinity is no longer in doubt. However, this new involved fathering that is built on such an ambivalent construction of masculinity has significant symbolic limits, which are primarily associated with a professional career. This dual masculinity of the “new father” needs to reassess the basic distinction between masculinity and femininity in a discursive construction mode. Moreover, this task can be completed (but still not legitimized) by intercepting the feminist agenda with masculinity, as reflected by Karla Elliott’s use of the term “caring masculinity” (Elliott 2016). But what means of legitimization are possible for such caring masculinity and fathering practices if they first require contextually recoding the sphere of employment to build social programs supporting parents of both genders? Obviously, the discourse discrepancy here is even more significant, creating a gap between what is normatively approved (parental leave that is nominally available to both parents) and Russian practices (employers refuse to provide fathers with such leaves or fathers themselves evade them).

7 An Empirical Illustration of a Generational Change in Fathering Patterns In order to conduct qualitative research on the transmission of educational and socialization efforts between generations of fathers, the format of respondent selfinterviews was utilized. This type of interview is semi-narrative and semi-structured. The goal of interviews was to obtain information on practices of education and socialization over three generations in the same family. Among the interviewees, there were university students, their parents (mother and father), and their grandmothers and grandfathers (if still living). Students interviewed their grandparents about their childhoods and how they subsequently parented and socialized their own children. Then they applied the same questions to their parents. Finally, the students recalled their own childhood and stages of socialization, evaluated the style of their upbringing, and recollected instances from their own socialization. The cumulative empirical information of each case (N ¼ 200) collected from 2015 to 2018 summarizes the practices of upbringing and socialization across three generations. This approach serves the theoretical goal of reconstructing intergenerational shifts in the practices of upbringing and socialization that are qualitatively contoured in generational sections. Coleman’s ideas (Coleman 1988) about physical presence

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and intense participation in the socialization process, as well as Lamb’s discussion about the factors of involved fathering mentioned above (engagement, accessibility, and responsibility), formed the basis for the operationalization of conceptual issues in empirical referents of the quality of fathering practices in the dynamics of generational differences. This refers to the analytic categories of the mode of everyday action in education, the norms in education, value judgment, and the regime of justification. Special attention should be paid to the discursive mode of access to everyday knowledge associated with fatherhood. Since the interviews are not conducted by a researcher in the field observing the family reality through the lens of their own objectifying and performative attitudes but by the respondent and representative of the third generation, the only medium of access is language: discursive forms of describing family relationships that are situational, incomplete, emotionally charged, and biased, since they are being broadcast by a member of the family union. As a result, the method of analysis is the documentation of discursive practices regarding fathering practices. These are the statements of the respondents as a linguistically ordered practice in one field of relationships. Thus, experience is included within the format of familiar family communication and is largely pre-reflective. It is tied to relationships within the logic of the field in which it is generated and embedded in the biographically established space of the imaginable and expressive. Such a “simple” family rhetoric of discursive utterances is perceived as something that family members literally and unquestionably know; it is what they are truly convinced of and deeply believe. From the point of view of access to practice, this conversational format unfolds its potential to articulate specific relevant contexts while expressing them as subjects.

8 Description of the Results Compressing several intermediate stages of compaction of statements obtained in the Glaser and Strauss system coding mode (Glaser and Strauss 1967) and relating selectively to fathering practices, I obtained a number of categories based on various textualities or markers of various types of processing of everyday life. If we reconstruct the mode of the everyday action of fathers in education, we find a set of actions covering the fields of study, sports, moral development, leisure time, and motivation: • “[He] rarely intervened, except when I was studying math.” • “[He] would just come into my room and announce that we needed to talk.” • “He helped me with my studies, tried to address various topics, and explained interesting facts.” • “[We] sometimes went fishing and had fun.” • “He would take me to his work. [H]e was fond of photography [and] had a minidarkroom at work.”


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• “[He] would enjoy educational “performances”. Moreover, he would talk for a long time in an encouraging, but completely ineffective, manner. [This is] because the very first words would create a sort of a wall between us, and whatever he said would pass by.” • “Dad always tried to pamper me and do everything for me. We often spoke heart to heart, and he constantly praised me for my successes.” If we reconstruct the norm of education, it consists of a wide range, from verbal to physical persuasion, personal example, and references to authority: • • • • • • • •

“A minimum of prohibitions or restrictions.” “I did not consider it shameful to hit my son with a newspaper.” “[He] shows his authority and puts me in my place.” “[He] sometimes lectures me.” “[He] tried to avoid lecturing his children.” “[He] tried to never punish children for no reason.” “Personal example only.” “[He] never hit me, [nor did he] make me stand in the corner. [He] persuaded and educated [me] mainly through words.” • “Dad taught [me] that “one should always have a hot heart and a cold mind.” • “My father did not tolerate the slightest objection on my part; otherwise he would exercise harsh methods. He also carefully controlled everything.” If we reconstruct value judgments, they refer to the idea of a life path, which needs to be prepared through order, authority, distance, and education:

• • • • • •

“[He] educated me by leading through example.” “He was a bit distant.” “[He] has always been a male authority figure to me.” “[He] started mentoring me.” “Learning discipline from my dad has been helpful.” “[He] considered it his duty to provide me with a good education.”

If we reconstruct the justification regime as an explanatory model of everyday knowledge about fatherhood, we find significant differences in fathering as participatory or absent, conniving or authoritarian, emotionally involved or cold, compensating for one’s own childhood deficiencies or supporting the status quo: • “[He] would let me do whatever I wanted, but at the same time, [he] tried to motivate me according to my abilities.” • “[My] father wanted to give me what he never had.” • “One must always create such an atmosphere in the family so that children understand that they are loved.” • “He is always and undeniably right. [His] children do not have their own opinions.” • “[He] traveled on business trips and was often absent from home, but I always knew that he was taking part in my upbringing and was aware of what was going on at home while he was away. Mom always consulted with him, told him about

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my behavior, and he, in turn, spent all his free time with me while he was at home.” • “It was his childhood dream to have his children grow up under good conditions: each with their own room, well-dressed, and feeling no deprivation. [Everything] that he had lacked.” A closer look at Russian fathering practices shows that they are actually very diverse. At one end of the spectrum are authoritarian fathers who dominate every little detail of everyday life and at the other end absent fathers “invisibly” raising their children vis-à- vis the mother’s actions. Likewise, there are various forms of fatherly participation in the educational and social aspects of their children’s lives. Fatherhood is many-sided and ranges from the traditional breadwinner, who is practically absent in the everyday life of his children, to the modern and “fairly good” responsible father. What is also interesting are the intergenerational shifts that allow us to assess the possibilities and conditions of transmitting fathering models within the framework of the vertical relationship of one family (respondent/son-father-grandfather). A representative phrase for a generation of grandparents is as follows: There were five children in our family, so we were raised in a very free atmosphere. We grew up by ourselves.

Parents’ long workdays, “from very morning to late evening,” resulted in habitual freedom, autonomy, connivance in the upbringing of the second generation (fathers). These fathers then transmit the concept of childhood freedom to their grown children as values: I would also let you do whatever you wanted to—as long as it was safe to do and appropriate to your age and abilities.

Fathers perceived the unplanned outcome of the grandfathers’ parenting style as a value worth transmitting further. But since the model of a large family has been replaced by a smaller one, the age-appropriate approach has emerged as well as the tendency to give more or to compensate for one’s own deficient childhood: It was his childhood dream to have his children grow up under good conditions, each with their own rooms, well-dressed, and feeling no deprivation. [Everything] that he had lacked.

This means that the practices of the “new father” in relation to the current generation have clearly been accumulated due to the shattering of the traditional model of the previous generation, which was heavily engaged in socialist production. The following paragraphs are a selection of individual sequent questions from the interviews that show male patterns of upbringing and socialization. This includes the experiences of divorce or separation.



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First Generation: Grandfathers’ Generation

“We went hungry. A lot. One could eat a loaf of brown bread in one go.” “Father brought up my brother and me in quite a tough manner. And since I was older, all responsibility fell on me.” “A conversation, not moralizing, just a conversation, allowed him to convey to us the meaning of what he wanted to say. Sometimes we would discuss what had already happened and analyze it. Sometimes we would sit down and discuss how to do something better.” “When we grew up, we were left on our own. There was no money. It was a large household. Our parents were at work, so the older children that had to look after the household. We had to milk the cow, put the goats out to graze, and feed the hens and geese.” “It was important for me that they were well-fed and that their shoes were not full of holes.” “I remember once when my mother made a pot of borscht. We sat down at the table where we always had dinner together. So, she put the pan in the middle of the table, and there was a succulent piece of meat there. I thought no one was looking so I inconspicuously reached for it. But my father hit me in the forehead with a wooden spoon so hard that the spoon broke. This was how they brought us up.” “Mother told our father about all our tricks, and he was the one who made a decision whether to whip us, punish us, or do nothing.” The fathering practices of the early generation (grandfathers) are immersed in the context of the parents’ work (which occupied all of their time), material difficulties, the early involvement of children in labor resulting in their independence, and the patriarchal power of the father (from “conversations” setting moral assessments to physical punishments).


Second Generation: Fathers’ Generation

“When my mother and father divorced, I was two or three years old. So, I did not remember him at all. I saw him when I was older, but he meant nothing to me. He was just some man. I could not see him as a father. I didn’t have a role model, and maybe it affected me somehow. I realize that I paid little attention . . . I could not ask my mother to buy something, like modern toys. I never even talked about traveling. Only wealthy people could afford to travel. I spent all my summer vacations in the countryside.” “The process of upbringing took place within the framework of the so-called communist approach—[it was necessary] to behave correctly in society, among people (dad). Moreover, the family had three children: the eldest son and two daughters. All of them were closer to their father, because, as my dad notes, he was strict on some occasions, but he was always fair.”

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“I’ve counted . . . do you know how many summer camps I went to within seven years? Fourteen or fifteen different pioneer camps.” “I think that everything depended only on me. They couldn’t force me.” “I was independent. At the age of ten, he traveled to the other end of Moscow alone to play sports, and from the age of seventeen or eighteen he began to earn money.” “Everyone was on their own. We played while mom and dad were busy doing something.” “Haymaking was a must in the summer. In addition, it was necessary to clean the house, do the washing, and cook. In order for the children to be involved in all of these household chores without making them seem like actual work, we kept home notebooks. There was some kind of ten-point assessment of the work done and the difficulty of each task would be taken into account during the assessment. At the end of the week, the results were summed up and the winner was announced. Well, [they] probably rewarded us verbally.” “Nobody took me anywhere. I left the village for Ufa. [I] settled there by myself. I went to the exams on the right day, passed everything by myself, and enrolled.” “Dad worked, and mom did some housework.” “When I was at the university, I had to take a very difficult history exam. I loved history and now I read a lot, but at that time I was worried and told my dad about it. He would ask me questions or tell me something, sometimes jokingly, sometimes seriously. From time to time, he did it during breakfast, but sometimes we just sat down and spent the whole evening [together]. I easily passed the exam.” “Parents spent very little time with us. We spent more time on the street or at summer camps. In pioneer camps too. .. Constantly. .. we went there every summer.” In the middle (father’s) generation, the phenomenon of a habitualized situation of divorces related to non-resident fathers, depriving the boy of a role model, is already more pronounced. The street as a space of socialization still competes with the family. There are experiences of alienation from divorced fathers, which are not compensated later. Along with this, the practice of a modernized gender contract is followed in the next generation: The father fulfills the role of breadwinner while the mother works and does some housework too. This is what the growing child sees. At the same time, there are examples of empathetic and involved fatherhood, which implies the opportunity to share the son’s experiences with the father.


Third Generation (Male Respondents)

“My dad always took me to do sports and exercise. He taught me to jump, run, and play table tennis.” “I studied a lot at school because my parents paid significant attention to my education. My father checked my homework all the time, especially from the first to the fifth grade. He checked my assignments in literature up to eleventh grade. I got


E. Rozhdestvenskaya

an A on my history exam at Moscow State University thanks to the stories my father had told me.” “When I was a child, my parents were actively engaged in science. Besides this, they divorced when I was three years old, so my grandmother was engaged in my upbringing. She was a teacher of Russian language and literature at school and read a lot to me.” “My dad can sometimes lecture me for this or that reason when he notices something amiss.” “His upbringing did not allow him to tolerate the slightest objection on my part; otherwise he would exercise harsh methods. He also carefully controlled everything [I did].” “Then dad left us, and I stayed with mom and grandmother. After that, all communication with him was limited to several times a year in addition to holidays. Now such communication is possible but is extremely rare and cursory. It is usually just a happy birthday wish.” “Since I was a small child, my dad tried to instill a love of sports in me because he believed that every man should be strong and play sports.” “I always had problems with math, so in the sixth and seventh grades my dad checked my homework and explained the things I couldn’t understand. Dad had his own responsibilities for doing housework, and he regularly performed them. As for me, they didn’t force me, so I didn’t do any housework. Now dad regrets this because he thinks it’s why I’m so lazy.” The current reality of fathers’ influence at the level of the third generation preserves the same trends. There is the absent or distant father as well as the involved father who is involved in his children’s sports activities, checks homework, and controls, morally assesses, or rations his children’s behavior. Of course, the tendency to grant greater freedom to children depends on the biographical experience of fathers—whether they were satisfied with the result of having freedom in their own childhood. On the whole, according to the sample, the implications of this freedom in the third generation of our respondents vary in terms of replication, contrast, and dilution by the mother’s family culture. As an aside, fathers tend to evaluate problematic experiences of early childhood socialization in a less biased manner than mothers who tend to emotionally “pack” their memories. Finally, unlike their parents—who, for the most part perceived parenting styles as an unshakable part of culture (only alcoholism, violence, and divorce were subject to negative assessments)—the third generation is already inclined to reflect upon and rationally design the future model of parenting/fathering, rather than just respond and compensate for the failures and problems of parenting in their families. Nevertheless, the general vector of changes in fathering styles is an increased participation of fathers in the upbringing of children. Furthermore, their involvement varies from sporadic participation to conscious and focused upbringing and socialization. The question of recognition should probably be addressed not so much to the female partner but rather the external social context, which is not directly articulated in the interviews but acts as a supporting discursive background of how fathers today should fulfill their roles.

Russian Fatherhood: From Distance to Participation


9 Conclusion The theoretical, methodological, and empirical analysis of the phenomenon of fatherhood suggests that in Russia fatherhood as a social institution is connected to the context of political and socioeconomic changes. These processes have important consequences for the dominant gender contract—that is, for the distribution of power between the genders in the private and public spheres and particularly for maternal and paternal roles. The main vector of change can be designated as a tendency toward the discursive recognition of the father in society and the family. Soviet emancipation based on the concept of the female worker and mother altered the traditional gender contract. However, it is obvious that traditional roles have not disappeared; rather, they have taken a particular, strong position in the family landscape of contemporary Russia, which has been supported by a conservative turn. Nevertheless, an increase in women’s labor participation has not led to a more active fatherhood, as occurred in the West in the late twentieth century. It is more likely that Soviet gender policy transformed fatherhood from the main source of power within the family, connected to other patriarchal structures like the Church and monarchy, to a marginal social institution without a clear ideology. When the etacratic gender system paternalizing family was destroyed by perestroika, fatherhood as a post-Soviet discourse became an arena for competing ideologies, sparking an active process of reinventing fatherhood. While in some contexts, fatherhood is still viewed as marginal to state discourse, competing images of the ideal father as a reliable support and breadwinner have appeared within a broader neo-traditional discourse. An educated middle class supports patterns of non-imperative involved fatherhood. Thus, in modern Russia there is no dominant discourse of fatherhood. It is stratified by the practices of various social groups, depends on educational background and age, and is severely limited by fathers’ participation in the labor market. The research data I have presented shows that at the level of representative surveys a gap is evident between the general ideas of what modern fathers should look like and the attitudes from everyday life that influence actual practice. How this gap is understood by fathers themselves is demonstrated by a discursive analysis of fathers’/men’s group discussions, which consensually see solutions to problems in changing the rules of law and moral codes to better protect fathers. Finally, a microsociological analysis of narratives about the experience of fatherhood shows clear shifts in the social phenomenon of fatherhood in Russia—along with a patriarchal-oriented father as a classic breadwinner and a modern, partially egalitarian father as a product of an etatist gender order, an involved caring father appears and is reinforced in paternal practices. As I see it, the data generally shows that the involvement of fathers in the Russian context was influenced by both a proactive female position and subjective awareness by fathers of the value of their lived paternal experience and the need to reconsider the representation of the paternal role in society. And if diverse practices of fatherhood already include a triad of


E. Rozhdestvenskaya

interaction, accessibility, and responsibility at the level of group consciousness, a far from satisfied request for social recognition is formulated.

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