Mobilizing, Silencing, and Exploiting Women after the Russian Revolution: Ambivalence about Gender Difference

Wednesday, January 31, 2018
6:00pm - 8:00pm
Ella Weed Room, 223 Milbank Hall, Barnard College

Please join us for a talk with Elizabeth Wood (MIT History) as part of the Women in Revolution Lecture Series sponsored by the Barnard Slavic Department, the Harriman Institute, the Barnard Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and the William E. Harkins Colloquium at the Columbia Slavic Department.

On February 23, 1917 women in Petrograd took to the streets to demand both bread and suffrage.   It was, after all, March 8 in Western Europe, the international socialist women’s holiday.  The Bolshevik wing of the Social Democratic Party had, since 1913, been actively mobilizing women – into factory committees, trade unions, and journalism itself.  But when women took to the streets on February 23rd, Party leaders in Petrograd were ambivalent and tried to persuade them not to go out.  Initially after the February Revolution, Bolshevik leaders were happy to acknowledge women’s leading role in the events of 1917.  Yet by 1919 military leaders had chosen to call February 23 “The Day of the Red Army,” and orders had been given to close all feminist movements.  Feminizm was now deeply suspect, and “the woman question,” while acceptable, was distinctly secondary.  During the Civil War, the call to mobilize women took on an increasingly instrumental quality.  Organizers (both male and female) referred to women as “raw material” and sought to bring them into the revolutionary efforts.  Women involved in party work demonstrated their commitment to the performative aspects of mobilizing other women, thus demonstrating their own loyalty but without necessarily giving women a strong voice.  The narrative of women’s “backwardness” so permeated any mention of gender that women could only be mobilized as a way to overcome that backwardness.  Thus the heroic narrative became that of the Red Army (coded as male), while the raw material of the revolution to be worked on and mobilized was coded as female.

Elizabeth A. Wood is Professor of Russian and Soviet History at MIT, where she also directs the Russian Studies Program and the MIT-Russia Program, which she co-founded in 2011. Her books include The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia (Indiana University Press, 1997); Performing Justice: Agitation Trials in Early Soviet Russia (Cornell University Press, 2005); and Roots of Russia’s War in Ukraine (coauthored) (Woodrow Wilson Center/Columbia University Press, 2016). Recently she has been working on Vladimir Putin’s scenarios of power but also has been returning to questions of 1917 and the ambivalence of women’s emancipation.

The Women in Revolution Lecture Series:

To mark the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution and its direct aftermath, the Barnard Slavic Department, along with the Harriman Institute, the Barnard Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and the William E. Harkins Colloquium at the Columbia Slavic Department present an interdisciplinary lecture series, “Women in Revolution.” The series interrogates the role of gender and sexuality in Revolutionary and early-Soviet Russia. Leading scholars from the U.S. and Russia will investigate the fraught relationship between the revolutionary ideals of gender equality and the eventual entrenchment of a new Soviet power system. The series is free and open to the public, with talks intended to appeal to a broad, non-specialist audience. All events in the series will take place in the Ella Weed Room, 223 Milbank Hall, on the Barnard College campus from 6:00 – 8:00 pm.

January 31 - Elizabeth Wood (History, MIT)
“Mobilizing, Silencing, and Exploiting Women after the Russian Revolution: Ambivalence about Gender Difference”

March 8 - Elena Gapova (Sociology, University of Western Michigan)
“The Russian Revolution and Women's Liberation: Making the Soviet Gender Contract”

March 29 - Elena Zdravomyslova (Political Science, European University in St Petersburg)
“The Soviet Gender Contract and Sexual Politics: From Revolution to Soviet Patriarchy”

April 5 - Christina Kiaer (Art History, Northwestern University)
“Revolution Every Day: Early Soviet Posters and the Propagandizing of Women”

All events: 6:00 – 8:00 pm, Ella Weed Room, 223 Milbank Hall, Barnard College

The series is organized by Irina Denischenko and Bradley Gorski with help from Erica Drennan and Milica Ilicic.