Remaining a Ukrainian Woman: Normative Femininity as "Armor" in the Gulag

Thursday, October 17, 2019
Marshall D. Shulman Seminar Room, 1219 International Affairs Building (420 W 118th St)

Please join the Ukrainian Studies Program at the Harriman Institute, Columbia University for a presentation by Oksana Kis (National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine).

In the 1940-50s, tens of thousands of Ukrainian women were sentenced to long-term imprisonment in the Gulag for political charges. Their experiences of living in the most brutal conditions of the Soviet camps have not yet been the subject of special historical-anthropological research. This paper examines the personal memoires of Ukrainian female former prisoners of the Gulag in order to reveal women’s gendered behaviors and daily practices that sought to preserve their gender identities and thus counteract the dehumanizing effects of the camps. Some traditional women’s activities (housekeeping, singing, embroidering, religious celebrations, body care, etc.) which constituted core elements of the traditional concept of normative femininity were secretly practiced in the camps despite prohibitions and a lack of resources. They are considered gendered forms of non-violent resistance to the dehumanizing camp regime.

Oksana Kis is a historian and anthropologist, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Lviv. She obtained her academic degree “kandydat nauk” (Ph.D. equivalent) from the Ivan Krypyakevych Institute of Ukrainian Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in 2002. In April 2017, she successfully defended her habilitation thesis for an academic degree of full doctor of sciences. The areas of her expertise include Ukrainian women’s history in the 19th and 20th centuries, feminist anthropology, oral history, and gender transformations in post-socialist countries. Dr. Kis is a founder and the President of the Ukrainian Association for Research in Women's History (since 2010). She is also a co-founder and the vice-president of the Ukrainian Oral History Association. Her first book Women in Ukrainian Traditional Culture in the second half of the 19h and early 20th centuries (in Ukrainian) came out in Lviv in 2008 (2nd edition 2012). Her recent book Ukrainian Women in the Gulag: The Victory of Survival (in Ukrainian) was published in 2017. Oksana Kis is Editor-in-Chief of the academic web-site Ukraina Moderna and a member of the editorial team of Aspasia: The International Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women's and Gender History.