CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1Six of the eight chapters of this collective work are on Russia, the other two on Ukraine. The data used are primarily from qualitative surveys, especially interviews. The overarching issue is the limitations on the new ‘freedoms’ that appeared in the two countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It might have seemed that the end of the authoritarian socialist regime, the opening of borders, and the advent of market economies ‘would usher in a new era of choice’ in social life (p. xxiii). In fact, gender-based norms and inequalities (together with norms for age and social class) continue to exert their grip on these societies—in new ways and old.

2Irina Roldugina’s and Nadzeya Husakouskaya’s chapters discuss the politicization of homosexuality and transgender status. Roldugina, a historian of homosexuality in Russia, notes that while her subject has been of interest to several foreign researchers (including Dan Healey and Arthur Clech), it has been largely ignored by historiographers in Russia. Working on this theme was of course impossible before the fall of the Soviet Union, as male homosexuality had been a criminal offense there since 1934. But why did research on the topic fail to develop after 1991? This issue is at the core of the chapter, which analyses Russian archive policy and the exclusion of homosexuals from commemorations of Soviet political repression.

3Nadzeya Husakouskaya discusses how the legal framework for transgender transitioning (medical operations, ID documents) has evolved in Ukraine since 1991, together with the political battles around this issue. Transgender activism mainly developed in the wake of the ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004. A 1996 state order had defined transitioning in deeply ‘pathologizing’, highly constrictive and restrictive terms. In 2011, a new ordinance was passed that only minimally relaxed the previous legislation, and it was only in 2016 that a new procedure was adopted, modelled on the British process. The question of transgender people’s rights in Ukraine tends to be instrumentalized—used to show that Ukraine is ‘behind’ Western Europe on the issue—in connection with the conditions the country must meet to join the European Union. According to Husakouskaya, this perspective obscures the fact that the procedure in effect in other countries—Argentina, for example—may well offer a better model and that the laws in several EU countries are no more advanced than Ukraine’s.

4Olesya Khromeychuk’s chapter is on the gender-specific division of activist labour during the occupation of Maidan Square (2013–2014) and of military labour during the conflict in Donbas, which began in 2014. Surveys show that whereas women represented 43% of participants in the early Maidan protests, that figure fell to 12% at the end, when the occupation was militarized. Women were generally assigned to cooking and treating injuries, and they were forbidden to enter zones considered dangerous. Many who were active on Maidan Square later tried to enlist to fight the separatists in the Donbas. But there again, many types of work were off limits to them. As the army has a long list of positions that women are prohibited from taking, many chose the easier course of joining a volunteer battalion.

5Anna Shadrina discusses the situation of older single women in Russia, where premature mortality among men and high divorce rates have left many older women widows or divorcees. When the author asked single women of different social backgrounds aged 60 to 88 whether they wanted to repartner, most answered in the negative. Women respondents ‘navigate between two gendered stereotypes: one that renders old age a period of life which is deprived of sexual and romantic desires and one that places marriage at the centre of women’s lives’ (p. 88). By saying they want to remain single, then, these women both align themselves with gender norms and contravene them.

6Elisabeth Schimpfössl looks at the ‘richest 0.1 per cent of Russia’s nearly 144 million-strong population’ (p. 110), specifically, entrepreneurs and politicians and their families. After discussing ‘elite masculinities’, she turns to this group’s conjugal aspirations and to gender-specific aspects of raising children. Her third section is on ‘elite femininities’ and the fourth on homosexuality. The survey on which her analysis is based seems interesting, but the question she discusses is not specific enough, resulting in a relatively shallow analysis. Lynne Attwood and Olga Isupova run into the same difficulty in their chapter on the reasons women give for ‘choosing whether to have children’ in Russia, based on a corpus of comments on parenthood made on 14 Russian Internet forums, 12 of them general in scope, one for persons using medically assisted reproduction, and another for women having chosen to remain childless.

7Anna Temkina and Elena Zdravomyslova, who study sociology of gender and the family in Russia, looked into how middle-class pregnant women in Saint Petersburg choose their maternity clinic, doctor, and delivery method. In the 1990s, public maternity hospitals began offering paid services like private clinics. The authors analyse the emergence of a new model of ‘responsible’, reflexive, and carefully planned motherhood that has become a factor of social distinction. These women behave as demanding consumers, mobilizing their circle of family and friends or other networks for information on available options so that they can compare and choose the best one. The women in question seek to purchase solicitude and individualized care, which they contrast to the ‘assembly line’ approach of the standard option. Some pay to have their partner present in the delivery room, still a recent and rare practice in Russia.

8The last chapter, by Marian Yusupova, discusses representations of, and practices in connection with, Russia’s compulsory military service among men who reached their majority after the Soviet Union collapse. Whereas in the 1970s, 70%–85% of a given age group performed their military obligations, the figures fell to 10%–30% from 1990 to 2005. The image of the army began to deteriorate during the Afghanistan War (1979–1989) and in reaction to revelations of widespread hazing during perestroika. Today, men of upper-class background use a wide range of legal and illegal means to avoid military service (student exemption, bribes, etc.), a situation that has led to over-representation of poorer men among conscripts. With capitalism came a new model of military masculinity. Paradoxically, respondents who have managed to escape military service are likely to cultivate ‘militaristic fantasies’ and to criticize what they see as the army’s decline; the army, they say, should recover its grandeur and so make military service meaningful once again.

9Though the chapters may seem somewhat tenuously related, the book does contain several extremely interesting contributions. And the index is most welcome. In sum, this collective work offers a stimulating glimpse into gender-focused social science research on Russia and Ukraine.

Uploaded on on 31/10/2019
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