In the Soviet Union, gender identity was based on ideological paradigms and was projected on Soviet citizens through a system of social and cultural codes that were reinforced by education, media, literature, art, and film. While the early Bolshevik reforms promised gender equality and the emancipation of Soviet citizens (particularly women), conservative views on gender roles, family, and sexuality became embedded under Joseph Stalin. Conflation of these competing principles produced gendered asymmetries, resulting in the imperative to place the common goals and fulfilling state expectations before personal considerations. The state propagated the cult of masculinity that signified progress, (military) power, industry, and technology, eventually causing a masculinization of Soviet society. Women—when they were valorized—were represented in their roles as revolutionaries, shock workers, pilots, and, eventually, astronauts. The Soviet state dictated the form and extent of women’s rights, continuously deferring a solution to the “woman’s question.” The post-Soviet Russian general public has been actively involved in rethinking and reconceptualizing gender identities. A number of political, social, and cultural changes have generated the need for popular reconsideration. One of these causes was the collapse of Soviet ideology that had regulated the construction of gender identities and the subsequent withdrawal of the state from the private sphere. The import of Western consumer products that had been unavailable in the Soviet Union (including feminine personal care products) and the associated advertising, as well as the import of Western cultural products (especially in television and films), have resulted in a new set of gender relations. The emergence of Runet, an Internet-enabled space that facilitates anonymous—and ultimately—safe articulation of new gender identities, has also been a catalyst for change. In the 1990s, a crisis of masculinity occurred in Russia, resulting from a number of factors: the mass emigration of women into countries with stronger economies; the trafficking of women into the global sex trade; declining fertility rates associated with poor health, alcoholism, and other social problems; and massive unemployment and poverty, which negatively impacted the ability of young men to establish and provide for families. This feeling coincided with Russian state failures in traditionally male arenas such as international politics, the economy, and military readiness. These failures were reinforced by a number of phenomena, including President Boris Yeltsin’s alcoholism and ill health, the 1998 ruble crisis, and Russia’s poor performance in the first Chechen War.
   In the new millennium, Russian masculinity was thoroughly reinvented, and a new, more forceful, stable, and virile male identity was established in mass media and popular culture. Since taking national office in 1999, Vladimir Putin, a teetotaler, has actively sought to present himself as a new male role model, appearing in settings and poses that enhance his macho image and physical prowess, including being photographed or filmed while hunting, exercising, engaging in martial arts, and fishing. In artistic film, a ruthless and socially disconnected Mafiosi hero of the 1990s has been replaced by a conscientious professional male, whereas in popular film productions, a type of Hollywood-inspired warrior/ protector has prevailed.
   The post-Soviet Russian woman has been reimagined as a dominant consumer. If in the 1990s, in the absence of men, women were focused on the preservation of family and life itself, figuring in many roles, including that of the provider and protector, at the start of the new century Russian women affirmed their role through conspicuous consumption that symbolizes their new domain. As more women become entrepreneurs, bankers, and lawyers, while maintaining their near-monopoly position in education and health care, they have projected their new, more independent status through acquiring and enjoying expensive commodities and pastimes. A Russian woman simultaneously detests and adores glamour because it signifies her traditional feminine and new commanding roles.
   Despite the new liberating process, the generational and geographical gap remains. While in Russian cities women attest their rights through militant consumerism, and homosexual communities create their own alternative identities, in the Russian provinces, women appear fully subjugated to men. Older women display characteristics of stereotypical Soviet citizens, who were solely focused on daily hardships and enduring loveless marriages to generally worthless male partners.
   See also Feminism.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.


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