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Chapter Twenty-One. The Woman Question in Russia: Contradictions and Ambivalence

Elizabeth A. Wood

Subject History

Place Eastern Europe » Russia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405135603.2009.00022.x


The “woman question” in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Russia focused principally on the position of women in the family and society. It was one of the so-called burning social issues that occupied the Russian intelligentsia in the second half of the nineteenth century, questions such as the emancipation of the peasants and the Jews, and the rise of national consciousness. Yet it was perhaps the least straightforward of the burning questions, the one most burdened by contradictions and ambivalence. It was, for one thing, very much a question about the place of men and masculinity under autocracy. Although it ostensibly addressed notions of how to improve women's lot, it also contained within it and even perpetuated deeply misogynist notions of women's backwardness. The early woman question was also often a code phrase for authors seeking to evade the strict censorship under Tsar Nicholas I (1825–55); they wrote about women as a way of talking about revolution and radical social change. Contemporaries perceived the woman question as a native development that had organic Russian roots. Yet in actuality it came to Russia as an import, borrowing many Western ideas, yet melding them with Russian intellectual and moral traditions in a new synthesis. Historians and literature scholars debate the timing and nature of the earliest appearances of the woman question. Most general ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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