Honors faculty member Laurie Stoff speaks about Russian history at prestigious Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars

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November 2, 2017

Laurie Stoff

Laurie Stoff, honors faculty fellow in Barrett Honors College, is an expert in Russian history. She specializes in Russian and East European history, as well as women's and gender history and studies. Her research focuses on gender and war, specifically Russian women and the Great War.

Stoff recently spoke at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington D.C. as part of an event commemorating the centennial of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Wilson Center is one of the nation's premier think tanks and key non-partisan policy forums for tackling global issues through independent research and open dialogue to inform actionable ideas for the policy community.

Stoff’s talk, titled "The October Revolution and the Dilemmas of Gender," focused on problems the Bolsheviks faced once they came to power in 1917 in attempting to create gender equality in Russia.

“My argument is that the Bolshevik project of gender equality, while leading to some important advancements for women, providing them with legal equality and opportunities and rights, was ultimately unsuccessful and presents less of a break with the past than previously considered,” Stoff said.

Stoff explained that although women were able to achieve things in the Soviet Union, such as access to STEM fields (for example, by the 1960s, more than 70% of physicians in the Soviet Union were women) many of the trappings of patriarchy continued to operate there.

“Rather than focusing on the failure of the Soviet state to fully commit to the project of gender equality in its attempts to transform men and women, as most previous scholarship has done, I reevaluate such efforts to consider whether they were actually aimed at creating an equilibrium through women’s emancipation, and argue instead how, in a number ways, they are more accurately understood as masculinizing efforts.,” she said.

“Despite the rhetoric of gender equality and the real commitment that many had to this as a goal of social transformation, what the Bolsheviks attempted was to make women more like men by emphasizing roles and characteristics normatively (by the standards of early 20th century Russian society) associated with masculinity (public labor, strength, austerity, and even violence) while denigrating roles and characteristics associated with femininity (passivity, frivolity, and domesticity).”

“Thus, while they pushed for women to become active, contributing public citizens, they did not, concomitantly, press men to take on domestic roles. Instead, they saw the state as taking over these functions, but never prioritized them and ultimately neglected them. Becoming equal was thus “raising women up” to the level of men, but there was little effort to encourage men to participate fully in domestic life, as this would have been “bringing men down” to the level of women. It appears that the vision of October was unable to overcome the stigma of being female,” Stoff explained.

Stoff’s talk at the Woodrow Wilson Center can be heard here.

Stoff's first book, They Fought for the Motherland: Russia's Women Soldiers in World War I and the Revolution examines the participation of women as combatants during the First World War in Russia. Her most recent book on the experiences of women in medical services in that war, Russia's Sisters of Mercy and the Great War: More than Binding Men's Wounds, was awarded the Smith Prize for Best Book in European History by the European Section of the Southern Historical Association as well as the prize for Best Book in Slavic Studies by the Southern Conference on Slavic Studies. As part of the international editorial team for the multi-volume project Russia's Great War and Revolution, she is lead editor for a volume exploring the frontline experiences of soldiers, nurses, and prisoners of war.


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