In its Western form, the ideology of feminism entered the discursive space of the Soviet Union and the minds of its citizens during perestroika. However, a terminological distinction was made almost immediately with the “women’s movement,” which had been part of the Russian political environment for more than a century. As a concept, “feminism” generally signifies militant, often foreign, forms of female liberation. Under the Bolsheviks, several prominent female thinkers and activists emerged, most notably Aleksandra Kollontai. However, Joseph Stalin attempted to subvert the movement by constructing Soviet women as ideological subjects. In the late Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia, the resurgence of the women’s movement unfortunately coincided with the demographic crisis, the demise of the Soviet political and economic system, a surge in pornography, and a rise in prostitution. As the representation and consumption of sex and sexuality suddenly became possible after the relaxation of censorship, the public gravitated toward commercialization of sex rather than engaging in debate about gender issues and the political, social, and cultural roles and rights of women. Despite such challenges, the number of activist groups increased to over 300 by the mid-1990s; the movement was particularly active in Tver and Petrozavodsk. These groups normally addressed practical issues, including domestic violence and harassment at work. Some of these groups, for example, the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia, became politically active and increasingly important socially. Feminist leaders, such as Mariya Arbatova, were normally drawn from the Soviet intelligentsia, which had always enjoyed a more balanced and more informed approach to gender identity and associated social and familial roles. The work of such groups and centers was often sponsored and facilitated by foreign institutions, for example, the Soros Foundation, and in addition to social activism, it incorporated educational and artistic practices. Some female authors became phenomenally successful, including Lyudmila Ulitskaya working in elitist genres, and Daria Dontsova and Aleksandra Marinina devoting themselves to the more popular—and traditionally masculine—genre of crime fiction.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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