Gender and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Russian Culture

Article excerpt

Helena Goscilo and Andrea l.anoux, eds. Gender and National Identity in TwentiethCentury Russian Culture. DeKaIb: Northern Illinois University Press. 2006. x, 257 pp. Illustrations. Index. Contributors. Cloth: $38.00. Paper: $22.50.

The first work of its kind in Russian Studies to focus on the relationship between gender and national identity, this anthology is a welcome addition to the scholarship. As the introduction notes, "many recent studies of Russian nationalism and state formation make no mention of gender, let alone treat it as a vital component of national identity" (p. 9). Joined by Andrea Lanoux as co-editor, Helena Goscilo continues to produce bold and provocative work (including Fruits of Her Plume and Dehexing Sex, and her pioneering studies of Russian women writers like Tolstaia and Petrushevskaia) that sheds light on this crucial intersection of gender and Russian identity. This review will present synopses of each chapter, so that researchers may more easily identify topics and themes of interest.

Goscilo and Lanoux begin with an informative and accessible overview of gender constructions in Russian culture, society and language, from their origins in myth to present day developments. The introduction sets out the questions for consideration: "Under what social conditions has Russian national identity been articulated as masculine or feminine? What impact do gendered representations of nationhood exert on the lives of real men and women?" (p. 9).

The first essay offers a wealth of examples drawn from a wide variety of linguistic and cultural contexts. Valentina Zaitseva argues that the gender inherent in the Russian language fosters sexist cognitive behaviour, promoting a gendered national identity and culture.

In Helena Goscilo's incisive exploration of widowhood in Russia, this gendered concept serves as a trope for the nation. The proliferation of the genre of memorial (hagiographic) literature produced by widow-archivists of "great men" in pre-revolutionary Russia and the Soviet Union illustrates how women's identity in Russia is "relational"they never write on behalf of themselves alone-while men's is "existential" (p. 59).

Also treating the genre of memorial literature, Elizabeth Jones Hemenway shows how gendered representations of female revolutionaries assisted in the construction of Soviet national identity, ascribing a subordinate and motherly/sisterly, i.e. "desexualized" (p. 88) role to women.

Focusing on the binaries of power and pleasure, seduction and discipline, Lilya Kaganovsky finds an original angle on Soviet identity, recounting the use of sound technology to reinforce nationalist ideology in the early film The Road to Life. Homoerotic scenes of male bonding and the absence of female subjects affirm masculinist identity, through both "bodily discipline and linguistic control" (pp. 102-9).

Suzanne Ament shows how, by feminizing Mother Russia and emphasizing traditional expectations. Communist Party propaganda during World War 11 manipulated gender representations in wartime songs to mobilize the nation and solidify Soviet identity. …