Academic journal article Journalism History

Rabotnitsa: The Paradoxical Success of a Soviet Women's Magazine

Academic journal article Journalism History

Rabotnitsa: The Paradoxical Success of a Soviet Women's Magazine

Article excerpt

Rabotnitsa, the oldest Russian magazine for women, has a long history. It started in 1914 before the October Revolution and not only survived rigid Communist Party censorship but became the most popular publication in the Soviet Union. This article looks at the strengths and the strategies that made this long and successful history possible, paying attention to the various topics that were written about in the magazine as well as the types of photographs that appeared and the changes that occurred over time. It concludes that women readers not only wanted to compare their lives with those of other women, but they sought standards and social ideals that they could emulate while adhering to party requirements. In Rabotnitsa, Soviet women found a friend, an adviser, a consultant, and an entertainer.

In the early 1990s, Soviet feminist Nadezhda Azhgikhina wrote that Rabotnitsa (Woman Worker, a magazine for women) was second-rate journalism and poor literature with bad production qualities, all of which were typical of the Russian press.1 Thus, Rabotnitsa was similar to almost any other pre-perestroika Soviet publication with its unremarkable journalism and substandard qualities.2 Yet, it became the most popular Soviet magazine, at one point reaching a circulation of several million.

What complicates the paradoxical place of Rabotnitsa is the history of the magazine. It began in 1914 as a women's supplement to Pravda, and it still is published. In the Soviet Union, it enjoyed popularity and large readership. However, in post-Soviet times it lost its luster, becoming an ordinary women's magazine. During the Soviet period, Rabotnitsawas oriented toward proletarian women; it was politically and socially active, and it was supported by thousands of women who not only read it but also routinely participated in its creation. What strengths of the magazine made such a long history possible? How has the publication survived drastic and rigid party censorship and still remained the most popular women's magazine in the Soviet Union? This article looks at the first fifty years of the history of Rabotnifsa, 1914-1964, arguably the most dramatic and challenging years of its existence. In the Soviet Union, there were strong ties between the press and the politics. The charismatic and controversial personalities of V.I. Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Nikita Khrushchev-the first leaders of the country-defined the existence of the state in general and the press in particular. After their reign, the Soviet Union descended into stagnation.

The method for this study was an examination of Rabotnitsa as well as critical textual readings of the magazine drawing upon the studies of Ros Ballaster, Margaret Beetham, Elizabeth Frazer, and Sandra Hebron.3These authors of the Women's Worlds:Ideology, Femininity and the Woman's Magazine suggested that the close historical reading of women's magazines helps to understand the placement and significance of discourses about womanhood and femininity.'' The objective of the study was to document the development of Rabotnitsa, to analyze and evaluate its ideology and content within different historical and political realities, and to situate it within the institution of the Soviet press.

The following analysis is based upon a close reading of about 25 percent of the magazine during each year it was published. Because it was published unevenly (in 1914 there were seven issues and in 1931 there were sixty), it is easier to approximate a percentage of the issues read rather than to report a number which varied from year to year. The close reading was contextualized within the larger historical, economic, political, and social developments of the time. Thus, the paper conceptualizes Rabotmisa by placing it within the larger contexts such as of the Soviet press and the history of the country. Then, it documents major developments in the history, content, and social role of the magazine. Lastly, the paper discusses the expectations of women and the reception of Rabonitsa by its readers. …

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