A Woman’s Work is Never Done: Female Life and Labor across the Imperial, Soviet and Post-Soviet Eras

July 10-11, 2021

Co-moderators: Colleen Lucey (University of Arizona) and Alexis Peri (Boston University)

Workshop Program

The politics surrounding women’s labor in the Russian and Soviet space have long fascinated scholars. Historically, women’s activism for professional, political, and educational equality in the region has been strikingly checkered and, in some ways, more extreme in terms of setbacks and successes, than in the west. Compared to their counterparts in Europe, women in the Russian empire were among the first to have the right to vote, to serve in the armed forces, and achieve other benchmarks of citizenship. However, the empire was thoroughly patriarchal at the familial, regional, and imperial levels. The Soviets challenged these inequalities and offered women greater professional and educational opportunities than nearly anywhere in the world. Such achievements, however, make the pervasive discrimination Soviet women faced on the job all-the-more jarring. In the 1990s, during the “shock therapy” of privatization, women in the region yet again mobilized their entrepreneurial skills by hustling between multiple jobs and organizing informal barter and cooperative networks. In contemporary Russia, where women make up the bulk of the workforce, the Kremlin has recognized that women’s labor—especially migrant work—is an economic necessity. Regardless of the historical period or the profession, women workers have continually had to navigate expectations that they remain traditionally feminine and domestic.

How has women’s labor been mobilized politically, culturally, economically in past and present contexts? To what degree has women’s work—both in the domestic and public sphere—been liberating and in what ways exploitative? Given the particularities of women’s labor in the Soviet and post-Soviet eras, how can scholars conceptualize female work beyond western models of the double burden or the doctrine of domestic spheres?

Participants will have the opportunity to present their research, network with fellow scholars, and brainstorm ways of conceptualizing women’s labor—broadly conceptualized—from the tsarist period to today.

This workshop is a part of this year’s Summer Research Laboratory (SRL) in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Hosted by the Russian East European, and Eurasian Center (REEEC) and the Slavic Reference Service (SRS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and co-sponsored by Women and Gender in Global Perspectives Program. For questions about the Summer Research Laboratory, funding, and information on other workshops, please see the main SRL page located here: summer research laboratory.