Gender discourses in Estonian in the Soviet period

Eve Annuk

The Soviet period in Estonia has a contradictory meaning from the perspective of gender. Although gender equality was an inseparable part of the Soviet worldview, it was not realized in reality. Despite the fact that women were granted rights equal to those of men Soviet society was characterized by gendered stratification and the patriarchal view of gender remained vigorous under the public rhetoric of gender quality. Gendered division of labour was also maintained as women often worked in positions that have traditionally been viewed as feminine. The traditional gender role division was also maintained in the private sphere where women were responsible for domestic labour. The official Soviet image of the working woman above all showed women to be (cheap) labour power, the most expressive example of which is the representation of the woman tractor driver. However, Estonian experience of the Soviet period is also somewhat different from that of the rest of the former Soviet Union because, in addition to the experience of national sovereignty, Estonia was the most “Western” of the Soviet republics in an economic, geographical (closeness to Finland) and ideological sense. This also influenced the understanding of gender which combined Soviet gender equality rhetoric, ideology of Estonian-ness, certain Western influences, puritanism in relation to sexuality and the biological aspects of womanhood, etc. The central site where the gender question was discussed was the only women’s magazine of the time, “Nõukogude Naine” (‘Soviet Woman’) that echoed the position of the Communist Party on the question of gender. Gender was represented in a more diverse fashion in literary texts, especially in the so-called domestic fiction. Opinions on gender were also importantly shaped by popularizing medical texts with their puritan vision of the female body. The article analyses gender discourses in the public sphere of the Soviet period on the example of print media, literature and popularizing medical texts.