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The Bolsheviks had denounced women's roles in the Soviet Union as fundamentally exploitative and representative of bourgeois capitalism. Accordingly, they announced immediate and total equality for all women in 1917. In the 1920s, both divorce and abortion, which had been illegal under tsarist rule, were legalized, and serious, if idealistic efforts were made to fundamentally reshape the essentially patriarchal nature of gender relations in Russian society, including the family. As Leon Trotsky put it in 1936:
The revolution made a heroic effort to destroy the so-called "family hearth"—that archaic, stuffy and stagnant institution in which the woman of the toiling classes performs galley labour from childhood to death.
In order to bring this about, many Bolsheviks advocated the establishment of childcare institutions, "maternity houses," and above all education for women. Many millions of women were educated during the early years of the Soviet Union, and according to one estimate, "75 percent of all doctors in the Soviet Union were women." Bolsheviks also advocated equal pay for equal work for women, who were also encouraged to participate politically in the new state.
Education for women would remain a part of Soviet society, and women played major roles in fighting in World War II. But under Stalin, many of the rights won by women were circumscribed. In reality women still occupied subservient roles in many conservative Russian homes. Stalin formalized these traditional roles, outlawing abortion and even adultery, and making divorce much more difficult to obtain. Under Stalin, women had very limited access to many of the jobs created by industrialization, and in the countryside, traditional patriarchal relations in the home persisted.
Sources: McKay, Hill, Buckler, A History of Western Society, 7th ed. (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2003), 963.
Patrizia Albanese, Mothers of the Nation: Women, Families, and Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Europe (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 71-72.
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