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Sunday, November 6, 2011

The GI Jane of Soviet History (Unit III)

The Soviets do not seem to have many issues regarding gender equality in their history, as compared to the United States of America who promotes freedom and equality for all. The Soviets sent up the first female astronaut into outer space in the early 1960's (Valentina Tereshkova) and a couple decades before that, promoted their women in combat.

Among over a thousand red army women snipers during WWII, one that stands out is Lyudmila Mikhailivna Pavlichenko from Ukraine. It has been estimated that she killed 309 Germans during the Great War. Pavlichenko, as a sniper, served in general combat as part of the 25th infantry division. Her background consists of studies in History at Kiev University, and as a grinder. When she decided to join up for the war effort:

"The recruitment officer eyed her in amazement. She looked like a model, with well-manicured nails, fashionable clothes and hairstyle..." The same recruitment officer told Pavlichenko that she would be a better fit in the nursing field. (Yeah... I don't think so)

After the soldier was wounded in combat, she was not put back on active duty but instead became an "ambassador for the war effort," and a world-wide celebrity. This included visits to the states and Pavlichenko became the first soviet citizen to be received by President Roosevelt at the White house.

In one of Pavlichenko's speeches in America (1942) she said that, "Soviet women have complete self-respect, because their dignity as human beings is fully recognized. Whatever we do, we are honored not just as women, but as individual personalities, as human beings. That is a very big word. Because we can be fully that, we feel no limitations because of our sex. That is why women have so naturally taken their places beside men in this war."

Women in the United States are restricted from being snipers because it is part of the ASI (Additional Skill Identifier) which is considered ground combat, and anything that is ground combat means that women are prohibited. Women and ground combat is seen as against Christianity and God. In Christianity woman are placed as nurturers and bearers of life, whereas men are the takers of life. This notion supports patriarchal ruled society and that women are seen as objects. In America- A Call to Greatness, Chalfant compares women being in combat as equally sinful to breaking sodomy laws (which included homosexuality at the time the book was originally written- 1996) Protestantism still holds influence and is rooted deeply in the identity of this nation.

With the idea of protestantism and patriarchy, the U.S. Military and U.S. Nation are too caught up on "masculine ideologies of strength and belligerence," as noted by Barry Adam in The Defense of Marriage Act and American Exceptionalism. The military thinks that by having women in combat, it will depict the institution as feminine and weak. One of the same major reasons for which the military has discriminated against homosexual soldiers for so long. But despite the exclusion policy against women, in today's modern warfare women are "serving in real combat everyday and are vulnerable to being injured, killed, or captured." (McSally) In a New York Times article, Women at Arms: GI Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier, Specialist Veronica Alfaro fought in Afghanistan as a ground combat solider, without the title (of course). Alfaro gunned, drove, ran as a truck commander, and was a medic. The United States is being hypocritical and arrogant when it comes to gender-equal laws in combat.
Arguments that the military uses for why women should not be in combat are due to generalizations made instead of on an individual basis:

1) Women lack physical strength to be effective in ground combat
Physiology may place emphasis on men being naturally stronger than women, but there are many women that have the physical strength and capability for ground combat, AND many men that do not. It should also be noted that the army does not submit male recruits to physical strength examinations before assigning them to positions in ground combat. It is later tested if he will be able to perform his job properly based on his completion of training. I agree that with most women I know, they would not be physically
qualified for ground combat, but they probably aren't looking towards the military anyway. But there are plenty that could hold their own and be a challenge to an opponent. Combat position should be based on the individual, not based on generalization of sex.

2) Women's presence will decrease unit cohesions and therefore overall effectiveness

This means that a team with a woman would not be able to unite and bond properly, than they would otherwise without the woman. This whole concept supports that men cannot focus with a woman around. The blame gets placed on women, instead of dealing with male soldiers being the ones with the real issue. Veteran/Author, Martha McSally says that, "military cohesion is based on people's uniting for a common mission or purpose, and not based on the group consisting of a common race, creed or gender." Not being able to unite with your team and get the job done, is a personal issue. Not a "blame-it on-the-woman" issue.

3) Women JUST DON'T BELONG in combat
The proper role for a woman was to stay at home and be with the family (but that was also over six decades ago). The idea that women should not serve in combat, because it is a fundamental principle, is a load of bull. It is a woman's choice as to whether she wants to serve in combat, or does not want to serve.

Back to WWII and the Soviets, based on her efforts Pavlichenko became a Poster-Child for the period because of her heroism based on military skills. This conflicts with the ideology of the American "Damsel in Distress" that is depicted in Deploying Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality in the Iraq War. In the article, Private Jessica Lynch became the American Poster-Child for the war effort because she was a "hero of circumstance" and was promoted as an innocent victim held captive, that was rescued by strong male U.S. soldiers. This not only helps support that women have a passive role in the war, but also gives an example to the media and public of why women should not be in ground combat.

Pavlichenko held an active role in her war. And was seen as a hero. Most modern U.S. military women hold active roles as well, but do not receive the recognition and credit that they deserve. The nation needs to stop giving out reasons why women cannot be in ground combat, when in modern warfare women are being placed in the positions to act and serve in ground combat roles anyway.


Adam, Barry. The Defense of Marriage Act and American Exceptionalism: The "Gay Marriage" Panic in the United States.
Chalfant, John. America- A Call to Greatness. USA: Xulon Press, 2003 (139-141)
Feitz, L. & Nagel, J. Deploying Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality in the Iraq War.

Darian Royse


  1. When I first read your introduction, it reminded me of one of our readings where it was said that when asked about sexism in the USSR, a Soviet Union representative confirmed, "There is no such thing as 'sexism' because that word does not exist in the Russian alphabet." Anyway, looking into it, you are correct about the equality that was shown to women while the Soviets were in power--at least in the case of the military and combat. However, although the Soviets were more likely to promote equality for the sexes in their military, compared to that of the US military, (this may be quite a statement to come out and say), but who's military is still live a kicking? While I do consider myself a feminist and I'm not saying that the USSR failed because they incorporated women in their military, it still remains relevant that the USSR collapsed catastrophically and that part of Europe is still trying to recover. That being said, I loved your incorporation about the story of the Ukrainian sniper. I do believe she could be an incredible role model for women in the military and I think by including her in your argument, you made it that much stronger. I enjoyed this article very much because it took on such a historical and incredibly controversial topic. Wonderful job!

  2. This was a very interesting article to read and I really enjoyed it. I definitely love the quote from Pavlichenko when she said "Soviet women have complete self-respect, because their dignity as human beings is fully recognized. Whatever we do, we are honored not just as women, but as individual personalities, as human beings. That is a very big word. Because we can be fully that, we feel no limitations because of our sex. That is why women have so naturally taken their places beside men in this war." I really think that for the US being this almighty nation we would be a little more advanced to recognize that women and men are equal and should be treated "individuals, as human beings". I really found this empowering in the sense that women can be and are just as strong and can bear the same situations as men. When I was reading one of the excuses about how if a women is on the team that the men would not be able to focus and the team could not bond effectively.. I just laughed to myself and thought that this is the dumbest excuse I've ever heard... it's like saying that .. we can't bond as a team because someone is christian and we are all catholic.. it's just ridiculous. If you are on a team you are there to accomplish the same mission despite you race, religion, and gender. Overall, great article and you made great connections to the readings :)

  3. Alexis,
    Yes the Soviet Union did collapse and are still recovering, but from my understanding of this, isn't it because of the economic downfall of the nation that then led to lack of funds for the military? I remember reading on some blog about this topic that a veteran commented on the fact that men feel that they need to protect women soldiers, and then get shot. And that could be a case of why it may have failed. But in my opinion, I just think its another excuse.

    Going with what you said about the United States, that it is an almighty nation and and should be more advanced... I agree. Some people play America up so high, and I do not think it deserves it. It doesn't live up to what it promotes: equality and freedom for all.

  4. I feel you have preformed a good job of pointing out some major issues with the view of America and our military. Sadly the United States is much farther behind then military's of other countries that are already allowing women to be in combat positions. I think from what I've read here and gathered generally the military while being very progressive still holds onto many of societies values in the past. Values like women being at home and not on the field. We still see that when an emergency occurs women and children are the first to be saved and that thought process would be why women in military is difficult to accept at first.

  5. I really liked your post! I was not aware that the USSR had women in combat that early on. It made me realize that as a country we aren't as progressive as one might think. In fact we have a long way to go. As your article pointed out women aren't really given a fair chance to prove themselves. I also feel that not all women would be suited for the job, but that there are women out there that are more than capable. I think that society needs to get over their ideas of women being weak and give them a fair chance to prove themselves. People like to think that women have achieved equality, which to some extent we really have, but we have a long ways to go to be accepted as equal. Overall I really liked your post and thought you made a lot of interesting points.

  6. To be honest, I had no idea that women in the Soviet Union had the option to fight in the war and most importantly were respected for their efforts. Here in the US, women are still so suppressed and gender is still so unequal that many women don't even consider the possibility of joining the army and aiding in war efforts simply because here it's considered a "man's job". This goes with what you were arguing about the fact that America was founded on Christianity. Even though the constitution calls for a separation between church and state, it's obvious that religion is still a dominating and suppressive factor that acts against women's rights. It's sad to admit, but very true. What do you think the soviets did differently from us? How did their women achieve true equality (we know this because men trusted the women with their lives in the war simply because women fought alongside the men) but we in the land of the free cannot afford such rights?

  7. Kenzie-
    I think that it is due to different foundation that has been laid in Russian history. It could be due to the strength of the people, as they have lived in a society filled with terror and that one had to agree with the ideals of the country or otherwise face death. So, in my opinion their women may just be mentally stronger than women of America, and the policies of the USSR are not based on Christianity, but atheism.