Thursday, January 24, 2013

women of the USSR: combat soldiers, cosmonauts, and engineers

Because the US has finally allowed women soldiers to officially serve in combat, here are a few links about Soviet women who officially served in combat, starting with Woody Guthrie's song about Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who regularly appears in lists of history's ten greatest snipers. As Woody notes, over 300 Nazis died by her gun.

Lest anyone think sniping was a safe occupation because snipers usually shot from distant hiding places, of 2000 female Soviet snipers in World War II, about 500 survived. Here's a brutal picture of one who did not: Dead russian female sniper.

Then there were the pilots known as the Night Witches: "It was the most highly-decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot having flown over 1,000 missions by the end of the war and twenty-three having been awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title. Thirty of its members died in combat."

That inspired a little reading about the status of women in the USSR. Lenin said, "No nation can be free when half the population is enslaved in the kitchen." And while the USSR was hardly a feminist paradise, its constitution included this, from Article 35:
Women and men have equal rights in the USSR. Exercise of these rights is ensured by according women equal access with men to education and vocational and professional training, equal opportunities in employment, remuneration, and promotion, and in social and political and cultural activity, and by special labor and health protective measures for women, by providing conditions enabling mothers to work.…
Under Stalin and his heirs, that changed for the worse. Soviet women generally had lower-paying jobs for the same reason women in the US do today: either women make different job choices than men, or sexist men keep women down.

Despite the post-WW2 pushback against women, the USSR sent a woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into space in 1963, and in '64, Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to walk in space. It took the US twenty more years to catch up: In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, and in '84, Kathryn D. Sullivan became the first American woman to make a space walk.

Recommended: Women and the Soviet Military is a short article written in 1982 for the US Air Force. It includes observations about women in Soviet society such as:
Fifty percent of the labor force is now female, compared with only 41 percent in the United States.
Soviet Women in the Work Force and Professions by William M. Mandel, written in 1972, points out:
The 775,000 women engineers in the USSR (1969) is almost equal to the total number of engineers in the United States (870,000), of whom only 1% are women."
If you like old pictures of strong women: Old Photos: Women of the USSR - Kansas City With The Russian Accent