chapter  4
27 Pages

The Quest for an Enlightened Female Citizen

If young people were considered propitious targets of physical culture propaganda, then so too were women, with the “woman question” frequently debated and the female body a site of considerable contestation. Indeed, once the Bolsheviks were in power legislation was introduced which directly touched upon the female body and women. Easy divorce and abortion were legalized, with the 1918 Family Code setting the marriage age at sixteen for women and eighteen for men.1 The radical changes did not have a positive outcome however. The disarray unleashed by the 1918 code was clearly illustrated when one considers that by the mid-1920s the Soviet Union could claim to have had the highest divorce rate in the world. Adding to the social disorder was that during these years abortion was one of the primary means of contraception.2 The upshot of this was that by the mid to late 1920s there was serious concern about the eff ects of multiple abortions on women’s health, and in particular surrounding those abortions carried out by unqualifi ed peasant women. This problem was so grave that the “Besedy Vracha” or “Doctor’s Talk” section of Krest’yanka regularly featured articles urging women to consult a doctor when pregnant so as to avoid unnecessary or mal-practiced abortions, miscarriages, home births, or possible complications following childbirth.3 As a reaction to social conditions, propaganda directed at women was most often educational and dealt with health issues. In her study on women, Mary Buckley contends that basic hygiene was “more important than political enlightenment”.4 Physical culture propaganda supported this viewpoint, with full political enlightenment unattainable without fi rst refashioning oneself into a more roundly developed and cultured citizen. Physical culture was seen as an aid to modernizing and educating women, explaining basic sanitary and hygiene issues and ensuring that they were physically capable of taking on the new role which the revolution had assigned to them.