Guest Blogger: Kseniia Koroleva, Fulbright Scholar, “Feminist movement and the Soviet Union: Tatyana Mamonova”

Kseniia Koroleva majored in education at Murom University. Prior to arrival to Davidson, she taught English as a foreign language in Russia. She is a Fulbright scholar and has been at Davidson since 2020. She works as a Russian teaching assistant for the Russian Studies Department and is involved in the Humanities program.  

The beginning of perestroika and glasnost’ (movements for political reforms and reconstruction) under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev empowered the Soviet people to express their views and opinions more freely. Subsequently, it resulted in many suppressed social and political issues coming to the surface. The surge of openness in the Soviet Union galvanized new discussions and forums around the political and social challenges of the Soviet government. To educate Davidson college students and the general public about current developments in political, social, and economic aspects of the USSR, the Dean Rusk program sponsored a two-day conference on October 10 and 11, 1989 [1]. 

A clip from the September 20, 1989, Davidsonian

The conference brought together many prominent speakers from different fields. One of them was Tatyana Mamonova. She was the first feminist and advocate for women’s rights in the Soviet Union. Tatyana’s criticism of the governmental system regarding women’s rights was seen as a threat by the Soviet ruling party. It led to Tatyana being interrogated numerous times about her Woman and Russia journal and connections with other feminist authors [2]. Eventually one morning KGB forced her to leave the Soviet Union in 1980[3]. Despite all that, Tatyana continued her feminist work.

Cover of the Woman and Russia journal

The Soviet conference held at Davidson college allowed Tatyana to share in depth about challenges that women in her native country had to face. She stressed how forcing the mothering role on women constrained them and immensely limited their participation in social and political spheres of life [4]. Tatyana’s talk made it possible for those who attended the lecture to see how the portrayal of the Soviet Union as an equal society was fundamentally wrong. 

A clip from the October 19, 1989, Davidsonian

Undoubtedly, there were more career opportunities for women during the Soviet times. However, as a result, women had to take on many more duties combined with their already excessive household and childcare responsibilities and men kept on holding their privileges [5]. Thus, the changes in the current at that time governmental system caused greater exploitation of Soviet women and created new unreasonable expectations of their performance at work and at home.  

Today we can see a rising appreciation of women’s contributions in different professional fields and many more people recognize that mothering duties should not be defined as a women’s obligation and the only possible role for their self-realization. Unfortunately, a lot of women in Russia still feel like they have to conform to the old patriarchal system and work much harder than men in order to be taken seriously in their occupations. 

Cover of Tatyana Mamonova’s book, Women’s Glasnost vs. Naglost; shown with permission of the author.

[1] “Reform or revolution in the Soviet Union today?” Davidsonian [Davidson, NC] 20 September 1989. p.3.

[2] Mamonova, Tatyana, Sarah. Matilsky, Rebecca. Park, and Catherine A. Fitzpatrick. Women and Russia: Feminist Writings from the Soviet Union. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984. p.215-216.

[3] Afkhami, Mahnaz. Women in Exile. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994.p.158.

[4] “Soviet women still fighting for rights”. Davidsonian [Davidson, NC] 19 October 1989. p.3.

[5] Mamonova, Tatyana, Margaret. Maxwell, and Margaret Maxwell. Russian Women’s Studies: Essays on Sexism in Soviet Culture. 1st ed. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1989. p.168.

Guest Blogger: Kseniia Koroleva, Fulbright Scholar, “Life under the Soviet regime: Alexandra Tolstoy”

Kseniia Koroleva majored in education at Murom University. Prior to her arrival at Davidson, she taught English as a foreign language in Russia. She is a Fulbright scholar and has been at Davidson since 2020. She works as a Russian teaching assistant for the Russian Studies Department and is involved in the Humanities program.  

The newly formed Soviet Union was surrounded by many contradictory views and opinions on the global arena. Due to heavy propaganda and censorship, it was next to impossible to find out about the real horrors of Bolshevism. Thus, the guest speakers specifically from the Soviet Union drew a lot of attention here in the US. Their lectures were a rare opportunity to debunk some circulating myths and rumors for those who wanted to learn more about the USSR.

The desire to learn more about the political system of the Soviet Union was also widespread among Davidson students. The lecture committee made it possible to hear from guest speakers what it was like to live under the Soviet government. One of the first speakers to cast light on the reality of the Soviet regime was Alexandra Tolstoy, the youngest daughter and the secretary of Count Leo Tolstoy.

Alexandra Tolstoy and her father, Count Leo Tolstoy

Alexandra’s lecture was held in Chambers auditorium on 22 March 1937 and was free to attend for Davidson students and the local community. The event was also advertised in the Davidsonian issue from 17 March 1937[1] and brought “one of the largest audiences ever to attend a lecture in Chambers auditorium.”[2]

A clip from a 1937 Davidsonian article advertising the upcoming lecture of Alexandra Tolstoy 

Alexandra wasn`t politically involved. Still, before she came to the US, she was watched by the Soviet government and eventually arrested. Alexandra was suspected of association with the anti-communist movement after unknowingly allowing the Tactical center of the Whites (anti-communist forces) to have meetings in her office[3]. After leaving the Soviet Union, Alexandra strongly believed it was her mission to tell the West about the suffering and devastation caused by Bolshevism. In her lectures, Alexandra stated that her father would be opposed to the policies of the new government[4]. She didn`t shy away from speaking the harsh truth about the dreadful conditions and poverty in which regular Soviet people lived. The topic of education was a focal point of her talks. Alexandra used to lead her private school and shared how in her opinion, the quality of education became worse under the Soviets no matter the increased number of schools. She emphasized that the government didn`t care about the quality of education and forced her to graduate everyone without considering students’ abilities and results. The tour through America allowed Alexandra to share more freely her criticism of the Soviet regime, but even being so far away from her homeland, she still wasn`t completely safe and some Soviet officials followed her to the US[5]. 

Even though the tour attracted Alexandra some unwanted attention, and she also faced a fair amount of skepticism[6] due to her background, she still didn`t abandon her mission and made at least some people walk back and rethink how they perceived the Soviet Union.

[1] “Countess to lecture here. Daughter of Leo Tolstoy To Speak on Russian Revolution”. Davidsonian [Davidson, NC] 17 March 1937.- p.1.

[2]“Russian tells of revolution. Countess Tolstoy, Daughter of Author, Talks on Soviet Regime”. Davidsonian [Davidson, NC] 24 March 1937.- p.1.

[3] Tolstoy, Alexandra et al. Out of the Past. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.-p.114.

[4] “Russian tells of revolution. Countess Tolstoy, Daughter of Author, Talks on Soviet Regime,” 1.

[5] Tolstoy, Out of the Past, 352 – 353.

[6] Tolstoy, Out of the Past, 349 – 350.

Guest blogger: Samantha Ewing, C’23 English Major “Attitudes Toward Sexual Assault”

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Samantha Ewing C’23 is an English major and Communication Studies minor. She transferred to Davidson in 2020 after spending her freshman year at the University of Georgia. On campus, she is Vice President of SGA, Co Editor-in-Chief of Libertas Magazine, Treasurer of Student Against Sexual Violence (SASV), and a Senior Staff Writer for The Davidsonian.

As the treasurer of SASV for the 2021-2022 academic year, I have become immersed in the fight against rape culture as it plagues college campuses. I would imagine that sexual assault has been prevalent at Davidson since the institution began admitting women in 1972. Yet, it seems that 1990 was the year students began to reckon with the issue as “Rape Awareness Holds Campus Forum” details the founding of the Rape Concerns Committee. 

Excerpt from “Rape Awareness Holds Campus Forum” by Frances Morton (C’ 1993) in the Davidsonian, April 8, 1991.

Encountering this piece in the Davidsonian was disturbing, as it illuminates the history of victim blaming at Davidson. According to the article, the committee showed a film as a part of a forum to increase rape awareness on campus. However, Frances Morton (C’93) describes the film as a narrative fixating on how women can avoid rape, rather than addressing the actions of perpetrators.

Excerpt from “Rape Awareness Holds Campus Forum” by Frances Morton (C’93) in the Davidsonian, April 8, 1991.

Frances Morton, 1991 Quips and Cranks

Women are advised “not to prop open doors,” to “avoid isolated areas and walking alone,” and to “avoid mixed signals.” Each of these instructions frame rape as a consequence for women failing to prevent it, rather than the fault of the rapist; it seems that the committee was not bringing awareness to the issue of rape, but rather, was conditioning women to learn how to avoid it. I was astounded to find such rhetoric from a female student, especially as she was discussing the actions of an organization purposed to combat sexual assault. Additionally, I was shocked to see the word “co-eds” used to refer to female students. Even 20 years after women began to be admitted, they were demarcated into a separate category from the male students, indicating perpetuated division and exclusion. 

The language in this article provides insight into what it must have been like to be a woman on campus in the 1990s. The burden of protection placed on female students is much clearer, as I can now grasp how the community perceived and addressed rape: purely a women’s issue. I can empathize with the trepidation that must have accompanied women, knowing that if they were assaulted, they were the ones that would be held accountable. Being a female student at Davidson in 1991 entailed being othered not just as a student, but as a human being.