Soviet Women in Combat: A History of Violence on the Eastern Front

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Overview

Soviet Women in Combat explores the unprecedented historical phenomenon of Soviet young women’s en masse volunteering for World War II combat in 1941 and writes it into the twentieth-century history of women, war, and violence. The book narrates a story about a cohort of Soviet young women who came to think about themselves as “women soldiers” in Stalinist Russia in the 1930s and who shared modern combat, its machines, and commanding positions with men on the Eastern front between 1941 and 1945. The author asks how a largely patriarchal society with traditional gender values such as Stalinist Russia in the 1930s managed to merge notions of violence and womanhood into a first conceivable and then realizable agenda for the cohort of young female volunteers and for its armed forces. Pursuing the question, Krylova’s approach and research reveals a more complex conception of gender identities.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In this brilliant book, Anna Krylova rediscovers a cohort of heroic Soviet Nazi fighting women, reconstructs the documentable yet obscure Stalinist policy that shaped and fulfilled the female fighters’ desires to become mechanized warriors, and establishes the role Stalinist culture – what she terms the ‘ambiguous cultural and institutional terrain of Stalinism’ – played in creating an internally contradictory Communist modern, statist gendered order. This allows her to show the world through Stalinism, rather than Stalinism in the world. Working with the paradoxes and double binds of Stalinist feminism, the book also displaces tired debates on essentialism, representation, mediation, and the biologism of man and woman. Finally, it proposes that one cannot do ‘gender history’ in the abstract. Only heavily evidenced case studies fulfill the promise of gender histories that are utterly generalizable. When Krylova rethreads these historiographic concerns through the needle of backward Russia, she opens this book to a nonspecialist reader like me and points in the direction of a truly global history of the longest revolution.” – Tani Barlow, Rice University

“Soviet women played an extraordinary role in World War II. Their counterparts in other countries served as military auxiliaries; in the USSR many women fought in the front lines of the ground war or took a direct part in the air fighting, and many of them were killed in action. Anna Krylova’s book is the first to systematically study this, and her scope extends to the prewar social and gender context and to the postwar telling of the story. Soviet Women in Combat makes an important contribution to the social history of the war and is also a milestone in the gender history of Stalinist and post-Stalinist Russia.” – Evan Mawdsley, University of Glasgow

“Anna Krylova has already established herself as one of the most important voices among a new generation of Soviet historians. Now her Soviet Women in Combat offers a pathbreaking interpretation of perhaps the formative era in modern Russian/Soviet history – the Second World War. Krylova is not the first scholar to note that women fought with the Red Army, but she asks new questions about them, combining military, cultural, and gender history in novel and even unsettling ways. The book focuses on the experiences of (and stories about) roughly 120,000 Soviet women combatants – snipers and pilots, anti-tank fighters, and others – to show how, amid this crucible of combat, they created a range of possibilities for thinking differently about gender, about personal identities and social roles, and about the place of violence in a modern and mechanized world.” – Douglas Northrop, University of Michigan

“In this extraordinary study of Soviet women in combat, Anna Krylova has with great sensitivity taken a myriad of varied sources (letters, diaries, fiction, films) to produce striking insights into the discourse of gender, war, and women. Here we learn about the conflicting and contradictory meanings given to men and women in the greatest military confrontation in history. Krylova rejects the view that there is a consistent or single Soviet discourse on women, and she begins by exploring two important ways of envisioning women in the 1930s: the conventional or traditional view of women as mothers and daughters, physiologically determined to be gentle, nurturing, and motherly, and the ‘feminist’ view of early Soviet times, which persists into the later periods – that of a woman who is able to choose her life path and become a professional outside the home. These contrasting views are carried into the war and beyond and give women the ability to shape their own understandings of themselves as both women and soldiers without becoming masculine and losing their womanliness. This book is pathbreaking – rich and textured in its depiction of the various incidents and episodes of women’s experiences and male-female contacts. Krylova gives us women as warriors who are still women.” – Ronald Grigor Suny, University of Michigan

“The combat performances of Soviet women during the war were so extraordinary that they actually have posed problems for historians. The literature so far has done little more than enthusiastically champion their courage. Krylova’s achievement is to approach these women’s military careers from the perspective of highly sophisticated questions concerning identity, gender, and change. Rather than accepting uncritically the ‘exceptional’ nature of the Soviet women combatants, she asks how Stalinist Russia, with its traditional gender values and largely patriarchal society, could have produced such women. How exactly did they begin to think of themselves as warriors? How did the woman soldier become a culturally recognizable Russian – that is, neither an anomaly nor a scandal? Krylova answers these questions by using an impressive breadth of sources, many of them newly available. Despite the theoretical sophistication of Soviet Women in Combat, she is a masterful storyteller who has not lost touch with the magic of her subject. The reader walks away with not only a more subtle understanding of gender transformation but also a vivid sense of these women’s courage and sense of adventure.” – Mary Louise Roberts, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"...Anna Krylova has certainly posed provocative, important, questions about gender, the state, Stalinist or othewise, and modern warfare, which will undoubtedly resonate with comtemporary discussions about women and war." -Roger D. Markwick, The Russian Review

"...an engaging book that will appeal to students and scholars interested in the Soviet Union's war effort, as well those interested in the gender history of the Stalin period." -Steven Maddox, Canadian Journal of History

"...essential reading for historians of gender, the Soviet Union, and modern warfare." -Rebecca Manly, The Journal of Modern History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521197342
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 3/31/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Anna Krylova is Hunt Assistant Professor of Modern Russian History at Duke University. Her research focuses on twentieth-century Russian gender and cultural history, World War II and mechanization of warfare, and problematics of historical interpretation. She has published articles and critical historiographical essays in the Journal of Modern History, Slavic Review, and Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. Professor Krylova has been a Fellow at Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University, and visiting scholar at Tuebingen University (Germany).

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Table of Contents

Introduction: the woman veteran as a World War II memoirist; Part I. Before the Front, 1930s: 1.A portrait of a young woman as the citizen soldier: the 'prewar generation' in popular culture, in school, and at the shooting range; Part II. On the Way to the Front, 1941–1945: 2. 'And this is exactly who we are - soldiers!': women volunteers, local authorities, and the Stalinist government in 1941; 3. The exceptional mobilization of 1941: the making of a female combat collective by state order; 4. New gender landscapes for the army: from grassroots enlistments to the state-run mobilizations of 1942–1945; Part III. At the Front, 1941–1945: 5. Partners in violence: the woman soldier and the machine in the 1941 trenches; 6. 'To be a woman-commander - that was great!': remechanizing and regendering in the Red Army, 1942–1945; 7. Bonded by combat: women and men sharing violence, authority, and romance in mechanized warfare, 1942–1945; Conclusion; Appendix.

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