Dehexing Sex

Russian Womanhood During and After Glasnost
Helena Goscilo
A look at women's changing roles and images in the emerging new Russian society


Glasnost and the collapse of the Soviet Union revolutionized Russian society. What effects, however, did they have on the status, role, and image of women in Russian culture? Examining the past turbulent decade of transition to "democracy" and a market economy, Dehexing Sex traces the ways in which Russia's concept of womanhood both changed and remained the same, taking into account dominant ideologies and social philosophies, sociopolitical organizations, women's writings, literary criticism, film, and popular cultural forms such as pornography.

The lively, engaging chapters of this book examine texts by contemporary women writers in the context of the political, social, economic, biological, psychological, and aesthetic transformations that helped define them. Goscilo reveals that the Russian cultural revolution has reshaped the female image in varied and often contradictory ways. While increased interaction with the West fostered gender awareness, it also introduced imported Western sexist practices—especially the exploitation of female bodies—formerly proscribed by a puritanical censorship. Popular magazines, newspapers, and television propagated the image of woman as mother, ornament, and sexual object, even as women's fiction conceived of womanhood in complex psychological terms that undermined the gender stereotypes which had ruled Soviet thinking for more than 70 years.

With the aid of feminist and cultural theory, Dehexing Sex investigates the overt and internalized misogyny that combined with the genuinely liberalizing forces unleashed by Gorbachev's policy of glasnost and perestroika. It exposes Russia's repressive romance with womanhood as a metaphor for nationhood and explores Russian women's ironic recasting of national mythologies.

Helena Goscilo is Associate Professor and Chair of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Pittsburgh.

Praise / Awards

  • "Impressive . . . an important contribution to Russian studies and to women's studies. The author is an outstanding scholar, an energetic and original thinker, and her writing sparkles with imagination and wit."
    —Stephanie Sandler, Amherst College
  • "In this fascinating and lively volume, Helena Goscilo manages to tiptoe through [a] potential critical minefield with all the grace one would expect from the editor of the Balancing Acts anthology. . . . For the uninitiated, Dehexing Sex is a lucid and engaging introduction to Russian women's prose and to the problem of gender in contemporary Russian culture. . . . Dehexing Sex is a fine contribution to both women's studies and Russian literary scholarship."
    Canadian Slavonic Papers
  • "[Goscilo's] interesting and often important insights into Russian culture and women bear reiteration and inform a welcome volume for women's studies."
  • ". . . an admirable contribution to, and extension of, the still relatively underexplored field of Slavic gender studies."
    Russian Review
  • "Goscilo is a witty and vibrant writer, who entertains as well as instructs her reader. She is a pleasure to read. . . . I would recommend this book to anyone interested in post-Soviet culture and in Russian women's and gender studies."
    Slavic Review
  • "Deeply informed by literary theory, feminist writings and cultural studies theory, this book is indispensable to any reader interested in Russian gender politics and women's culture since the late 1980s."
    Slavonic Review
  • ". . . an energetic and thought-provoking critique of Russian attitudes to sexuality and the body that can be recommended to anyone interested in the idiosyncrasies of Soviet and post-Soviet culture."
    Times Literary Supplement
  • "The stereotypical models of the active heroic male and the passive madonna/whore are [Goscilo's] main targets throughout the Dehexing Sex, as she fearlessly takes on the sacred cows (or 'saintly steers') of Russian culture."
    Women's Review of Books

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 192pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1996
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-09614-5

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  • $73.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 1996
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06614-8

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  • $23.95 U.S.