Remaining a Ukrainian Woman: Normative Femininity as "Armor" in the Gulag


Please join CEERES on Wednesday, April 6 at 12 noon (CST) for Remaining a Ukrainian Woman:  Normative Femininity as "Armor" in the Gulag

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About the Event

In the 1940-50s, tens of thousands of Ukrainian women were sentenced to long-term imprisonment in the Gulag for political accusations. Until recently their experiences of living in the most brutal conditions of the Soviet camps have not been a subject of special research. This lecture examines personal memoirs of the Ukrainian female survivors of Gulag to reveal women’s gendered behaviors and daily practices aimed at preserving their endangered gender identities in confinement. Some traditional women’s activities (housekeeping, singing, embroidering, religious practices, body care, etc.) which constituted core elements of the traditional notion of normative femininity have been widely (albeit secretly) practiced in camps and prisons despite prohibitions, punishment and lack of resources. Those are considered gendered forms of non-violent counteraction to the dehumanizing camp regime.

About the Presenter 

Oksana Kis is a feminist historian and anthropologist and head of the Department of Social Anthropology and a Leading Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (in Lviv). She authored two books: Zhinka v tradytsiinii ukrainskii kilturi druhoi polovyny 19 – pochatku 20 stolittia (Lviv, 2008; 2n ed. in 2012) and Ukrainky v GULAGu: vyzhyty znachyt peremohty (Lviv, 2017; 2nd revised ed. 2020), the latter was recently included into the list of the 30 most significant books of the Ukrainian Independence by the Ukrainian Book Institute. Its English version Survival as Victory: Ukrainian Women in the Gulag (Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies) was awarded the Translated Book Prize from Peterson Literary Fund in December 2021. She also edited and co-edited several volumes including the award-winning book Ukrainski zhinky u hornyli modernizatsii (Kharkiv, 2017).

Since 2010 she has served as a President of the Ukrainian Association for Research in Women's History. She is also a co-founder and a vice-president of the Ukrainian Oral History Association. In 2014-2020 Oksana Kis was an Editor-in-Chief of the academic website Ukraina Moderna, and she is an editor of Aspasia: The International Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women's and Gender History. In 2018 she was elected to the Scientific Council of the National Research Foundation of Ukraine. Dr. Kis is a recipient of several academic awards, including the Fulbright Scholarship (2003 – Rutgers University; 2011 – Columbia University), Shklar Research Fellowship (2007 - Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University), Petro Jacyk Visiting Professorship (2010 Columbia University), and Stuart Ramsay Tompkins Professorship (2013 University of Alberta), Petro Jacyk Research Fellowship (University of Toronto). She has taught at Columbia University, University of Alberta, Free Ukrainian University, Ukrainian Catholic University, and Ivan Franko National University of Lviv. The areas of her expertise include Ukrainian women’s history, feminist anthropology, oral history, and gender transformations in post-socialist countries. Her current research focuses on everyday lives of the Ukrainian refugees in the displaced persons camps in post-WWII Europe.

About the Moderator

Anne Eakin Moss (University of Chicago, Slavic Dept) will moderate. She is the author of Only Among Women: Philosophies of Community in the Russian Imagination, 1860-1940 (Northwestern, 2020).

This event is sponsored by CEERES and the Comparative Literature Dept.