During the late Soviet period, many educators, scientists and journalists believed that traditional gender roles and norms had changed, producing physically or ethically weak men and correspondingly strong women. The following study follows the representations of this shift among Soviet nonconformist poets, writers and playwrights in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Social scientists have argued that these perceived changes were explained in their time as the result of demographic imbalance of men to women or the deterioration of men's bodies due to problems such as alcoholism. In contrast, this study shows that in nonconformist literature, the late Soviet gender crisis was a reaction to the Stalinist unitary model of the "steeled" man, as expressed in culture and art. Authors articulated alternative models of masculinity as part of a larger critique of Soviet, primarily Stalinist, civilization.
This dissertation analyzes the prose works of Venedikt Erofeev and Yuz Aleshkovsky, the poetry of Genrikh Sapgir and Nina Iskrenko, and the prose and plays of Lyudmila Petrushevskaya. How did these authors construct male weakness and female strength - physically, mentally, spiritually, or as a mixture of all three aspects? Did they decry these changes or did they valorize them as alternatives to the Stalinist legacy of "steeled" men? Did the authors place the responsibility for the perceived emasculation of the Soviet man on the state or on the man himself?
As this study demonstrates, nonconformist authors emphasize detachment from the Stalinist "steeled man" and Soviet national identity. However, they do not valorize this detachment. They do not call the reader to "turn off," but search imaginatively for alternative masculinities. They turn to the cultural past as a source for models of manhood.
Furthermore, the authors problematize disengagement from society. A highly ambivalent alternative model for masculinity is the antithesis of the Soviet "steeled man": the feeble, irresponsible, often alcoholic weakling. While writers such as Erofeev elicit compassion for this archetype, already in Sapgir's early work, it provokes a mixture of ridicule and horror. Petrushevskaya and Iskrenko capitalize on this tendency, unleashing irony and parody at the archetype.