Abstract

This essay examines three different stereotypes of Soviet women in a variety of American publications during the early years of the Cold War. Each stereotype served a different cultural need as Americans grappled with the reality of the emerging Cold War. One prevalent discourse argued that the ills of communism were inscribed on the bodies of Soviet women, bodies inevitably described as graceless, shapeless, and sexless. The body, and the fashions and make-up that adorned it, became symbols of communism's failures and confirmed the superiority of the American free enterprise system. A second discourse centered on a real flesh-and-blood Soviet woman, Nina Khrushchev, and suggests the malleability and instability of American images of Soviet Women. American commentators transformed this ardent revolutionary into a kind of world grandmother. Beginning in the late 1950s, however, commentators constructed yet a third vision of Communist women that focused on their professional achievements and functioned as a call to expand opportunities for American women. This discourse reflected America's own ambivalence toward working women and a change in the Cold War discourse itself. Early smugness, derision, and condemnation gave way to a grudging respect for the real achievements of Soviet society—symbolized in the space flight of Valentina Tereshkova—and a call to Americans, men and women alike, to steel themselves for a long struggle with their chief rival.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 881-907
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-25
Open Access
No
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