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The Toiling Froy and the Speculating Yidene: Discourses of Female Productivization in the Soviet Shtetl

Abstract

Despite the fact that Jewish women statistically outnumbered men in the former market towns of the Soviet Union, the discourse of the “new Jew” in the 1920s and 1930s focused overwhelmingly on the Jewish male and was debated primarily by men. This article explores what the restructuring of the economic base of the shtetl meant for Jewish women during the New Economic Policy and the transition to the Stalin Revolution when party activists and theorists grappled with the “shtetl problem” and the question of Jewish productivization. Utilizing socioeconomic studies, political reports, and ethnographic sketches, it raises questions about the perspectives of the (largely male) observers who documented Jewish women in the former market towns. How did these accounts portray the “female economy” of the shtetl, the role of Jewish women as either facilitators or disruptors of Soviet modernization, and the relative value of women’s productive and reproductive labor at a time of profound social disruption?

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Correspondence to Deborah Yalen.

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Yalen, D. The Toiling Froy and the Speculating Yidene: Discourses of Female Productivization in the Soviet Shtetl. JEW HIST 33, 187–214 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10835-019-09349-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10835-019-09349-9

Keywords

  • Demography
  • Female labor
  • Five-Year plan
  • Former market town
  • Productivization
  • Shtetl