Anna Shadrina

“Babushkas and Ageism in Russia”, public talk by Anna Shadrina, Birkbeck, University of London at Christina Research Seminar, Helsinki University

We are warmly welcoming everyone to the Christina Research Seminar to the presentation by Anna Shadrina on the topic “The Babushka as a Metaphor of Women’s Old Age in Russia and a Means to Resist Ageism”.

The seminar will take place on Tuesday 8th of October at 16-18 at Lecture Hall C120, Unioninkatu 38 (Topelia).

Anna Shadrina is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck, University of London (UK). She is a sociologist with an interdisciplinary background in research on gender, sexuality, and social inequalities. Her PhD (2019) entitled ‘Babushkas: Subjugated Matriarchs. Former Soviet Women Pensioners Ageing in Russia and the UK’ explores the huge subjective and social adjustments, and the mounting stresses for older women, following the shift from the Soviet economy and welfare structures to the changes necessary to survive in neoliberal times. In her first book (published in Russian), ‘Single Women: Sex, Love and Family beyond Marriage’ (2014), by reading the history of Soviet and post-Soviet marriage through queer theory, Anna discusses the fragility and limitations of the heteronormative gender project. Her second book (also published in Russian), ‘Dear Children: the Decline in Fertility and the Increase of the ‘Price’ of Motherhood (2017), illuminates how the state in Russia establishes and re-establishes itself through the constitution of gender ideology and specifically through the role assigned to women.

Abstract

In Russia and many other former Soviet republics, older women are commonly recognised as, and called, ‘babushkas.’ Although the word ‘babushka’ in Russian means ‘grandmother,’ in public imagination the concept of the ‘babushka’ goes beyond this family role. In a broader sense, the word babushka signifies a social position offered to women of pensionable age by a society based on practices related to family care. This reflects the expectation that, once they have passed their reproductive period, women will end their professional careers to extensively assist their adult daughters with childcare and housework. 

At the centre of my most recent project are power dynamics between women of pensionable age and the institutions of the state, family and market. In my talk, I will discuss former Soviet women’s lived-experiences of ageing in a period of social crisis and intensified structural inequalities in two different social contexts – in the new Russia and in the UK. I will demonstrate that the babushka as an epitome of the predestined downward social mobility for women, guides their life trajectories from birth to death.

My study finds that Russian demographic trends, social policies, and a distinct family structure shaped a social position of the babushka, a post-professional, post-sexual subject in need of protection. My findings suggest that one way or another, in their identity work, older Russian women model themselves in relation to the symbolic figure of the babushka. The babushka is analysed as a ‘travelling’ social position, a means of rationalising age discrimination, and a source of individuals’ agency.