The Soviet Union claimed to leave behind the bourgeois notions of patriarchy and the subjugation of women, declaring the genders equal in all endeavors. My interview with Olga Lipovskaya challenges these assertions and portrays her as a symbol for a more radical form of feminism that never came to fruition in contemporary Russia. Here was a woman, well versed in Western feminist theory, fluent in English, entirely unable to find funding in her own country and finding it harder and harder to get foreigners to help out her small outfit. The interview underscores just how marginalized women’s issues are in contemporary Russia to the point of their absence in the public forum. It appears that this topic has been entirely passed over and the only ones interested in it are a small number of activists and Westerners interested in gender issues and women’s movement in Russia.
My research involves taking interviews in Russian and then transcribing them and then translating them into English. The most difficult part for me is the transcribing. It is hard enough to make complete sense of what someone is saying to me in Russian when I can see their body language and facial expressions. It is that much harder when I have to do it with only the recording. I have done this before on another project with a group of students and it worked pretty well. Now, however, I am working on my own research and the task of transcribing is quite daunting. Luckily, the Chappell Scholarship involves close work with a faculty advisor and this is immensely helpful in making sense of the interviews that I have. The opportunity to work with my advisor, who is a native Russian speaker not only provides me with the ability to complete my research, it also enables me to improve my own language skills and understand Russian culture better. This whole experience again highlights the best aspects of William & Mary. Being in a great academic environment and working one-on-one with a professor on my own work is teaching me a fantastic amount and not strictly in the academic sense. Doing my own research has taught me a lot about where my own interests lie and how I want to go about exploring those passions. Also, it has made me realize all of the preparation and time that goes into producing something of value and gives me a great appreciation for those who dedicate their lives to this kind of work. I am so glad to have had this opportunity and encourage other students to get involved in undergraduate research.
My research focused on the work of women activists in Russia, but this comprises only a small portion of the women in that country. Due to the highly patriarchal nature of Russian society, women are often relegated to less prominent positions both socially and professionally. Never reaching equal footing with their male counterparts. This is compounded by the paradox that Russian women very often find themselves saddled with a great deal more responsibilities due to abysmally low life expectancy for Russian men.
The first interview that I did in Russia was one of the most surreal experiences that I had over there. First off, setting up the interview was a challenge in its own right. My interview subject was staying at her summer cottage or dacha, taking care of her granddaughter, so it was quite difficult to find a time when she would be in St. Petersburg. Next, I had to try my hardest to communicate with her in Russian over the phone. Not the easiest task when you are learning a language. Of course when she switched into perfect English on the phone with me I did not feel the greatest about my language skills.
Well, I’m back from my time in Russia and I want to spend some time just talking about my experiences there and how it was doing research in a foreign country. Of course the language barrier was the most difficult to get passed, just figuring out how to get places was a challenge. Even with the excellent language instruction I have received at William & Mary so far, there was still a great deal I had to get used to in Russian. Even at my most confident in the language I still struggled with things which could be a bit disheartening. But, this immersion definitely improved my language skills by forcing me into new situations everyday and it was awesome to be able to see myself progress.