Female Rule – Western Europe vs. Russia

Catherine the Great ‘s fame derives from her leadership and rule of Russia during eighteenth-century Russia. Like all autocrats during the time, she received criticism from countless different sources. However, Brenda Meehan-Waters argues that criticisms of Catherine differ along the lines of the sources’ areas of origin. In particular, Meehan-Waters suggests that Western European and Russian writers differ in that “Russian writers viewed her more positively and displayed much less agitation over the female issue. Catherine is desexualized to the extent that she is treaded as an individual rather than as a women.” ((Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. 383-384.))

Meehan-Waters examines the writings from the period of Catherine the Great’s reign. These writings, all published by men, carry various perspectives ranging from foreign ambassadors to Russian leaders to Western philosophers (who were also her patrons) such as Voltaire. One fact becomes clear through these writings – whether they criticized or praised Catherine – Westerners often placed her sex at the center of their ideas while Russian authors rarely commented on it. Western authors would associate her positive characteristics with her masculine side while they portrayed her shortcomings as feminine qualities. ((Kaiser, Reinterpreting, 382.)) While Russian writers such as G.S. Vinsky criticized Catherine, Meehan-Waters notes that such critics not base their qualms on her womanhood. ((Kaiser, Reinterpreting, 382.)) Despite identifying the differentiating narratives coming out of Western Europe and Russia, Meehan-Waters offers little in a reason for why such a difference exists.


Meehan-Waters notes that Russian had many female autocrats throughout the eighteenth century while few existed in Western Europe. Does Russia’s familiarity with empresses explain the lack of emphasis on Catherine’s sex?

Potemkin 2

This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less – from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Princepotemkin.jpg

Potemkin, one of Catherine’s advisors and former lovers, was the center of much scrutiny and debate among her foreign critics. They saw Potemkin as an example of how women were overcome with sexuality and allowed themselves to be dominated by their lovers.

European Common Market (1957)

This document is a press statement written from the United States’ perspective that described a potential European Common Market and free rade area. This common market was to be comprised of Belgium, France, the German Federal Republic, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The intent of these negotiations was to eliminate trade barriers between member countries and to establish a common external tariff towards outside countries. Both the United States and Great Britain favored this initiative because it would further the political and economic strength of Western Europe by unifying this market. It would also be aligned with the U.S.’s vision of having freer, nondiscriminatory multilateral trade, as well as further increase the prevalence of convertible currencies. This trade relationship would also be in the U.S.’s interest because it would continue a positive trend by further liberalizing imports from the dollar area.

Do you believe that, although not mentioned, the U.S. vehemently supports this treaty because it will halt the spread of communism in Europe by creating a strong, economically expanding, western Europe?

At the end of the document, is the use of the words “welfare of the entire free world,” meant to include every free country, even if it was a freely elected socialist or communist government?

Marry Wollstonecraft, before her time

When the ideas of equality in Western Europe, specifically in France and England, are discussed, one thinks of the disparity of wealth between the aristocrats, the bourgeoisie, and the peasant classes. However the subject of equality comes specifically out of a male dominated society.

In France during the 1790’s Women were treated as inferior to men in all respects, both physically and mentally. They were not represented equally politically, and had practically no voice in the changes that were coming to France at that time.

During the Same period the wife of an aristocrat in England Marry Wollstonecraft, was able to take advantage of the education that her status provided, and wrote about the plight of women during the period. Wollstonecraft commented on both the sexism and the belief of most men during the period that women were simply social objects. Wollstonecraft’s writings were ahead of her time. She could be considered to be one of the first Western European women’s rights activists. In her writing she specifically describes how men would never ask the opinion of women on any subjects having to do with social or political issues. She also describes how many men treated women like objects, or as a delicate thing that may break if it was handled poorly. Wollstonecraft’s argument is that women should be included in the workings of western society. She cited the fact that women are never consulted, and therefore are not able to influence their surroundings, and therefore are at the mercy of men.

Wollstonecraft’s writings were heavily influenced by the events of the French Revolution, and the fact that women, especially peasant women bore the brunt of many atrocities that the revolution produced. Wollstonecraft was ahead of her time in the way that she argued for increased representation of women in the political realms of her time.

Russian Avant-Garde

The Russian avant-garde movement represented the struggle between the past and the future. The explosion of Russian artistry from 1907 to 1917 turned away from the realism that appeared to have dominated the end of the nineteenth century (like that reflected in the work of the Wanderers) and presented an even greater level of experimentation. In contrast to realism, there was an increased focus on beauty and emotion, particularly in dance. An example of beauty “for beauty’s sake” can be seen in Diaghilev’s “Ballet Russes”, which included elaborate and colorful set design and costumes as a vital component of dance performances. In theater too, there was a break from “excessive realism”, as seen in the development of the Dramatic Theater, which heavily focused on aesthetics, and The Studio, an experimental theater formed by previous actors of Moscow Art Theater. One point I continue to struggle with is if this period (the avant-garde movement between 1907-1917) was more “Western” or less “Western” than before. On one hand, there were obvious efforts to distinguish Russian art and culture from Western Europe, but, on the other hand, there were also efforts to depart from the focus of Russian art being to reestablish Russia’s national identity. Also, while the Ballet Russes toured Europe and obviously established Russia as a unique, innovative art force, such contact with Western Europe must have also contributed to a “westernization” of Russia. As a result, I am unsure if Russia was more or less westernized in 1917, as the avant-garde period began to end and the war began. Also, if Russia was such a huge and vital force in establishing the culture of the early twentieth century, then what happened once the war began (and also once it ended)? How could this huge wave of artistry and creativity end so abruptly?

Are children raised by nations?

My task for class tomorrow is to lead a discussion on the relationship between the “nation” and the child, and so I will begin that discussion in this post. After reading Stearns book “Childhood in World History” I walked away with two major conclusions, and many minor ones.

Although I already suspected this, I concluded that the nation (meaning, for the most part, the government) has an incredible influence on the concept of childhood within its borders. Stearns outlines several shifts in global history that heavily impacted childhood across the globe, and I think that governments were responsible for many of these shifts. Industrialization, for instance, was the reason that in the 19th Century  children began working jobs just like adults, and industrialization was strongly supported by governments.  So too were further technological advancements in mechanization, which resulted in machines displacing children from the work place. And so childhood shifted yet again to emphasize school rather than labor. Governments had a huge role ushering in this new age of childhood that focused on schooling. Japan created a mandatory education system by the turn of the 20th Century. The Japanese government believed that their population would be of no value if it was illiterate, therefore the future wealth of the country depended on the education of children. Governments also sought to control how adults conducted “parenting,” especially because these cultures believe in the innocence of children at birth. The corruption of a child comes from ill-treatment at the hands of adult and bad societal influences.

My second conclusion is this: because of the influence a government has on childhood within a nation, it is only logical that the concept of childhood differs from country to country. In some cases, like amongst Western countries, these differences may be slight, however I am certain they exist. This ties back to readings from last week that highlighted geography as a key determinant of childhood. Each government, backed by cultural traditions, has tried to maintain some aspects of their traditional way of life or their ideological thinking that they believe is important for society to keep, and these cultural nuances are different everywhere. For the Soviet Union, they wanted to stress Marxism in the classrooms and instill a sense of duty towards the collective good, meaning the state. China, Japan and the Soviet Union all, to a certain degree, stressed a sense of loyalty or duty to the state, however in Japan it was more in line with nationalism than with Communist ideology.

The role of the state with regards to the development of childhood should not be overlooked; in fact, I think the answers to many “whys?” and “hows?” can be found by looking towards the nation.