Sex Work in Russia weaves together a wide range of materials to examine the figure of the female sex worker in Russia from the early twentieth century to the present day. This book offers readers both an expansive and nuanced discussion of the significance of this archetypal female who appears with remarkable frequency in literature, film, and other cultural productions. Emily Schuckman Matthews explores the ways in which the fictional sex worker (and her real-life counterpart) has become a symbolic representative of social and moral instability, economic volatility, political, social, and ideological revolutions, and changing concepts of gender, sexuality, and the nation itself. Focus is given to the movement of the female sex worker from marginal foil to a hero in her own right, even finding a voice of her own in recent years. Works featuring this alluring and complex figure reveal critical insights into the changing position of women and other marginalized people in a volatile Russia.
Emily Schuckman Matthews is associate professor of European studies at San Diego State University.
List of Figures
Note on Translation and Transliteration
Chapter 1: Sex Work in Early Soviet Literature and Film
Chapter 2: The Sex Worker in the Late-Soviet Period and the Turbulent 1990s
Chapter 3: Doubly Other: The Sex Worker as Lesbian
Chapter 4: Searching for Russia’s Moral Center: Sex Work in Provincial Russia
Chapter 5: The Madam as Working Mother
Chapter 6: From Intergirl to Instagirl: The Sex Worker as Aspirational Figure
Chapter 7: Sex Workers and the Art of Their Experience
About the Author
Focusing on imagery distilled from literature, art, theater, and film, this compelling study explores the ambiguous figure of the prostitute in contemporary Russian culture. Often viewed as the exploited victim of masculine abuse of power over women, the female sex worker also ambiguously challenges patriarchal norms by undermining stereotypes of women’s perceived moral function in society as wives and mothers, eroding the traditional boundary between private and public, eliciting moral outrage, and inciting admiration as a resourceful entrepreneur. In the introduction, Matthews offers a brief historical overview of cultural imagery prior to 1917 and outlines the book’s theoretical foundations. Two initial chapters explore images of sex workers in Soviet literature and film through the 1990s, followed by chapters probing the doubly marginalized experience of lesbian sex workers, the lives of provincial sex workers within the context of the traditional view of the provinces as the moral center of Russian identity, the madam as working mother, the pervasive imagery of elite prostitutes’ social mobility and luxurious lifestyles, and challenging recent art works created by both sex workers and feminists. A substantial bibliography and index conclude this well-researched, engaging volume. Recommended. All readership levels.
In Sex Work in Contemporary Russia: A Cultural Perspective, Emily Schuckman Matthews brings new life to a familiar topic, moving with ease from classic literary texts to contemporary reality television, while never forgetting about the lived experience of actual Russian women. Schuckman Matthews is not content merely to analyze the ‘prostitute’ as a moral or cultural symbol for men, or, for that matter, as a site of feminist empowerment. She effortlessly negotiates the ethical and political complexities of her subject, but always with an eye towards what it can tell us about sexuality, gender, and culture in Russia.
Sex Work in Contemporary Russia offers a panoramic and eye-opening exploration of the ubiquitous female archetype of the sex worker in twentieth and twenty-first century Russian culture. In this rigorously researched and conceptually ambitious book, Schuckman Matthews skillfully examines how sex work and sex workers have long been symbolic representatives of social, economic, and moral instability, stifling patriarchy, and shifting ideas about gender, sexuality, and the nation. This engaging and enlightening study is essential reading for all interested in Soviet and post-Soviet culture, as well as gender and sexuality more broadly.
Carefully researched and eloquently argued, Sex Work in Contemporary Russia makes a substantial contribution in our understanding of gender identity, women’s subjecthood, and the history of sex work in Soviet and post-Soviet eras. As the first full-length study of prostitution in twentieth- and twentieth-century Russian culture, the monograph reconceptualizes the recurring figure of the sex worker and places her rightly in the center of discussions on women’s labor and gender identity in a global context. In doing so, this book brings this important subject matter to English-speaking audiences and is sure to generate thoughtful discussion and additional research on the topic.
Through a fascinating and surprising lens, Emily Schuckman Matthews takes the reader on an exciting discovery journey of Russian culture. Engaging with literature of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, analyzing film, art, and Instagram, the author provocatively zooms in on the character of the Russian sex-worker (or prostitute in the most common Russian use) to interrogate less-known aspects of Russian society and culture. Relying on a range of frameworks, from concepts of Foucault to Butler, and negotiating across centuries and genres, the book Sex Work in Contemporary Russia: A Cultural Perspective is not only a study of the more familiar patriarchal social structures, national heteronormativity, and the commodification of sex but also of the transgressive power of Russian women, of their agency and persistent desire for material comfort and independence. A particular strength is Schuckman Matthews’ extensive research and her ability to cast new light on the humanity of sex-workers and their potential to affect social change. Eloquently written and original, this book has appeal for a wide audience of readers.
3/21/23, Jordan Center: The book was given a three-part feature on the blog.
Part 1: https://jordanrussiacenter.org/news/excerpt-from-sex-work-in-contemporary-russia-a-cultural-perspective-part-i/#.ZB25fnbMI2w
Part 2: https://jordanrussiacenter.org/news/excerpt-from-sex-work-in-contemporary-russia-a-cultural-perspective-part-ii/#.ZB25s3bMI2w
Part 3: https://jordanrussiacenter.org/news/excerpt-from-sex-work-in-contemporary-russia-a-cultural-perspective-part-iii/#.ZB25y3bMI2w