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Ella Rossman presentation

21.11.2019 at the seminar of the research and stydy group "Comparative Study of the Situation of Women and Men in Public Authorities" Ella Rossman, visiting scholar of School of Cultural Studies of HSE Faculty of Humanities, presented the results of her research on the topic “The Institute of First Lady: then and now”.

At the beginning of the seminar, the speaker told about the history of the institute of the first lady. The term "first lady" appeared in the second half of the 19th century in the United States, when the role of women in the private and public spheres began to change. Subsequently, the term "first lady" became widely used in different countries. From the speaker's point of view, the institute of the first lady is a transitional institute before women could become heads of state, as already in the second half of 20th century the institute started to change due to an increase in the numbers of female heads of states.  In the process of transformation, it became apparent that the institute of the first lady is not only sufficiently gender-labeled, but also class-labeled. Suffice it to recall the criticism towards Melania Trump.

In the USSR, the institute of the first lady practically didn’t exist, since the wives of the head of state had not been engaged in any public activities. The first first lady in the USSR is supposed to be Raisa Gorbacheva, who actively participated in political and social life. Although a single assessment of the personality of Raisa Gorbachev didn’t exist, as there were a sufficient number of rumors about the unjustified spending of public funds on her appearance and property. This negative assessment could develop under the influence of gender inequality in the USSR and the negative attitude to the female image in general. Thus, due to the lack of women leaders of the USSR and the institute of the first lady, a specific type of gender inequality in the USSR was formed. Women weren’t considered as active actors in the sphere of public administration. Furthermore, Raisa Gorbacheva was also treated badly because of the female image, which "attracted" a negative attitude to Gorbachev and to the Soviet system.

At the end of the seminar the participants had the opportunity to ask questions and to participate in a discussion.