Soviet war time brought a unique artistic freedom to the Soviet film and cinema industry. During the war there were over 100 Soviet films produced and half of them had a plot surrounded around the war. The most interesting thing was how many films told the stories of the partisans. The role of women and stories of their lives flooded the box offices. The picture above is from one of the most “canonical movie of the war years came in 1943: Fridrikh Ermler’s She Defends the Motherland (Ona zashchishchaet rodinu, released in the U.S. as No Greater Love).” This movie along with many that had female leads during the war, represented women as self sacrificing, confident, calm and driven. In the movie She Defends the Motherland, Prasha Lukianov lost her husband in the war and her baby son by Germans invading her village. “Pasha quickly emerges from her nearly catatonic state to reassume her leadership role with the surviving villagers, forming a partisan band. As Comrade P., Pasha picks up an ax to lead her followers into hand-to-hand combat with the Germans.” Her leadership went far beyond just supporting her local village and its people. As a woman she accomplished the unthinkable, she kidnapped Germans, attacked convoys and became a nightmare for the occupying German armies in her village. This fictional story of Pasha shows a small representation of how the lives of women in the Soviet Union during WWII actually looked like.
What some westerners might not understand or imagine is how involved Soviet women were, not just on the home front, but in the physical battle of the war. “Women were much more intimately involved in their country’s defense and frontline combat than the woman of any other combating society in World War II or the Great Patriotic War as it was called in the USSR.” Specifically, Soviet women fought the Germans in “direct combat roles that included bomber pilots, tankers, machine gunners, infanteers, and grenadiers.”
Not only did these women help on the battlefront and in the war physically they also helped to redefine and challenge social roles. Years prior to the war between 1907-1917, the fight for women’s rights increased tremendously. This movement was led by the League of Women’s Equal Rights, the largest feminist group during the time. Rights they fought for included “women’s education and social welfare, as well as equal rights, such as suffrage, inheritance, and passport restrictions.” In 1917 women were also given the right to vote which was a few years before women in America could. Russia throughout its history seemed a step a head of the western world when it came to the evolution of women’s roles in society, including women in film and on the big screen.