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Accepted Paper:

'Women's businesses' as a male gift and alternative employment  


Daria Tereshina (Higher School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

With its focus on 'women's businesses' in Russia, the paper identifies the specific class and gender dimension of such ventures, heavily dependent on male's capitals, and explores their link with social reproduction

Paper long abstract:

The paper focuses on a specific type of self-employment in Russia by exploring businesses set up by women's spouses who provide startup capital and other forms of assistance to their wives. Such enterprises are primarily nested in particular 'gender-appropriate' fields of the service economy, e.g. beauty industry, fitness, apparels. Along with their dependency on male's capitals, female businesses are commonly portrayed as rarely performing well. They are perceived in terms of gift-giving (as a husband's present) which discourages ex-husbands to lay claim on them in the event of divorce.

This type of gendered economy, embedded in family and household structures, provides a vantage point for studying the shifting meanings of work and labor in post-Soviet Russia. Among the groups of the Russian elite, female businesses primarily function as 'business for pleasure' enabling the Russian newly rich women to negotiate their class position and assert the status of oligarch's wife (Ratilainen 2012). Yet among the small-scale entrepreneurs in the Russian province, whom I address in the paper, class considerations are less important while those of social reproduction come to the fore. I argue that the male entrepreneurs or successful managers grant capitals to their wives as to provide them with an alternative form of employment and alleviate the burden of combining child-rearing and waged work. Thus, I show that the emergence of women's businesses corresponds to precarious conditions of employment in Russia and insecurities about social reproduction rather than reflects a proliferation of neoliberal ideals and subjectivities (cf Yurchak 2002).

Panel P100
Rethinking work, power and social reproduction in and beyond Europe [Anthropology of Labour Network]