The “Real” 1950s Soviet Woman

In the 1950s the ideal Soviet women would be a homemaker, feeding and taking care of her children, her home, and her husband in addition to looking good and having time for leisure activities like reading or going to the cinema. But this was not the reality of all Soviet women. Many had no time to bond with their children let alone read a newspaper. There was what was called “the double burden,” which was the workload women faced between work and home and it was appearing more and more in press in the 1950s (von Geldern).

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The Machine-Turner Andreeva (1955)

In the source “It Is Her Right” from 1954, we see working women and their struggle with balancing work and home. One factory worker, Nataliia Mikhailovna, explained how she gets home late only to have to cook, wash, and sew for her two children. She worries she won’t find the time to go out with her daughter, “I know that it is my duty and, indeed, my right and joy to go out with her, but I simply can’t manage it.” Another factory worker, Maria Mikhailovna Danshina, was unable to find childcare for her young daughter so she was forced to live with constant worry leaving her in the care of her six-year-old brother while at work. Since she worked the late shifts, she would go to bed very late only to get up to list of things to do in the morning before work. In this society there was this assumption that women would just find the time to read or spend quality time with their children. “It Is Her Right” asks the question of what is this city doing to help women, noting that there was only one laundry and one dressmaker in the city. It also notes that mothers aren’t just meant to feed and wash their children’s clothes, but “a mother should take them out for walks, read to them, take them to the cinema, and, finally, simply talk with them and reply to all their childish ‘hows’ and ‘whys’.” Not just mothers, but women in general should also have the opportunity to experience the culture around them by having time to attend lectures, concerts, read, and continue their educations.

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In The Toy Factory (1960)

There were also women who wished to have a more independent life, a life beyond their families. In Aleksandr Fadeev’s novel Fadeev On The Housewife, we see a woman, Tina, who was once independent and full of hope, but has since lost all that due to dropping everything for her family. I am not entirely sure if this is a true story or a character inspired by real women at the time. Nevertheless Tina asks her husband a question one morning implying she would like to go back to work. She sees his worry but he says he is concerned for her and doesn’t want her to end up like another man’s wife who is a secretary. The woman works then takes care of her baby, her mother-in-law, younger sister, and has significantly aged in two years. After he denying her request she feels defeated. Tina thinks about how she has the right to have a family and work, and feels unequal to the women working. She also thinks about the other men and women who work with her husband and how they are closer to him and he sees them more as equals. Even though she had the right to go to work, Tina was scared into thinking she would mess up her marriage if she went, which seemed to be a common tactic back then.

In 1955 when the ban on abortion was lifted women now had the right to control her reproduction, but the government was still going to try and prevent that. There was a huge antiabortion campaign, which covered various areas, with over 20,000 antiabortion lectures in one city alone. There were pamphlets saying “Don’t deprive yourself of motherhood,” and films like the 1956 film Why Did I Do That?, which talked about how abortion could ruin a woman’s chances of motherhood in the future. In 1962 the antiabortion campaign got to men through For You, Comrade Men. This was used as a manipulative tactic for men to use on the women in their lives. It talks about how great motherhood is and that it will unite your family and bring a positive effect on the mother. It also talks about the dangers of the abortion and how you don’t really know how skilled the doctor is. It also has an example conversation between a woman who had an abortion and one thinking about it. The first woman says there were complications and she probably won’t be able to have more children. The second woman says that her and her husband want to wait because they don’t have a good home, to which the first woman replies that it doesn’t matter because you’ll be depressed without the laughter of a child.

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Abortion has Dangerous Consequences (1965) : Don’t condemn yourself to solitude!
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Stop! (1968) : Stop! Now abortion seems necessary. But remember, it might forever deprive you of the happiness of motherhood!

Women may have had certain rights about working or their bodies, but with this ideal Soviet woman image of listening to their husbands and being good homemakers, they were constantly torn between what looked good and what was realistic to care for their families and themselves.

Sources:

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3 thoughts on “The “Real” 1950s Soviet Woman

  1. The Soviet government was forcing the “ideal women” but for the majority of women this was unattainable. Was the ideal Soviet woman just a way for the government to keep women in line? Only having aspirations to be a good housewife would keep women submissive to their husbands and the government. Soviet women had an uphill battle when trying to go against the advice of the government. Good post!

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  2. The double burdens for Soviet women were a product of ideology, social conditions, and traditional beliefs. The ideology obligated women to aspire to a fully equal role in employment and civic activism, structural conditions required women to spend many additional hours doing housework and preparing foods, and traditional beliefs maintained the unequal distribution of tasks and power between men and women. The double burden was thus a product of incomplete and inconsistent steps toward gender equality.

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  3. It’s so unique that at the same time that women were being expected to hold jobs in the Soviet Union, they were often culturally discouraged from doing so in America.

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