What’s a Woman to Think? That She Doesn’t Have Time for Anything.

The Machine Turner Andreeva | V. Andreev (1955)

“It was morning—the beginning of another day which, just like hundreds of days before it and thousands of days to come, would be filled with the bitterness and boredom of endless, terribly petty and soul-destroying work, all the things which filled the life of a housewife, the life of millions and millions of women.” (Fadeev) This quote comes from the novel Ferrous Metallurgy written by Aleksandr Fadeev in 1954. The excerpt of the novel found on Seventeen Moments is from the point of view of Tina, a soviet housewife, who is beginning to question the life she lives. In the excerpt she and her husband begin to argue about Tina getting a job and their conversation emphasizes many of the issue’s women were facing in the 1950s Soviet Union. Tina’s husband tells her that he does not want her to look tired and aged like a friend’s wife who had a job and still completes all the housework to take care of the family. Tina counters saying she is no better than a servant to her husband and his family implying that she would at least be his equal if they both worked.

Setting aside the issue that her husband’s reason for not wanting her to work is her appearance, his comment highlights one of the major struggles of women during this time: the double burden. The double burden describes the two full-time jobs that women were forced to endure: their profession and housework. The rights of women had increased greatly in previous years—they were full citizens and had many more work opportunities—however, the traditional domestic responsibilities of women remained. They were simply expected to do all the cooking, washing, sewing, and childcare (traditionally a full-time job) on top of their other full-time job. (Maksimova) “It Is Her Right” an article published in 1954 by E. Maksimova shows this mentality of assuming women’s domestic roles by quoting an overheard conversation between two men. The first man stating, “So, according to you, women enjoy doing the washing when they come home from work” and the second man replying, “What do you mean? They’re women, aren’t they? Anyway, physical labor is good for you.” (Maksimova) It was simply assumed that women must like domestic work because they were women. In her essay Maksimova explores the impact of the double burden on the daily lives of two women. Both women are successful at their careers but struggle to do all the work expected of them in their domestic lives let alone have free time for things such as reading or the cinema. Maksimova also discusses how the few attempts by the government to relieve the domestic burden placed on women, such as public laundry facilities, proved ineffective. So few were provided that they were often inaccessible to most women.

One factor contributing to the double burden on women was the reinforcement of traditional gender roles—specifically the image of the housewife and school teacher. (von Geldern) The re-legalization of abortion in 1955 was an important factor in shaping the public perception of gender norms during this time. As with the previous legalization of abortion, the government was not in support of women’s reproductive freedoms but wanted to prevent illegal abortion. Supported by the government, the anti-abortion campaign emphasized, “a more heteronormative family model and a new image of ‘responsible’ husbands and fathers in the post-Stalin era which embedded masculine identity more firmly in the family.” (Randall) The promotion of domesticity and patriarchal family structure combined with the double burden placed on women show the lack of reform and progress regarding gender issues following Stalin’s death.

Sources

Fadeev, A. (2015, September 1). Fadeev on the Housewife. Retrieved from http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/whats-a-woman-to-think/whats-a-woman-to-think-texts/fadeev-on-the-housewife/

Maksimova, E. (2015, September 1). It Is Her Right. Retrieved from http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/whats-a-woman-to-think/whats-a-woman-to-think-texts/it-is-her-right/

Randall, A. E. (2017, May 21). Repealing the Ban on Abortion. Retrieved from http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1956-2/repealing-the-ban-on-abortion/

von Geldern, J. (2015, September 1). What’s a Woman to Think? Retrieved from http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/whats-a-woman-to-think/

17 thoughts on “What’s a Woman to Think? That She Doesn’t Have Time for Anything.

  1. Hi Kayt! I love the way that you use the point of view of Tina as a way to illustrate the double burden on women. It’s crazy to me that her husband wouldn’t want her to work because of something like her appearance, because I mean I feel like we’re used to seeing that the reason not to work is to stay at home and care for the family in this time period, but I’ve never seen any reasoning about appearance before. I think your post highlights the struggles of the double burden really well, nice job!

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    1. Hi Lauren, thanks for your comment. I agree appearance is an odd reason to hear. I feel like it was used because it was assumed that she would take care of the children anyway. At the time using childcare as an argument for women not working seemed less relevant because there was no consideration of someone other than the wife/mother filling that role, even if she was working.

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  2. Kayt, I think your post about the double burden is great! You highlight a major point during this time that women were expected to “do it all” while receiving little to recognition for it because domestic work was considered a “duty” as a women and a mother. I also think that even though women had more rights and opportunities, their husbands still considered them fragile and unable to handle their domestic responsibilities as well as another job.

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    1. I completely agree! Cultural perception of gender norms at this time were very traditional despite the legal gains of women and played a big role in the double burden placed on them.

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  3. Hi Kayt! I found your post to be a wonderful read. I was quite honestly appalled that those two men, who were discussing the place of women, believed that they enjoyed doing all the housework just because there women. I think you really hit it home that the gender perceptions at the time were truly warped, especially for women.

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    1. Alyssa, I agree, it is shocking to see how sexist the view of women was that it was assumed she must enjoy housework due to her gender. At the same time, however, it is not surprising given that these same gender perceptions could be found in other countries at this time and even some today, which is a depressing thought . . .

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  4. Kayt, this is a very interesting perspective on gender roles following the reign on Stalin. While traditional gender roles were alive and well, there was clearly a drive for change. Do you think that these desired changes are a problem to be solved by society/culture or by the government? Great post!

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    1. I would say both are needed to solve the problem. If there is a desire to improved gender equality the government should promote this by relieving some of the traditional burden placed on women. An example of this could be childcare facilities which the Soviet Union did begin to implement, however, according to the women in Maksimova article these were often difficult for many women to get to or they had been closed for some reason that the government never resolved. In this case the government made a first step towards relieving some of the burden and promoting change, however, their inability to further develop or improve upon this actually resulted in increasing the burden on women. Society/culture must also play a role in this, and as a collective people need to make a conscious effort towards change. This was beginning in the Soviet Union at the time with the press discussing issues such as the double burden. I don’t think it is an either/or. Both must work together and it is not a responsibility that can be placed on one party, and that holds for the gender inequality that exists today.

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  5. Hey Kayt! Its kind of sad to see that we haven’t moved that much forward from this era in history regarding gender roles. Specifically, I feel like even today women are looked down upon whether they choose to be a full-time mother or have a full-time career. Women who are full time mothers are looked down upon for wasting their eduction or for not pursuing a career, while women who do pursue a career are seen as neglecting her family and home. Its extremely hard to do both, but you can’t choose one without criticism. It really isn’t a woman’s world.

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    1. I completely agree. There is a double standard in society and both sides result in women being looked down upon for their choices. I find it really interesting that this period in history is when you can really see that mentality starting to form into what it is today.

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  6. What a fascinating discussion! I really appreciate how thoughtfully you’ve engaged the texts about “what women were supposed to think” to highlight the intransigence of the double burden. And I love your response to Eric’s excellent question about your theory of change. I agree that the answer is “both” — changes in societal norms and expectations involve both a shift in attitudes at the individual level and macro level policies that support those shifts. And yes, to what Joy says about how discouraging it is to still be constrained by sexism.

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    1. Thanks prof. Nelson. It was really interesting to read these sources and understand the mindset of women during this time. I think gender inequality is an important issue and I appreciated having the chance to write about it in the context of this class.

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  7. Hey Kayt, I thought that your post was a very intriguing one to read. The amount of pressure and stress put on women during this was clearly on the rise. Expecting your wife to do everything once she got home from work is just a crazy though especially in today’s society. I can only imagine what would happen today if someone told their wife not to get a job because they don’t want you to look ugly.

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  8. Hi Kayt, such a great blog post! Reading the the beginning of your blog post was really upsetting. I cannot believe that a husband did not want his wife to work because he did not want it to ruin her appearance. I thought it was funny to read that two MEN made an assumption that women like doing the domestic work just because it was a norm given to us from the beginning of time.

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