“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.
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/