With 70 years of state-imposed atheism and the train wreck of communism heaped across the land, Russian women now want the opportunity to catch up with the rest of the west and pursue the worst of feminism. They have suffered from the worst of chauvinism possible -- wrapped in terms of "equality" but in fact, based on utter contempt for womanhood.
"A chicken's hardly a bird, a woman's hardly a person." This is a common Russian saying and it reflects the Russian way of thinking. In spite of the complete absence of women's rights in 18th-century Russia, there were five empresses of Russia who presided over the lives and deaths of their subjects. This historical paradox would recur in an inverted form--with the attainment of equal rights in the 20th century, Russian women vanished from political power and from political life in general. The Bolshevik radicals who established holidays in honor of women's rights made their absence from politics a fixed tradition. There was not a woman to be found in Lenin's or Stalin's Politburo. Stalin himself (as his wife would later write sadly in her correspondence) tended to replace the word "woman" with the somewhat crude and common "baba."
After his own wife committed suicide, Stalin had the wives of many of his closest associates imprisoned. In the theater at the traditional state holiday concerts, only men sat in the Government Box. The sole aspect of the life of the country where women truly retained equality of rights was in labor. Women worked alongside men or even independently of men in the most taxing and unhealthy industries. Woman the Hero of Labor, Woman the Worker--this was a central image in prudish Soviet literature, from which sexual thematics were excluded.
The slimey sexism of early Marxists is notorious, and yet through them came the bells and whistles of the sexual revolution. (Means of production = means of reproduction, et al.) Russian women have long had access to abortion and, with the usual socialist shortages strangling the availability of contraceptives (as well as meat, butter, and shoes), each woman racked up between 5-10 abortions over the course of her lifetime.
Now, they have discovered that a self-absorbed man-free existence might be a step up:
[Previously,] a woman in Russia lived through her family. And she had to have a husband. The key role for women in the U.S.S.R. was to be a "warrior's holiday." "A man knows the happiness of one who receives; a woman knows the happiness of one who gives"--this was the dream and the rule.
With the advent of perestroika, all this began to change. The first Russian businesswomen came onto the scene. It was in business, not politics, that the road to true gender equality in Russia began to be laid. The first businesswomen were poor young girls when perestroika hit. Now they're over 30. They can be found in the most varied professions--from advertising firms to travel agencies, from computer companies to mass media agencies, from law firms to major commercial enterprises. And professional sport, too, one must remember, is foremost a business. They arrived speedily at a new slogan for the independent Russian woman: "If pants must be hanging in the closet, they might as well be mine!" They can have children without husbands, they can leave one husband for another--the important thing is to live as they like, not as he likes. They're finished with the "warrior's holiday" for good.
All this and more from Wall Street Journal today.