The Perfect Housewife, Not the Perfect Soviet

In 1954 the illegality of abortions was repealed as seen in “On Repealing the Criminal Liability of Pregnant Women for Having Abortions.” According to the document, the decision to abort a child was no longer illegal, but those committing illegal abortions and those who coerced a woman to abort her child would be criminals under the law (Seventeen Moments: Repealing Liability). Other develops were the reintroduction of co-education that had been ended in 1943 and the media recognizing the “double burden” felt by women at home and work (Seventeen Moments). With de-Stalinization, Krushchev aimed to improve “social services, housing, and educational opportunities” (Freeze 425).

O. Iensen: Vacuum Cleaner Ad (1954)

O. Iensen: Vacuum Cleaner Ad (1954)

In 1954, women also faced set backs. Traditional gender roles were reinforced, just as they had been for the last two decades (Seventeen Moments). The traditional woman was confined to the home and family. The consumer economy targeted women, encouraging women to “pretty up their apartments or even themselves, by a visit to the department store or local hairdresser” (Seventeen Moments). In 1954, an ad for a vacuum cleaner targets women, using their defined roles of maintaining the house as an advertisement tool for a product.The ad states, “Electric Vacuum Cleaner. Cleans dust from rugs, clothes, furniture and walls quickly and well.” This ad implies the importance of a dust-free home was of high importance to any woman in the Soviet Union. Other home products of great importance included cookbooks. The cookbook resembled the basis for the family and the center of a wife’s purpose. She was responsible for feeding her family and activities outside the home often centered around food as well. In The Bookshelf: A Gift to the Family article, the author exposes the role of the wife by stating, “‘A Book on Appetizing and Healthful Food’ * takes into consideration the high level of our trade and our food industry; it is written for Soviet women who, as a rule, combine housework with jobs and community activities.” The duty of feeding the family lies solely on the woman. To promote the housewife’s duty to her family, the text also states, “[d]o not neglect either your own or your family’s diet” as though by not cooking a proper meal she is neglecting the ones she loves.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Window-shopping (1954)

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Window-shopping (1954)

Home products were not the only expected interest for women. Department stores often displayed products to bring the consumer into stores. In the image to the right, women are seen admiring window displays. This use of space shows the influence the consumer world would have on creating the “soviet woman” of the 1950s. Another example of creating the ideal traditional woman, is the use of fashion to reinforce gender. Women were expected to look a certain way as defined by fashion. This idea reminded me of “Leave it to Beaver” when his mother is vacuuming in a long floral dress, wearing pearls and heels, and her hair is perfectly curled. This image, although in a different context, shows how certain perceptions of gender can lead to expectations in ordinary life. These ideas alone would not have held the same impact if “role models such as the housewife and school teacher [serving] as foundations for gender differentiation” had not been utilized (Seventeen Moments).

 

The cultural view of “the woman” can be seen in “It is Her Right.” The document shows a conversation between two parties with one stating “So, according to you, women enjoy doing the washing when they come home from work” and the other responding

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Fashion Show (1954)

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Fashion Show (1954)

“What do you mean? They’re women, aren’t they? Anyway, physical labor is good for you” (It Is Her Right). The limitations faced by women who were expected to run a household and family were being ignored. The document notes these limitations by giving an example of “a young woman at the height of her powers who wants to study and has the qualifications for any higher educational establishment in Kalinin, Moscow or Leningrad, and who is debarred from a higher education because her family takes up all her free time…” (It Is Her Right). The overall message of the document is to remind officials to take women into account as participants outside of the home.

In the 1950s, women faced combating traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Despite the role of women in manufacturing during World War II, joining the workforce did not cause cultural changes in family life expectations. Instead of noting the woman’s role outside of the home, she was expected to balance home and work. Furthermore, she was expected to do both without faltering, seeing as her focus should be on family despite financial needs associated with developing a family. As seen in many other facets of Soviet life, the Soviet people were stuck within defined roles despite changing culture and lifestyles associated with modernizing the USSR. The success of production and improving economy can be to blame for this distinction between male and female (Freeze 424). With more consumer products and a better standard of living, people were buying more products and extravagant purchases. Fashion and nicknacks were commonly admired and bought, rather than solely for the upper classes. With any new phase, the role of women would alter again when the novelty of consumerism began to wear off.

 

Cited Sources:

http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1954women&Year=1954&navi=byYear

http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1954women&Year=1954&navi=byYear

Vacuum Image: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&show=images&SubjectID=1954women&Year=1954&navi=byYear

Fashion Show Image: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&show=essay&SubjectID=1954women&Year=1954&navi=byYear

Window Shopping Image: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&show=essay&SubjectID=1954women&Year=1954&navi=byYear

Gregory L. Freeze, Russia: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 423-426.

The Bookshelf: A Gift to the Family: http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/14110659.