Working Women

After the death of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union saw a period of cultural liberalization that would come to be known as “the Thaw”. During this time, the rights of women expanded, from education becoming more accessible to the ban on abortions being lifted to women taking on more responsibilities in the work force. However, with these new freedoms came the old burdens: women were expected to be exemplary professionals during the day and then go home at night to be the ideal housewife/mother figure, leading to great stress for the average Soviet woman.

In the 1954 magazine article “It is Her Right” by E. Maksimova, the author addresses the intense workload borne by the average Soviet working mother and how Russian officials do little to help them by examining the cases of three professional women. The author first describes a day in the life of artificial leather factory supervisor Nataliia Mikhailovna Obukhovskaia, who spends all day supervising workers, then attending to party business and furthering her education with night courses before going home to tend to her daughter and ill brother, leaving her almost no personal time at all. Her coworker Maria Mikhailovna Danshina also works fulltime in addition to being the mother of two young children, and is unable to get her little daughter into daycare, forcing her to leave the child with her six-year-old brother as babysitter. Across town, bank inspector Nina Bubnova is unable to further her education and thus her career because she cannot find childcare for her daughter.

During the period of the Thaw, especially in the year 1954, Soviet women seemed to be caught between two lifestyles. On the one hand, they were expected to be ideal wives and mothers, but they were also expected to help the Soviet Union and the Party by being strong members of the work force. This balance left Soviet women with almost no time to better themselves, as they were always taking care of someone or balancing some task. I think that this draws an interesting parallel to professional American mothers today, who often struggle to “have it all”. It is interesting to see how Soviet gender roles in the 1950s are really not all that far off from modern American gender roles.