Thursday, November 15, 2012

Review: Soviet Women: Walking the Tightrope

by Francine du Plessix Grey
Anchor Books, 1989

Note: As a test run, I am uploading a review I wrote approximately two years ago.

An essayist, feminist, and university instructor who grew up in Paris but was raised by a Russian mother and other Russian women, Francine du Plessix Grey journeyed to the U.S.S.R. during Gorbachev’s new glasnost era to explore the lives and culture of Soviet women. Newly able to meet freely with a visitor from America and to express opinions and attitudes that might have been treasonous a few years before, these Russians welcomed the author into their homes, their workplaces, and their conversations.

            The women she interviewed lead challenging and often arduous lives in the grey world lift behind by Marxism’s social and economic tenets. Material possessions are difficult to obtain and often shoddily constructed, family structure is deeply strained and divorce rampant, and social values are in a state of flux without the communist morality that previously undergirded society.

The women in her essays, by and large, consider their jobs (even as factory laborers) the most important aspects of their lives—not only do they spend the majority of their time at work, but it is also the source from which they most expect happiness. Work is how they, more dutiful and optimistic than Soviet men, serve their country. Due to the lingering cultural effect from years of forceful Soviet mobilization of the workforce and pressure to put the state and the party first, women who give up their jobs to stay home with their children for more than a short time are despised and looked down upon. Mothers may even feel trapped by this pressure into placing their offspring into poor day-care conditions.

When Grey pauses to analyze her findings, she consistently interprets them in light of feminism and speaks of male fear and the “mysterious force” of femininity. Yet she does not glamorize the results of Soviet forced gender equality, and she demonstrates a certain objectivity by providing the reader with an abundance of material upon which to mull, whether or not it supports her own conclusions.

For those who are interested in exploring or debating the roles of men and women, a book such as this is helpful because it broadens the perspective beyond the particular battles of our own culture wars. For those who enjoy multi-faceted, human portraits of women from other cultures and times, this is a worthwhile source. 

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous insight! You provoke deep contemplation so effortlessly....


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