Unfulfilled Promises to Women

Wendy Z. Goldman’s article explained how the regime hid behind an elaborate mask which portrayed them as women’s rights activists, however in reality strived for a single-minded approach to production and progress.  The focus of Goldman’s article began with an analysis of Soviet legislature concerning beznadzornost, and how to solve the problem of homeless soviet children through the strengthening of the Socialist family.  It then shifted towards the effects of abortion and divorce on women and how the steps toward a more equal woman and man were taken under false pretense.  She concluded that the regime had successfully “brainwashed”, or convinced, the women of the Soviet Union that they had actually experienced a revolution or change in policy.

Women seemed to be affected by each law passed concerning the Soviet family, and whether it was in a good way or not did not concern the Soviet Union who were able to feed off of the good outcomes and ignore the unsatisfactory ones.  Even the legalization of adoption, meant to cope with the growing numbers of homeless children, indirectly changed a woman’s role in society.  As the implementation of adoption and its effects slowly abated, the regime placed a large piece of responsibility on the paternal figures and family, transferring it from state hands.  Women then had to take on a much larger part in responsibility for the children, as the men were needed for industrialization and collectivization.

The increase in family responsibility rested heavily on the women’s shoulders, as their social status transformed and they were coerced into labor.  Pregnancy leave and other legislation was passed which lessened the effects on women, however in a seemingly male dominant society, the regime was still able to convince its women that their lives had been made easier and they had experienced a surge in women’s rights.

Changing Roles for Women

The Statement of Purpose issued by the National Organization for Women in 1966 reflected some of the tensions present within the U.S. and many European countries during the 1906s. While NOW’s purpose was to promote equality for women, its statement also mentions issues of race, as the civil rights movement continued to blaze along in America in 1966. The 1960s are often remembered in the collective consciousness of Americans as a decade of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, but for many, it was a time of tension between changing social mores and conservative Christian culture.

In NOW’s statement, it explains that since women now commonly live to the age of 75, childrearing can no longer be their main purpose in life, and that as many households own labor-saving devices (such as vacuum cleaners and washing machines), housework no longer needed to occupy all of a woman’s time. Thus, NOW advocated for women to become educated and enter the workforce. NOW’s advocacy for women to shift their focuses away from wifely and motherly duties came in the midst of a national controversy over use of an oral contraceptive–a.k.a., the Pill.

In 1966, the Pope and the Catholic Church remained opposed to the Pill, and birth control use remained restricted in many of the states in the U.S. (1) While NOW supported women leaving the domestic sphere, conservative social norms still attempted to keep women locked in the role of the mother–a continuation of the Christian dichotomy of women as either the Madonna or the whore. However, by 1965, the year before NOW formed, 6.5 million American women used the Pill. (2) Clearly, NOW entered the American scene at a time when American women were poised to take control of their lives and ready for opportunities beyond motherhood.

Of course, NOW faced many challenges that it mentioned in its statement of purpose, including a sexist media, unfairness in rulings by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and lack of encouragement by parents and teachers of young girls seeking an education, but the organization maintained that women had to take action, demand equality, and create a new image for themselves. This idea of conviction and belief in one’s own truth was a common theme of activism and social protest in the 1960s.


(1) “The Pill.” PBS. Accessed April 16, 2015. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/timeline2.html.

(2) Ibid.

Sputnik Generation and Gender Roles Regarding Interviews

The interviews of Natalia and Gennadii were similar in the way the interviewer approached each question, however also extremely different in terms of the answers provided by both interviewees.  Natalia and Gennadii, though they had different upbringings, were both citizens of the Soviet Union with relatively similar class status in a classless state.

Both Natalia and Gennadii recognized the type of family or social class that was drawn to their town and School No. 42.  Natalia stated that many of the school children had parents who were “of the party or a party official” and the questions asked of her seemed to be much more social and cultural related.  Gennadii’s interview on the other hand seemed extremely political, focusing mainly on questions such as “Can you tell me what you thought of Lenin and Stalin?” or his experience with and opinion on Afghanistan.

I can’t tell if Gennadii’s interview was so different from Natalia’s solely because of gender, however that is what it felt like.  Gennadii’s answers were relatively short compared to Natalia’s. He was also extremely careful with what he said concerning politics, for instance when asked about his views on Lenin he said: “You know, regarding Lenin, I probably can’t say.”  This could have either legitimately been a lack of conviction or it was retreat from a question that seemed too nosey.

These two chapters left me with a few questions regarding how journalists or novelists approached people from the Soviet Union and how they responded.  Did Soviet’s see these interviews as “digging” for information and took offense?  Was it simply the people interviewed for these chapters which made it seem restrictive? Would interviewers purposely take to males for political questions and leave cultural and social issues more to the females?

The Sputnik Generation: Gender Roles as Defining Personality

In Ch. 3 of “Russia’s Sputnik Generation: Soviet Baby Boomers Talk about Their Lives”, editor and historian Donald J. Raleigh interviewed Natalia P. to discover what values, events and ideology shaped the formation of Soviet identity during 1960s and 1970s in the Soviet Union. Natalia P. is a language enthusiast, professor of foreign languages, mother and wife. Throughout this chapter, Natalia reminisced on her childhood during the Khrushchev era (1956-1964) and her adolescence and young adulthood during the Brezhnev era (1964-1982). When discussing the factors that shapes her own identity, Natalia pointed to her family values and credits her father as someone who taught her the importance of character and having strong principles in a society where bribing and using others to one’s advantage were common practices.

Through her own recollections, however, it is evident that Natalia’s own self-understanding comes from her strong identification with being a woman. When asked if she ever read any samizdat publications or participated in the dissident movement, Natalia replied “…it passed us by. You have to understand that it was all young women who studied in [her department]. We were not at all interested in politics. We were basically interested in boys and romance and…studying. Therefore samizdat didn’t circulate among us” (108). Raleigh also explicitly asked Natalia to explain how her gender defined her own identity and questioned whether her life would have been different if she had been born a man. To this, Natalia replied that she currently occupies a “exclusively man’s job at work” (108), adding that she was the only female department head (“can you imagine?” (108)) and claiming that she would like to “very much like to be a woman again, but I don’t like emancipation. What is, is. It’s too late” (108).

Although Soviet ideology emphasized gender equality (especially during the 1920s and 1930s), the reality and actual experiences of women in the Soviet Union shows otherwise. By claiming that females aren’t interested in politics, or that there are certain male positions, Natalia P. is making broad claims, yet is showing that her own self-understanding rests on this gender distinction. Was gender equality really as important in Soviet everyday life as it is ideologically claimed to be? For Natalia P, gender equality does not seem to be an issue. Indeed, her own identity rests on the fact that women and men are not equal. However, was this statement as universal as she claims? Did women feel unequal to men, and if so, was this a problem for their self-understanding?

NOW Statement of Purpose

Three Points:

1) NOW observed that the status of women in American society had actually been declining in recent years. They supported this with facts and identified that 75% of working women were relegated to routine jobs that required little skill and earned on average 60% of what men earned.
2) NOW demanded a concerted effort on the part of the government and civil rights organizations to integrate women into the “mainstream of American society.” Women must be provided equal opportunities as men to fulfill their potential.
3) To realize any major advances and provoke change, women needed to unify and mobilize. For fear of discouraging any group of women, NOW did not affiliate itself with any political party. Women had often refrained from voicing their indignation with their position in society for worry of being labelled a feminist, but this attitude must change for any real progress to be made.


1) What initiatives did NOW take to enhance the status of women? What impact did they have on the women’s rights movement in America?
2) Did NOW collaborate or receive support from any civil rights organizations?


NOW’s Statement of Purpose outlined very specific goals and used facts to prove the inequality of women. I found some of there statistics very startling as I had not realized the extent of male domination in the U.S. only some-odd years ago. I also found it interesting that NOW used the increasing life span of women as support for women going out and achieving outside the household.