It Is Her Right

E. Maksimova, It Is Her Right. July 27, 1954


Original Source: Literaturnaia gazeta, 27 July 1954, 1954.

The conversation which took place in the Kalinin city executive committee is really worth quoting verbatim. The chairman of the city planning commission was speaking about the fact that some houses were still without piped water, that there were too few laundries and that women were not always anxious to use them even where they did exist. He could not understand why this was so. From behind his back a self-assured voice said:

‘They’re used to washing at home. It’s a custom.’

A middle-aged man came up to the table. ‘Yes,’ he repeated with conviction, ‘it’s a custom, a tradition, if you like.’

‘So, according to you, women enjoy doing the washing when they come home from work.’

‘What do you mean? They’re women, aren’t they? Anyway, physical labor is good for you.’ There was a frankly cynical note in his voice.

‘But, tell me, when are they to go to the cinema or to do some reading?’

‘Oh, they’ll find time.’

By a strange coincidence Pavel Ivanovich Nerobeev, the man who had so unceremoniously joined in the conversation, works as chief municipal engineer. Of course you do not often meet a Domostroi type of man like this in a responsible post in the city executive committee. But in subsequent conversations here in Kalinin, with the director of a large factory, with officials from the city’s trading authorities and with the manager of a dressmaking establishment, I was time and again reminded of Nerobeev’s ‘they’re women, aren’t they?’

The skill of women’s hands has been praised in song and poetry. How much these hands produce here in Kalinin: silk and excavators, cloth and all-metal carriages. They plant apple orchards, drive trams and correct schoolchildren’s compositions. And it is one of the most important and noble duties of the city soviet and other public authorities and organizations to do everything in their power so that these bands should hold a book instead of a ladle, and a volley-ball instead of a washing board.

From the very first days of the revolution Lenin constantly asserted this right of women to liberation from domestic slavery. ‘We are faced,’ he wrote, ‘with a long struggle which demands a fundamental change both in our attitude to household duties and in the tools used for these duties’.

A tremendous amount has been done since these words were said. Formerly illiterate and crushed by kitchen and housework, the woman now has full rights as a Soviet citizen. Her circle of interests has grown to an extraordinary degree, and the part played by her in science, culture and industry and in the administration of the country has become incomparably more important. But she has also begun to make greater demands. Things which only ten years ago she would have borne without protest have now become intolerable, things to which she reconciled herself yesterday arouse her indignation today. Our new household and communal facilities do not always help the woman as much as they could. And often the reason for this is a tacit conviction (not all are as frank as Nerobeev) that women are decreed by birth to spend the greater part of their free time in doing housework.

A slim little woman in a blue overall is going through the workshop, a piece of artificial leather, smooth and polished like lacquer, in her hands; it has only just come from the press. The experimental shop of the artificial leather combine was only started two years ago, and these are the first results. There is great scope for the shop and, consequently, for Nataliia Mikhailovna Obukhovskaia, its superintendent. The eight hours which she spends in the shop are filled with important and interesting work. Between six and seven in the evening Nataliia Mikhailovna leaves the shop, but not the factory. There are many important affairs connected with her public activities to be attended to: she is secretary of the factory’s party branch, member of the combine’s party bureau and candidate member of the district committee; in addition she attends evening courses at the institute of Marxism-Leninism.

In the shop, at meetings of the party committee and at lectures, Obukhovskaia is in every way equal with the men-the same demands are made on her, she is respected and recognized. The right to work, to participate in public life and receive education, all these have become the inalienable and inviolate rights of Obukhovskaia and, indeed, of all Soviet women, and because they have become an integral part of our lives, they often pass unnoticed.

But then Obukhovskaia arrives home late at night, and here she has duties which the male colleagues with whom she has just left the factory do not have. There is her family: her ten-year old daughter and an invalid brother; not a large family, but nevertheless one for whom she must cook, wash and sew. Where is she to find time for all that?

‘How I could do with two or three hours added to the twenty-four to sit down quietly and read a newspaper, or to go to the cinema,’ Nataliia Mikhailovna tells me. ‘Sometimes Zinochka reminds me: “Oh, mommy, when are we going to go out? You’ve promised so often.” I know that it is my duty and, indeed, my right and joy to go out with her, but I simply can’t manage it.’

And indeed how can she get everything done when there are no baths in the suburb where the Obukhovskaia. family lives, when wash day is a problem (lack of facilities for heating water quickly and for drying the clothes), when the market is at the other end of the city, and when Sunday is in no way a day of rest.

Brigade leader, Maria Mikhailovna Danshina works next to Obukhovskaia, operating a rolling machine in shop no. 4. This week she is on the second shift and arrives at the factory at 3.30 p.m. She prefers working in the evenings, because you don’t have any meetings to attend and can get home as soon as the siren goes. She has a son and a daughter to look after.

For two years now Danshina has been trying unsuccessfully to get her small daughter into a nursery school; and during this time she has never known a moment’s peace: she might be standing at the bench, but her thoughts would be at home wondering whether everything was alright; after all the little girl had been left in the care of her six-year old brother. Like Nataliia Mikhailovna, Maria Mikhailovna manages to do a surprising amount during the day; but as she goes to sleep late at night, her mind is full of things for which she has had no time and which will have to be done in the morning.

What are the city authorities doing to help Obukhovskaia, Danshina and thousands of other women in Kalinin? I do not want to know what they might be able to do in the future, but what they can do now, today. This city, which is growing rapidly and has spread far along the Volga, has only one laundry, one knitwear establishment and one for children’s clothes, the latter taking five orders per day. The Zavolzhe district spreads for many miles along the Volga, but it only has one shop where paraffin can be bought. And the Novo-Promyshlennyi district has no laundry or dressmaking establishment at all: you have to do your washing and sewing at home or go to another district. Ordinary daily tasks, such as buying paraffin or potatoes and taking a primus stove or a pair of shoes to be mended, are very time-consuming and mean long journeys and unnecessary worries for the woman.

Surely a big province center like Kalinin (which, incidentally, has a large railroad carriage works) could have a few trucks with petrol tanks so that housewives would not have to carry their paraffin over long distances. Why are the two new factories producing household goods, which should have been begun last year, still under-very slow-construction? It is ridiculous that a city with so great a housing program should have been unable to provide buildings, not even one for each suburb, which could serve as laundry reception points, so that women should not have to take their washing through the whole city. Since last year the dry cleaning shop has not been functioning.

Why are many of these problems left unsolved? Is it not because some of the people responsible for the communal services of Kalinin are neglecting their duties? It is, of course, impossible to change everything at once, but even in the conditions of today much more could be done. There are many examples of an attentive attitude to the ‘details’ of everyday life to be seen, provided you want to see them. And it is usually not a question of money but of a will to imitate these examples. No immense capital outlays are required for the shops selling household goods, which the citizens of Riga have organized; or for the laundries, equipped with one or two washing machines, which they have in Kiev; these laundries are attached to blocks of flats and serve all the housewives living in the area; or for the dining rooms they have in Kharkov where you can buy a cooked dinner to take home with you.

But let us return to the Novo-Promyshlennyi district of Kalinin.

A good half of the inhabitants of this suburb are workers at the artificial leather combine and their families. There are new houses here, ornamental iron railings, stone flower pots and pillars. Not long ago this was a wilderness, and the little township of attractive small houses has grown up in the last five or six years. But surely the architects and directors of the combine must have known that the people who settled here would immediately need a laundry and a shoe repair shop, neither of which exist.

A dusty street full of pot-holes leads through the suburb to the bus stop. Early in the morning, long before work starts at the combine, you can see women walking along carrying children in their arms; they are mothers taking their children to the nursery school. The child has to be woken at dawn, carried to the bus stop, and then taken a mile or so further at the other end, a journey of at least two hours for the mothers. And all because the factory nursery school was not repaired last summer while the children were on holiday in the country, and so had to be closed for repairs this winter, which meant that the children had to be split up and sent to other nursery schools–some of them near, others far away…

We must not forget the mother’s great and responsible social duty of bringing up her children. She must be given time for it, because bringing up children does not simply mean feeding them and keeping their clothes clean; a mother should take them out for walks, read to them, take them to the cinema, and, finally, simply talk with them and reply to all their childish ‘hows’ and ‘whys’. Children often learn respect for the worker and for the wealth created by labor through the personal examples of their mothers. And for this reason the working mother tends to be the better pedagogue, even though she can give less time to the child than the housewife who stays at home.

Women ought to have time to read books, go to lectures and listen to music. Kalinin is growing as a cultural as well as an industrial center. Quite recently the drama theatre gave its first performance in the wonderful many-tiered hall of its new building. A large, spacious building has been allotted to the philharmonic orchestra for concerts and lectures. In a few days the white-columned house of the new province library on the banks of the Volga will be opened. But there are many women in Kalinin who do not avail themselves of these rich cultural opportunities.

It was not easy for the inspector of the province bank, Nina Bubnova, to carry on her studies in the extramural department of the technical school; it meant working, studying and looking after her small daughter as well, since she simply could not find a place for her in a nursery school. I asked Bubnova whether she was going to continue her studies.

‘Out of the question,’ was her reply. ‘It’s no good my even thinking of going on to the institute now.’

Here is something for the members of the Kalinin city soviet and for trade union officials to think about: 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…

I should imagine that the heads of the Kalinin city executive committee will inform the editor of the measures that have been taken as a result of this article. But I hope that the matter will not rest there. For it is not only a question of opening laundries and workshops, but also of changing the outlook of some of the officials in Kalinin. I am not interested in spasmodic campaigns; what is needed is that a sensitive, tactful and attentive attitude towards working mothers should become the rule in the activities of the leading officials of the city.

Source: Dorothea L. Meek, ed., Soviet Youth: Some Achievements and Problems. Excerpts from the Soviet Press (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957), pp. 221-226.


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