RUSSIA’S NEW WOMAN
RHEA G. CLYMAN
She has equal rights, has lost some privileges but will take a back seat for no man
THERE are no women in Soviet Russia now; there are only workers and citizens.” Clinging to the icy rail of the bus with one hand, using the other and his foot to ward off the menacing queue of women whom he had beaten out of their turn, the young man hurled his defiance as the vehicle rattled along the ice-crusted Moscow streets.
But he had reckoned without the conductor. She was a woman, and in a mxxl to avenge a slur on her sex. A signal to the motorman, and the bus, with a scream of the brakes, stopped midway. A toot on the little tin whistle hanging from her waist and the impudent fellow was dislodged from his step. The moment her shrill call went out a militiaman came dashing over, and the man was handed over for obstructing the traffic.
“A';/.” she said, settling her sturdy frame in the padded seat reserved for the conductor, “I’ve settled that durak (fool).*’ She gave the signal to go ahead. The bus started up again, so did the arguments.
It was vikhodnoy den. the sixth or “free day.” when Moscow transport, never tx> good, is at its worst. Street airs, with men and women hanging to the outside rails like clusters of grapes on an overloaded vine, were impossible to board, and the queues for buses you have to line up for a bus here were nearly as long as those for butter.
The No. (S bus was already crowded with seated men and women hanging to straps when I got on at the Kazansky Station, and from there on we passed stop after stop without halting. When a youth was daring enough to jump on while it was in motion, the conductor permitted him to stay although this was against the traffic rules. She held up the bus ten minutes, however, while she lectured him. and the passengers thought this a bit too thick. With the release of the brakes, their pent-up wrath burst forth.
“The position of women in Russia.” a middle-aged woman remarked bitterly, “is first in the queues and last on the bus.” She carried two large wicker baskets with potatoes and frozen cabbage. Every time the bus lurched she was flung off her feet and vegetables rolled in all directions, but no one offered her a seat.
"Eve been up since six,” she continued after I had persuaded her to put one basket in the aisle to leave a hand free for a strap. “Rushing about all over town to get these,” pointing to the baskets. "There are no vegetables in the shops now. and I had to go to the borota. ‘market.’ to get them. I’ve still got the dinner to cook and the washing to do before my husband gets up. It’s my free day also.”
“Free day,” an equally laden young woman retorted hotly. “Free for the men. They sleep or are off to svidaniyas (rendezvous)," looking meaningly at the row of seated men, two of whom managed to blush. “They’re off to svidaniyas,” she repeated more loudly, “and their wives slave at home.”
"But you wanted to be equal and go out to work like the men.” a scholarly-looking man piped up, obviously for the fun of continuing the argument. No Russian can resist an argument, especially in the street cars and buses, where nerves are always on edge. “Yes, you want to be equal,” another took up, “and when we treat you as men, you don’t like it.”
At this bedlam broke loose. For a moment it looked as if the policewoman off duty standing near the exit door would bring the wooden case she was balancing on her shoulders crashing down on the nearest man’s head. But the bus gave a tremendous heave and then stopped. We all fell in a heap. The case rolled off and hit someone else.
It was Theatre Square. The men dashed out. The women, left in temporary possession of the seats, set to retrieving their scattered bundles before the new lot of passengers got on. We continued the rest of the way in silence.
Women Get Equal Pay
nPHE Revolution has given Soviet women equal rights, but it has destroyed their privileges. To enjoy these rights, the woman must be gainfully employed. The housewife. even when she is the mother of three small children, is on the third category for food rations. In this category, she gets a half pound of white and black bread a day; 2 \4 pounds of meat. 3 % pounds of sugar and twenty-five grams of tea a month, if there is any available. When she goes out to work her rations are the same as a man’s, and she can get two pounds of bread a day, twice as much meat, and a
pound of herring and macaroni, which housewives never receive.
There is no distinction between men and women employed in Soviet industry. Women are permitted to do the same work as men, however hazardous, and they get equal pay. There is none of the protective legislation that we have in Canada for women in industry, so young and middleaged women are allowed to do manual labor and work on night shifts. They have the same opportunities for advancement as men if they show sufficient zeal, and quite a few have successfully invaded spheres entirely dominated by men in other countries.
But the women here, as well as the men, must be members of the Communist Party before they can attain a high post in the Government, educational institutions or in industry. The Party makes no sex distinctions except that ugly women are more favored—it has been found that they are readier to devote their lives to abstract ideals than their more attractive sisters— and women candidates have to go through the same rigid physical training to prove that they are able to face enemy gunfire, and to take the same vows not to be moved by human or worldly ideas but to remain true to bolshevik ideals.
But a change has been going on in the ranks of the Party of late. Once it was easy to tell at a glance a woman communist from her non-party or bourgeois sister. Her face was hard and severe, her body all sharp angles and her stockings always wrinkled. Now a lighter type of Party woman has made her appearance.
The new type dresses well, even fashionably. She goes to the beauty parlor and gets her hair and nails done regularly. Some bead their eyelashes and use lipstick freely—an unheard-of thing among Party women a few years back. They all wear hats now, not proletarian shawls, and highheeled shoes. This is especially true of women in high positions who have occasion to go abroad on komondirovka (State service) or have men friends who do.
Kollantay, the Soviet ambassador to Sweden and author of Red Love, gets all her frocks in the Rue de la Paix. She is past sixty and only a few traces of her former beauty are left now, but her ankles are still the envy of Simyonovna, the great Moscow ballerina. Madame Kollantay likes to turn up at State functions in an original Paris model, and the Party has to foot the bill.
“Love and work,” she once said to me, “are the greatest things in a woman’s life. We should give more sympathy to lovers than we do. I hope there will be a time when people in love will receive the same care that we now give to nervous cases. If I had power, I would excuse those in love from any kind of work until they had passed the crisis.”
Kollantay holds that women are not only the equal of man spiritually and intellectually, but their superior.
Krupaskaya, the widow of Lenin, does not agree with her. This little, unpretentious, white-haired woman prefers to hold a lower rank in the Commissariat for Education than Bubnov, a former Red Army commander. She belongs to the old-fashioned type of Party woman; those who urged
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their men on to play heroic rôles but remained themselves in the background.
The New Party Women
THE Krupaskaya type is fast disappearing in the Communist Party. The new I women that have come to the front want their own places in the sun. Yokobleva, the Assistant Commissar for Finance, will take I no back seat for any man. Nor does the homely, motherly-looking Artookhova, who sits on the Collegium of the Soviet Supreme j Court. She has no womanly qualms when ; she passes out death sentences to those I whom she considers a menace to the Revolution, even when they are members of her own sex.
But one thing makes all Russian women kin, whether they are proletarian, bourgeois, communist or of the aristocracy. They all want to know about the latest fashions abroad. In this, the women who work in coal mines, or as lumberjacks, or train in the Red Army out of loyalty to the Bolshevik cause, do not differ from their more bourgeois sisters. Manual labor has only roughened their hands and hardened their bodies, but au fond they are still women.
The proletarian women prefer silk stockings to cotton ones, and they will pay any price to get them. Any woman will work hours extra as a shock brigadier just to get an order for a dress or a brightly colored jumjxT, and she will worry more when there is no candy or perfumed soap in the stores than when she has to go without meat or herring. Walk along the Petrovka any hour of the day and you will see hundreds of women staring into the show windows of the shops for foreigners, although the very soles of their shoes are melting in the snow.
A foreign fashion magazine is the most prized and coveted object in the Soviet Union. You can get anything from an old boyar sky (court) costume to a priceless string of amber by trading your copy. 1 once wrought terrible havoc by dropping one accidentally in a beauty parlor.
This shop is one of the best in Moscow. It employs many of the former court hairdressers, and is always full of actresses, Vidvijenkas (women promoted from the ranks), high Party and Government executives. Last Sunday being Mieslinitza (the beginning of Lent, still surreptitiously celebrated) the place was jammed. I waited over an hour for my turn at the manicure table, and when I got up the magazine rolled off my lap.
Dozens of eager women leaped to retrieve it. The news spread like wildfire, and the magazine was passed from hand to hand. Everything else waited. One woman, sitting in a screened cabinet, came out with her hair entirely white. She had been left, forgotten, with a towel soaked in spirits of ammonia on her head. Another, a thick-set peasant woman, a soodkomka (consort of a reigning commissar), got two deep scalp bums and lost a dump of badly needed hair when the hairdresser, anxious to make up for the neglect of an important client, applied an overheated curling iron too hastily.
I slipped out before the full extent of the disaster 1 inadvertently had wrought became entirely known. Those victims who had been able to get a look at the fashions were ready to forgive, but the others those left ! alone in private cubicles, would probably have mobbed me had I not escaped.
No “Ladies First” Chivalry
EVEN in the old days, women in Russia were on an equal footing with men. The lower classes worked in the fields and factories, and the aristocratic ladies ruled men in their salons. As for the bourgeoisie and intelligentsia, women ranked higher than men. and those caught taking part in i revolutionary activities suffered the same fate.
There was never any of the romantic cult
of womanhood seen in Latin countries, nor the Anglo-Saxon "ladies first” chivalry. But in those days men had more leisure, the women were gentler, and every one was more indulgent. With the increasing tempo of industrialization since the revolution and the subsequent shortage of food, housing and clothing, nerves have become strained to breaking point and the woman's snap first.
Natasha, a charming young woman of thirty, is one of the heads of the Customs Department here. As she speaks several languages fluently, foreign women when in trouble for trying to bring in an extra pair of stockings or a dress naturally turn to her. She is a splendid executive and doubtless a good Party member, but her reactions are entirely feminine.
For two weeks I had tried to persuade a customs official that woollen vests with ribbon shoulder straps were no more luxuriant than those with buttons and sleeves. I also could not see why zip fastener goloshes should be taxed higher than those with buckles. Natasha saw my point and was willing to intercede, but the man proved adamant.
"The tariff on women’s vests is fifteen roubles ($7.50) a kilogram, and only the ones with sleeves and buttons are described. Yours, grajdanku (citizen), are sleeveless and weigh less, therefore they are luxuries and must be taxed five times as much.”
"Tovarish (comrade),” Natasha pleaded, "can’t you see there’s no difference? It is only a question of fashion. Sleeveless vests are more rnodni (fashionable) now, and what suits one woman doesn’t suit another. And zip fasteners are more convenient than buckles. They don’t tear the stockings. Why should you make this citizen pay more just because you are so stupid that you don’t know that the fashions abroad change every month?”
Natasha was willing to continue the battle indefinitely, but I was too worn out and allowed the man to have his way. “How like a man,” she remarked sadly when I thanked her for the two weeks fruitless work. "He has a printed sheet of paper and won’t believe any one else. I know him well. I’ve been married to him a long time, and he’s always like that.”
ACCORDING to Soviet law, husbands and wives are not permitted to work in the same office or Government department. This is to rule out any chance of personal favoritism. Exceptions are made, however, in the case where both are members of the Communist Party, it being assumed that communists are more abstract in their personal relations and therefore removed from impure motives. Also, the fact that the marriage laws are so loose—a simple declaration before a witness or cohabitation for three months count as much as registration at Zags, the Civil Registry Office— makes it difficult to tell whether a tovarish is a comrade in the Party or in the physical sense.
Despite the fact that marriage is so simple and divorce even more so, there is still a large percentage of bachelors among Communist leaders. Rykov, the ex-premier, has remained true to his love even when she jilted him and married an opponent in the Party. Kalinin, the president, is also a bachelor. Stalin is married, but his wife has no public life whatever. She is his second, his first wife having died.
If a communist gets promoted to a high position and moves into the Kremlin, his wife goes in with him. But when he is demoted, kicked out of the Party and sent into exile, his wife, if she is young and pretty, can still manage to hang on. The Kremlin is full of these Soviet “Loreleis,” some the wives of Trotzky’s followers who were clever enough to procure divorces before the storm came.
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My servant, a young peasant girl of twenty-two, refuses to get married. Even when the father of her child, in order to evade paying a third of his salary as aliment (alimony), begged her to marry him, she would not. Her boy, four years old, has the same rights under Soviet law as a child born in wedlock. She is free, independent, and socially the equal of any married mother.
“Why should I marry and become the slave of a man,” she demands with unanswerable logic. “I’d have to go to work just the same to get a food card. After work, he’d be off to meetings and con. ferences and I’d have to stay home to do the housework. It wouldn’t be so bad if j conditions were different, but the Soviet j men are so parshievie (rotten) now that it’s ; impossible to live with them long.”
“Then what happens?” The proletariat I gets this dialectic method of talking from j Stalin. "You divorce and he comes home ; with a new wife the next day. You have ; no other corner to go to, and must live like j that. Life is difficult enough now without marriage. Besides, love with most men is ! only a habit. If they haven’t got you, they I soon get someone else.”
This is the psychology of the young ; people in Soviet Russia now. They are hard-headed, practical, and live for today. There is an average of four persons to every twelve square yards of space in Moscow ! now, and no one wishes to marry except to j j get an additional few feet. Even at eighteen, the present-day Russian girl does not believe in love. She has seen too many of these flowers turn into arid weeds in a few days.
Ever since the Revolution there is no segregation of the sexes in Russia except in i hospitals, bathhouses and prisons. Two 1 people of the opposite sex may go off together, and no obligation is entailed on I either part. If a child is horn of the union, the State makes the father pay a third of his salary to the mother until the child reaches sixteen. Recently, however, there has been a tightening up of this law. Many women went in for the aliment racket, and ! the men had to pay on the slimmest proofs j of paternity. Also, Soviet men have become j more wary.
However, you can still buy a railway ! ticket for an overnight or ten-day journey, and you will not know until the train starts whether your travelling companion will he a man or woman.
Russian sleeping cars are like the European wagon-lits. They are divided into twoor four-berth compartments, and the ' de luxe ones have shower baths and dressing I rooms between each two compartments. You can lock your door and not see your ! ; neighbor for the duration of the trip.
I shall never forget the look on a young , Canadian engineer’s face when he discovered j that his pretty young interpreter was to ; share his two-berth coupé on a six-days I trip to the Ural mines. He was a nice, wellj brought-up young man, accustomed to treating all young women as ladies. He ' had come to Soviet Russia under contract as a mining engineer, and was prepared for some new experiences. But he did not expect that one of the first would he to j share a room on a train with a young woman ! he hardly knew.
What bothered him most of all, he told me later, was the fact that among the six ! men who came to see the girl off one was her husband, who seemed to take the matter j calmly. My young friend did not know, however, that the pretty little girl was looking after him in more ways than one. The Bolsheviks believe that Russia is likely ! to he attacked at any moment and regard : all foreigners as possible enemies. The ; foreign section of the 0-Gay-Pay-Oo (secret I police) is ever watchful, and women are the i equals ot men in Soviet Russia.