How to Be a Good Wife and Mother, Soviet-Style, II

The course on “Motherhood and Family Relations” was taught by a woman who had been born around the year when the October Revolution took place. She was “married to the revolution”, which left her single and childless.

“As you might realize, motherhood and family relations are not really my sphere of interest,” she explained on the first day of class. “But somebody had to teach this class, and my sense of duty didn’t allow me to reject this assignment.”

She gave us all a look of intense disgust and said, through clenched teeth, “This will be hard work, but I will make good wives and mothers of you yet! Just look at yourselves! All of this make-up, and those nasty skirts. . . No man in his right mind would want to marry you!”

“Good!” a student called Anya said loudly. “Because I’m into girls.”

The professor’s face became purple but she decided to ignore Anya.

“Observe how great I look, compared to you,” the professor told us. “I haven’t applied any make-up once in my life! And I always look modest and decent. A girl’s greatest ornament is her honor! So are you ready to learn how to find a husband?”

“Yes!” students Natasha and  Sveta said eagerly. They were from a small village and desperate to find a boyfriend.

“I’m not,” I said.

“Why not?” the professor asked.

“Because I’m already married, and my husband will probably not appreciate me looking for another husband at this point.”

“Well, then you need to learn how to be a mother!” the professor exclaimed. “Children are a horrrrrible burrrrrden!! If you have a baby, you will be chained to that baby for yearrrrrrs!!! It will be like being in prrrrrison!!!”

With every “r”, her voice was getting scarier and her face redder.

“Women today want to make child-rearing easier on themselves,” the professor continued. “But that is wrong! If you want to be a mother, prepare to be enslaved! There will be no diapers for you because they are evil! You should use cotton nappies and wash them by hand. Three times a day! And then iron them. On both sides!”

“On both sides?” one student asked in a terrified little voice.

“Yes! And remember that you have to boil the nappies for at least an hour! Or there will be bacteria. Bacteria everywhere! Children are nasty, dirty creatures who always make a mess.”

She kept silent for a while and added quietly, “Especially boys. Those are VERY NASTY.”

As you can probably imagine, I never went back. My colleagues, however, took motherhood classes with this professor for two semesters. At the end of the course, they had to write a 15-page essay on the evil nature of diapers and pacifiers.

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35 comments on “How to Be a Good Wife and Mother, Soviet-Style, II

  1. The class sounds terrible! Much as I feel sorry for the students for having to sit through it, I must say I feel a little sorry for the professor too. She sounds like a nice, well-meaning person, though perhaps very naive, and it must have been very difficult for her to have her whole world turned upside down.

  2. We had home economics, which was basically cooking stuff to eat at break. We all gathered in the kitchen, and were allocated ingredients and a group to work with. We learned that fried onions taste great when inadvertently caramelized. We also had a sewing class that was run by a black woman in the newly independent regime. She was very quietly spoken and we were used to a more authoritarian approach. She claimed we wouldn’t listen to her because of the color of her skin, and grabbed one girl by her shoulders and shook her. She made a relatively bad mistake in that instance.

    The worst imposition of gendered expectations occurred when we had to queue up for a rubella vaccination, because it was claimed we would have children who might be deformed if we contracted “German measles”. I really didn’t appreciate having to line up like cattle, with our futures already predetermined for us, to have a painful procedure. The matron entity was extremely brusque.

    • What they told you was a little garbled. You can have a child with birth defects if you contract rubella while you are pregnant. All the same, rubella is no joke. Getting vaccinated was no fun (especially by a mean nurse), but it had to be done.

    • Argh, thought of one more thing: if you don’t get vaccinated because you don’t want your future “predetermined,” keep in mind that if you get sick, and pass that sickness onto others, you are predetermining someone else’s future. And that of their child, if what you pass on is rubella and that person is pregnant.

      • Surely if this third party were fearful of my predetermining their bout of sickness, *they* could go ahead and get themselves the vaccination. But the idea that I have some obligation to do anything because it might or might not impact someone else in the future is bull.

      • My neighbor lets his huge, aggressive dog run around unleashed and unmuzzled. Do you think he is right in having no concern about the harm this vicious creature might cause to others?

      • Alexander, you said:

        “Surely if this third party were fearful of my predetermining their bout of sickness, *they* could go ahead and get themselves the vaccination. But the idea that I have some obligation to do anything because it might or might not impact someone else in the future is bull.”

        So, you should be able to do whatever you want, but everyone else should be obligated to do whatever it takes to protect YOU. Do you read what you write? Are you a sentient being?

      • “So, you should be able to do whatever you want, but everyone else should be obligated to do whatever it takes to protect YOU.”

        - There is so much immaturity in the world. It often seems like every other person is stuck at the psychological and emotional stage of 12 years of age.

      • Cute, Andrea. Where do you get that everyone is required to protect me? If anything, you are the one holding that view. Are you not requiring the state to give me the vaccine? Isn’t that you saving me from myself? I believe nobody has any obligation to me whatsoever, as I have no right to anyone else’s time or effort. Better question for you, do you read what I write, or do you get a general sense of argument and just go straight to ad hominem attacks?

        Clarissa, that’s him taking an action. He is responsible for that action, and you have every right to take steps to protect yourself. But that’s not what we’re talking about –we’re discussing a situation where my default situation is inaction (not getting vaccine) and you want to force an action upon me. A better example would be your neighbor doesn’t have a dangerous dog but you want to force him to get one to protect the neighborhood.

      • “But that’s not what we’re talking about –we’re discussing a situation where my default situation is inaction (not getting vaccine) and you want to force an action upon me.”

        - OK, I never met you in my life and the idea that I want to “force” anything on you is completely bizarre. I suggest you analyze its origins. As for the rest, we can argue until we are blue in the face whether not putting a dog on a leash constitutes action or inaction, but the point is that mature individuals do give a thought to how their behavior might impact strangers. If doing so seems like a huge imposition, I suggest you analyze the reasons of why things that adults find to be extremely easy are so hard for you.

      • Yeah — I mean, getting shots was no fun, but the alternative, since most people live in communities where other people live, is a Middle-Ages level of disease and death. Especially now that more and more people are crowding into cities (because that’s where the jobs are.) I mean do I really have to explain how diseases work? It’s not your *fault* that you get sick, but if it’s a deadly disease that actually kills a lot of people and you refused to get vaccinated for it because of some notion of not wanting your personal bodily autonomy violated, what does that make you?

        And musteryou, when you were a kid, neither you nor anyone else knew what your future life decisions would be. And in any case, even if you decided not to ever have a child, having measles yourself would not have been a pleasant experience. I’m glad I never had it. I had chicken pox once, and get to look forward to eventually getting shingles. They didn’t have the vaccine for it when I had it. I wish they had, I’d have gotten it.

      • Clarissa, the opposition to vaccinations is not a small one. And personally, I have all my vaccinations and it doesn’t bother me – but I appreciate those that it does, and respect their right not to have it.

        My body, my choice, right?

        Obviously one’s behavior affects others, but we can quickly get to the point where the logic dictates our right to interfere in everyone’s business at all times. And I would think that drawing a definite line on that at *putting stuff in other people’s bodies* is a pretty good place to start. And one that would be in line with your own beliefs on the matter…

        Andrea, yeah that silly, silly notion of personal bodily autonomy.

        Newsflash: If every human being refused to get every single vaccines, the human race would continue. Be a bit more brutish and short, but it would continue. If every human woman got an abortion every time she was pregnant, the human race would cease to exist.

        Yeah, let’s put aside the idea of personal bodily autonomy overriding the public good. Somehow I don’t think you’ve really thought out the implication of that argument. Maybe it’s best to acknowledge that we have a right to what does and doesn’t happen to our bodies – that no matter what we disagree on in terms of obligations elsewhere, we have no obligations whatsoever to allow ‘society’ to overrule our preferences in regards to our ‘personal bodily autonomy’.

        But allow me to explain diseases to you. By everyone else (which in reality does actually include me) getting vaccines, those people who don’t want them are actually safe in their decision. They are freeloading, sure (but boy, that would be a can of worms to open), but there is not going to be an outbreak of polio because Jack doesn’t believe in getting the vaccination, any more than the human race is going to die out because Jill gets social security from a generation she did not err… help produce.

      • “My body, my choice, right?”

        - Usually, people get vaccinated in early childhood while they are still incapable of making any choice for themselves.

        “Newsflash: If every human being refused to get every single vaccines, the human race would continue. Be a bit more brutish and short, but it would continue. If every human woman got an abortion every time she was pregnant, the human race would cease to exist.”

        - This is the weirdest argument I have ever heard. I don’t even know what this is supposed to be in aid of. People don’t live in your head. You can’t expect them to figure out how these fantasies originate in your mind.

        “They are freeloading, sure (but boy, that would be a can of worms to open), but there is not going to be an outbreak of polio because Jack doesn’t believe in getting the vaccination, any more than the human race is going to die out because Jill gets social security from a generation she did not err… help produce.”

        - This probably makes some sense to you, but believe me, to a reader who is unfamiliar with your way of thinking, this is an unconnected jumble of words with absolutely no meaning. People don’t get polio vaccines at the age when they can make any judgments about the human race. And social security does not connect to the issue at hand in any way whatsoever.

        I have to ask, do you consider yourself a libertarian? Because the weird analogies, the unmotivated “you want to force me” addressed to complete strangers, the need to mention abortion in every sentence, the use of the word “freeloading”, the obsession with social security – these are all hallmarks of the very American brand of libertarianism.

      • At Alexander: Are you really making the case that somehow people shouldn’t be vaccinated? I understand perhaps when people debate the particulars of vaccinations: the age should a child be vaccinated; if the vaccinations occur over time or all at once etc etc. But to argue that vaccinations are not a necessity is _woefully_ shortsighted.

        Vaccinations have, with little exaggeration, saved mankind from misery, frightening illness, and death. How does someone’s dubious (and superstitious) “right” not to be vaccinated overpower the needs of an entire populace to not contract deadly diseases?

      • “How does someone’s dubious (and superstitious) “right” not to be vaccinated overpower the needs of an entire populace to not contract deadly diseases?”

        - Since vaccines are administered to very tiny children, what we are discussing is, yet again, the right of irresponsible parents to use children as a billboard for their badly digested pseudo-political beliefs.

      • Because it doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong. We have total control over our own bodies. Unless you wish to clarify that ‘my body, my choice’ is a question of circumstance and condition.

      • “We have total control over our own bodies.”

        - Small children have no control over their bodies. Especially in a country that did not sign the convention on the rights of children. Vaccination is normally done to small children.

      • Also Alexander’s example of abortion is totally a false parallel. If every time a woman got an abortion, someone else would be subject to a debilitating disease and a slow painful death, then perhaps I would have some sympathy for the “anti-abortion” side. (And I mean an actual world citizen” please don’t subject me to some diatribe of “fetal pain.”) But the truth is, abortion only affects the body of the pregnant woman and we all know that; on the other hand, refusing vaccination has the possibility of hurting many bodies beyond that of the individual.

      • No, we don’t know that. Again, a small minority of non-vaccinated people do not and will not cause an outbreak of a disease. For the disease to spread and mutate and so affect vaccinated people would require a large number of people for it to go through in a very short time. A handful of people sprinkled across the population do not constitute this.

        The reason I bring up abortion is because you do not see how contradictory your position is. If you are willing to make personal bodily autonomy a conditional thing, then everything else is undermined. As you already assume I’m an immature, libertarian, (nonsentient?) nutjob I really have nothing to lose by going ahead and saying I think that’s actually kind of funny. You are eroding the crown legislative jewel of the feminist movement over fear of an imaginary epidemic. The only way to win the long game is to make bodily autonomy absolute – and the more you argue in favor of loopholes regarding minors or the need for the greater good, or those silly anti-vaccinators just being wrong, the more you arm your ideological opponents for future battles. Especially as the welfare state is sputtering and native western demographics are trending downwards, I do not know why you would cede this ground so willingly, why you want to establish legal precedent to override the heart of the feminist movement.

        But I won’t complain that you do.

      • ” If you are willing to make personal bodily autonomy a conditional thing, then everything else is undermined.”

        - I still have absolutely no idea what you are discussing. Whose bodily autonomy is respected if parents make a potentially dangerous decision on behalf of their infant children?

        “As you already assume I’m an immature, libertarian, (nonsentient?) nutjob I really have nothing to lose by going ahead and saying I think that’s actually kind of funny.”

        - Do you realize that you are the only person who used the word “nutjob” to refer to yourself? The sentence I quoted does not make sense grammatically. That doesn;t make you a nutjob, though. :-)

        “The only way to win the long game is to make bodily autonomy absolute – and the more you argue in favor of loopholes regarding minors or the need for the greater good, or those silly anti-vaccinators just being wrong, the more you arm your ideological opponents for future battles.”

        - I’m honestly trying to understand what you are trying to say and I’m failing. What “long game” are you speaking about? Which “loopholes regarding minors” did I argue in favor of??? When did I ever mention “the greater good”?

        Actually, this insistence that everybody speaks of “the greater good” when nobody does so is another hallmark of the libertarian style.

        “those silly anti-vaccinators just being wrong, the more you arm your ideological opponents for future battles.”

        - I never said that they “are just being wrong.” I said they use their children for ideological purposes. What opponents I arm and which future battles you are talking about is another mystery.

        “Especially as the welfare state is sputtering and native western demographics are trending downwards, I do not know why you would cede this ground so willingly, why you want to establish legal precedent to override the heart of the feminist movement.”

        - Huh? :-) Once again, this sentence probably means sense to you on a purely syntactic level. But I have to tell you. . . huh? :-) :-)

        Note how you didn’t even try to answer a single one of my questions. Not even the easy yes/no ones.

      • Okay, as I suspected, Alexander is one of those persons it is impossibly to communicate with because they don’t believe that other people actually exist except as notions inside their heads. This, by the way, is why we make sure to vaccinate babies and small children: too many “adults” have not in fact grown into people capable of making proper decisions about themselves, and are, like Alexander, stuck in the toddler mentality of “don’t wash my blankie! don’t move my toys!”, but since they look like adults their stupid “decisions” about their lives have to be considered. Just imagine if we waited until everyone was old enough to agree to be vaccinated or not. Graveyards would still be full of dead kids and hospitals full of people hooked up to iron lungs.

      • “Just imagine if we waited until everyone was old enough to agree to be vaccinated or not. Graveyards would still be full of dead kids and hospitals full of people hooked up to iron lungs.”

        - I don’t really think there is any danger. These Libertarian fantasies never get supported by any actual action. For some reason, the fans of Ayn Rand’s workaholic characters always turn out to hate any sort of work or exertion. And the Libertarian boys who dream of the police-free, state-free existence always turn out to be nerdy boys who can’t deliver a punch or run for half a mile.

        “Okay, as I suspected, Alexander is one of those persons it is impossibly to communicate with because they don’t believe that other people actually exist except as notions inside their heads.”

        - Yes. Did you see how not a single one of my questions was answered?

      • Oh I know, but these folks never seem to think through to the possible consequences of their extravagant plans, and I feel compelled to do it for them.

        Hey, only real people get their questions answered, and since only Alexander exists in Alexander’s universe…

      • But I won’t complain that you do.

        Looks like your diagnosis of libertarian might be a little (but only a little) off. It appears you’re dealing with a paleocon.

    • Ha, I remember we (the girls) had to go to get the rubella vaccine to a local health centre one day (this was in 7th grade) and were excused from school on that day for that reason. While the boys stayed in the school and had to write an extra a biology test. Win for the girls!

  3. Good grief. This is a pretty amusing image, but a fairly terrible example to be setting. Although cloth diapers are cheaper, I’m not going to judge women who don’t want to put their hands in a bucket of poopy water.

  4. I don’t know who to feel more sorry for (maybe the teacher since she was stuck doing that awful job until she could ‘retire’…)

    I was thinking of my mythical sexual therapeutic Sovseks institute I was thinking of other kinds of scenarios.

    - They make proper, wholesome sex demonstration videos (with tinny 70′s 80′s Soviet pop backgrounds) that are terribly non-stimulating. The films can’t be lent out though they have to be watched in the institute (in a room with a steady stream of random passers through). They also use these films to supposedly treat lagging desire in one or both partners, but even if they work then good luck staying in the mood during the bus/taxi ride home.

    - Couples having intimacy problems are supposed to demonstrate in front of sex technicians (mostly ladies in their 40′s and 50′s) who say things like:

    “No! That’s wrong, you should never insert two fingers first. What kind of bumpkin are you? First one finger! (inserts finger herself) see? Now you try again!”

    or (while examining a patient’s genitals:

    “I have to admit that your natural equipment is not the best, I’ve really seen much better, no, not impressve at all, but no matter! I will teach you the proper ways of compensating for this…. (stares intently at offending genitals) I won’t say defect, I will just say… deficiency (shakes head and writes something down in her notebook).

    They publish materials comparing sex to the rational and scientific exploitation of the natural world by the Soviet state to improve living standards and which declare sexual satisfaction the ‘rational duty’ of all (married) Soviet citizens.

    That kind of thing.

    • The thing is, we were not supposed to have sex at all, and everything was done to make that pursuit as unattractive to people as possible. In quite a few cases the policies were actually successful. So what you are describing would actually be a vast improvement over what we had. As insane as that sounds.

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