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.

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

It is curious how often ideological foes end up promoting the same beliefs and supporting the same practices. Spain’s fascist dictator Franco hated the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union responded with an equally powerful dislike. However, there are many striking similarities in the way the two regimes functioned. Franco’s dictatorship is notorious for forcing all women to undergo humiliating classes where women were taught how to be good wives and mothers. (As you can imagine, it never occurred to anybody to offer any suggestions to men on how to be good husbands and fathers.)

Franco died the year before I was born, but I still had to take such classes. That was in 1995-1998, in the post-Soviet Ukraine. The USSR had collapsed a few years earlier, but nobody had had either the resources or the time to change the Soviet curricula in schools and universities. I majored in English and German, which meant that I had to undergo 4 years of military training.

“We are preparing you to serve as military translators in case a nuclear war begins,” the former KGB colonel who was the head of the Military Training Department explained to us.

“Excuse me,” I asked, “who will we fight against in this war?”

“The US, of course,” said the colonel.

“Can I fight on the Americans’ side, then?” I asked.

The poor elderly KGB officer blanched. Youth is cruel, and today I would have never hurt the guy’s feelings this way. He was obviously unprepared to deal with a bunch of loud-mouthed, painted, rude and cynical female students who were so unlike the earnest, shy Communist young women of his younger days.

Every Thursday for four years was dedicated exclusively to military training. Male and female students were separated for these classes. Our male colleagues were supposed to learn to march, shoot, run and jump, but there never was an instructor available to teach them, so they simply had a free day on Thursdays.

Female students, however, had to take courses on:

1. Basic human anatomy;

2. First aid;

3. Nursing;

4. And the infamous course on “Motherhood and Family Relations.”

[To be continued. . .]