Post-socialist Women and Men

When the Soviet bloc collapsed, men massively became depressed, planted themselves on their couches, and pouted about the injustice done to them. Women, on the other hand, got over it fast, picked up extra jobs, put food on the table, and ploughed on.

My family was exceptional in that my father started a business three seconds after it became allowed and my mother quit her job. Every friend I had in high school would ask, “wait, you said your Dad works? And your Mom doesn’t? How weird.”

I’m talking about normal people, not bandits, of course. Those had very traditional gender roles always.

The families that emigrated went through the same process. An unemployed, resentful Dad on the couch in an eternal tracksuit that was never used for working out and a Mom working three jobs. Many are still at it 30 years later, even when they are retired.

I have no explanation for this. This was a generation of men who never experienced any purges, genocide, wars, or any repression different from that of the women. So you can’t say that they were traumatized by that and gave up when the upheaval of capitalism came.

I thought it was a post-Soviet phenomenon but I’m seeing the same dynamic described in Lea Ypi’s memoir about life in post-1991 Albania. Her parents both suffered during socialism because of having a bad family history. But once capitalism came, Lea’s Dad became an unemployed pouter in a tracksuit moaning about his nostalgia for socialism and her Mom became a pro-capitalist politician.


4 thoughts on “Post-socialist Women and Men

  1. “Every friend I had in high school would ask, “wait, you said your Dad works? And your Mom doesn’t? How weird.” [···]
    I have no explanation for this.”

    Answer: it’s for the same reason that in most societies language change is instated, spread and accelerated by women and not by men. As a broad generalisation, women are catalysts, men are carburetors.

    In authoritarian/totalitarian societies men’s and women’s roles are ready-made; in a free-for-all society people have to find/invent a role for themselves. When Soviet rule collapsed, society did not revert to 1917, it moved forward to 1991 and the same happened in post-Hoxha Albania. Think about post-Deng Xiao Ping China: you never hear about Chinese women complaining about restrictive gender roles in business enterprises, indeed there are quite a few female millionaires. This is not true, though, of politics, which is massively dominated by men, same as in Albania and post-Soviet Russia.


  2. “men massively became depressed, planted themselves on their couches”

    Not something I noticed in Poland…. I arrived around 18 months after the changeover but I didn’t see anything like that.
    The two reactions (shock and sullen withdrawal vs getting up off the couch changing with the times) were very apparent but I didn’t see that gender divide….
    It might be because it wasn’t quite as big a change. It was huge but there had been a private sector and private businesses for years, scapegoated and closely watched but there.
    It might be because there was (unique in the region?) an active religious presence in society. It was shot thru with politics but it was there so maybe men didn’t feel as unmoored as in places committed to atheism.
    It might be because the change was mostly welcome in Poland and not in the USSR(?) or Albania(?)
    It might be that I was in a business-oriented city and more industry-dependent places had that dynamic (though I did travel and knew people from lots of places and it wasn’t a pattern that I noticed).
    If I noticed any pattern it was by family… either the whole family was engaged, or sullen or (often) kept afloat by one ‘kombinator’ (person who knows how to get things done, usually male and the family scapegoat).


  3. “Women, on the other hand, got over it fast”

    I kind of have the idea that this dynamic might have existed more in the countryside and/or after Poland entered the EU.
    Poland’s story during the last couple of decades of communism was roughly “we’re surviving (until things change)” and after 1989 it become “we’re returning to Europe” and then after being in NATO and the EU… it sort of didn’t have a new story (until Feb 24, 2022….)

    For several years the most popular tv show was ‘Ranczo’ about a Polish-American woman who inherits a manor house in the countryside in Eastern Poland. At first she wants to sell it and then decides to stay…
    In that show almost all the innovations (starting new businesses or changing the way things were done) came from the female characters. The men weren’t useless but they were more stuck in a rut and didn’t come up with much that was new.


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