Psychology Studies and Women’s Issues in the Soviet Union

Last week, I was interviewed for a project, and one of the questions they asked me was whether I consider myself a feminist and whether I was always that way. And I had to admit that it was not always the case. I started to tell them how I thought about women’s issues when I was still in college, and then remembered that I wanted to write a post about it for quite a while. Here it comes.

During our eighth semester at the University, we had a psychology class. At that time, psychology was all but a forbidden subject in the Soviet Union. There were close to zero books on psychology and close to zero number of specialists. And for all of us, having a psychology class felt a little bit like taking a peek behind the Iron Curtain.
We adored our professor. In our often-not-heated department building, she always came to her lectures in a light-blue suit, somehow not getting frozen to death. She changed into dress shoes before coming to class, while everybody else was walking around in the winter boots. Her lectures were captivating. But the highlights of this class were two lectures on family psychology.

These lectures were not in the curriculum, but professor G. understood that all these young people, married at twenty, were desperate for any information about how to stay together and not to get divorced before graduation.
So she had these two lectures — one for boys and one for girls. I only heard rumors about what she was talking about at the “boys” lecture, but I know what she told the girls. In fact, I attended this lecture twice: the first time a year prematurely, skipping one of my classes, and sneaking in with my older friends.
That’s what she told us. All men say they want smart wives. But what they do not say is that it means “but not smarter than me, of cause!” Thereby, girls, she would continue, when your husband comes home, put your books away immediately, put on a pretty apron, and head to the kitchen!

You don’t believe she could say this? She could, and she did! And even more surprisingly, we all thought: oh, that’s so clever! She is so right! If we want to keep our husbands/boyfriends – that’s what we should do!
She also told us: if you want to have a strong man by you, you need to be a delicate woman! You should be unable to carry anything heavy so that he won’t have any choice but to help you. You should be afraid to enter a dark hallway. You should always how, how helpless you are without his support. There was no question that a wife should always be ready to answer her husband’s sexual needs, and should always say that that’s the best she ever had. And once again, we all thought that this is incredibly smart, and never thought that all she was saying was quite discriminatory toward women.

Why did I think it was alright, I do not know.

I was always taking pride in being able to compete professionally “at men’s level.” When I learned that people were saying I am the smartest female in our class, I thought it was OK. When I was officially ranked five in my class, and officially ranked “the second female,” I also thought it was OK. I knew that in order to compete with men for a position I have to be not just better, but ten times better than men with whom I was competing,

And why I thought it was perfectly fine, I do not know…

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

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