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Travel Notes: Russia


I visited Russia before the fall of communism. People on the streets didn’t smile and when I visited a Russian friend he told me not to speak English so his neighbors wouldn’t report him to the secret police. After I returned home, the police told him not to correspond with me and jeans I mailed to him didn’t make it to him. Apartments were small and crowded. Women spent a lot of time waiting in line to buy food. To buy something in a drug store, I waited in one line to order, in another line to pay, and another line to pick up. Clerks used an abacus to add up sales. These modernizations mean fewer jobs with one person doing the job that four used to do. Consumer goods were in short supply, including birth control, so abortion was the main form of family planning. Soldiers checked under our seats and used mirrors to look under the train when we left for Berlin, looking for people who might try to escape.

This has all changed with economic prosperity, Dr. Kate Transchel reports, although women still do the double job of paid work and family work. They’re not in the highly paid jobs. It’s just beginning to be accepted for father to take care of their children by themselves. Women get child custody after divorce. Russia hasn’t developed a feminist movement though. Communists considered it bourgeois and women were too busy to organize. The few feminists are likely to be academics who’ve traveled to the West.

An urban youth trend that emerged at the end of the 1990s is trying to be glamorous or read about it in reaction to Soviet drabness and post-Soviet bleakness: “Russian glamour has become the cultural equivalent of unchallenged globalised capitalism.”[i] Women read about and go to workshops about how to glamorous and use one’s sexuality to marry a rich man, “the fine art of manipulating men.”[ii] Some middle class people spend much of their income to buy imitations of fashion brands worn by wealthy celebrities. They read glamour magazines and novels, listed in bookstores under “Glamorous Paperbacks.” Women’s magazines like Gloss continue this type of instruction, including Russian editions of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, etc. which are mostly advertisements.

[i] Birgit Menzel, “Russian Discourse on Glamour,” Kultura, December, 2008.

[ii] David Schonauer, “The Russian ‘Sterva’ [bitch] Class, PopPhoto.com, February 9, 2007http://stateoftheart.popphoto.com/blog/2007/02/in_russian_the_.html#%23


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