Picks and Pans Review: Moscow Women

updated 07/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Carola Hansson and Karin Liden

For women in the Soviet Union, there is no question about "having it all": marriage, job, children. Theirs is the country with one of the highest female employment rates in the world, so the idea of staying home for years after childbirth is 'virtually unheard of. According to Hansson and Liden, however, having it all sounds more like enduring it all. The two Swedish feminist writers visited Russia in 1978 and, through unofficial channels, interviewed 13 women for this often fascinating book, attempting to determine how Soviet women differ from Westerners. A dreary portrait of women's daily life emerges. With apartments at a premium, families often live in one room and share a kitchen and bathroom with others. Shopping means hours of standing in line, then toting the grocery sacks home on crowded rush-hour buses and subways. Often derisively called "Knights of the Sofa" by the press and their wives, husbands swill vodka and shun household tasks. Partly because so many couples must live with their in-laws, domestic life is often one long bout with tension, and divorce rates equal those in the West. Medical care, particularly for women, is abysmal; since the Pill is often unavailable, the diaphragm requires a doctor's appointment, and the condom is distasteful to men, Soviet women use abortion for birth control. Questioned about feminism, the women find it, too, a burden. "It's so difficult to be a woman here," one says. "With emancipation, we lead such abnormal, twisted lives, because women have to work the same as men do." Although most state strongly that they would go crazy staying home, the women believe the government fails to recognize their double burden as women workers. Women complain, too, not of the loneliness rampant in the West, but of having no time for themselves. The "Me" generation has obviously not yet arrived in Moscow. (Pantheon, hardcover, $16.95, paperback, $7.95)

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