Sex Role Education in the USSR BY LANDON PEARSON n the spring of 1989 I sat down at their teacher's desk in a typical Moscow classroom. In front of me were thirty fifteen- year-olds, boys and girls together. They were fresh-facedand remarkably attractive, uniformed, of course, but casually: the girls in navy-blue suits, the boys in jackets and pants. These were the same children I watched entering school for the first time in 1981 as I stood at the window of the CanadianEmbassy across the street. They were now in the eighth class with two more to go tion to the Congressof People's Deputies was still in the air, none of the girls expressed the slightest interest in politics or in power. Then I asked them about their future family lives. Did they expect to be married? All the girls said "yes" and then laughed when some of the boys said "no." These boys and girls were quite comfortable with one another because most of them had been together since the age of seven. "How many children?" I asked. "Two," came the prompt reply, one girl commenting wistfully before graduation. I had come to talk to them about their future. First, I asked them what they wanted to do with their lives. The boys were far more ambitious than the girls. The girls took it for granted that they would have to work but they had limited ideas about what they might be doing. Yulya thought that she would like to be a doctor, but medicine in the USSR is a profession that has long been domi- nated by women (except for specialists and senior ad- minislrators) so there was nothing unusual in that. The others saw themselves pos- sibly as teachers, or more likely as office or factory workers, or in the service sector. Although the excite- ment of the first open elec- VOLUME 10. NUMBER 4 Oktyabr collsctinhrm kindergarten in DunganovkmVIiiaga. K.nW.tn cwrtesy NOVOSTl PRESS AGENCY 93
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be boys, girls should be girls, and that social behaviours that distinguish one sex from the other should not be confused. Although theRevolution was supposed to free women from the domination of men and make them legally and economi- cally equal to them, it did very little to change basic stereotypes of what boys and girls should be like. Nor has there been much change since. The persistence of these stereotypes is partly a function of the tragedies of Soviet history, such as the devastating demographic impact of the Second World War. Yet these tragedies are now in the past, and boys and girls are still receiving the same message from the school system; that the two sexes have different roles to play in maintaining the fabric of Soviet society. roles that burden Soviet women with the familiar "second shift." Not only are Soviet women ex- pected to work outside the home and play their characteristic female role nurturing the emotional quality of the work collec- tive but, they are also expected to be in charge of all the "comforts" of domestic life. No wonder the girls, who, no doubt, sympathized with their exhausted moth- ers, told me that they would opt to remain at home with their babies if they could.
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