Relations between the sexes after the transition from socialism to capitalism

From Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets:

Love? That’s not even an option… I’m not against all that happy shiny stuff, but you’re probably the first person to say that word to me in ten years. It’s the twenty-first century: It’s all about money, sex, and two smoking barrels, and here you are talking about feelings… Everyone finally got their hands on some dough, for the first time ever… I was in no hurry to get married, have kids, I’ve always put my career first. I value myself, my time, and my life. And where did you ever get the idea that men are looking for love? Ooh, love… Men consider women game, war trophies, prey, and themselves hunters. Those are the rules that have been developed over the course of centuries. And women aren’t looking for their knight in shining armor to come galloping in on a white horse—they want him on a sack of gold. A knight of indeterminate age… even a “daddy” will do… So what? Money rules the world! But I’m no prey, I’m a huntress myself… I came to Moscow ten years ago. I was wild, fired up, I told myself that I was born to be happy, that only the weak suffer, and modesty is nothing but adornment for the weak. I’m from Rostov… My parents work at a school, my father’s a chemist, and my mother’s a Russian language and literature teacher. They got married when they were in college, my father only owned one decent suit but had more than his share of ideas. Back then, that was enough to make a young girl swoon. They still love to remember how, for ages, they got by with one set of linens, one pillow, and one pair of slippers. They’d spend their nights reciting Pasternak—they knew it all by heart! “Anywhere is heaven with the one you love!” “Until the first frosts,” I’d laugh. “You have no imagination,” my mother would reply, hurt. We were your typical Soviet family: For breakfast, it was always buckwheat or noodles with butter; we only had oranges once a year, on New Year’s Eve.

It took a long time for people like my parents to realize that capitalism had already begun in earnest. Russian capitalism, young and thick-skinned, the same beast that had been put down in 1917…[ She falls into thought.] Do they understand it today? It’s hard to say… There’s one thing I know for sure: Capitalism was not what my parents ordered. No two ways about it. It’s what I ordered, it’s made for people like me, who didn’t want to stay in the cage. The young and the strong.

I was looking up… to the top of the tall ladder of life… I never dreamed of being fucked in stairwells or saunas in exchange for expensive dinners. I had a lot of admirers… I didn’t pay any attention to my peers—we could be friends, go to the library together. It was unserious and safe. I preferred older, more successful men who had already made it. They were interesting, fun, and useful.

And that’s when I met him… You could say that I loved him. This sounds like a confession, doesn’t it? [She laughs.] He was twenty years older than me, married with two sons. A jealous wife. He lived under a microscope… Now I see that love is also a kind of business, everyone is taking their own measure of risk. You have to be ready for new configurations—always! These days, few people go weak in the knees for love. Everyone saves their strength for the leap forward! For their career! In our smoking room, the girls gossip about their love lives, and if any of them has real feelings, everyone feels sorry for her—like, what an idiot, she’s head over heels.

Loneliness is freedom… Now, every day, I’m happy I’m free: Will he call or won’t he, will he come over or not? Is he going to dump me? Spare me! Those aren’t my problems anymore! So no, I’m not afraid of loneliness… What am I afraid of? I’m afraid of the dentist! [She suddenly loses control.] People always lie when they talk about love… and money… They’re always lying in so many different ways. I don’t want to lie… I just don’t!

The plot? A tale as old as time… I wanted to have his baby, I got pregnant… Maybe it scared him? Men are such cowards! Whether they’re bums or oligarchs—makes no difference. They’ll go to war, start a revolution, but when it comes to love, they’re traitors.

I am filled with horror when I consider how hard you have to work to keep someone in your life. It’s like breaking rocks at a quarry! You have to forget about yourself, reject yourself, liberate yourself from yourself. There is no freedom in love. Even if you find your ideal partner, he’ll wear the wrong cologne, he’ll like fried meat and mock you for your little salads, leave his socks and pants all over the place. And you always have to suffer. Suffer?! For love… for that harmony… I don’t want to do that work anymore, it’s easier for me to rely on myself.

I’ll never be able to fall in love with a man from a dormitory town who doesn’t have any money. From a prefab ghetto, from Harlem. I hate people who grew up in poverty, their pauper’s mentality; money means so much to them, you can’t trust them. I don’t like the poor, the insulted and the humiliated.

The whole ride home, he lectured me on common sense: “It’s all bullshit! Nothing but idiocy! In 1991, I was a student in Moscow, I also ran around to demonstrations. There were more of us than there are of you. And we won. We dreamed that every one of us would start a business and get rich. And what do you think happened? When the Communists were in power, I was an engineer—now I’m a cabbie. We chased out one group of bastards, and another group of bastards took their place. Black, gray, or orange, they’re all the same. In our country, power will corrupt anyone. I’m a realist. The only things I believe in are myself and my family. While the newest round of idiots tries to usher in the latest revolution, I just keep my nose to the grindstone. This month, I need to make enough money to buy my daughters new coats, and next month, my wife needs boots. You’re a pretty girl. You’d be better off finding yourself a good man and getting married.”

More: read Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

One thought on “Relations between the sexes after the transition from socialism to capitalism

  1. I am confused. “This month, I need to make enough money to buy my daughters new coats, and next month, my wife needs boots.” etc.. well describes live in USSR for two working parents. Around late 1980th – early 1990th this all changed. Is Russia (or rather Belorussia) now lives in late 1970th – pre Gorbachev 1980th ? I strongly doubt that because many Belorussian migrants now earn money in USA/Europe/other countries. They could not do so during Soviet times.

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