Sex, Career and Family: Including an International Review of Women's Roles

By Michael P. Fogarty; Rhona Rapoport et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter II
The Experience of Eastern Europe1

In none of the other countries examined in the P.E.P. study has so sustained and forceful an effort been made to bring women into business and social leadership as in the Marxist countries of Eastern Europe. Some features of this effort are specific to these countries, but many are of universal relevance and separable from the application of a generally Marxist system. The experience of Eastern Europe thus provides a useful perspective in which to foresee the future problems of Western countries, especially as regards the problems which remain when the formal and traditional barriers to women's progress still common in the West have been abolished. The Soviet Union now has more than half a century of experience in this field, and the other East European countries most of a generation, and it is with their experience that it is useful to begin.

Behind the drive which the socialist countries have made to bring women first of all into work outside their homes and secondly into positions of leadership in work lie two chief factors. The first and most important is ideological. The family holds a key place in Marxist thinking as the basic cell of society, with essential functions in a number of fields. Over and above its most obvious function in the birth and early rearing of children, the family has a part to play in education, in shaping and satisfying emotional relationships between the family members, and in consumption and production. But it cannot perform these functions to the best advantage so long as mothers (or married women in general) are restricted to the role simply of a housewife.

'Mere' housewives are seen by Marxist thinkers as subject in capitalist society to a double alienation. They are not independent but in a sense the property of their husbands. Where a dowry is paid or some similar arrangement is made, this relationship is of course underlined; but it exists, in the form of a relation of dependence and

____________________
1
The material for this chapter is drawn primarily from the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic.

-47-

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