The Death of Russian Womanhood

Valentina Tereshkova, the first female Soviet cosmonaut – indeed, the first woman to go into space – recently celebrated her 70th birthday. In an interview, she stated her only wish: to fly to Mars, even with a one-way ticket. It was an implicit wish for a spectacular form of suicide, for a spectacularly prosaic reason: the loss, experienced by thousands of Russian women of her generation, of her life’s existential foundation.

Tereshkova’s generation, though it encompassed almost the entire era of Soviet rule, had been raised in the tradition of Russian womanhood. Much older than the Soviet regime, this tradition emphasizes a spirit of sacrifice – not just for loved ones, but also for great causes such as revolution, state, science, or art – that is deeply hostile to accumulation of money and material goods as the goal of life.

After “perestroika” and the 1991 collapse of the USSR, these women did not change their lives and attitudes. They did not curse what they had glorified in the past and embrace what they had once condemned. They did not participate in “privatization” of state property or enter show business to make money.

These women – and Tereshkova is undoubtedly among them – were shocked by the changes they saw before them. Indeed, probably more horrifying to them than the collapse of the Soviet regime was the rampant prostitution of daily life, for it negated the meaning of Russia and of Russian womanhood.