The double burden is the idea that women are responsible for duties in the domestic sphere as well as the professional world, upholding the obligations of a caretaker and employee simultaneously. This notion was evident in women’s role in the Soviet Union, as laws encouraged women to enter the public sphere and obtain “equal rights,” however they failed to take into account any balance for the tasks women were required to complete in the home. This concept is clear in the following quote from Tatyana Mamonova in an interview completed by Judy Klemesrud for The New York Times: “Women face the double burden of work and having all the responsibilities in the home. Emancipation as defined by Soviet law means new rights for women, but no new obligations for men” (Klemesrud).
The endless cycle of work created for women by their maternal obligations and highly encouraged public positions failed to account for the desires of women, leaving the remaining question: when do lawmakers granting women “equal rights” ask women in the Soviet Union what would increase their life satisfaction?
This theoretical concept is exemplified in two fictional pieces ranging in publication dates, illustrating the weight of this problem, as well as the role that women play in building a social support network for one another. Predating the Soviet Union, “The Death of Makarykha” tells the story of Tetyana Makarykha and her family, detailing the events corresponding to her inevitable death as a result of her viscously laborious life (Yanovska 130-166). Tetyana engages in not only domestic and motherly duties, but she also undergoes rigorous, physical labor on her family’s farm, working tirelessly to escape the grasp of financial instability (Yanovska 132-133). In this piece, the double burden expands beyond Tetyana, manifesting itself in the lives of the other village women, binding them by never ending work and socioeconomic hardship (Yanovska 130-166). However, unlike the social isolation Tetyana endured, the neighbor women built a support system defined by shared responsibilities, seen in their division of work concerning Tetyana’s funeral arrangements (Yanovska 130-166). Although the duties were dispersed among many women, the labor remained strenuous, illustrated in the following quote: “…women healers, doctors, and ordinary people disappeared, to be replaced by the obligations, well-known to everyone, of the living to the dead” (Yanovska 148).
The second novella that thematically exemplifies the double burden is “A Week Like Any Other” by Natalya Baranskaya. This piece is riddled with overlapping duties for women, seen in the main character, Olya, as she works full time and performs most of the domestic and parental obligations (Baranskaya 23). The perpetual cycle of the role of a woman in the Soviet Union is clear in Olya’s life, as she is still required to cook dinner for her family and repair her husband’s clothing after working several hours of overtime at her job (Baranskaya 42, 61-62). This example ties into Mamonova’s discussion of how men in the Soviet Union were not held accountable for any of the home-related responsibilities, regardless of women’s additional work (Klemesrud). On top of the responsibilities held by Oyla, she is devalued by her husband, Dima, as he urges her to quit her position in order to fulfill her domestic duties, as well as by her boss, Yakov Petrovich, exhibited in his patronizing tone and continuous reminders of her daily tasks (Baranskaya 1-2, 59-60). A unique aspect to this story is the inclusion of hints at a triple burden, which is the double burden with the addition of political responsibility, exemplified in a questionnaire that is passed out to all of the female employees at Olya’s workplace (Baranskaya 5-8). The survey asked questions regarding time off from work, the number of children each woman had, living arrangements, which kindergartens their children attended, and their marital status (Baranskaya 5-8). This measure was interpreted as the government’s means to encourage women to have children while also upholding their employment (Baranskaya 5-8). Unlike the relationship that Tetyana lacked with the village women in “The Death of Makarykha,” Olya was surrounded by female colleagues sharing similar experiences and supporting one another through rotating shopping shifts, as well as friendly acts like saving places for one another in lines for special food or cleaning rations (Baranskaya 40). The support expanded upon errands, as seen in Olya’s coworkers leaving work early in order to help her with her shopping shift and allow her to vent about the oppressive forces in her life (Baranskaya 46-48).
While the double burden, or the triple burden, creates endless labor cycles for women in Russia, it appears that mutual experiences of this hardship make for better outcomes. As evident in “The Death of Makarykha,” Tetyana’s social isolation from the women in her community served as a disadvantage regarding the responsibilities she was required to complete, eventually working herself to death (Yanovska 130-166). Contrastingly, Olya’s experience in “A Week Like Any Other” is one that includes the social support network of her female coworkers, which eased the burden she faced in the domestic, professional, and political sphere (Baranskaya 5-8, 40, 46-48).
Baranskaya, Natalya. A Week Like Any Other: Novellas and Stories. Translated by Pieta Monks, The Seal Press, 1993.
Klemesrud, Judy. “EMIGRE TALKS ABOUT FEMINISM IN THE SOVIET UNION.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 June 1984, www.nytimes.com/1984/06/17/style/emigre-talks-about-feminism-in-the-soviet-union.html.
Yanovska, Lyubov. The Death of Makarykha. 1900.