Moscow — The mutiny, as it came to be known, erupted to the strains of Vivaldi. A young woman in the Nikolayev Chamber Orchestra, in the Ukraine, calmly laid down her instrument, stood, glared at the (male) conductor, and cried:
"Maestro, you're drunk!" (He was.)
What followed was, literally, a battle of the sexes. The women musicians marched out of rehearsal and lodged a formal complaint. Maestro, as it turned out, made a habit of weaving about as wildly as his baton. So did other men in the orchestra, his "bottle-sharers," harrumphed the women.m
For many a Soviet woman, the greatest irritant in daily life is a Soviet man.
But in few instances is the irritant so neatly dealt with as was the muddled maestro of Nikolayev. He is now jobless, says the Soviet newspaper that reported the incident.
Maestros are easier to replace than husbands. Life, with apologies to Shakespeare, is not an orchestra stage. In the real world, particularly the Soviet woman's world, problems are not so nicely isolated.
One young Moscow woman complains: "The problems of my marriage are wrapped up with other burdens: work, shopping, apartment space, money. . . . Suddenly deciding to be single isn't a magic solution either. . . ."
This is all the more true if a woman wants to remarry. The Stalinist purges and forced collectivization of farms, plus a savage world war, have deeded the Soviet Union a majority-female population. "Chances of remarrying are relatively slim," said a Soviet newspaper recently, "given the shortage of eligible bachelors."
But, he said the same newspaper, a growing number of Soviet women are getting divorced anyway.
A majority of Soviet divorces now comes on the request of women. The complaints are various, but often similar: My husband drinks. . . . My husband is spoiled. . . . My husband never helps with the housework. . . .
There is nothing exclusively Soviet about any of these problems. But they do seem peculiarly pervasive, and peculiarly difficult to deal with, in Soviet society.
Not all Soviet men drink. But many do, and those who do often drink a lot.
It is not uncommon in Moscow, generally but not only at night, to see men weaving unsteadily along a downtown sidewalk.
A recent Western study -- which will have to do, since the Soviets publish no comprehensive statistics on the subject -- estimated that each man of working age in this country imbibes the average equivalent of some 2.5 gallons of pure alcohol each year. This figure did not include consumption of home-distilled samagon,m a phenomenon impossible to quantify at all reliably.
By no means all Soviet men are spoiled. But the typical young boy does seem more coddled here than in many other countries.
One woman recently wrote to the newspaper Sovietskaya Rossia (Soviet Russia) decrying the "infantilism of modern men." The letter, published under the title, "What will become of mama's babies?" argued that young girls did more work than boys at home and that the boys, unsurprisingly, became "apathetic dependents" later in life.
Not all Soviet men shun shopping, cleaning, or other housework. But comments from Soviet women and reports in the Soviet press suggest that most want little or no part of it.
"Housework" has peculiarly Soviet connotations for Soviet women. A large number of Soviet women work. This is due, at least in part, to a shortage of male labor in some areas of the economy. But when offices close and factory whistles blow, the married woman's work is often just beginning.
She must shop, if she hasn't done so early in the morning or during an elastic lunch hour. Even in this capital city, supply of many products tends to be irregular. That often means going from one store to another, waiting in lines at each, and sparring with sometimes abrupt shopkeepers. The problem comes up in Soviet press reports often; it was even alluded to by President Leonid brezhnev in a major address last February.
Then she goes home -- often to a cramped apartment. She cooks dinner. Convenience foods are not widely available here.
And she cleans. Ironically, if her family has been "lucky" enough to have snagged one of the new apartments being feverishly built by the state in Moscow and other cities, she will do so without the help of the once ever-present "babushki," or grandmothers, who pitch in by long Soviet tradition.
Cleaning, too, has a different sense here than in many Western countries. Relatively few women have dishwashers, much less electric waxers or floor polishers.
A study published here a few years ago held that Soviet women were spending up to six hours a day on various household tasks. Another said only 3 percent of Leningrad husbands helped their wives with the shopping.
A more recent newspaper report suggested that women down on the farm were particularly hard pressed. "Rural men rarely help their wives," said the report , in the youth newspaper Yunost. Yet rural women were often responsible not only for ordinary housework but also for tilling small plots.
None of these problems is a secret to Soviet authorities. Each finds its way into official news media.
On one front in particular -- production of consumer goods -- Mr. Brezhnev launched the latest in a series of high-profile official initiatives in February. But putting more goods in the shops seems likely to take time.
Resolving other frequent gripes of Soviet women -- like those about Soviet men -- seems an even more distant prospect, implying complicated social changes more than official decrees.
Next: Abortions and divorce -- families in trouble.