US-Style Feminism Remains A Mystique In Russia

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

ALMOST a year after the first Russian-language Cosmopolitan magazine appeared in an effort to revolutionize how women here think about family, fashion, and fingernails, Betty Friedan's ''The Feminine Mystique'' is to be published in Russian.

Illustrating how feminism is viewed in post-Communist Russia, only 5,000 Russian copies of Ms. Friedan's book will be printed. The book helped unleash the women's liberation movement in the United States when it appeared in 1963.

In contrast, the glossy, how-to-get-your-man Cosmopolitan will have a circulation of 400,000 with its first anniversary in May.

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''I have no idea how Russian women will react to the book,'' says Elena Myasnikova, Cosmopolitan's editor in chief. ''I'd have to read it first.''

Feminism is almost a dirty word in the new nonideological Russia, and ''The Feminine Mystique'' is practically unknown here, where for decades feminist literature was virtually nonexistent.

Unique for its unorthodox views at the time, ''The Feminine Mystique'' became a bestseller in the United States.

Some Russian feminist works such as Alexandra Kollontai's ''Love of Worker Bees'' appeared during the Bolshevik state's infancy. But as the Communist system took root, official propaganda maintained that sexism was nonexistent in the Soviet Union and feminism irrelevant.

Zoya Khotkina, director of the Moscow-based Women's Archive, says she has often discussed feminism with Russian women at seminars and finds the results dismaying.

''A very strong antifeminist propaganda is prevalent here now,'' she said last week at an elegant Moscow reception to announce the Russian publication of Friedan's book. ''Women often think that to be a feminist means to be a man-hater and a lesbian.''

MS. MYASNIKOVA, who was not invited to attend the reception, says most Russian women simply don't have the time to reflect on feminism's greater meaning.

''The majority of women now are too preoccupied with either their survival or their own happiness or their career to worry about those generic things,'' she said in an interview recently.

For decades, Soviet women were forced to work both inside and outside the home. Many Russian women today want the freedom to choose their own lifestyles, which often means becoming a housewife instead of a career woman.

''Radical feminism wouldn't go down well here,'' says Tatyana Klimenkova of the Moscow Center for Gender Studies, who says Friedan's ''soft'' approach toward women's issues will appeal to a broad Russian readership. ''It's past time to publish feminist literature,'' she says. ''This is only the beginning.''

The book is part of a six-part feminist series published by Progress Publishers, which was the only large Soviet publishing house to print Western authors.

''There has always been a deep hunger here for information from the West about every subject, whether it was on Freud or marketing,'' says Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine, which helped fund the series along with the New York-based Soros Foundation and other sponsors.

Aleksei Faingar, director of Progress, does not find it strange that it took 32 years to publish Friedan's book in Russian.

In 1963, ''most people would have been against it because it did not fit in with Communist ideology,'' he says.

''We had no idea then what a feminist was, and to put it honestly, I still don't know,'' he adds. Then why did he publish the book? ''Most of the people I work with are women, and so I had no way out. I had no choice.''

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