In USSR equality begins on the job, not at home

Doctors and dishwashers, teachers and tea-pickers, lawyers and laborers, physicists and farmers, astronauts and icebreakers. . . . Women in the Soviet Union, a nation that decreed its version of the equal rights amendment some 60 years ago, have much to cherish and much to complain about.

Their lot is both a source of pride and a cause for concern among Soviet officials.

The typical woman here has come a long way from the medieval social conditions of prerevolutionary Russia. She is more independent, better educated , better paid, and generally better treated by the powers that be.

An enormous majority of adult women here -- 93 percent by official figures -- either works or studies.

Women provide 70 percent of the Soviet Union's doctors and teachers, 60 percent of its economists and lawyers, 50 percent of its industrial engineers.

On paper at least, women won the battle of the sexes decades ago. They are, formally and officially, the equal of men in all spheres of law and life.

"Before the revolution," says Valentina Nikolaeva-Tereshkova, the only woman in the world to have traveled in outer space and now head of the official Soviet Women's Committee, "only 17 percent of women in the European part of this country could read. . . . In the Asian parts, virtually none could."

"In some . . . areas, women could be bought, sold, killed. . . .They still wore the veil."

But if those times have passed, official statistics and comparisons don't tell the whole story of the Soviet woman.

As in most Western countries, women here are excluded from combat roles in the military. They are also barred from some physically taxing profession deemed "dangerous to health . . . or childbearing." None of this, however, seems to bother Soviet women much.

Other things do:

Men still hold most top positions in the political and economic hierarchy, official Soviet "classlessness" notwithstanding. This tends to hold true even for professions like teaching and medicine, which carry relatively less prestige -- and pay -- than in the West.

Not all Soviet women, moreover, teach or doctor. Many, in a country stripped of millions of male citizens by purges and war, find themselves tarring roads, painting walls, or chipping away at winter ice.

But perhaps the greatest burden is at home or, more often than not, within a cramped apartment. There, the alarmingly frequent complaint of Soviet women is straightforward: Soviet men.

"I worked as hard as any man," gripes one young Moscow woman. "I rush during lunch to the store, wait in line, and buy whatever I can get.

"Then I come home, cook dinner, work, while my husband watches television and drinks."

In a courtyard close to this reporter's office recently, a female voice was loosing a howled monologue at her husband. Most of it was unprintable. The tamest phrase was "lazy drunk."

There are other problems, but it is the woman's role in the family that seems most to concern Soviet officialdom, and most to figure in the official news media.

For if there is no discernible feminist movement in this country, women are fighting back in other ways: by getting divorces. And by having more abortions than live babies.

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