I haven't seen the text for the remarks Barbara Bush and Raisa Gorbachev are scheduled to deliver to the Wellesley graduates today, but if I were writing the speeches for them these are some of the things I'd want them to say.
First and foremost, they should stress that the women of the United States and the women of the Soviet Union have more in common than most of us realize. Women in both countries are stressed by conflicts between work and family obligations; women in both countries complain bitterly that their husbands don't help enough at home, and more and more they are looking for political solutions to the toll that their dual responsibilities are taking on their lives.
Second, Bush and Gorbachev could seize the moment of this joint appearance to urge the women of both countries to learn from each other, for the Soviet women have family support systems that we are sadly lacking and that we have consumer advantages that the average Soviet woman would kill for. Women in the United States have far more choices about whether to work outside the home than Russian women do, and I would hope that Bush would speak eloquently about the different lives American women can choose to lead. Securing those options has been the great struggle of the modern women's movement, and the option Bush chose remains one of the most honorable and important ones that women have. She stayed home and raised her family.
Russian women have reacted to their lot by sharply curtailing the size of their families. They do not have access to the modern birth control methods widely used in the West, and they have multiple abortions. They are the ones who have to wait for hours in lines to get provisions. At the end of the day -- whether it is spent in a factory or professional job -- they cook and clean and help little Ivan with his homework while their husbands swill vodka in front of the television. Some of this is going to sound very familiar to American women. What they have, which we do not have, is a system of child care and education that supports working parents.
Raisa Gorbachev is a product of that system. She taught philosophy at the university level, reaching the pinnacle of the teaching profession. I would like her to tell the Wellesley graduates what life is like for young women in the Soviet Union. Do they postpone marriage and children so they can start their careers? Or do they marry quickly so they can get housing? Do women in the Soviet Union have the same problems getting equal pay that American women do? According to Zoya Pukhova, chairwoman of the Soviet Women's Committee, equal pay for equal work is a constituttional guarantee for women that is "unswervingly observed . . . . But in industry, agriculture and construction a large number of women are still doing unskilled jobs."
Half of the Soviet marriages end in divorce. In March 1989, Women's Day magazine and Krestyanka, the largest Soviet women's magazine, released a joint survey they did of 30,000 American women and 200,000
Soviet women who responded to questionnaires in the two magazines about the state of their families. Seventy-nine percent of the Soviet women blamed alcoholism for their marital breakups and 43 percent of American women cited it as a leading cause of divorce. More than half of the Soviet women felt their work at home was undervalued, as did 88 percent of the American women.
The most telling comments came, however, when they were asked if they wanted their daughters to repeat their life expereinces: Almost 65 percent of both American and Soviet women said no. They said they wanted their daughters to be better educated than they were and to have husbands who would do more at home.
At the time the survey was released, Women's Day editor Ellen Levine suggested that it marked the beginning of "exploring things together. At the same time we are holding all these talks on disarmament and nuclear issues it would be interesting to hold minisummits on some of these personal issues like the future of the family."
Graduation talks are supposed to be inspirational, and I would hope that Bush and Gorbachev would tell the Wellesley women who are entering the adult world that if they don't want to perpetuate a system that overburdens women and shortchanges them that they will have to do something themselves to change it. And that they can. And then I would hope that they would announce that they will jointly head something like a minisummit on the future of women and the family in which Soviet and American women can continue exploring things together.