Maya, 19 years old, took a pleasant walk with her university friends in Tbilisi, Soviet Republic of Georgia. Rustaveli Avenue was crowded with people, out to enjoy the famous fizzy drink and ice cream. (Plombir-the only one available)
Maya got home to find her mother rather worried.Maya’s brother, who was seventeen, got into trouble again.
“I told you to cut that long hair”-she scolded her son, looking at his mop-top disapprovingly. ‘I don’t really understand this new fashion”-she said.
Maya’s mother was a hard-working nurse, raising three children, the youngest still part of Pioneer Youth. Maya’s father, a retired forester, was now teaching at the Polytechnical University. After dinner, he folded the paper and prepared to watch the football match which would determine if Dinamo Tbilisi still stood a chance for the title.
It was a strange time to be alive: the difficult days of WW2 were over; political calm seemed to be coming to the vast land of the Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev overhauled the communal lifestyle as more families were given private flats in industrial living blocks. It was only 6 years prior that the first woman flew to space and a new lavish chess palace was being constructed in the Kirov Park to honor female chess champions.
And yet, Maya felt something brewing under the calm surface. The fascination with Valentina Tereshkova was gone, the wartime “heroes in skirts” looked faded. Never did Maya see an emancipated woman in the Politbiuro where only men held the real power.
The glitzy stars of the Soviet Showbusiness could not fill the emptiness either. Yes, they did have the beautiful clothes and make-up but it did not make any difference to Maya. She had to make do with what little resources were available to her in commission shops. The flowery dress she saw at her neighbour's was a rarity smuggled from abroad and available on the black market. Maybe she could get it for her birthday next year.
Everyone around her praised the unquestionable equality among Soviet citizens. And indeed, women had to work as much as men did. They could get married and divorced as they wished and could even get legal abortions
Or the papers said so. What Maya felt was the unfulfillment: she was expected to marry before graduating, find a decent job, raise a beautiful family and host guests at family gatherings. A perfect housewife, a perfect mother and a perfect working woman. There was no space for personal aspirations for a Soviet citizen. Even her deformed greyish underwear resembled that of the neighbour, as there was only one brand available.
She wondered what the other side of the iron curtain looked like. She had only caught occasional glimpses: a recording of “Revolver” from the black market of course, some other vinyls, movies, if you were lucky, smuggled clothes for the rich and of course, jeans: the ultimate symbol of rebellion.
Maya remembered the picture she had seen of Nina Khrushcheva and Kennedy’s wife. She recalled the stark difference between the two first ladies. Was life in the USA as different as the picture made it look?
Linda, 19 years old, drove in a packed van of her newly-found commune. She’d escaped her upper-class respected family in New York and was heading to attend what would become the 3 Days of Peace and Music in Woodstock. Slightly high on weed, Linda was excited knowing that none else but Jimi Hendrix would headline the show.
Linda’s parents were not fond of her decisions. Her mother, a devoted housewife and a mother of five hoped the phase would pass and Linda, a bright student with a faint singing voice would come to senses. Her father, a hard-working and respected attorney in New York was bitter and detested this “wild phenomenon”.
But Linda wouldn’t hear her parents’ pleas. She did not want to be yet another happy housewarmer, with her life spent in the kitchen and running errands for the family. Neither would she be a timid secretary with hardly any salary to live on.
She was too disillusioned with to trust her parents anymore. Her country’s involvement in a distant war in Vietnam, resulting in her brother’s subsequent drafting for the army, women’s rallies against inequality and discrimination, the government's reluctance to accept the existence of Birth Control to name the few urged Linda to elope and join a commune where young people like her envisioned an alternative reality.
The thriving counter-culture of “peace, flowers. freedom and happiness”fueled by sex drugs and rock-n-roll challenged the rigid norms Linda’s father still adhered to. To Linda it promised freedom of expression and equality with fellow human beings. In her crowded van she felt she could escape the mess the big men in power had brought upon her country.
Maya, now 69, was attending the family dinner in Tbilisi Georgia. A relative was worried because her granddaughter, already in her twenties, “was reluctant to marry that boy”
”How long will it take her until she’s settled?”
Maya nodded, she’d been married with a child in her 20’s.But those were Soviet times. Now Georgia was an independent country again.
Her grandchildren were sitting at the table, flashing phones Maya found too hard to understand. Sooner or later someone mentioned the new legislation.
“Well, I don’t really understand all the fuss about that sexual harassment. Be modest and no one will be provoked ”-said the relative who’d been worrying over her granddaughter. The younger ones protested.
“There is no such thing as “asking for it”. Nobody asks to be harassed.”-Maya’s grandson replied. He wore his hair long and had a piercing. Maya had to think of her brother and his mop-top.
Well, that was not an easy time to be alive: The Chess Palace stood in the same Park but the park, which had been bursting with life in her youth, was deserted. The youth nowadays gathered in shady basements and listened to loud music. The mood of protest was present in everywhere Maya looked. People advocated for freedom and tolerance. Youngsters did not rush to settle and were more willing to explore the outside world, No wonder, for the borders were open for them and the shops were full of different goods. The vinyls Maya used to buy at the black market became “soviet antiquities”.
Linda, 69 was visiting her grandchildren. The youngest, now 19, was talking feverishly about attending the Woodstock Festival.
“It’s been 50 years!-”she exclaimed-”I wonder who’ll headline the Anniversary Concert”.
The older granddaughter Mary was preparing for the 2019 Women’s March, supposed to take place that day. She was talking on the phone and briefly mentioned how ridiculously they canceled the all-female spacewalk “just for the lack of space costumes in right sizes”
“I wonder if equality ever comes”-she said.
Linda looked at the girls and wondered if life had become that different: that was not an easy time be alive: she found it hard to keep up with “Facebook”, although she had an account. Twitter, she didn’t really know, except for the fact that the president used it a lot. Her country was once again involved in a foreign war, this time in Syria, and women were still fighting for equal rights.
Once again a way of life was starting to emerge: Not hurrying to marry and live by the rules, empowered by both optimist and teenage angst, her grandchildren reminded Linda of her youth. She wondered how much this generation had learned from hers.
Back in the 60’s the Iron Curtain separated Maya’s and Linda’s lifestyles. One could protest the other could not and yet the core of their protest remained the same.
50 years have passed since Maya’s and Linda’s teenage angst. One saw her country completely reshapen, the other saw a steadier line of development. And yet, in half a century the core of their protest remained the same.
How do you see women’s stories of the past, present and future?