In 1949 Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir writes:

There is no way to directly oblige a woman to give birth: all that can be done is to enclose her in situations where motherhood is her only option: laws or customs impose marriage on her, anticonception measures and abortion are banned, divorce is forbidden. These old patriarchal constraints are exactly the ones the U.S.S.R. has brought back to life today; it has revived paternalistic theories about marriage; and in doing so, it has asked woman to become an erotic object again: a recent speech asked Soviet women citizens to pay attention to their clothes, to use makeup, and to become flirtatious to hold on to their husbands and stimulate their desire.

I tried googling "speech soviet women pay attention to clothes", but couldn't come up with satisfactory results. Is there any evidence that a quote like that actually had been put forward to the soviet masses?

  • 2
    Yeah, googling something like that isn't very helpful, even in Russian (I just tried).
    – user5341
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 0:01
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    I haven't been able to find the speech, but there was a big push to upgrade the Soviet Fashion (starting with MDM, Moscow House of Fashion), in the 40s, which was pretty strong and from the very top. As such, a speech like that may have been plausible though I haven't found evidence of one. Source: casual-info.ru/moda/wardrobe/168/26917/…
    – user5341
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 0:12
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    How many thousands of speeches do you suppose were given by USSR officials prior to 1950? How many are even written down and remain accessible (if only in Russian). How can you ever hope to prove that no such speech was given? Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 12:04
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    Even if there is an archive of speeches, it may not have seemed worth the time and expense to convert it to electronic form ... so at best you could go in person to that archive and spend weeks searching through it yourself.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 13:50
  • 4
    @GEdgar Or ask online in case someone else knows. Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 14:28

2 Answers 2


Here is the French original.

But in a translated version of the book, I discovered, following one chapter's footnotes:

Olga Michakova, secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth Organization, stated in 1944 in an interview: “Soviet women should try to make themselves as attractive as nature and good taste permit. After the war, they should dress like women and act feminine … Girls will be told to act and walk like girls, and that is why they will wear skirts that will probably be very tight, making them carry themselves gracefully.”

This gives credence to the idea that Yes, Soviet officials were indeed asking of women to act in more traditionally feminine manner.

But, that is after translation from French into English.

  • The books says "narrow" skirts, not "tight" skirts, in the versions I see.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 14:36
  • @DavePhD : The versions you see must be English translations. Both narrow and tight are correct translations of the French "étroites" that Beauvoir used to describe skirts, translating herself from Michakova's Russian (or using a contemporary translation from Russian to French). books.google.fr/… (note 7)
    – Evargalo
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 16:01
  • @Evargalo I'm suspicious of the Beauvoir's version of the quote, because this 1944 source books.google.com/… has the quote as "A woman must always seek to make herself as attractive as nature and good taste permit. For enrichment of her personal life, her personal happiness, she must observe purely feminine attributes and feminine virtues"
    – DavePhD
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 16:23
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    @DavePhD I'm not sure I see a significant difference in the quote versions, as to change the answer to the original question at hand. In the preface to Second Sex, the editorial staff described how older translations abridged/corrupted/mistranslated Beauvoir, so I'm wondering if something like that is happening with this quote. The only conclusive way to figure this out seems to be to look at the original quote in Russian if you can find it. Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 18:28
  • @Worse_Username In one interview she says "I think woman's nature is pretty much the same all over the world. We all want to look pretty and take care of ourselves to the best of our ability. But we must never forget that a woman's personal appearance must be secondary to the success of the state." books.google.com/…
    – DavePhD
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 18:40

Without identifying the speech in question, we can identify a legal trend toward marriage and traditional roles for women between 1936 and 1955.

According to "The Status of Women in the Soviet Union", a long article by Alice Erh-Soon Tay (1972):

IV. The Retreat to "Conservatism"

The crisis [of gender inequality], evident in the late 1920s and continuing into the 1930s, coincided with the rise of Stalin and the concentration on "socialist upbuilding" through the Five-Year Plans. It produced a steady retreat to "conservatism"....Soviet writers began to refer to the family as "a basic unit",... Domesticity was no longer denounced, household work, once described by Lenin as monotonous petty drudgery, was now proclaimed to be "socially useful labor", love of parents, formerly conditional upon their adherence to Soviet values, was elevated as an ethical absolute.

p. 674


The concern with strengthening the family that becomes so evident from 1936 onward was accompanied by an equally strong concern with increasing the birthrate, greatly intensified---naturally enough---during the Soviet Union's Great Patriotic War, 1941-1945.[27] In 1944 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of USSR decreed an increase of State aid to pregnant women, mothers with many children, and unmarried mothers; it strengthened measures for the protection of motherhood and childhood; it established the title "Heroine Mother" and instituted the order "Motherhood Glory" and the "Motherhood Medal". This legislation, embodied in a single Decree, became an act of signal importance that was to dominate Soviet family life until well after the death of Stalin in 1953.

p. 676

...and also...

The prohibition on non-therapeutic abortions was repealed in 1955; principal justifications were the large number of abortions performed illegally, outside hospitals and under insanitary conditions[31], and fidelity to the Leninist doctrine that no woman should be forced to bear a child she did not want.

p. 680

We read in Russian Law Journal, Vol V 2018 Issue 4, that:

The 18 November 1920 ruling by the People's Commissariats of Health and Justice entitled "On Protection of Women's Health" is a compelling example of reasonable and progressive legislation from the early years of Bolshevik lawmaking.

I. Artificial termination of pregnancy procedures are allowed free of charge in the setting of Soviet hospitals, which guarantees that such procedures are harmless to the maximum extent possible.

p. 89


The country that pioneered abortion recriminalized abortion in 1936.

p. 91

So seemingly, there was a period between 1936 and 1955 when abortion was outlawed, and Soviet policy was to encourage a higher birthrate and stable families. Prison was acknowledged as a marriage-breaker, though:

Resolution No. 1945 [29 August 1946 - USSR Council of Ministers] established that if one of the spouses was certified as missing, was missing in action, convicted for a lengthy term of imprisonment (at least three years), or suffered a chronic mental disease, the other spouse had the right to file for divorce directly to the upper court without preliminary consideration of a case in the people's court.

Russian Law Journal, Vol V 2018 Issue 4 p. 81

  • Answer now includes a sentence summarizing my finding. Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 22:39
  • The claim is "a recent speech asked Soviet women citizens to pay attention to their clothes, to use makeup, and to become flirtatious to hold on to their husbands and stimulate their desire". Your answer addresses birthrates and abortions. It doesn't seem to answer the question about speeches and flirting. It is earning flags.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 5:46
  • @Oddthinking, unless I'm mistaken, de Beauvoir was a philosopher who was interested in the "what heck is going on" kinds of questions... and the OP is likewise finding it hard to believe that a supposedly egalitarian/progressive party would have a history of regressive advice for women. My answer uses the work of historians to address the next question: "If such a speech was made, am I going crazy? I thought USSR wasn't like that!" Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 14:08

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