Hand Moscow a Box of Tissues and Give it a Warm Hug

Beverage Recommendation for this Post: a stiff Cappuccino that will comfort you in the knowledge that even though our future is murky we can learn from our past

The acceptance of past misogyny is a bitter pill that we are told to swallow with a large glass of ‘it’s better nowadays.’ Being able to brush off the grime of past the past becomes difficult when consuming art from the time, in particular movies. Movies have the unique ability to take a period of time and freeze it so as to preserve the thoughts of society of the time. This becomes an issue when confronting past grievances and treatment of certain groups. In the case of Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears, this group is women and the grime of the past is more like a polluted river that pulls you along the path. This is not to say that movie isn’t a fascinating work of art that so interestingly captures Russia in the 80’s, but the misogynistic message of the film is also part of the preserved time period.

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Cinematic Poster for Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears

The basic plot of the film follows two young women as they make their way in the bog city of Moscow with hopes of moving up in life from their rural beginnings. Part of the problem begins with the idea that the only solid way to do this is through an advantageous marriage. The actual debates on the best place to find a good man, whether it be the library pretending to read or the art gallery, make one cringe and force a strained laugh. You buy into this with the enforced line that ‘it was the culture of the time so it’s excusable.’ But what really nails the point home is the treatment of one of the main characters, Katerina. Not only is she taken advantage of by the men in her life but even her female friends around her. At one point, at a lush party she and another man have sex (with a fair amount of debate on the actual consent of the act), Katerina later finds out she is pregnant from such and reveals to this man she is not as well to do as she initially said. He leaves her, even though he knows she is pregnant, which the movie portrays as the ultimate betrayal.

After a time skip, we cut back to Katerina and her daughter. Katerina has become head of the factory she worked at and is having an affair with a married man. Her life is shown in an empty and dull light. Only when she finds an unattached man who learns to accept that she holds a higher power job than him is she moved to tears that break her hard shell. Her high position in the factory is a hurdle to her love life that she has to hide and her daughter is shown to be not enough to make Katerina feel complete without the love of a man. Even her daughter is shown to need the presence of a man to give her ‘discipline.’

It is always a dangerous slope to try and judge the past by the present. Humans as a society is constantly striving to improve and grow in our treatment of others and ourselves. This, however, does not mean we should excuse the actions of the past nor brush off the lessons they teach us. There is a lesson to be learned about Russian culture in the 80’s from Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears, that for all the freedom and equality the revolutionary culture was supposed to bring, women still were held to certain standards. Katerina, even being in a successful and high powered director position, and having a loving if not rebellious daughter, will never be complete without a man in her life. Not to mentioned that this man’s disdain for any woman in a higher powered position is not the focus of the issue, it is getting him to accept Katerina in spite of this.

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            Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears is an entertaining movie that shows off its time period so well with wonderful cinematography and the capturing of what it felt like to live in that time. It can also be a powerful teacher on how women in Russia at the time, particularly in large cities, were held to a double standard. They were supposed to seen as strong, smart, revolutionary figures but at the end of the day, still rely on a man in their life. The revolution just gave the women of Russia another ball to juggle in their daily struggle and more unrealistic expectations to meet.

 

Sources:

  1.  (primary source) Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears
  2. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1980-2/moscow-doesnt-believe-in-tears/
  3. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1980-2/moscow-doesnt-believe-in-tears/moscow-doesnt-believe-in-tears-texts/equal-rights-unequal-burdens/
  4. (video clip) http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1980-2/moscow-doesnt-believe-in-tears/moscow-doesnt-believe-in-tears-video/valentin-menshov-moscow-doesnt-believe-in-tears-1979/
  5. Russia: A History by Gregory Freeze
  6. (images) http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1980-2/moscow-doesnt-believe-in-tears/moscow-doesnt-believe-in-tears-images/#

8 thoughts on “Hand Moscow a Box of Tissues and Give it a Warm Hug

  1. What a great post! I’m so glad and thankful that you took the time to watch the rest of this movie from class and share the lessons learned from it.

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  2. Loved your post and that beverage recommendation! I find it interesting that everything can be politicized, even in films that demonstrate Russia’s culture. I liked that you showed the moral of the film, such as Russia holding women to a double standard and displaying the unfairness and struggles that women have to go through.

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  3. I enjoyed reading your post (although it was a bit of a spoiler!) It is sad to think that Katerina felt like she was only fulfilled with a man in her life. Why were women portrayed in this light? Was this Russia trying to keep women in a “traditional” role, rather than encouraging them to join the workforce?

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    1. In my opinion, women were portrayed in this light as a default. The traditional role was somewhat threatened by the freedom the revolution promised and this film along with other pieces of media, enforced the ‘traditional’ role. As to the question of the workforce, women were expected to essentially do both. They were supposed to be these revolutionary workers but not so much that it would upset the ruling men while still being expected to handle the household.

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      1. Yes – the double burden was exactly that. It seems like Katerina should get a lot of credit for her professional success — which is pretty impressive. But the goal of a harmonious family life — with a man, remains the gold standard. And you can see how these dynamics can run really strong in society with a long tradition of patriarchy (not at all unusual) and a big shortage of men (pretty unusual). But also think about this in comparative perspective — women were bumping up against these kinds of gendered norms in the west in the 70s and 80s and trying mightily to change them. They weren’t successful across the board, of course, but the challenges were not that dissimilar to what women inthe Soviet Union faced.
        P.S. Plus one on the beverage recommendation!

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  4. I really liked your post because it shows how Russian women were expected to behave and what their goals in life were supposed to be during the 1980s, a time that we consider to be modern. I liked how you stressed the double standard these women faced, as they had to be both independent and dependent, masculine and feminine, and workers and homemakers.

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  5. Really interesting post! I really liked your concluding statement that the revolution gave women another ball to juggle. Revolution was meant to be liberating but instead added another layer of expectations on top of “traditional” gender roles women were expected to fulfill. Great analysis of the movie.

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  6. It’s such a shame that so many movies today still rely on the same “women need men to be happy” trope. I wonder how the portrayal of women in Russian film would compare to that of other countries at the time?

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