RUSSIAN WOMEN AND THEIR STORIES. PART 1.
There are so many—so many women I've met, so many stories I've heard—and so many warnings I was given, warnings that came down to the same fear, "I don't want my family to know. I don't want my relatives to hear what I think. I don't want my friends to jeer at me, get disappointed in me, point fingers at me. I don't want any trouble." And yet all of them were talking to me, for hours, often stumbling over words, unable to stop. They all wanted to share. They wanted their stories to be heard. And I told them I'll make them heard. I asked if it was okay for me to write their stories down and post them on my blog. Some women happily agreed. Others told me it's okay only if I change their names. Some flat out refused. The stories they told were not always their own—they were stories of their girlfriends, their sisters, mothers, aunts. Stories like the stories Lyudmila Petrushevskaya was writing down, stories forbidden to be published in the Soviet Union because they revealed the ugly truth our government didn't want people to know. These stories still happen today. Stories connected to today's atrocities like the recent law change in Russia that made domestic abuse not a criminal offense but an administrative one. If Putin signs it, it will mean only concussions of broken bones will lead to criminal charges. Think about it for a second. And now think why these women were afraid of me sharing their stories. In light of this I have decided to write all of them anonymously, changing names and genders of their children or friends where I saw appropriate, retaining original stories in such a way that it wouldn't pose danger to the women who shared them with me. If you see anything that reminds you of someone you know, it's because these stories are typical. Which is a tragedy. These stories are our stories, no matter where we live. These women are us, and so the names don't really matter.
Most stories even started the same. Many women who wanted to meet with me couldn't get away from their kids—they were unable to secure time alone. "Just had a fight with my husband," was one greeting I got. "My husband's plans changed," was another. "I don't have anyone to leave my baby with," was another common one, not because there were no grandparents or babysitters, but because there was no husband, or any father figure whatsoever. "I had my baby for me. I realized that if I wait any longer, I might not want any kids at all." Often there is no money to hire someone, and daycares aren't trusted. As are schools. As is any hired help, unless it's a friend or a friend of a friend. Or a relative, provided there is no familial conflict which is a typical bitter standard.
I'll start with Marina. Marina has a beautiful baby girl Elizaveta who is just beginning to walk. Marina said she has decided not to give Elizaveta any vaccination shots. She landed on a risk list and was visited by Органы Опеки (Child Protection Services). They looked over Elizaveta and the apartment, to make sure it was suitable for a child, and they told Marina she's on a risk list now. She has heard from friends that if a neighbor complains, say, of crying noises, or maybe seeing the mother spank her child, the CPS people will be back and can take the child away. For abuse. Or it could be for neglect—if you don't have a crib, for example. Marina doesn't have one because she doesn't want one. She's scared she'll have to borrow one, in case they show up. The law is slippery, and mothers live in fear. "It's like 1984 in real life," Marina said. "I don't want my daughter to have shots. Why can't I make this decision for my own child? What's criminal about it? I want to escape the city, to live on land. I want to own my own land, grow things myself, and live on my own. I don't want any neighbors, don't want anyone bothering me. But I can't do it. Because I'm a woman. A woman living alone in a remote area with a baby..." She didn't finish the sentence. "I have friends who are anarchists, the Tolstoy type. I've lived in communes before. If one voice was against a decision, that decision wasn't made. I only trust other people, my friends. Nobody else."