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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Woman of the '90s? Make That '50s

Meet the New Russian Woman of the '90s. She cooks, cleans, sews, is a sensitive and caring friend, a relentlessly perfect hostess and eschews artificial flowers. She can chase the garlic smell off a kitchen knife, make her own potholders, and stop a nosebleed in seconds flat.


This is the ideal of femininity projected by the authors of "The Encyclopedia for Little Girls," published this year by the Respeks Company of St. Petersburg. The book recently appeared in Moscow bookstores and is apparently selling like hotcakes.


The encyclopedia is likely to raise the hackles of Western feminists. Divided into two parts, the first for small girls, the second geared to young teenagers, the book begins with a section called "Let's Learn to Cook."


It is chock full of useful advice on helping your mother shop, making kasha for your brother, and creating a clean and beautiful environment at home.


The portion of the book for older girls contains a long section on where babies come from, lectures on personal hygiene, and warnings to avoid cigarettes, alcohol and high heels -- the last because they may cause a woman problems when she gives birth. Predictably, there are fashion and beauty tips. There is also some startling medical information, such as a strict prohibition on eating spicy food when menstruating.


Conspicuously absent is any talk of women as professionals, any advice on choosing a career or balancing professional and personal demands.


Much of the book is reminiscent of the kind of material that was popular in the West 40 years ago -- determinedly cheerful pap on love, marriage and housekeeping:


"When a baby dirties his diapers, he must be washed and changed. This is a lot of work, but it gives the mother great pleasure. Thanks to the baby, the parents feel closer to each other and love each other even more."


A small girl growing up with a continually overworked mother, a habitually absent father and a newborn sibling in this largely pre-disposable society may begin to wonder what is wrong with her own family: Why does mother not beam with joy over junior's wet diapers, and why does the added stress not seem to meld her mother and father into an even more harmonious unit?


The encyclopedia reinforces stereotypes in a way that would be largely unacceptable in the West. The chapter on the dangers of alcohol, for example, warns girls that:


"An intoxicated woman loses her shame, her feminine dignity. She is inclined to frivolous behavior and sexual promiscuity."


The recipe section cites a charming Russian proverb on the dangers of oversalting. Loosely translated, it means "If you use too little salt, you can always add some at the table. But use too much salt, and you are likely to feel it on your back" -- a thinly veiled reference to the times when men were almost expected to beat their wives to keep them in line.


What is wrong with providing a growing girl with practical tips on cooking, housekeeping and childrearing? Plenty, according to Valentina Konstantinova, of Moscow's Center for Gender Studies.


"Everything depends on how we bring up our children," she said. "It is because of this kind of education that women have been unable to shed the double load they carry. Boys are used to being served by their mothers, and when they get married they expect their wives to carry on the tradition." And the problem does not stop at home, she adds, but permeates the rest of society.