Immigrant Daughters Navigate Controversial Women's Issues

Dec 13, 2017

At the Bread of Life Christian Church in rural Christian County, Missouri, older women usually cover their hair; this is one tradition many younger women are not following.
Credit Ryan Welch / KSMU Radio

Editor's note:  The names in this story have been changed because the sources were concerned about privacy. 

A young woman, whom we're calling Elena, is sitting with her friend in a coffee shop in downtown Springfield.  

Elena's parents are from the former Soviet Union and immigrated to the United States before she was born.

“It’s very common for, like, Russian girls to get married very young and, like, stay in the household,” Elena said.

Men usually are expected to earn the income in her family, she said.

She admires the women who have gone before her, but she’s not so sure she wants their traditional lifestyle. 

Many of the older Russian women dress conservatively and cover their hair with a scarf, at least in church.But this fall, she chose to dye her hair bright, ombrey purple.

And her friend, whom we're calling Nina, is one of seven kids – but she’s not about to marry or start a family of her own.  Instead, she likes to push the bar by asking questions about controversial topics about women's rights and equality.

The weekend before our interview, she had an argument with a couple about this topic, she said.

"And they were making fun of me because I’m for equality," Nina said.

The couple told her she had an "unmarriageable personality" because of her views, she said.

Nina struggles with what she sees as a strong patriarchal culture in the Russian speaking community here.  The 2016 Presidential election was one example of that, she said.  

There was at least one elder in her community that declared a woman was not fit to be a leader, she said.

The more religious women we talked to in the Ozarks' pocket of Russian-speaking families told us they’re very happy to be mothers and wives, rather than pursuing a career outside the home. They see their role as important and pleasing to God.

“I’m an assertive personality.  I will take my stand on issues, you know? And to them, that’s just such a no-no,” Nina said.

Elena says many of the Russian-speaking families who ended up in the Ozarks came here because they are religious—and this is a conservative part of the country.

There’s a lot of pressure, she says, for young women like her to stick closer to her Russian-speaking roots.  But she says she’s got other plans.  She’s dating an American—he’s an Agnostic, which her parents aren’t thrilled about—and she thinks she might give law school a shot.