Liliana Varvak says people recognize her biological status as a female, but her society doesn't allow her to be a woman.
At least, her old society didn't.Varvak, a newly arrived refugee from the Soviet Union, is anxious to see whether she will be accepted as a woman in Utah. After applying to leave that country a decade ago, she has spent the last 10 years as a dissident and refusenik.
She was one of several speakers at a Soviet Fair, held Saturday at the Quality Inn. Sponsored by Granite School District's international education team, the event featured music, dance and speakers designed to heighten Soviet awareness among teachers and provide resources to inspire better understanding.
Varvak and her five children arrived in the United States four months ago, making their way to Utah without knowing what awaited them here - no friends, no family, no support system. Her husband, who knows Soviet government secrets, may never be able to join her, she says.
Yet her manner and speech convey an inner peace and conviction surprising in one so new to a strange land. It is apparent she is here because she wants to be.
"As I see it, there are only two social roles in the Soviet Union: the prisoner and the guard." Even when a woman has children, she says, her social role is not that of a woman. "She is still in the role of a female prisoner."
"In the Soviet Union, there is no real difference in social behavior between women and men. It wasn't enough to be a Soviet citizen and a mathematician. Life was empty without the woman role," she explains. "Here, I still hope to find it."
Though Varvak finds herself a welfare mother, she doesn't complain. And while she admittedly doesn't understand American society, she has picked up on the stereotypes so typical here.
"American society divides all people into winners and losers," said Varvak. "I have to decide who I am," a decision she never faced in Russia. "I want to be a winner. I want to find a job."
Her independence runs deep. Varvak sees glasnost - the new Soviet openness to some democratic principles - as "a family quarrel. I don't believe (Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev) is really a democratic person. Many people want to take power into their own hands."
She said she believes Gorbachev wants to discredit former Soviet leaders, including Stalin and Brezhnev, to build his own power base. "But I think after he does that, it will be a totalitarian country, as always."
Still, she concedes that every time the Soviet government changes hands, "we get a little more freedom. I hope life in the future there will be a little better than now.
"Soviet society is in crisis now. There are empty shelves in all the markets. Ninety percent of all goods are in deficit. You can't go to one market and buy soap, detergent, eggs, chickens. You have to go from one store to another and look for milk. It's crazy!"