It was inspiring news at first: Russia announced that starting this week, six female astronauts would live in a mock-spacecraft in Moscow for eight days, to test out the physical and psychological effects of long-term spaceflight. The women, ages 22 to 34, are trying out for a Russian Moon mission in 2029, by conducting various experiments in an isolated environment. All are experts in the fields of biophysics, psychology, and medicine.
Before getting locked inside their mock spacecraft, the women had to do a press conference. It was arguably the most irritating part of their mission. The tone was set early by Sergei Ponomarev, the scientific director of the experiment. "It will be interesting to see how well they get on with each other, and how well they are able to perform tasks, " said Ponomarev, the scientific director of the experiment, according to The Guardian. "We believe women might not only be no worse than men at performing certain tasks in space, but actually better." Again: this is their boss. Women might be no worse than men.
"They say that in one kitchen, two housewives find it hard to live together."
Ponornarev’s casual sexism was immediately followed by more — and we had not even gotten to the press yet. Here’s Igor Ushakov, the director of Moscow's Institute of Biomedical Problems, where the experiment is taking place: "I'd like to wish you a lack of conflicts, even though they say that in one kitchen, two housewives find it hard to live together."
Having thus set the tone of total disrespect, the Russian authorities turned to questions from the press. The crew members were asked how they would cope without men or makeup for the next week. "We are very beautiful without makeup, " replied one of the participants, Darya Komissarova, according to the AFP. Her colleague, Anna Kussmaul, also added: "Those who will take part in an experiment are not concerned there won't be any men in their crew. We are here to do our job and we don't have time to think about men."
Later, they were asked about their hair, clearly the most important part of the mission. "I don’t know how we’ll survive without shampoo, " Kussmaul said, sarcastically. "Because even in this situation, we really want to stay looking pretty."
Just a reminder: the US relies on Russia to ferry its astronauts to the International Space Station.
Russia sent the first woman to space — in 1963 — so women in the Russian space program have been enduring overt sexism for a very long time. What few women are involved, anyway. Last year, the Russian Federal Space Agency sent into space its fourth female astronaut ever, Yelena Serova. Yes, that’s just four (4) women since the Russian space program began, in 1931. Serova was also asked how she would wash her hair — because all true women, even ones who are going to space, worry every second how they’re going to maintain their personal hygiene. After being asked a question about how she'd keep her current hair style, Serova replied: "Can I ask a question, too: aren’t you interested in the hairstyles of my colleagues?" Of course, all of Serova's colleagues were men.