chapter  5
24 Pages

Between femininity and feminism: negotiating the identity of a ‘Czech socialist woman’ in women’s accounts of state socialism kaTeřIna ZábrODská

The existing research examining gender roles and the status of Czech women under state socialism has tended to focus on several particular issues. These include the pseudo-emancipation and the double (or triple) burden of women in a state-socialist society (Heitlinger 1996; LaFont 2001; Šmausová 2011 [2006]), conflicts between the continuation of patriarchal structures and the proclaimed equality of women and men (Heitlinger 1979, 1996; Havelková 1999; OatesIndruchová 2005; Nečasová 2011), and shifts in state gender ideology at different stages of communist rule (LaFont 2001; Šiklová 2008). This research has brought attention to three main roles prescribed by the state as normative for women: that of worker, of politically conscious citizen and of mother (Nečasová 2011). The research on these issues has almost exclusively come from sociology, history and anthropology, disciplines that approached women’s roles under state socialism either in terms of various sociopolitical factors, such as the gendered aspects of social policies, or in terms of gender representations in textual data, namely narrative fiction, political speeches and Communist Party documents (see, e.g. Oates-Indruchová 2000, 2005, 2006; Nečasová 2011). Discursive psychology, on the other hand, did not participate in these exciting debates. Perhaps as a consequence, far less attention has been paid to a detailed analysis grounded in women’s own accounts of their identity under state socialism. Studies that did discuss issues of women’s identity have either been supported only by anecdotal evidence, often strongly influenced by the researcher’s personal experience (see, e.g. Wagnerová 1995; Šiklová 1997; Šmausová 2011), or have presented unanalysed accounts of women’s biographies (Frýdlová 1998). Indeed, little research based on a detailed analysis of Czech women’s actual talk and its role in constructing women’s identities under state socialism has been carried out to date.1 The present chapter aims to address this void by providing an analysis of discursive strategies through which the identity of a ‘Czech socialist woman’ was constructed in interviews with women who had lived most of their lives in a state-socialist society. The data for this analysis were taken from archival interviews with 20 women conducted for the project ‘Democratisation, Social and Political Change and Women’s Movements’ carried out in 1994-5. I also draw on interviews published in two volumes of biographical interviews with Czech

women titled Všechny naše včerejšky (All Our Yesterdays, Frýdlová 1998). Since no independent research interviews on gender issues were carried out during the state-socialist period, retrospective biographical interviews provide a unique opportunity to examine the ways in which women made sense of their identity while under state socialism, as reflected upon after the regime’s demise. A distinctive feature of gender regimes under state socialism was that, as an aspect of identity, gender was manipulated by the state, with ‘the communist party holding monopoly over the politics of gender construction’ (Johnson and Robinson 2007: 7). Yet, as numerous researchers have pointed out, the state’s gender ideology was far from unified. One of the frequently discussed contradictions existed between the demand for equality between men and women, and deep-rooted beliefs in their innate sexual differences. These contradictory views were held simultaneously (LaFont 2001; Ferber and Raabe 2003). Moreover, the everyday reality of gender relations in many respects differed considerably from the official gender ideology (Wagnerová 2009). In addition, alongside the Communist Party and the power elites, there were also other actors who played a vital role in the construction of gender discourses and policies, including writers, social scientists and other representatives of Czech intelligentsia (Havelková 2010). The clashes between contradicting discourses produced by these different actors and institutions have so far been examined only in abstract terms rather than in terms of their impact on the identities of actual women. The question thus arises how these and other contradictions inherent to lives in a state-socialist society played out in women’s identities. How did women themselves negotiate these contradictions and with what consequences? To address this question, the chapter draws on the conceptual framework of critical discursive psychology (CDP). CDP offers a discursive approach to the study of identity that combines post-structuralist discourse analysis and a more fine-grained analysis of language use (Wetherell 1998, 2003; Wetherell and Edley 1999; see also Zábrodská 2010). CDP examines strategies of identity construction and their relations to the wider ideological context of society (Edley 2001). In contrast to more general observations about women’s identity, this methodological approach provides a nuanced analysis of patterns of sensemaking made available to women in particular socio-historical contexts. As I argue in this chapter, the reliance of previous research on mostly anecdotal evidence contributed to the construction of a number of overgeneralized claims on the lives of Czech women in a state-socialist society. This chapter’s analytical focus on varied interpretative resources used by the women in their actual talk allows for a critical examination of these generalizing claims and for their problematization. It demonstrates that these claims do not stand up to the complexities and contradictions of women’s identities as they were reflected in women’s own accounts. The analysis problematizes in particular the widely accepted claim of solidarity and harmony between Czech women and men under state socialism. This claim has been endorsed by a number of Czech gender researchers, such as Alena Wagnerová (1995, 2009) Jiřina Šiklová (1997) or Gerlinda Šmausová

(2011), and has been used to account for the lack of relevance of ‘Western feminism’ to Czech women both before and after 1989. In contrast with this claim, the analysis offered here reveals a strong awareness of gender issues manifested in the women’s accounts as well as the women’s desire to challenge the inequalities between men and women in heterosexual relationships and in the workplace. As I show in this chapter, even though the interviewed women distanced themselves from feminism, they nevertheless engaged with a range of gender issues that corresponded to the subjects regularly addressed by feminism, including a critique of male sexism, gender stereotypes, discrimination and male abuse of power. Rather than interpreting the women’s abjection of feminism as evidence of its irrelevance to Czech women, I argue that the examined accounts demonstrated the women’s needs to address a wide range of gender issues, albeit without the conceptual framework of feminism.