chapter  8
23 Pages

The Beauty and the Loser: cultural representations of gender in late state socialism LIBORA OATES - INDRUCHOVÁ

If the image of the woman tractor driver, so often featured in both popular and scholarly discourse on gender in state socialism, contained a revolutionary potential for representational emancipation at the intersection of gender and class, this potential all but expired as state socialism was drawing its last breaths. Instead, traditional images of women and womanhood (and of men and manhood) dominated cultural representations of gender in late state socialism. Nevertheless, it would be simplistic to presume that the practice and dominant ideology of state socialism, which emphasized the emancipation of women in its official rhetoric from the early years of the regime, did not affect the range of positions available in discourse on gender during its late period. In this chapter I will use a textual sample from the perestroika years (i.e. years of significant discursive tension) to argue for the existence of diverse discourses of gender in late state socialism, from an unchallenged and unremarked residual patriarchal discourse to proto-feminist elements and even hesitant attempts at alternatives to both. Research on gender under state socialism and its legacies has been predominantly concerned with women in the labour force, including the issue of the double burden, gender roles and state and private patriarchy, and reproduction and welfare.2 This range of topics quite understandably conforms to the key foci and categories addressed by the Western women’s movement prior to the fall of state socialism in 1989, and after that to the democratization processes in the former Eastern Bloc and to the European Union accession process in Central and Eastern Europe. However, discursive aspects of the state-socialist gender environment (discursive negotiations, repositionings and the creation of new meanings, for example) have received far less research attention. In recent years, several pioneering works have appeared that move away from the entrenched East-West or Cold War discursive dichotomies and toward a more nuanced understanding of social practice and discursive meanings, including those of gender. The importance of this research perspective is twofold: on the one hand, it helps explain the regress into conservative, pre-state-socialist discourses after the demise of state socialism. Shana Penn’s (2005) study, for example, shows how the invisibility of women’s participation in maintaining the existence of Solidarność (Solidarity) in Poland contributed to the re-establishment

of anti-emancipatory policies in Poland in the 1990s. On the other hand, such work enables a dynamic construction of subjectivities, creativity and the potential for change. Alexei Yurchak’s (2006) seminal work on the last Soviet generation, for example, studies everyday state-socialist practice within its own logic and context, and with regard to gender, this scholarship foregrounds agency vis-à-vis state-socialist policies and material realities (see Harsch 2007; Penn and Massino 2009). In this chapter I seek to contribute to this inquiry and investigate the effects of the state-socialist authoritative ideological discourse on the formation of gender discourses in late state socialism using the example of the Czech cultural environment. The first part of the chapter outlines the key theoretical concepts; the next two sections present an analysis of a textual sample consisting of journalism and novels produced during the perestroika years. The analysis will be concerned, first, with the dominant gender discourse produced by the authoritative ideological state-socialist discourse and the coexisting residual patriarchal discourse; toward this end, I analyse the content of two newspapers, Rudé právo, the newspaper of the Communist Party, and Mladá fronta, the newspaper of the Union of Socialist Youth. I then consider the effects of the authoritative and residual discourses on the formation of resistant, emergent and alternative discourses through my analysis of two popular novels, Z neznámých důvodů (For Reasons Unknown; Frýbová 1993 [1988]) and Memento (John 1989 [1986]). I will conclude by drawing out the implications of these discursive repositionings for the formation of post-state-socialist gender discourses.