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Comment Socialism’s Mal(e)contents Masculinity as Performance Art in Postwar and Late Socialism Marko Dumancˇic ´ ABSTRACT This article reﬂ ects on how the authors in this Special Forum collectively advance the work in the subﬁ eld of critical masculinity studies. The several signiﬁ cant themes emerging in this collection of articles include: persistent state intervention in gender relations, the impact of longstanding patriarchal norms, the rapidly changing post- war gender equilibrium, and the continuing signiﬁ cance of war and martial mascu- linity. Furthermore, the Special Forum illuminates the importance of micro-histories and ego-documents to the study of masculinities in Central and East Europe. Finally, by framing agency as a relational process aff ected by a variety of constraints, these authors’ work marks a productive forward movement for the future study of critical masculinity studies more generally. KEYWORDS: masculinity studies, methodology, socialism, Cold War, East-Central Europe I was born in Libya in 1979 to Yugoslav parents and grew up in post-Tito Yugoslavia, during the twilight of that peculiar brand of South Slav socialism. Although my most formative years were spent during wartime and in Croatia’s postsocialist, ultranation- alist period, I ﬁ nd my own masculinity informed by ideas and practices speciﬁ c to this bygone, nostalgia-worthy era. Because my membership to this last generation of Yugoslavs came just as the system disintegrated, I often feel distantly related to it, re- calling Yugoslav sociopolitical realities in blurred outlines and shady remembrances. But because elements of that culture survived in my family and upbringing, the term “former,” when applied to Yugoslavia, seems incongruous and false. I therefore read these excellent articles with the interest and enthusiasm of an amnesiac archeologist seeking traces of a socialist culture that hides in plain sight. There are several themes and methodological approaches interwoven throughout these articles that strike me as signiﬁ cant to the continued study of East and Central European masculinities. aspasia Volume 15, 2021: 140–145 doi:10.3167/asp.2021.150109 COMMENT. SOCIALISM’S MAL(E)CONTENTS 141 Perhaps the most impressive aspect of these articles are the sources and the meth- odologies employed. Given the emphasis scholars (this author included) have already placed on offi cial archival and published materials that make transparent the dyna- mism and constraints of state-sanctioned culture, it is refreshing to consider mascu- linity from the perspective of less frequently used sources. The various materials used in this Special Forum—diaries, interviews, photographs, published memoirs, internal party documents about spousal abuse allegations, and others—allow us to go beyond an analysis of normative, offi cially sanctioned, and idealized masculinity. The focus on personal, less public, and less visible gender-speciﬁ c experiences expands the schol- arship on gender history under state socialism by providing a sense of men as both objects of state policy and as subjects whose reactions could only partially be predicted and controlled. As Magali Delaloye poignantly puts it in the case of male medical personnel serving in the Afghan War: “they actively constructed and actualized their gendered presentation of self.” Many of the articles make excellent use of ego-documents. This is in part due to the fact that the post-Stalinist period legitimized self-expression, however con- strained, and encouraged citizens to pay attention to and express their inner lives. Unlike during the Stalinist period, the focus was not on monitoring oneself in order to line up one’s subjectivity with state expectations for socialist morality. Rather, it was, at least in part, a genuine act of self-exploration. For instance, Natalia Jarska’s re- search draws on around ﬁ ve hundred unpublished memoirs, responses to four 1960s contests relating to marriage and family life and a published volume of a 1973 con- test focusing on men’s roles as husbands and fathers. Even when the ego-documents were written for public consumption (as in the case of mostly Russian doctors who served in Afghanistan) or self-censored and edited by party offi cials or publishers (as in the case of Polish veterans and Soviet couples writing to newspapers about their amorous woes), these sources allow us to understand the wider culture as well as the constraints and opportunities available to historical subjects during the postwar and late socialist periods. Much in the way these scholars expertly mine their sources and their context, they skillfully reﬂ ect on their subjects’ intersectional identities. Changes in socialist masculinities were shaped not only by party-state policies and offi cial discourses but also by everyday negotiations taking place in both homogenously male and mixed gender contexts. The scholars included in this volume thus adopt an intersectional approach, taking gender, generation, class, profession, and regional geography into account. Even when the demographic and autobiographical information are either un- obtainable or obscured, the articles responsibly unearth the silences concealed in the primary sources or reﬂ ect on the limitations of their documents. Delaloye, for instance, notes that doctors serving in Afghanistan occupied a unique space because their pro- fessional identity, advanced education, and lack of military training separated them from combat personnel with whom they sought to connect. Similarly, Erica Fraser and Kateryna Tonkykh show how Nikolai Petrovich Kamanin’s overlapping identities—a man of the Cold War, of the space age, and of the Stalinist successor class—impacted his interpretations and judgments of his charges’ behavior. Equally as insightful is the approach taken by Jarska, who explains that Polish men’s resistance to married wom- 142 MARKO DUMANCˇIC´ en’s paid employment should be understood simultaneously through the categories of gender, generation, and class. The sensitivity to intersectionality allows Jarska to conclude that while working-class men born between the late nineteenth century and the early 1950s viewed the working wife as a threat to the family structure and the husband’s identity, middle-class urbanites born in the early 1950s and after tended to positively evaluate the dual income model because it achieved a better standard of living and engendered a sense of personal fulﬁ llment for the wives. Jarska’s focus on multiple identity categories makes it clear why the resistance to women’s participation among working-class males failed to disappear. The sensitivity to the intersectional approach allows the authors (most explicitly Delaloye) to pen evocative micro-histories. The micro-historical approach generates two key outcomes. First, the focus on individuals and their ego-documents showcases how men adopted and adapted to various positions: as observers of their own expe- rience, as objects of internalized historical and contemporary norms, and as actively resistant subjects. The fact that men sometimes occupied these contrasting positional- ities presents a notable methodological advance in the study of socialist masculinities. These micro-histories frame agency as a relational process aff ected by a variety of con- straints. Agency thus becomes a conditional possibility by which men negotiate both state discourses and the subjectivity these discourses aim to impose on them. What is thus impressive about this research is the fact that agency is not assumed a priori but is created through an individual’s idiosyncratic response to their context. The histori- cal subjects of these articles are not limited to either accepting or rejecting state norms but, rather, engage with diff ering gendered scripts in contrasting ways. Second, the micro-histories adroitly reveal big-picture processes and trends of postwar socialist regimes and societies. Rather than limiting themselves to a particular male subculture in postwar/late socialism, the authors here make visible larger social, political, and historical trends impacting the workings of these subcultures. The big-picture pro- cesses include: the state operating as a “third gender,” the persistence of longstanding patriarchal norms, the rapidly changing postwar gender equilibrium, and the continu- ing signiﬁ cance of war and martial masculinity. It was, and remains, important to consider normative discourses as well as domi- nant ideological perspectives when investigating socialist masculinities. Even though socialist citizens reacted to the prevalent public framing of gender and sexuality in unpredictable, idiosyncratic, and often invisible ways, state-sponsored norms acted as a force ﬁ eld that citizens had to negotiate in order to advance their own interests. It is not for nothing that the socialist state is often identiﬁ ed as the third gender given its interventionist modus operandi. Many of these articles demonstrate that, in an ironic twist, state-sponsored feminist policies were often thwarted or minimized as the party apparatus reinscribed the patriarchal dividend in diff erent ways. For instance, although the intense promotion of women’s employment after 1945 gained positive traction in Poland among educated, urban white-collar classes, the socialist state failed to shift working-class men’s disapproval of married women’s work. Despite the state’s eff orts, which were arguably halfhearted and at odds with pronatalist incentives, the male breadwinner model persisted during postsocialism. Similarly, Brendan Mc- Elmeel establishes that the discourse about amorous relationships was a complicated COMMENT. SOCIALISM’S MAL(E)CONTENTS 143 mix of radical and traditional, as writers utilized terms that sounded prerevolutionary “but also demanding working-class solidarity, gender egalitarianism, or love itself, as moral goods.” The normative and proscriptive standards about gender expectations in the post-Stalinist period remained contradictory as the disconnect between ideol- ogy and praxis remained the rule, rather than the exception. Part of the problem the state had in altering longstanding cultural scripts was the enduring historical trends that affi rmed the patriarchal dividend and continued to privilege particular kinds of male experiences, especially when it came to the public sphere. Cristina Diac shows us that the Romanian Communist Party was loathe to handle issues related to Party members who physically abused their wives. Despite the fact that the authorities recognized spousal abuse as contravening the fundamen- tals of socialist morality and the country’s criminal laws, their responses appeared to be conditioned as much by eighteenth-century norms as they were by the party’s own progressive gender legislation. Similarly, as Delaloye notes, Soviet doctors in the Afghan War had to regularly perform life-threatening acts to ﬁ t in and remain inte- grated with the combat soldiers. Finally, Soviet cosmonauts, who acted as walking and talking embodiments of the USSR’s technological and ideological superiority, were not immune to contravening principles of post-Stalinist socialist morality that included inebriation, disorderly conduct, and spousal abuse. These throwbacks to un-Soviet be- havior were monitored and regulated by Nikolai P. Kamanin, a well-placed offi cial in charge of cosmonaut selection and chaperoning. Fraser and Tonkykh reveal the ways in which privileged male actors, such as Kamanin, positioned themselves not only as arbiters but also as enforcers of communist morality. It is thus particularly instructive that even a man with as much political capital as Kamanin and as much direct control over his charges could not alter the stereotypically muzhik behaviors of his mentees, especially Titov and Gagarin. All the articles speak to men’s responses to the unprecedented and rapidly chang- ing conditions of the postwar era. The economics of a female-dominated consumer culture, the de-emphasis of martial experiences, and rapidly advancing technology, all appeared to throw socialist citizens and institutions off -kilter in terms of what consti- tuted the postwar male ideal. A case in point is the Statute of the Romanian Commu- nist Party (RCP), which deﬁ ned the ideal type of masculinity imprecisely, leaving a lot of room for interpretation in terms of judging cases of husbands physically abusing their wives. On the one hand, the RCP frequently turned a blind eye to domestic abuse in the absence of a public scandal or unless abuse was linked to abandonment or re- fusal to pay alimony. On the other hand, there were cases in which the RCP actively intervened and placed pressure on abusive husbands. Even the local press of the in- dustrial heartland of Sverdlovsk oblast manifested quite the variety of views on love, from idealistic to pragmatic and back again. The blurred expectations for romantic en- tanglements reﬂ ected two general camps: those who justiﬁ ed intervention based on no- tions of socialist morality or those who championed non-intervention based on a sense of individual agency. The persistence of these two lines of thought on romance during the long Sixties proved correct the adage that all is fair in (socialist) love and war. While much changed as a result of postwar reforms, the legacy of World War II as well as Cold War tensions cast a long shadow over the socialist project. Despite the fact 144 MARKO DUMANCˇIC´ that the post-Stalinist period was famed for the expansion of private space and con- sumerism, it was important both for the state and for men themselves to maintain and restore martial masculinity. Moreover, despite the fact the postwar authorities were invested in advancing the peace movement, within speciﬁ c contexts men remained dedicated to old cultural scripts about how to perform martial masculinity. This is most visible in Wojciech Śmieja’s analysis of the memoirs of Polish war-disabled vet- erans. Key to the tension evident in these published autobiographies was the fact that the men’s disability was simultaneously a representation of their elevated status in state discourse and an object of pity. Rather than stress the reality of their disability, the memoirists argue that “a man is a man as long as he proves he is useful, comparing ev- eryday struggles with bricklaying, a true emblematic occupation in postwar Poland.” Delaloye’s provoking examples further demonstrate the lengths male medics would go to affi rm the dominant cultural scripts about martial masculinity. To bridge the di- vide that separated them from soldiers, doctors would regularly place themselves in harm’s way and even go out of their way to orchestrate opportunities to demonstrate their steely resolve. Particularly striking was the doctor who exposed himself to a hell- ish sunbathing session in punishing temperatures in order to demonstrate to the sol- diers the self-control he maintained over his body and his indiff erence to truly infernal elements. Doctors’ demands to be seen by other combatants as legitimate wartime participants demonstrates the resilience of traditional masculine roles in a wartime environment. The above discussion testiﬁ es to the quality and originality of the scholars who contributed to this Special Forum and speaks to the ways the ﬁ eld of critical mascu- linity studies has diversiﬁ ed in terms of source base, methodology, and topics. Also impressive are the ways in which all the authors connect their case studies with mas- culinity studies in other regional and national contexts. I confess that suggesting more explicitly comparative studies either within East-Central Europe, or with the West and the Global South is easier said than done. However, given how signiﬁ cant this comparative approach has been for studies of 1968 as a year of revolutions and for genocide studies, it strikes me this would be a natural, if not the easiest, future avenue of research. Another intriguing angle would be to examine how encounters with mas- culinities from the West and the Global South impacted socialist masculinities. Given that a number of studies have recently explored the engagement of socialist regimes with each other or with countries from other blocs or non-aligned states, this seems to be a possible next step. While I began this article by discussing the ways these articles engaged the Yugo- slav and socialist legacy I inherited as a child and young adult, I would like to end the discussion of these thought-provoking articles with a note about gender and sexuality. As a gay cisgender male who negotiated his sexual identity in a period of ultranation- alism in Croatia, I ﬁ nd this research incredibly important. Coming to terms with my homosexuality in the wartime 1990s, I felt my masculinity lacking and experienced a keen need to compensate for this lack by “passing” through mimicry, which was, in retrospect, a kind of drag performance. Much in the way I cannot “shed” my Yugoslav self, I ﬁ nd it diffi cult to determine how much of my “hetero-passing” has now become so habituated that it feels authentic. Because these articles go a long way to show all COMMENT. SOCIALISM’S MAL(E)CONTENTS 145 masculinity as performance constructed in response to idiosyncratic conditions, they constitute a productive forward movement for the future study of Central and East European masculinities as well as critical masculinity studies more generally. About the Author Marko Dumančić is Associate Professor of History at Western Kentucky University. His ﬁ rst book, Men Out of Focus: The Soviet Masculinity Crisis in the Long Sixties, was published in 2021. His other work appeared in The Journal of Cold War Studies, Men and Masculinities, Cold War History, Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema, and The Cambridge History of Communism. His next project examines the role of masculinity in the Bosnian genocide. ORCID: 0000-0001-8627-9564 Notes 1. Magali Delaloye, “Heal and Serve: Soviet Military Doctors ‘Doing Masculinity’ during the Afghan War (1979–1989).” 2. The concept of the third gender originated in Zhanna Chernova, “The Model of ‘Soviet’ Fatherhood: Discursive Prescriptions,” Russian Studies in History, vol. 51, no. 2 (2012), 35–62. 3. Brendan McElmeel, “From Don Juan to Comrade Ivan: Educating the Young Men of the Urals for Love and Marriage, 1953–1964.” 4. Wojciech Śmieja, “Masculinity, Disability, and Politics in Polish War-Disabled Memoirs (1971).” 5. A few examples of this approach include: Sally Engle Merry, “Early Paciﬁ c Encounters and Masculinity: War, Sex, and Christianity in Hawai ’i,” Current Anthropology 62, no. S23 (2021), S54–S65; Yasuhiro Okada, “Race, Masculinity, and Military Occupation: African American Sol- diers’ Encounters with the Japanese at Camp GIFU, 1947–1951,” The Journal of African American History 96, no. 2 (2011), 179–203; Ali Bilgiç, “Migrant Encounters with Neo-Colonial Mascu- linity: Producing European Sovereignty Through Emotions,” International Feminist Journal of Politics 20, no. 4 (2018), 542–562. 6. Anne E. Gorsuch and Diane P. Koenker, eds., The Socialist Sixties: Crossing Borders in the Second World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013); Maxim Matusevich, “An Exotic Subversive: Africa, Africans and the Soviet Everyday,” Race & Class 49, no. 4 (2008), 57–81; Sean Guillory, “Culture Clash in the Socialist Paradise: Soviet Patronage and African Students’ Urbanity in the Soviet Union, 1960–1965,” Diplomatic History 38, no. 2 (2014), 271–281; Barbara Keys, “An African-American Worker in Stalin’s Soviet Union: Race and the Soviet Experiment in International Perspective,” The Historian 71, no. 1 (2009), 31–54; Anne E. Gorsuch, “‘Cuba, My Love’: The Romance of Revolutionary Cuba in the Soviet Sixties,” The American Historical Review 120, no. 2 (2015), 497–526. p p
Aspasia – Berghahn Books
Published: Aug 1, 2021
Keywords: masculinity studies; methodology; socialism; Cold War; East-Central Europe
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