Embracing Arms

Embracing Arms: Cultural Representation of Slavic and Balkan Women in War

Edited by Helena Goscilo
with Yana Hashamova
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 364
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  • Book Info
    Embracing Arms
    Book Description:

    Discursive practices during war polarize and politicize gender: they normally require men to fulfill a single, overriding task—destroy the enemy—but impose a series of often contradictory expectations on women. The essays in the book establish links between political ideology, history, psychology, cultural studies, cinema, literature, and gender studies and addresses questions such as— what is the role of women in war or military conflicts beyond the well-studied victimization? Can the often contradictory expectations of women and their traditional roles be (re)thought and (re)constructed? How do cultural representations of women during war times reveal conflicting desires and poke holes in the ideological apparatus of the state and society?

    eISBN: 978-615-5225-56-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)
    Helena Goscilo

    Regardless of stirring legends about the military prowess of Boadicea, Penthesilea, and other Amazons, historically, war has been a quintessentially male preserve.⁴ For millennia, men’s capacity and readiness to kill or die in battle served not only as a rite of passage into full-fledged masculinity, but also as a prerequisite for the status of hero and the mythologization that such a reputation automatically entails. Until recently, conquest and colonization through armed conflict have constituted the very stuff of “history”—and “his story.” According to Melissa Stockdale, “A new stereotype of modern masculinity was created and widely diffused” in late eighteenth-century...

    • Film and Television
      • Chapter 1 Invisible Deaths: Polish Cinema’s Representation of Women in World War II
        (pp. 29-58)
        Elżbieta Ostrowska

        In her essay “Women in the Forbidden Zone: War, Women, and Death,” Margaret R. Higonnet notes that “death, it seems, is indeed what differentiates men from women in wartime […] war and death are understood to define manhood” (1993, 193). For women, she argues, war and war death constitute a forbidden zone. This symbolic exclusion seems to operate not only within real life experience but is also worked through in cultural representations, though recently films have offered images of female war heroism that attract serious critical attention.¹ The discursive dichotomy of war experience and its cultural representations described by Higonnet...

      • Chapter 2 She Defends His Motherland: The Myth of Mother Russia in Soviet Maternal Melodrama of the 1940s
        (pp. 59-80)
        Alexander Prokhorov

        In her discussion of the cult of maternity in Russian culture, Joanna Hubbs contends that the myth of Mother Russia, perceived as the divine spirit of the land and her children—the peasantry, the intelligentsia, and the nation’s leader—played a central role in Russian culture and influenced its cultural and political institutions. Mother Russia’s “dual nature as the fount of creativity and its limit assumes metaphysical as well as social and psychological dimensions, raising the question of the proper relationship of the individual to the whole” (Hubbs 1988, xv). Double-belief (dvoeverie)—the co-existence of paganism and Russian Orthodox beliefs...

      • Chapter 3 Flight without Wings: The Subjectivity of a Female War Veteran in Larisa Shepit’ko’s Wings (1966)
        (pp. 81-106)
        Tatiana Mikhailova and Mark Lipovetsky

        Paradoxically and despite their best intentions, contemporary works on Soviet subjectivity draw attention to the gap between symbolic representation and personal everyday experience as the constitutive feature of Soviet culture and society. Seminal works by Stephen Kotkin, Sheila Fitzpatrick, Igal Halfin, Jochen Hellbeck, Eric Naiman and others¹ discovered practices of internalization of ideological discourses as a continuous process that shapes and re-shapes Soviet subjectivity. As a rule, these studies focus on various two-way negotiations among three main elements: an explicit ideological doctrine (official rhetoric), its unconscious undercurrents (cultural myths and scenarios), and individual (or, rarely, group) experience. “[…] [W]hile ideologies...

      • Chapter 4 Gender(ed) Games: Romance, Slapstick, and Ideology in the Polish Television Series Four Tank Men and a Dog
        (pp. 107-128)
        Elena Prokhorova

        Within the long tradition of Soviet and Eastern European visual texts about World War II Konrad Nałęcki’s Four Tank Men and a Dog [Czterej pancerni i pies 1966, 1969–70] presents something of an anomaly, comparable to the still lingering mystery of Seventeen Moments of Spring [Semnadtsat’ mgnovenii vesny 1973, Tat’iana Lioznova]. When the first season of the Polish series aired in September 1966, it became an instant hit with national television audiences and constituted the first sign of television’s serious competition with cinema.² Within the next few years, Four Tank Men and a Dog triumphantly marched through several Eastern...

    • Literature, Graphics, Song
      • Chapter 5 Rage in the City of Hunger: Body, Talk, and the Politics of Womanliness in Lidia Ginzburg’s Notes from the Siege of Leningrad
        (pp. 131-152)
        Irina Sandomirskaja

        Narratives of the Leningrad siege rarely afford the city’s civilian women the right to be enraged. In official histories, largely preoccupied as they are with the military and macro-political aspects of the siege, the lives of civilians serve as statistical material; their deaths are justified by the deplorable but unavoidable realities of war; and their individual destinies are deemed insignificant in comparison with the epic dimensions of war’s tragic circumstances.¹ These narrative strategies abuse memories of the siege and disempower the civilian by divesting her of her ability (albeit minimal) to act as a responsible political and historical subject. Only...

      • Chapter 6 Graphic Womanhood under Fire
        (pp. 153-178)
        Helena Goscilo

        A frequently iterated truism about World War II holds that during that period of devastation, which cost approximately thirty million Soviet lives, culture served as a rallying point for Russians (von Geldern 1995, 52). Indeed, the imperative of uniting the population against the enemy prompted the government to mobilize all available modes of cultural production—radio, music, song, film, theater, journalism, literature, and graphics.³ On 23 June 1941, just a day after Germany invaded the USSR, the first Soviet anti-Nazi poster launched a concerted propaganda campaign that exhorted, reassured, and inspired the Soviet people throughout its harrowing four-year struggle. Were...

      • Chapter 7 Songs of Women Warriors and Women Who Waited
        (pp. 179-204)
        Robert A. Rothstein

        These three lines from the refrain of a 1943 Russian song, “Where the Eagle Spread Its Wings” [Где Орел раскинул крылья], reflect the general image of women in World War II songs—waiting on the home front for their sons, husbands, or boyfriends to come home from the war.¹ But alongside songs presenting this dominant image there are also (often lesser-known) Russian songs that portray women as frontline nurses and soldiers, pilots and guerilla fighters. Songs of both kinds are valuable not only as documents of official and unofficial attitudes of the time, but also as elements of the cultural...

    • Chapter 8 “Black Widows”: Women as Political Combatants in the Chechen Conflict
      (pp. 207-232)
      Trina R. Mamoon

      Acts of political violence by women always draw disproportionate attention, not only because female political aggression is still a relatively rare phenomenon, but also because most cultures traditionally perceive women as nurturers and peacemakers. Over the past decade, several such acts—specifically, suicide bombings—in the ongoing conflict between Chechnya and Russia have been attributed collectively to various women who in the course of their activities acquired the label “Black Widows.”¹ Though the nomenclature implies a group united by common aspirations, the phenomenon of black widows is much more complex. My article examines the diversity of forces conditioning and motivating...

    • Chapter 9 War Rape: (Re)defining Motherhood, Fatherhood, and Nationhood
      (pp. 233-252)
      Yana Hashamova

      Conservative estimates of the rapes committed during the Bosnian war (1991–1995) range from twenty thousand to fifty thousand (Boose 2002, 71). Unlike the Nuremberg Charter, which did not include special provisions for rape, in 2001, The Hague International War Crimes Tribunal for Yugoslavia identified rape and sexual enslavement as “crimes against humanity” (Fischer 1996). Since the early 1990s, a lot has been reported and written about rapes in the Yugoslav wars. These atrocities have been examined from various perspectives: from analyzing the traumatic consequences for individuals, families, and society to probing the international legal system that defines crimes against...

    • Chapter 10 Dubravka Ugrešić’s War Museum: Approaching the “Point of Pain”
      (pp. 253-272)
      Jessica Wienhold-Brokish

      The war in Yugoslavia during the 1990s, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and an estimated two million displaced persons, prompted considerable commentary on the traumatic loss of life in the bloody conflict. In a related vein, Croatian author Dubravka Ugrešić in her text The Museum of Unconditional Surrender [Musej bezuvjetne predaje 1994] explores the symbolic loss of life experienced by her and other people displaced by the conflict. Her fragmented narrative collates the memories of country, identity, friends, and family torn apart by war. The resulting collection of narratives (observations, short vignettes, and references...

  7. List of Contributors
    (pp. 273-274)
  8. Index
    (pp. 275-294)
  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. None)