Martina Smutná: Together We´ll Mow, Thresh and Deliver the Harvest
Collaboration: Kateřina Konvalinová, Max Máslo
Text: Karina Hoření
Curator: Pavel Kubesa
The exhibition of Martina Smutná entitled Together We´ll Mow, Thresh and Deliver the Harvest tackles two subjects which continue to be approached by Czech society at large either hesitantly, or contrariwise, with a good deal of emotion and lack of restraint: namely, the issues of the status of women, and the country´s history under the communist regime. Actually, this sense of uncertainty in dealing with these two subjects may be correlated.
The general obsession with anniversaries we´ve been witnessing this year couldn´t leave unaffected the alternative cultural scene. Given this, surely the seven decades that will have passed from the events of February 1948 provide a unique example of the complexity of finding a universally acceptable story about exactly what and who from that particular era deserves the most current attention. While the mass-scale repressions unleashed in the aftermath of the communist putsch of February 1948 are unambiguously regarded as tragic, we tend to get somewhat lost in trying to explain the ensuing stage, and notably why the majority of society then failed to stand up to the outrages, and why after the Second World War its sizeable section actually embraced the country´s political swing towards the left.
The construction-oriented stage of the communist rule entailed the enforcement of a radical line in the shaping of social policies. In accord with the Marxist doctrine´s assignment of the central position in human life to work, its application to women projected most tangibly into the overriding ambition to incorporate them into the employment system. This involved the introduction of various instruments in the legislative sphere (such as the institutionalization of state-funded maternal leave, and the establishment of nurseries and kindergartens), the economic system (e.g., state support of domestic services), and the ideological superstructure (with its profusion of public space imagery displaying female crane operators, tractor drivers and the like, on recruitment posters and across the popular culture spectrum).
In reality, however, this policy geared to emancipation was never implemented: rather than taking up coveted posts as crane operators, women were assigned to poorly paid factory shop floor jobs, and neither did the promised nurseries and wide choice of ready-to-consume foodstuffs eventually prove generally available, so women ended up taking care of the kids and making home-made preserves just as they had done before, now having to do with the time left after their working hours.
To be sure, the massive propaganda campaigns promoting a new socialist type of woman never really convinced Communist party cadres at the grassroots level, and as time passed the initial radical rhetoric got to be abandoned even by the party´s top echelons. By the second half of the 1950s the previous cult of women-crane operators was supplanted by the renewed cult of women as mothers. Thus, ironically enough, central Europe became the home turf for regimes which officially proclaimed gender equality and put into practice corresponding social patterns, but which at the same time stuck to a quintessentially conservative system of values. This contradiction has since proved to be most resilient, manifesting itself still today in the lives of women who continue to be active on the job market yet who automatically return to their domestic chores as an “extra shift” after their nine-to-five workday, a situation which is moreover widely accepted as “natural” by the rest of society.
Be it as it may, any serious attempt at tackling the question of whether or not those early emancipation campaigns had a real impact on the life of society ought to focus on the mass of women´s actual everyday experience and recollections. Did women seize the opportunities they were offered, or did they rather regard them as merely illusory? Lamentably, this accumulated wealth of past experience has so far remained largely untapped by historical science, partly because it does not fall strictly within the framework defined for our study of the construction-oriented stage of the communist rule in this country. Perhaps then it will be the language of art which may yet prove to be the most appropriate vehicle for projecting the tension between our present-day vision of the communist regime and its ideology, and our recollections of life in its orbit.