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Comment: Socialism's Mal(e)contents

Masculinity as Performance Art in Postwar and Late Socialism

Marko Dumančić


This article reflects on how the authors in this Special Forum collectively advance the work in the subfield of critical masculinity studies. The several significant themes emerging in this collection of articles include: persistent state intervention in gender relations, the impact of longstanding patriarchal norms, the rapidly changing postwar gender equilibrium, and the continuing significance of war and martial masculinity. 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 affected by a variety of constraints, these authors’ work marks a productive forward movement for the future study of critical masculinity studies more generally.

Open access

Cosmonaut Gossip

Socialist Masculinity as Private-Public Performance in the Kamanin Diaries

Erica L. Fraser and Kateryna Tonkykh


The diaries of Nikolai P. Kamanin, a well-placed official in the early Soviet space program in charge of cosmonaut selection and chaperoning, have been an important source for historians since their publication in the 1990s. This article reevaluates the diary entries from 1961 to 1965, using the framework of gossip. The diaries’ salacious tales of infidelity, drinking, and other violations of communist morality provide cultural historians with as much insightful material as the parallel technological entries have done for historians of science and space engineering. The cosmonaut gossip that Kamanin records comprised a mix of knowledge production and moralizing that built and reinforced his self-fashioning among the Soviet elite. Furthermore, reading the diaries (a private text) through the lens of gossip (a public act) helps us see how socialist masculinity was forged in part through the specific hybridized private-public performances required of elite men.

Open access

Sharon A Kowalsky

When Peter Hallama approached the Aspasia editorial board about publishing the proceedings of a conference he was organizing on Socialist Masculinities, we jumped at the opportunity. It seemed that Aspasia, as a journal of women's and gender history, would be the perfect venue to showcase the innovative and important historical scholarship being conducted on masculinities in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Although the COVID-19 pandemic delayed his plans and necessitated holding a virtual conference, the results that make up the contents of this volume do not disappoint. As Hallama mentions in his Introduction to the Special Forum articles, and as Marko Dumančić highlights in his concluding Comments, the works included here reflect a deep engagement with the lived experiences of men, assessed through memoirs, diaries, photographs, newspapers, and internal party documents. These articles explore some of the many and shifting masculinities constructed throughout the region during the socialist period, showing that individuals and the state constantly engaged in their negotiation and renegotiation.

Open access

For the Father of a Newborn

Soviet Obstetrics and the Mobilization of Men as Medical Allies

Amy E. Randall


This article introduces the translated pamphlet For the Father of a Newborn by contextualizing it in Soviet medical efforts to deploy men as allies in safeguarding reproduction and bolstering procreation in the 1960s and 1970s. It examines the pamphlet as an illustration of how doctors and other health personnel tried to educate men to protect their wives’ pregnancy and the health of their wives and newborns in the postpartum period, and it considers the implications of these initiatives for women's bodies, gender norms, sexual practices, models of masculinity, and the socialist goal of promoting women's equality.

Open access

From Don Juan to Comrade Ivan

Educating the Young Men of the Urals for Love and Marriage, 1953–1964

Brendan McElmeel


This article examines discussions of love and marriage in a regional newspaper of the Communist Youth League (Komsomol) in the central Urals region. Although framed around the intention to communicate official communist morality and ideals about the family, these discussions included stories and readers’ letters that expressed a range of views that could both draw on and challenge Party ideals. While scholarship has emphasized the conservative elements of communist morality and the lack of support for men in the domestic sphere, these sources point to an understanding of love as central to a man's life and comradely partnership as fundamental to Soviet marriage.

Open access

Heal and Serve

Soviet Military Doctors “Doing Masculinity” during the Afghan War (1979–1989)

Magali Delaloye


The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan can be seen as a laboratory for examining the Soviet construction of masculinity during the last decade of the USSR. Focusing on male Soviet military doctors as individuals, this article aims to present how these doctors constructed their virile presentation of self in a war situation and how they managed their position within the military community. Taking a pragmatic historical approach, the article considers the doctors through their interactions with both women and men, examining gendered practices such as “protecting weak people,” “asserting authority,” “expressing emotions (or not),” and “impressing others.” It offers a case study for the analysis of one of the many forms of Soviet military masculinity under late socialism and its place in Soviet society.

Open access


Men and Masculinities under Socialism: Toward a Social and Cultural History

Peter Hallama


This introduction to Aspasia's Special Forum on the history of men and masculinities under socialism demonstrates the interest and originality of applying critical men's studies and the history of masculinities to state-socialist Eastern Europe. It reviews existing scholarship within this field, stresses the persisting difficulties in analyzing everyday performances of gender and masculinities in socialist societies, and argues for adopting new approaches in order to get closer to a social and cultural history of masculinities. It puts the contributions to this Special Forum in their broader historiographical context—in particular, concerning studies on work, family, violence, war, disability, and generational change and youth—and shows how they will contribute to a better understanding of the dynamics and everyday performances of gender in state-socialist societies.

Open access

Wojciech Śmieja


This article offers a contextualized analysis of disabled Polish war veterans’ memoirs published in 1971. This set of documents constitutes a remarkable source for understanding how masculinity and male corporeality are narrated and negotiated between politics, social and family lives, private and public spheres. The article focuses on the conventions and conditions of war-disability discourse production in Poland during the long sixties; it also highlights biographical tensions between appreciation of veterans’ masculinity in political discourse and their often emasculated position in social structures, families and private lives.

Open access

Who Is Afraid of Feminist Thought?

In Memoriam: Hana Havelková (18 September 1949–31 October 2020)

Veřa Sokolová and Libora Oates-Indruchová

Hana Havelková quickly became a leading voice of Czech feminist thought in the 1990s when she participated in the “East-West” debates about the place and usefulness of feminism in postsocialist societies. When did her journey to gender theory and research begin? She tells us about those beginnings:

I did not start to take an interest in the question of the position of women in our republic at my own initiative. I had to be asked to do so, and even then, around 1990, I thought, like many others did, that there is not much to say about the topic of men and women, that there are not many problems in this area. I quickly learned how very wrong I was. I realised with a shock that the communist authorities had managed to erase from public attention and discussion even such elementary human questions as the relations between the sexes and the transformations of men's and women's roles, including, for example, parental roles.

After the initial nudge, she wrote dozens of studies and essays, educated and mentored hundreds of students, gave innumerable speeches at conferences at home and abroad, and shaped the discussion on the “politics of gender culture” in Czech society, to borrow from the title of the book on which all three of us, together with a team of twelve other researchers, worked under Hana's leadership. But what was that first impulse? Perhaps we thought we could always ask her the next time we met. Perhaps the thought has become pressing only now, when we can ask no more.

Open access

Women's Work and Men

Generational and Class Dimensions of Men's Resistance to Women's Paid Employment in State-Socialist Poland (1956–1980)

Natalia Jarska


Through the use of selected contemporary sociological research and prolific collections of largely unpublished memoirs, this article analyzes men's attitudes toward the paid employment of women—particularly married women—in post-Stalinist Poland. The personal narratives reveal an increasing acceptance of women's work outside the household over time and across generations. A significant shift in Polish men's attitudes to a greater acceptance of women's paid employment took place in the younger generation, born in the 1930s and 1940s and socialized after World War II. However, hostile attitudes of working-class men toward working women persisted, based on a continuing aspiration to uphold the male breadwinner family model.