I love the way Beauvoir articulates the relationship between women and history: “it is not women’s inferiority that has determined their historical insignificance; it is their historical insignificance that has doomed them to inferiority” (Beauvoir 151). I think examining the role of this collective male-written and male-dominated history is really crucial to understanding not only the peculiar subjectivity of historical narratives and “truths” but also how the past continues extending into the present. A concrete tradition of male glory and power, despite the strides made in terms of gender equality, seems like it’s going to win out every time over women’s vaguer and less tangible role in history, especially when the notion of gender equality is more conceptualized than it is fulfilled or realized. Because of the extent of this history, will this cycle ever be broken?
I want to focus on Olitskaia’s account because I think it is so incredibly interesting in the way she explores so many different generations of voices of these female prisoners. It gets especially interesting towards the end when she becomes explicitly critical of what she sees as their “baseness and stupidity” (433). Why is she passing this kind of judgment onto these, by all definitions of the word, victims? Why is she so angered by their reactions–it seems as though they’re just trying to get by, holding onto any hope they can, so what makes our narrator so frustrated with them specifically? Is it just the situation she is in? What do you make of the different accounts of the women throughout this piece–what can their perspectives show us about the way of life for not only prisoners within the Communist regime, but other women and people who walk “free”? I put “free” in quotations here because I wonder to what extent their being in prison for seemingly innocuous reasons says about the freedom of everyone under the increasingly paranoid regime. The show trials are another aspect in particular that I think explores this dilemma.
The ways in which women are treated and discussed in parts of Roth’s What I Saw really stuck with me, specifically amongst the sections “Nights in Dives” and “Election Campaign in Berlin.” The contrast of the hypersexualized sex workers and the “offensively” sexless political activists is particularly striking. What do you make of this dichotomy? What do you make of the position of the sex worker in general during this time–how do they fit within the sociopolitical world of Berlin? How does “Nights in Dives” treat them? On the supposed opposite end of the spectrum, how do we parse out the following section from “Election Campaign in Berlin:”
“You see them at railway stations, the blooming, wheat- blond girls, born to be mothers, but turning into political Furies. They wear shapeless windbreakers, full skirts, and short haircuts. They have unnaturally long strides and absurdly mannish gestures, but nature takes its revenge on them, because as soon as they shout out their “Heil!” or their “Yech!” their voices take on the repellent shrieking edge of hysteria” (Roth, 192).
Why does this section end with this quote? What does this say about women’s perceived role vs. their actual role in German society? How does the physical inspection of these women compare to the physical inspection of the sex workers in the Dives section?
Roth, Joseph. What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933 (p. 192). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
The narrator of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is deeply introspective and reflective as she attempts to write “Women and Fiction” and navigate British society. There are several intersecting factors at play that contribute to her inner conflict, ranging from finances to general ostracism to the unstable nature of domesticity. One quote in particular from the first chapter really resonated with what I thought was a rather crucial theme of exclusion: “and I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in” (Woolf 17). How does this quotation transcend the narrative? How does it speak to the systemic economic hardship faced by women that the narrator ponders in great depth?
Moreover, what is the relationship between women and fiction on a more “meta” level–why does Woolf articulate these thoughts through fiction rather than nonfiction or a personal essay? What do you make of her struggle at the end of chapter two to rectify this tension between freedom and protection, and what “bearing” it has on her paper? (Woolf 29).
I think P. I. Lebedev-Polianskii’s “Revolution and the Cultural Tasks of the Proletariat” is a really fascinating read, both on its own and in the way its content interacts with that of Anna Litveiko’s “In 1917” and Lenin’s “Communism is Soviet Power + Electrification of the Whole Country” speech. In the case of the former, Lebedev-Polianskii admits:
“We all here consider ourselves socialists, but if each of us were to analyze his own life, he would find in himself much that was bourgeois. This is our misfortune, and it is an inevitable one. Bourgeois culture has enmeshed us for many years, and it is too difficult for our generation to break the net right away with one burst” (Lebedev-Polianskii).
This directly correlates to some of the feelings Litveiko struggles with as a young woman, like when she compares herself to the “unkempt…true revolutionary” and examines her own unwillingness to part with material beautifiers like ribbons and braids (Litveiko 58). I think this is a really interesting point of contention, and one that makes me wonder about the validity of Lebedev-Polianskii’s assumption that this is a purely nurtured phenomenon. Do you think this gravitation towards “bourgeois” tendencies is something that is fostered by a capitalist environment? Or do you think there is some natural inclination involved? To what extent is it possible to unlearn those feelings/preferences?
I also think Lenin’s speech has some relevance here–how does this concept of “enlightenment” fit into this unlearning? In what ways does Lenin’s speech support and reject Lebedev-Polianskii’s ideas about the Proletkult?