Academic journal article Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military

Ready for Work and Defense: Visual Propaganda and Soviet Women's Military Preparedness in the 1930s

Academic journal article Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military

Ready for Work and Defense: Visual Propaganda and Soviet Women's Military Preparedness in the 1930s

Article excerpt

When scholars think of Soviet visual propaganda of the 1930s, it is the images of socialist realism that usually spring to mind. Life was not depicted with all of its flaws and hardships. Instead, an ideal world of plenty populated by happy citizens was the norm. What is seldom noticed are the images that told Soviet citizens they might be called upon to defend this new life. Yet a close examination of several different media reveals a constant stream of visual propaganda indicating the ways in which Soviet women could be useful to the country's defense. Films of the era featured heroines who fought internal and external enemies of the regime as part of their daily lives. Women captured spies and fought in combat alongside men, seemingly without any difficulties. Political posters and postage stamps showed women engaging in the worldwide crazes for aviation and parachute jumping. They also introduced the idea that general physical health and participation in sporting activities made a contribution to the defense of the country. The same trends are visible when the photographs in Soviet women's magazines of the 1930s are scrutinized. Overall, it soon becomes clear that the Soviet regime expected women to play a significant role in any future conflict.

As the heroines of Soviet films of the 1930s went about overproducing at work and enjoying the material benefits that work brought, they were also constantly on the look out for anyone trying to harm the state. The capture of such enemies was included in several scripts when it was not a crucial part of the narrative and even when it had nothing at all to do with the rest of the film. Instead, the scenes were apparently included simply to provide female viewers with a model of everyday vigilance. Girl With Character (Devushka s kharakterom, 1939) is a good example. The film opens with the heroine, Katya, capturing a bandit. Katya works on a sovkhoz in the Soviet Far East. As she is packing her clothes for a trip to the region's center in order to make a complaint about the sovkhoz director, she hears a noise in her loft. She takes her rifle and goes to investigate. She catches a male bandit, although what he has done is not specified, and leads him on a march to the authorities that takes up several minutes of film. While crossing a stream, the man takes the gun away from Katya but she responds by pushing him into the water. As three members of the local police arrive, they find Katya holding onto the bandit's hair and using it to bob him up and down in the stream. As if this was an everyday occurrence for her, she hands over the man and continues on her way to the railway tracks where the story of her journey to Moscow and success in several jobs really begins.

Grigorii Aleksandrov's final pre-war film contained another such seemingly superfluous moment. Bright Path (Svetlyi put', 1940) starred his wife, Liubov' Orlova as Tanya Morozova, a poor woman who becomes a famous Stakhanovite.(1) A break in the film's concentration on Tanya's production achievements and relationship with an engineer comes when she battles an arsonist. On New Year's Eve, Tanya learns from one of her roommates that a disgruntled man has set fire to the factory. The man stumbles across the pair of women and Tanya argues vehemently with him. The conflict escalates into a physical fight that keeps the arsonist busy until others arrive to complete his arrest. Again the scene is unnecessary to the main story-lines but its inclusion indicates that enemies could strike at any time so women had to be prepared to take action.

Even once a woman had seemingly left the workforce, she could be called upon to defend the country. That is what happens at the end of Komsomol'sk (1938). The film was set in 1932 when a new city was being constructed by Komsomol enthusiasts. The heroine, Natasha Solov'eva is instrumental in the construction and becomes an outstanding worker. But by the end of the film she has also become a mother and seems to be concentrating on family life rather than on industrial production. …

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