June 17, 2015

The Regulation of Gender In Statist Czechoslovakia

Barbara Havelkova, Oxford University Faculty of Law, has published The Three Stages of Gender in Law in The Politics of Gender Culture Under States Socialism: An Expropriated Voice (H. Havelková and L. Oates-Indruchová eds.; Routledge, 2014). Here is the abstract.
Much has been written about gender in Czechoslovak state-socialist society, culture and policies, but relatively little on gender in law. The chapter offers one such analysis – it looks at how gender was regulated in law and understood and constructed by the legal community. It examines legislation, judgments, explanatory memoranda to bills, and academic legal scholarship. For reasons of space, only what was identified as comprising the ‘woman question’ by the state is assessed; namely, family (understood exclusively heteronormatively) and paid work. This results in two limitations. First, the official silence surrounding issues ignored by state policy, such as gender-based violence or LGBT rights, is not remedied in this chapter. Second, beyond areas obviously affecting women or gender relations, law is androcentric and many seemingly neutral legal institutions, such as for example self-defence in criminal law or the law of property, contain a strong male or patriarchal bias. An analysis of how this bias changed in a ‘classless’ society would be an interesting and important endeavour, but it goes beyond the scope of this chapter.

The chapter offers a diachronic analysis of state-socialist Czechoslovakia, and argues that the period of state socialism (1948-1989) was not homogeneous, but that the original equalizing zeal of the Stalinist period of the 1950s started to be challenged during the political thaw of the 1960s and became hollowed during the normalization of the 1970s and 1980s. There have been three different stages of gender equality: 1) Equalization (1948–1962); 2) Reflection (1963–1968); and 3) The era of the family (1969–1989). The existing social science literature usually discerns two periods: 1) an emancipatory, equalizing, revolutionary and activist stage of the late 1940s and 1950s; and 2) a family-oriented, conservative and stability-centred one in the 1970s and 1980s. I argue that, based on my analysis of the legal developments and legal policy debate, the period of political thaw in the 1960s needs to be assessed separately. The emergent pluralism of this time brought challenges from women (organized and individual) of the official narratives of ‘equality achieved’ but it also brought challenges from experts to the concept and policy of equality of the sexes and opened debates about the policy’s economic (in)efficiency. The period of 1960s must thus be assessed more critically from the gender perspective than it so far has been from the point of view of general political history.

My observations of a regression in the modernization of women’s status and equality during the state-socialist period, as well as the problematic pluralism of the 1960s, both allow for a more nuanced analysis of the continuities and discontinuities between state socialism and post-1989 transition. The legal framework inherited in transition came from the so-called normalization (1969-1989) – it actively supported and entrenched difference between the sexes, especially in the family. A woman was no longer the worker and active citizen of the 1950s, she was the wife who cared for her marriage and the mother who cared for her family. When claiming, in the 1990s, that gender equality needed no further attention as it had been addressed and achieved under state socialism, Czechs did not realize that what was in fact inherited was pro-family and pro-motherhood, but not necessarily pro-gender-equality policies. At the same time, what became the scarecrow in the 1990s was the earlier model of equality, exemplified by a female tractor driver of the 1950s. The transition-period rhetoric against ‘state feminism’ and forcible equality of the sexes thus distanced itself from policies that had not been current for about three decades. The 1960s also played a particular role in transition. The period of political thawing and pluralism prepared the ground for the liberalism of transition. The challenges to the efficiency of women’s work, full equality and collective childcare as well as the narrative of freedom and choice which became prominent in transition, were in some cases a re-occurrence, in some cases a continuation, of the debates which led to the Prague Spring of 1968.
Download the essay from SSRN at the link.

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