Liberation and Containment: Re-visualizing the Eugenic and Evolutionary Ideal of the Fizkul’turnitsa in 1944

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Soviet newspaper articles indicate that one way in which the liberation of Soviet territory was celebrated in 1944 was through sporting events, such as cross-country races in Ukraine – one of the territories most severely affected by the invasion - and parades of physical culturists in Moscow. In Soviet visual culture, this response was not only recorded in the mass-media through photographs in Pravda and Krasnyi sport of the parade celebrating the re-opening of the Dynamo stadium in Moscow in July 1944, but was also celebrated and endorsed by Aleksandr Deineka’s large painting Razdol’e [meaning liberation/expanse] 1944. What is particularly interesting about these pictures, is that they foregrounded images of the female physical culturalist (fizkul’turnitsa), as a multi-layered symbol of emancipation and hope for the future. In 1944, given that the now victorious Red Army was conceived of as male even though women served in it, why should images of young sporting women be particularly significant in popular celebratory literature and public imagery?

This paper explores and contextualises the images’ symbolism, looking at the contemporary relationship explicitly and implicitly perceived and, indeed, visualised in propaganda, between female imagery and the Soviet landscape - most famously imaged by Iraklii Toidze’s, Rodina mat’ 1941 - ; notions of female vulnerability and purity suggested in particular by the wartime poetry of Konstantin Simonov; and eugenic ideals of the New (female) Soviet Person originating in the 1920s. Although eugenics was an explicitly taboo topic by 1944, it can be argued that the celebratory images implicitly referred back to the currently unmentionable, 1920s models of the disciplined, hygienic – and what Foucault would call, ‘docile bodies’ - of the ideal women who were destined to repopulate the USSR with ‘New People’.

On the one hand, the 1944 images referred to both national and personal liberation. At a most basic level, this was the freedom to move around in one’s own country – for men, but also especially for women. This was also tied to the early Revolutionary idea that women had been liberated by the Soviet regime to become ‘people’ – as opposed to the traditional Russian, and particularly peasant view of women as not being human at all. Having retained their youthful, sexual and ideological ‘purity’, due to the preservatory actions of the Red Army – illustrated, for instance, by the images of the hunky military specimens in the Dynamo parade published in Krasnyi sport - these 1944 models of the New Woman were positioned both as symbols of the liberated ‘Motherland’, and as images of liberated girls and women who were ready to take, once more, their proper role in Soviet society. [what was this role].in relation to this expected role where liberation involved also child-bearing for the good of the population as a whole.

In this sense, the images however, also speak of the containment and constriction implied by and inscribed into the imperative for engagement with physical culture. The implication being that this was a necessary stage of healthful body discipline, on the path to hygienic and successful motherhood – an increase of the population that would guarantee greater industrial productivity. Corroborating evidence for this interpretation lies with the image, focusing on the healthy mother and child, that accompanied the Party’s response to International Women’s Day, March 1946.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2009
EventThe Visual Turn in Sports History, University of Bristol - Bristol, United Kingdom
Duration: 13 Jun 200914 Jun 2009


ConferenceThe Visual Turn in Sports History, University of Bristol
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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