Girl, Trampka, nebo Žába? The Czechoslovak New Woman

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How did the Czechoslovak New Woman compare to her French and German cousins? How was she constructed in the press and in visual imagery? What forms did she take? This essay explores the representation and discussion of the Czechoslovak New Woman in First Republic journalism, advertising, and art, with particular attention to the men’s magazine Gentleman and the women’s magazine Eva. I argue that the Czech (and Slovak) New Woman or “Girl,” though akin to New Women elsewhere, had a different cultural valence than her French and German counterparts.

For one thing, Czechoslovakia was neither a defeated nor a devastated land, but a brand-new country that had not suffered extreme losses during the war and whose identity was still forming. Though the country was multi-ethnic, Czechs formed its dominant cultural group and to a large extent saw Czech culture as contrasting with German culture. So-called American culture was not seen as a threat to Czech culture, and while the “Girl” was to some extent considered an American phenomenon, she was not seen as solely American nor was the image of America for Czechs created primarily through its women, as has been argued regarding the Germans. Furthermore, the Czech New Woman did not provoke the same degree of anxiety in her compatriots as did the French or German varieties, due to widespread Czechoslovak acceptance of female political equality and access to higher education. As Jan Wenig observed in 1927, the “Prague flapper” might seem to be “Made in France, England, USA,” but inside she was neither a flapper, a “gosse” nor a “žába.” Rather, he suggested, Central Europeans decanted their own special quality. Furthermore, as another writer argued in 1929, the (Czechoslovak) category of “Girl” was not limited to revue dancers, but indicated a slender, modish young woman who enjoyed specifically urban pursuits, in contrast to her outdoorsy counterpart the Trampka (a female participant in the postwar Czech “Tramp” culture), who preferred hiking, swimming, and wool stockings.

This essay investigates some of the ways New Women were conceptualized, pictured, and expected to perform a version of modernity that was both international and specifically Czechoslovak.

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