“A barbaric, elemental force”: The Liminal Role of the Eastern European Modern Girl in Western Culture

  • Amanda Skocic University of Windsor


The Modern Girl was a feminine archetype that emerged in the early 1900s, challenging traditional gender roles and redefining racial boundaries. Particularly revealing of these dynamics is the case of the Eastern European Modern Girl, a figure who was characterized by her barbaric, primitive origins and ‘off-White’ racial status. This article seeks to investigate the construction of femininity and Whiteness in the interwar era through a comparative discourse analysis of two quintessential Modern Girls: Hollywood stars Pola Negri and Gilda Gray. It examines the ways in which each starlet’s ethnicity has been used to situate her as an exotic, racial Other. However, while Eastern European women were often exoticized and Othered, they could also be ideologically ‘Whitened’ through juxtaposition with members of more visibly racialized groups. This paper examines the ways in which Eastern European Modern Girls negotiated this unique position within the boundaries of femininity and, in doing so, argues that the social construction of Whiteness is fundamentally a relational process.