Contents and summaries


  • From the Editors Eda Sepp and Suzanne Lie
  • Anu Narusk in memoriam Leeni Hansson
  • Published works by Anu Narusk
  • What is Women’s Studies Suzanne Lie
  • “When Women Ask the Questions”: Issues in the Development of Women’s Studies in America, with Sightings Across the Pond Tiina Kirss
  • Feminist, Female, Feminine Toril Moi
  • Manufacturing the Other: Eastern Europe and Feminism Katrin Kivimaa
  • Gender and Rationality: Estonian Women’s Case Anu Narusk
  • Woman, Work and Family in Estonia: Changing Attitudes and Values Leeni Hansson and Virve-Ines Laidmäe
  • Does Barbie Doll Matter? Body Dissatisfaction, Dieting and Self-esteem Marika Tiggemann
  • Karin Luts and the Other Girls – Self-image as a Means of Self-identity for Estonian women Artists Reet Varblane
  • Kaja Kärner: Abstract Artist and Colourist Eda Sepp
  • “Other Things Happaned to Women”: World War II, Violence, and Discourses of National Identity in Käbi Laretei’s The Sound of the Past and Agate Nesaule’s A Woman in Amber Leena Kurvet-Käosaar
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Feminist Readings of Woolf Toril Moi
  • Feminist Epistemology in Philosophy Mirjam Hinrikus
  • A Feminist Reads Rousseau: Thoughts on Justice, Love and the Patriarchal Family Lynda Lange
  • About Authors (in Estonian)
  • ENUT (in Estonian)
  • Summaries
  • About the Authors
  • About ENUT

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What is Women’s Studies?

Suzanne Lie Perhaps one of the major achievements of women academics over the last 30 years has been the genesis and growth of Women’s Studies as a formal area of teaching and research which concentrates on issues regarding the life situation of women. The aim of Women’s Studies was to raise consciousness of both men and women to such a level that women need no longer be regarded as the “second sex”, to question traditional roles, and to value and develop women’s abilities and confidence. Other goals were to build a body of research about women, to re-envision the lost culture and history of women, and to introduce this new knowledge into “mainstream curriculum” of universities. The spread of Women’s Studies, which is international in scope, is perhaps the most striking and dramatic success story of strategic planning and networking of the women’s movement. These initiatives have occurred worldwide since the early l970s and today, Women’s Studies is a legitimate area of academic work throughout the world. Women’s Studies and Women’s Research have gone through various phases. First, they criticized the invisibility of women in traditional research. The next phase was to make women “visible”. They documented “her story” where the emphasis before had been virtually on “his story.” Neglected women in literature, history and art were brought to life. Much of the research concentrated on women as “victims”. Neglected topics such as sexuality, sexual harassment, incest, prostitution were put onto the academic agenda. The next phase of research was to show that women were not only victims, but active agents in their own situation, and in that of their children and their families. The current phase is one of self-reflection. This coincides with the shift from the term Women’s Studies to Gender Studies. Gender is seen as a structure of relations. Now the emphasis is on the “whole story”. By working to increase gender equality and the empowerment of women, Women’s Studies promotes better understanding of human rights and the democratic process.

“When women ask the questions”: Issues in the development of Women’s Studies in America, with sightings across the pond

Tiina Kirss In the article, the author conducts a critical review of Marilyn Jacoby Boxer’s 1998 book When Women Ask the Questions: Creating Women’s Studies in America (Johns Hopkins UP), drawing supportive examples from her own experience as Director (from 1994-1999) of a newly-formed Women’s and Gender Studies Program in a small Southern university in the United States (Mercer University in Macon, Georgia). The author asks, “Why are Women’s and Gender Studies courses worthwhile for the general education of the average university student, and what have they to offer?” How are the dimensions of the “personal” and the “political” connected in Women’s Studies pedagogy, and what are some of the pitfalls of such a connection? How have these pedagogical questions been addressed in European (particularly East European) Women’s and Gender Studies programs? How might their connection be made in Estonia, and with what qualifications and guidelines? If Boxer is correct in assessing the positive impact of Women’s Studies courses on students capacities to “think ethically and morally”, what texts might provoke and enable such discussion in Estonia in culturally strategic ways? To what extent and how is this already happening?

Feminist, Female, Feminine

Toril Moi The author defines the terms “feminist”, “female”, and “feminine” and, applying her definitions, she develops a critique of feminist literary theory. In the article, “feminist” is defined as a political term, “female” is given a biological meaning, and “feminine” is assigned a cultural definition. The assertion that female experience is a prerequisite for feminism comes under a loop and is questioned. The author maintains that adherence to distinctions among the terms will prevent falling into patriarchal holes and will effect feminist politics of change.

Manufacturing the Other: Eastern Europe and Feminism

Katrin Kivimaa Introduction of feminist thought to Estonia’s society is tied to the socio-political changes that occurred at the end of the 1980s. Despite the fact that neither feminist movement nor academic feminism existed, a negative attitude toward feminism developed very rapidly in the public. This article attempts to analyze the historic conditions and ideological reasons that produced this situation. The author brings attention to the problematic relations between Western and local feminism, and argues against the suggestion that Western feminism has nothing to offer us. On the contrary, one should ask why such opposition occurred both in local feminism and the broader public, and what conclusions can be drawn from it. The double burdens placed on women by the Soviet period left their mark, and to this day the idea of equality is influenced by the state controlled slogans on emancipation, which did provide opportunities for women in the public sphere, but did not balance it with increased share of men’s responsibilities in the private sphere. The economic, intellectual and political advances enjoyed by Western women are certainly among reasons for the lack of understanding between them and Eastern European women. The efforts by Eastern European feminists, including the Estonian, to differentiate themselves from the Western feminists, especially their negative image, cannot be ignored. Thus, the attitude of local feminists has developed not only in cooperation with, or in opposition to, Western feminists, but, in many respects, also in adjusting the concepts to Estonians’ traditional understanding of being a woman. The fact that feminism in Estonia is associated with something “strange” and “threatening” is, first of all, a reflection of the society’s problems with gender equality and related questions. The author argues that Estonian feminists’ position can be described as being caught between two fires: on one hand, they are afraid of public denunciation, but on the other, they wish to help with the feminist breakthrough in our society. A possible solution could be a broad definition of feminism, which could permit many women to associate themselves with the movement.

Gender and Rationality: Estonian Women’s Case

Anu Narusk The article discusses women’s unresolved dilemmas of combining employment and family life in Estonia by looking at the role women themselves have in preserving the traditional gender roles in the changing social conditions. Estonian women are shown as not only the victims of, but also real supporters of, the traditional gender role socialization. Women’s choices are examined according to the rational choice theory. The author also asks the reader to bear in mind that the Estonian women make their choices under certain social constraints that limit the individual resources needed for choosing alternative behaviors. Persons and societies differ, the gender role system is always interconnected with political and economic factors of the society in question, and so the rational choices of Estonian women today can be rated as irrational for women in other countries. The author stresses that one rational for all alternative can hardly be found and examines the background for Estonian women’s choices.

Woman, Work and Family in Estonia: Changing attitudes and values

Leeni Hansson and Virve-Ines Laidmäe This article analyzes the changes that occurred in attitudes and values of Estonian women in the period 1985-1998, in two important areas – work and family. Likewise, it contains an analysis of contentment expressed toward changes in different areas of life. The bases of the analysis are the surveys, Eesti 85, Eesti 93, and Eesti 98 (about 2000-2300 respondents), conducted by the International and Social Research Institute of the Tallinn Pedagogical University. Research shows that women place very high value on family, but in practice, rapid changes in the traditional family model are perceptible. Although most families in Estonia have two parents employed, the family’s chores are done along traditional roles. In a family-career context, most women consistently give priority to family. Two periods are noticeable in contentment expressions: 1985-1995 as the period of declining contentment, and 1993-1998 as a period of stabilization. Both periods are characterized by greatest differences between men and women being in the satisfaction with family life – women are less content than men with family life.

Does Barbie doll matter? Body dissatisfaction, dieting and self-esteem

Marika Tiggemann The author points out that research shows women to be more dissatisfied with their body size and shape than men, and that, increasingly, signs of this phenomenon are being found among girls as young as 7 or 8. The situation can cause low self-esteem, harmful dieting, and eating disorders. The origins of body dissatisfaction can be traced to an increasing disparity between the ideal and the real. Mass media is identified as the purveyor of the ideal. Television is singled out as the chief image-maker in the contemporary Western world. The entertainment industry, especially music videos, promotes the drive for thinness. The author concludes that Barbie does matter as far as being a representation of an unrealistically thin ideal, specifically targeted at children, but in the larger context of the total barrage of wider socio-cultural influences that present unrealistic ideals to women, Barbie is only a small item.

Karin Luts: self-image as a means of self-identity for Estonian women artists

Reet Varblane Although 20th century art critics accepted women artists’ works as naturally as men’s works, leading to the deduction that in democratic Estonia women artists’ position and creative opportunities were secure, a closer look at Estonia’s art history reveals that the impression is the product of one art form’s implementation. The reality is quite different. At the prestigious Pallas, art school, women were enrolled in greater numbers than men before World War II, but in the ultimate ranks of Estonia’s recognized artists, women are few in number. Discrimination existed at the Pallas artists union and, consequently, women students could not participate at the exhibitions. Aino Bach and Karin Luts succeeded in 1939 for women students to become members of the organization. The presentation of the woman by women artists in the 1930s is striking, and most significantly, in the works by Karin Luts. In 1939, art critics noticed for the first time the self-image which clearly spoke of the woman artist’s ambivalent position in contemporary Estonian society. The self-image appears as a protective, yet revealing, shield, a genuine masquerade used by women artists in order to present their message in a strange environment. The author traces Luts’s artistic development, including the influence of French existentialist thought in her post World War II exile, and noting the special role of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir.

Kaja Kärner: Abstract Artist and Colourist

Eda Sepp The article investigates the role of Kaja Kärner (1920-1998) who was one of the first painters to turn to abstraction in the late fifties after the Stalinist repression in Estonia. The author asks whether she, and a group of fellow artists in Tartu who had been her friends since attending the Art Institute during World War II and the Soviet occupation thereafter, have been so underrated and misunderstood by historians and critics because of the predominance of women in this group. Estonia had no abstract artists after the first experiments by Ado Vabbe during the first quarter of the 20th century. 1957 marks a new beginning of abstraction in Estonian art which was different from anything that had taken place before. The chief initiators were women artists, among them Kaja Kärner. Kärner’s early collages are masterful combinations of cut objects and texts from magazines with fluid tempera paint. During the 60s she began doing large abstractions in tempera and gouache, which show her best as a colorist. The compositions are built up with rhythmically balanced color planes that cover the entire shallow picture plane. These works are totally different from previous Estonian art and did not relate to the early abstractions in Estonia. Yet, in the recently published short Estonian art history Kärner and the Tartu group are totally downplayed as traditional artists who did not produce anything new but rather continued in the prewar Pallas style. It seems that Kärner’s fate has been similar to many women artists’ throughout history whose work was either forgotten or downplayed, which confirms the statement by feminist art historians Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock that “modern art history produces a picture of the history of art from which women are not only absent, but identifies women artists as inevitably and naturally artists of lesser talent and of no historical significance” (in Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology). Kaja Kärner would have turned 80 this year.

“Other Things Happen to Women”: World War II, Violence, and National Identity

Leena Kurvet-Käosaar The article focuses on the effects of war and deportation on women, and on questions concerning national identity in the Baltic countries, by using the novels A Sound from the Past (1992) by the Estonian-Swedish pianist and writer Käbi Laretei, and A Woman in Amber (1995) by the Latvian-American author Agate Nesaule as source materials. Numerous memoirs and autobiographies set in World War II and its aftermath (deportations to Siberia, fleeing to the West) have been published in the past decade both in Estonia and the other Baltic countries, and in the United States, Canada, and Sweden. Few of them focus on women’s experience in general, and the violence experienced by women in particular. Violence, especially sexual violence, experienced by women is largely ignored when the roles are constructed for men and women fighting and suffering for their countries. Accordingly, women’s roles in wartime experiences are often viewed as minor in comparison to those of men. The issue of sexual violence has been, and to a certain extent still is, a taboo theme. The scanty accounts of sexual violence in these stories suggest that when it is exposed, sexual violence stigmatizes women in their respective national communities that place the blame, indirectly, on women. As a result, women cannot tell their full stories and have to resort to the accepted narrative norms of fleeing and deportation. The theoretical framework of New Historicism, focusing on “a reciprocal concern with the historicity of texts and the textuality of history” (Montrose, 1989: 23) enables the author to analyze the two autobiographical works as historical texts. She identifies the strategies of autobiographical writing employed in the text, and proceeds with the analysis of their significance to the content of the works. The construction of the narrators/protagonists’ national identities, and how they are positioned in relation to their respective national communities, is examined. A detailed analysis is included of the ways sexual violence is depicted in Laretei’s A Sound from the Past and in Nesaule’s A Woman in Amber, and the interrelationship of the experience of wartime sexual violence and the (de)formation of national identity are addressed.

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Feminist readings of Woolf

Toril Moi The author examines some negative feminist responses to the great feminist writer, Virginia Woolf, including the ones by the distinguished feminist critic Elaine Showalter. She analyzes Showalter’s long, closely argued chapter on Woolf in A Literature of Their Own. Then, she indicates some points towards a different, more positive feminist reading of Woolf, before finally summing up the salient features of the feminsit response to Woolf’s writings. She illuminates the relationship between feminist critical readings and the often unconscious theoretical and political assumptions that inform them.

A Feminist Reads Rousseau: Thoughts on Justice, Love and the Patriarchal Family

Lynda Lange In her essay, Lynda Lange analyses how a woman’s dependent and secondary role in a family influences general questions concerning equality and justice, as seen by Rousseau and from the critical feminist perspective. Rousseau believes that love inside the family is the foundation for a just society in which individuals are equal. But in Rousseau’s view, only men qualify for equality among individuals. It is for women to apply their love toward helping men to overcome their egocentrism and personal greed; women have to help them to reach the general good, and ultimately its implementation. Lange reaches the conclusion that this approach is one sided. It is not only that justice needs love, but, also, that love needs justice: a family based on unequal relations lacks love, just as a society based on inequality lacks justice. In case love is, indeed, necessary for a just society, then the model of a family ruled by men will not bring a just society.

About the Authors

Tiina Kirss, Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. She is the lecturer on Estonian Language and Literature at the University of Toronto, and she researches and compiles Estonian women’s life stores. She chaired the Women’s Studies Program at mercer University, 1994-1999. Her articles have appeared in academic journals, most recently in Interlitteraria. She is co-authoring an anthology with Suzanne Lie on Estonian women’s life stories during World War II and the Soviet occupation.

Katrin Kivimaa is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History under Griselda Pollock at the University of Leeds, UK. She has a Phil.M. in Gender Studies from Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, and a diploma cum laude in history and art history from Tartu University, Estonia. Her major research interests are feminist art and theory.

Leena Kurvet-Käosaar, M.A. from Indiana University. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at Tartu University, where she also lectures on 20th century literature, feminist literary theory and modern biography from the gender studies perspective.

Mirjam Hinrikus is a graduate of H. Heller Music School and of Tartu University. Her article is a summary of her thesis at the Department of Philosophy. Presently, she is a graduate student at Tartu University and a researcher at K. Ristikivi Museum. Her article, “Tammsaare’s Woman” appeared in Vikerkaar (1999) and her article “Feminist Critique of Postmodernism and Philosophy” in the book Mechanisms for Change (2000).

Leeni Hansson is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, and holds a M.*A. from the Tallinn Pedagogical University, Estonia. A sociologist, she heads the Department of Culture and Family Sociology at the International and Social Research Institute, Tallinn, Estonia. Her areas of specialty are family management, women in the labour market, social capital, and informal networks.

Virve-Ines Laidmäe, a sociologist, is a researcher at the Culture and Family Sociology Department of the International and Social Research Institute, Tallinn, Estonia. Her areas of specialty are socio-economic changes and social welfare, factors affecting health, and senior citizens’ coping strategies. She has published several articles on health related issues.

Lynda Lange is a professor at the Scarborough College, Department of Philosophy, of the University of Toronto. She has published many articles on Rousseau’s philosophy from a feminist perspective and is presently editing a collection of feminist critiques on Rousseau (to be published by University of Pennsylvania Press). Her book, Contemporary Feminist Theory, will be published next year by Routledge Press.

Suzanne Lie is a Professor of Education at the University of Oslo, Norway, the former director of the Women’s Studies Program, and the vice-chair of the Equal Opportunities Council. She is a founding member and the Academic Director of ENUT. She has been published extensively, both as an author and co-author of texts on higher education and immigrant women.

Toril Moi is James B. Duke Professor of Literature and Romance Studies at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA. She is author of Sexual/Textual Politics, (London, 1986); Feminist Theory and Simone de Beauvoir, (Oxford, 1990); editor of The Kristeva Reader (Oxford, 1986); and French Feminist Thought, (Oxford, 1987).

Eda Sepp, Phil.M. from University of Toronto, is an art historian with numerous articles to her credit on Estonian and Canadian art, and on issues concerning gender equality. She heads the Women’s Issues project in Toronto and serves on the Board of ENUT. She is a founding member of ENUT and has compiled its basic book collection of feminist books. Her latest article on Soviet Estonian nonconformist art will appear in the Zimmerli Art Museum’s catalogue of Baltic art, published by Rutgers University.

Marika Tiggemann is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Flinders University of South Australia. She has written extensively in the area of body image. Her latest article is “Dieting and cognitive style: The role of current and past dieting behavior and cognitions”, Journal of Health Psychology, 2000:5, 17-24.

Reet Varblane, a Ph.D. candidate at the Estonian Art Academy in Tallinn, is presently the fine arts editor of Estonia’s cultural weekly Sirp and a lecturer at the Estonian Art Academy. She is a critic, historian and curator of exhibitions as well as author of several books and catalogue articles on Estonian art.