The long buildup seems to be ending

Olev Remsu, a writer who has appeared as a chauvinist, looks at the new feminist journal

A very patriarchal and crude man once said, “What do the feminists want? To whore around, nothing else!  But they lack courage to do it otherwise than all together and screaming!”

The new journal Ariadne’s Clew is testimony to the backwardness and ignorance of such an understanding.  To our relief, we can read that in Eastern Europe even cruder references have been made to feminism.  From Tiina Kirss’s article, “When women ask the questions”, we learn that in an otherwise tolerant America the feminists made compromises with the public a dozen or so years ago, and did no use the word  “feminism” in their articles, because its use would have produced at least alienation, or irony, labels, or even hatred.

I have been bothered sometimes by some feminists’ passionate need to appear prescient, or even visionary, but we do not meet such tendencies, or other compromising radicalism, in the new publication.  Only Lynda Lange, who belongs among the classic feminists, seemed to me somewhat too emotional in her article, “A feminist reads Rousseau” (translated by Kristiina Ross), but then, perhaps I am too sensitive.  Despite the intelligent arguments to destroy Rousseau’s opinion, I will dare to share his view in the future that female’s sexual passivity is part of her nature.  A woman chooses.  Rousseau and I are looking at appearances, but what is going on inside, we can only imagine.

Constructive discourse appears in several places in the journal.

Katrin Kivimaa analyses negativism toward feminism in “Manufacturing the other: Eastern Europe and Feminism”, and the large differences between Western and Eastern feminism, and the hypocrisy of  Soviet era’s gender equality policies.  I did not even know that Simone de Beauvoir had already written in 1949, “One is not born a woman, one becomes a woman.”  That is a profound fact.

What is feminism?

The impression from Ariadne’s Clew is that it is an ordinary subject (interdisciplinary), which is pursued according to the methodology used in the study of all other disciplines in social sciences or humanities.  All articles, and the research on which they are based, are related to women or issues concerning women. Each article is followed by a bibliography.

Feminism is a means of asserting oneself, a way to come to the public’s attention, and to have access to financial sources.  And who should be upset when in our market oriented society serious scholars fight for their interests, and with considerable success? And most importantly- honestly.

At the moment public interest is preoccupied more with genetics whose discoveries have disclosed that the animal kingdom does not need the male species.  For example, in the case of humans it is enough to move a few genes of the billions in the egg from one place to another and the woman can impregnate herself.  Such manipulation in the male is not possible.

Such a future presents for the feminists a wide range of possibilities.

— The article appeared in the October 26, 2000, issue of the weekly Eesti Ekspress.

Women to the barricades

Margaret Neithal, student at the University of Tartu

“Gender studies have developed energetically and forced their way out of the display case” said Tallinn Pedagogical University Rector Mati Heidmets at the Tallinn women’s studies conference where the second volume of Ariadne’s Clew was presented.

Eve Annuk, the journal’s editor, said that the Estonian language gender studies journal became a reality last fall under the leadership of Eda Sepp, a Board member of the Estonian Women’s Studies and Resource Centre, and its Academic Director Prof. Suzanne Lie.

An interdisciplinary journal

According to Annuk, interest in women’s studies is great and it’s not difficult to obtain articles.  Several authors are young scholars at the start of their careers.  Also, thematic diversity has increased.  The journal contains articles on sociology, literature, art history, modern dance, geography, folklore, history and political science.  Male studies are also represented by Marion Pajumets’ “Will the new masculinity come to Estonia?” and Canadian author Michael Kaufman’s “Men, Feminism and Men’s Contradictory Experiences of Power”.

Women’s studies are expanding – on one hand they are in the academia, but also moving into the broader society.  The editors of the journal stated that women’s studies meets the requirements of the role that studies have – to discuss and analyze society from the gender perspective without ignoring scholarship.

Is universal impartiality possible?

Jyväskyla University doctoral student Iivi Masso questions the demands made by traditional scholarship in her article, “Academic truths and feminist theory”. Natural sciences are considered to be truly scientific in Estonia for a scientist’s role is to be an impartial, objective observer.  The political nature of feminist theory, its aim to effect change, is therefore in conflict with science whose purpose is to collect truths and facts.  Masso thinks that in social sciences it is illusory to separate the subject and object.  Pure objectivity is simply not possible.  “A scientist does not only describe, but also molds society and therein lies science’s power.”  In addition to trying to identify problems, feminism explores possibilities for change.  If feminism is not treated as science, then same applies to the other social sciences.

Leeds University doctoral student Katrin Kivimaa states that feminism has been criticized for lacking concern for women’s real problems.  Women’s studies have been seen even as obstacles to the women’s movement.  She refers to the multiple schools of thought in feminism.  Kivimaa believes, nevertheless, that feminism’s theory and practice are more closely tied than it appears.  Culture is an activity that influences reality.  A society consists of interdependent parts and feminism can be the sole criterion for women’s experience.

Audiatur et altera pars

An all-male panel composed of Hasso Krull, writer and literary theorist, Mart Väljataga, editor-in-chief of Vikerkaar journal, and Prof. Mikko Lagerspetz of Humanities Institute discussed feminism.  Prof. Lagerspetz was pleasantly surprised over the appearance of Ariadne’s Clew. In his opinion, social sciences and the humanities have been given secondary status in Estonia and not supported by decision makers and funding sources. AC is interdisciplinary and includes many subjects.

Väljataga considered the journal’s appearance a natural development, but doubted that women’s studies can stand as an independent discipline.  Krull was somewhat more liberal, “Feminism as an autonomous branch of study can exist”. It’s not necessary to explain a field of study through another.  This does not mean that it is not necessary for a researcher of women’s studies to know the other fields.

Väljataga said that Iivi Masso’s article on the relationship between feminism and the sciences disturbed him.  He said attempts to politicize everything concern him.  It’s natural to draw a line between culture and politics, just as it is drawn between the private and public spheres, which the feminist theorists attack.   If everything is translated into power language, feminism will be feared.  Lagerspetz thought that the feminists’ aim is to draw attention to where power lies.  If the subject is hidden, it is not possible to support it.  Eclipsed streams of power and power relations exist everywhere.  Perhaps we will continue to dominate our wives in private, but at least we know what we are doing.  Let’s begin to think what to do with that knowledge.

Women to the barricades

Krull’s comments about the prevailing social apathy in Estonia stirred the audience.   He said that the women’s movement in Estonia got its start in the academic sphere, although social emancipation would be sometimes more important.  “Where something originates depends on the society.”  In Krull’s opinion, when it comes to social movements Estonia is extremely inactive, almost dead.  It would be normal if aggressive, radical feminists, who support the academic part, would take to the streets, demanding their rights.  Sometimes it is necessary to take direct action.

Why are men in Estonia afraid of feminism?  Krull thinks that power is perceived too often as power over someone – to rule or to exploit someone. Power can be understood also as the ancient shamans perceived it – power as force to rearrange things.  “I don’t see that feminism would be bad or threatening when correcting structures that are harmful.”  Lagerspetz added that it was evident from Marion Pajumets’ research that men are not happy, either, with traditional gender roles.

The discussion ended on a humorous note.  Mart Väljataga cited Socrates who supposedly had thanked the gods every morning that he was not born a slave, a barbarian, or a woman.  “I do that about once a month. Were I to complain about being a man, feminism would be completely victorious.”

The article appeared in the April 19, 2002, issue of the university newspaper Universitas Tartuensis.