Author Archives: Marion Ründal

The discordant voices in the feminist choir: post socialist feminism between “going back”, “starting from scratch” and a “post-East” re-existence

Madina Tlostanova

In her article Tlostanova analyses the options of post socialist Eastern European feminisms in today’s neoliberal condition in which they have become the semi periphery of the West. She suggests three trajectories: going back (either to pre-socialist, often patriarchal models or nostalgic memories of the Soviet period), starting from scratch, imitating Western feminism but always remaining secondary to it and finding a “post-East” existence. The roots of the latter should be in border thinking and practice as well as critical and dynamic intersectionality.

Incidence of sexual violence among women, risk groups and attitudes in Estonia

Kai Part, Made Laanpere, Hedda Lippus

A population-based questionnaire survey demonstrated that sexual violence, including rape, is widespread in Estonia. In the group of 16–44-year-old women in Estonia, 16% of the respondents had experienced types of sexual violence studied. Both women and men experience sexual violence in Estonia, but the majority of victims are women. The most vulnerable group is young women. The perpetrator of sexual violence is usually one’s partner or a person known to the victim. A notable percentage of the respondents (men more than women, ethnicities other than Estonian more than Estonians) associated sexual violence primarily with sexual intercourse and other contact-based sexual activities against the victim’s will, but did not consider violence perpetrated by one’s spouse/partner or non-contact types of sexual violence to be sexual violence. Attitudes blaming the victim were widespread. For example, a significant number of respondents believed the victim of rape to be (partly) responsible for the crime if she had consumed alcohol. They also believed that after hugging and kissing a woman should no longer refuse sex. Such attitudes may lead to a situation where the majority of victims will not report the sexual violence and will not seek help.

Woman in foreign academia: Women scholars from Central and Eastern Europe problematizing gender equality in Swedish universities

Marion Pajumets, Triin Roosalu

Women are under-represented in science, technology and engineering research both in Central and Eastern Europe and Nordic countries. Differently from post socialist countries, however, Swedish academia uses different interventions to improve the position of women scientists. Thus, women scientists from Central and Eastern Europe who work in Swedish academia should value the gender equality policies of Swedish universities highly. But do they?

The article aims to identify the attitudes of women scientists who have been consecutively socialized into different gender orders (socialist, post socialist, neoliberal, Nordic) about the gender equality policies of an academia that most explicitly strives to achieve gender balance.

The analysis is based on biographical interviews with 13 mobile women scientists who worked in 8 Swedish universities in the fall of 2014. Their attitudes are determined with the help of critical framing theory and existing typologies that distinguish political frameworks of gender equality in different European countries.

The analysis identifies three dominant attitudes towards the gender equality policies of Swedish academia. The first believes them to be positive but rather passive (so-called transformative framing); the second considered the interventions of the Swedish academia active, but somewhat detrimental (so-called inclusive framing); some women believed the existing interventions in the context of gender equality weak, but also somewhat unnecessary (so-called denial framing). The discussion section considers what influence the specific multiple socialization and gratitude may have on the evaluations of Swedish academia given by women scientists from Central and Eastern Europe.

‘I am not a woman writer’: About women, literature and feminist theory today

Toril Moi

This essay first tries to answer two questions: Why did the question of the woman writer disappear from the feminist theoretical agenda around 1990? Why do we need to reconsider it now? I then begin to develop a new analysis of the question of the woman writer by turning to the statement ‘I am not a woman writer’. By treating it as a speech act and analysing it in the light of Simone de Beauvoir’s understanding of sexism, I show that it is a response to a particular kind of provocation, namely an attempt to force the woman writer to conform to some norm for femininity. I also show that Beauvoir’s theory illuminates Virginia Woolf ’s strategies in A Room of One’s Own before, finally, asking why we, today, still should want women to write.

”Finding a girl sleeping in the arms of a boy is not shameful for them.“ August Wilhelm Hupel’s descriptions of peasant sexual life in the context of the history of the Estonian family

Merili Metsvahi

The article gives a brief overview of the life and work of August Wilhelm Hupel and focuses on the treatment of peasant sexual life in Hupel’s three-volume work Topographische Nachrichten von Lief- und Ehstland (1774- 1782) (‘Topographic news from Livonia and Estonia’) and his articles Ueber den Werth der Jungfrauschaft unter Ehsten und Letten (‘On the value of virginity among Estonians and Latvians ‘, 1791) and Ueber das Hauben der ehstnischen Dirnen (‘Marriage rites for Estonian girls’, 1795). Hupel’s descriptions will be placed in the context of research on the history of the Estonian family. The history of the Estonian family has received serious attention only in the 21st century. The view that strongly patriarchal order has prevailed in Estonia since pre-history, propagated by 19th-centiry Baltic-German historians, dominated throughout the whole of the 20th century. Archaeologist and historian Marika Mägi, who in her work leans on the research of Swedish historian Nils Blomkvist, has refuted this belief. The earlier strong position of women started to weaken in the 13th century, starting from the Crusader conquest, which saw the collision of different views of the two cultures about the status of women. It is very probable that matrilineal descent was replaced by a patrilineal one during the 13th century. However, there were spheres of life that were hidden from the dominant classes and where changes were only minimal, for example the sphere of sexuality. It is the latter that we find information about in Hupel’s descriptions, the best source on the life of Estonian peasants in the 18th century. The descriptions demonstrate that in sexual life women retained a great degree of independence even 500 years after the Crusader conquest.

The problematic relationship of feminism and neoliberalism

Raili Marling

While internationally there is ample criticism of neoliberalism in feminist and gender studies literature, it is missing in today’s Estonia, probably because of the wide acceptance of neoliberalist ideals in Estonian society. Because of the silent acceptance of neoliberalism, we especially, need its critical analyses, including from a gendered perspective. The article first, on the basis of international experience, gives a survey of the problematic influence of neoliberalism on feminist movements and the co-optation of feminist vocabulary in the neoliberalist context. The neoliberalization of feminisms (be it strategic or unconscious) and the depoliticization of feminist vocabulary has undermined the feminist project of solidarity and justice. The article sketches the influence of neoliberalism on feminism in Estonia and calls for a greater awareness of the language used in feminist debates.

Gender stereotypes and epistemic injustice

Endla Lõhkivi

The article addresses the operation of gender stereotypes in scholarly contexts from the perspective of philosophy of science. The author proceeds from Alison Wylie’s treatment of epistemic injustice that allows us to explain how stereotypes contribute to biased evaluation of research results. While Wylie demonstrates how cool work environment culture supports biased evaluation – by increasing the exclusion of the marginalized groups – the present article focuses on how gender stereotypes undermine the credibility of scholars so that this, too, leads to biased evaluation and the exclusion of weaker parties from the critical discussion necessary for achieving the objectivity of research. The examples are derived from interviews from a study of the culture of Estonian humanities scholars and an international study of the culture of physics.

Christian family and the ideology of family values

Anne Kull

The attitudes of Jesus and his followers about family were ambivalent. In fact, for most of Christian history, attitudes about family have tended to be negative: Jesus was most probably not married, asceticism (monks, nuns, hermits) had a higher position and was more respected in both Catholic and Orthodox Christianity.  Like all world religions, Christianity has adapted to different social and economic formations. Changes in economic and labour relations have always been accompanied by changes in the definition of family and family relations. Even a brief look at history reveals that the mythical “Christian family” is a recent ideological construction that has little to do with actual practices over centuries. The ideology hides behind the noble aim of defending children, but displays the ignoble goal of controlling and ruling women (or other weaker individuals) and their bodies. The anti-family stance of Jesus and the majority of the New Testament is not a realistic model for today’s family as it was rooted in the critique of the family of the time and an apocalyptic worldview, but it might provide us with food for thought. Could today’s Christians, as radically as the first followers of Jesus, give the family a new meaning that would not be based on gender, economic or social hierarchy or just blood ties?

What do we talk about when we talk about feminism in Estonia?

Redi Koobak

Lately, feminist activities have gained considerable new ground in Estonia and this has brought about the need to contextualize current debates historically in order to demonstrate the continuity of feminist thought and praxis as well as to point to changes that have already taken place. Since stories of the emergence of feminism in Estonia have not been systematically studied yet, the article takes a closer look at the stories of how women in Estonia have become feminist. The article draws on 12 interviews with Estonian scholars, artists, art critics, politicians and activists who position themselves as feminists and takes a closer look at how they arrived at feminism and what feminism means for them today. The article focuses primarily on three moments that have influenced the emergence of feminism in Estonia. These include a widespread understanding of “proper” feminism as a Western mass movement, tensions between local context and Western feminism and the personal experiential background of the women who identify as feminist. The main aim of the article is to point out the positive sides of current developments in feminism in Estonia as well as draw attention to potential drawbacks in order to find ways to talk about feminism in Estonia differently. The author emphasizes the need to be more critical of the way Estonian feminism is understood and the way it is influenced by Western feminist theories in order to avoid the common-place perception of Eastern European feminisms as “lagging behind” in the transnational context. The author argues that to do so we need to know the stories of local feminisms better and view local developments without forcing them into the normative Western progress narrative.

When Estonian women read Bebel: on the „Woman Question“ in Estonia in the early 20th Century

Tiina Ann Kirss

This article takes its point of departure from three articles on the „woman question“ written by Estonian socialist Mihkel Martna in 1900, 1910, and 1917. Taken together these articles usefully offer a grid within which the history of the Estonian women`s movement can be located during the years that spanned the 1905 revolution, the Russian revolution, and the birth of Estonian independence. In all three articles, Martna draws significantly on the work of German socialist leader August Bebel, whose work Die Frau und der Sozialismus (Woman and Socialism, 1879) had been reprinted more than 50 times by the end of the 19th century, and was extraordinarily popular in German workers` libraries. An abbreviated translation of this work from the Russian had been published in Estonia by the newspaper „Uudised“ in 1905. However, in the revolutionary

decade 1900-1910, ideas were passed along in digest and summary form in underground reading groups and, of course, circulated orally.

If one asks, who was reading Bebel`s ideas on the „woman question“ in Estonia around 1905, Bebel`s „ideal readers“ would have been (and were) a small group of young women revolutionaries including Marta Lepp, Lilli Ibrus-Köstner, Alma Ani-Ast, and Alma Ostra-Oinas who attended the Tartu Pushkin High School for Girls, were active in underground reading circles run by Russian University students in Tartu, and mentored by both Peeter Speek and Mihkel Martna himself. In the memoirs of these women, deposited in the „1905 Society“ papers of the 1930s (a campaign for collecting archival material on the 1905 revolution in which Martna was an important voice), the women mention a core selection of Marxist and socialist texts, as well as a number of titles on natural sciences. Bebel`s ideas were thus received in the context of his contemporaries among thinkers, and they were coherent with the deviations and transgressions of traditional womanhood practiced in revolutionary circles around 1905.

The article analyses the work of Martna`s articles in selecting, contextualizing, and applying Bebel`s ideas to the Estonian social situation as an important layer of Martna`s political contributions to socialist thought in Estonia. Except for the first, the articles were written during Martna`s political exile in Germany and Switzerland from 1905-1917, a period during which he extended his education as an auditor at the Universities of Bern and Zürich and at the Berlin Arbeiterschule. In the lively environment of the German socialist movement, Martna`s own reading included socialist women`s periodicals. In conclusion, the article examines several untravelled routes in Estonian women`s history in the early decades of the 20th century, and methodological approaches to studying them.