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.