`Our experiences are mirror images'

5:21 pm  Aug 27, 1991
Source: Peacenet
(Fido:250/222) igc:greenleft
`Our experiences are mirror images'

While their experiences and opinions differed in many ways some
of the themes commonly expressed by women from Eastern Europe at
the June conference of the European Forum of Socialist Feminists
in Norwich, England were contained in the following abridged
contribution by ZARANA PAPIC, from the Department of Sociology at
the Philosophy University of Belgrade.

There are two problems with the term socialist feminism in
Eastern Europe because in the east, for different reasons, both
socialism and feminism are troublesome processes.

Due to the unhappy experience of socialism as totalitarianism,
now [attitudes have swung] to the other extreme, towards a
traditional and simple minded concept of democracy. Eastern
countries are [experiencing] their suppressed dimensions -
nationalistic, religious fundamentalist, anticommunist, anti-
socialist and so on. I think we are going through the infant
stage of democracy, when it is only understood as everything

Women are caught unprepared for the transformations in their
countries. [Through socialist ``emancipation'' which granted them
important rights but did not liberate them] they became a
passive, non-existent political force that does not know how to
fight against the new perspective of losing substantial rights.

On one hand, Eastern women were filled with propaganda that
``feminism is a war between the sexes and the Western product of
idle bourgeois women who have nothing to do with socialist
reality, which is beautiful''. On the other hand, the problem
has, in my opinion, deeper reasons. Eastern women for 50 years
lived a different way of life. I could be courageous and say [a
different] civilisation, because we think in ex-socialism there
were some good things also.

They lived a different kind of life, which could be described as
a mirror image of the Western way of life. For instance, Eastern
women had the right to work, abortion and divorce, which were the
main reasons in Western European countries for the feminist and
women's movement. But they did not have the consumer culture.

You cannot imagine how consumer culture which [in Western
feminist opinion] is glamorous and alienated femininity, could be
appealing for women who didn't have it. [Now] we are enjoying
making ourselves beautiful, and it's not just to make ourselves
into sex objects, it's to fill this gap of many years of not
having it. Also, Eastern women had too much collectivism and so
little individualism.

Those are the reasons, in my opinion, that Western-style
feminism, which started with grouping, consciousness raising,
collective action and solidarity, cannot simply be transplanted
into Eastern European countries, because it works [only] with a
very small number of women.

We should be aware of the specific experience of Eastern Europe.
In that sense, every form of women's struggle in the east is
welcome. It doesn't have to be under the name of feminism. It
must open the possibility for women's action. The name will come


Reprinted from Green Left, weekly progressive newspaper. May
be reproduced with acknowledgment but without charge by
movement publications and organisations.