|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||14. Nr.||September 2005|
Veronika Wöhrer (Wien)
This paper consists of observations and theses about the importance of womens literature in the development of the first womens movement and Gender Studies in Slovakia today. They form a part of my master theses on Gender Studies and the use of the term feminism by Slovak academics(1). At the beginning I want to present some facts about the first wave of womens activism and womens organising in the area which is the Republic of Slovakia today, and then I will continue with the current situation. This historic chapter is necessary, as the important role of (writing) literature within gender studies has its origins in the structures of the national revival and the first womens movement.
First Period of Womens Activism in Slovakia
The first activities by and for women took place during the so called Slovak National Revival, which started in the middle of the 18th century and lasted until the foundation of the first Czechoslovak Republic. Slovak people belonged to the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and formed a Slavonic minority in the Northern part, which was called Oberungarn. During this period, Slovak-speaking intellectuals began to be aware of their nationality, which means that they began to collect and document Slovak history, Slovak language, Slovak cultural traditions, etc. For example, two different codifications of the Slovak language were elaborated, and Slovak organisations, circles, magazines, newspapers, schools, etc. were founded. The activism of Slovak nationalists was political and intellectual at the same time: They did not only work on but also worked out and thereby constructed - Slovak history, language and what was and still is called Slovak culture.
Before the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic, there were no officially working Slovak political institutions or parties that had any kind of executive power, and there was only one Slovak representative in the Hungarian national assembly. So people who wanted to be politically active had to find different ways of expressing and disseminating their ideas. The structure of Slovak society (no Slovak aristocracy and only a very small group of Slovak bourgeoisie) caused intellectuals to become the leading political activists in the National Revival. Intellectuals meant predominantly teachers, Catholic priests and Protestant ministers. As political organising was very limited in Oberungarn and became even harder with the increasing nationalist orientation of Hungarian politics after 1875, writing articles in magazines and writing literature were important means of political activism. This held true for all Slovak activists, but the importance of writing was even more relevant for women: Their access to professions and organisations was limited compared to that of their male counterparts, so they mainly used literature to act and express themselves politically.
The first and most important womens organisation was called ivena and was founded in 1869. The initiating idea and activities of this organisation for Slovak women were set by a man, Ambro Pietor, a famous Slovak nationalist. His motivation was to establish a broader basis for Slovak nationalism. His idea was to reach the other half of the Slovak population, which meant women. He wanted them to become good nationalist daughters and sisters, wives and mothers of male nationalists. According to these ideals, the founding committee of the organisation was formed by three men. The secretary of ivena was Pietor himself. Only the president of the organisation was a woman, Anna Pívková, who was followed by Elena Maróthy oltésová in 1894. The latter, who served as vice-president from 1883-1894, then as president until 1927, published numerous articles and books and became the womens movements intellectual leader for over a quarter of a century(2).
The Slovak womens magazine Dennica was similarly founded because of an appeal by a Slovak male nationalist: Karel Kalál. His motivation was very similar to Pietors: He wanted to reach more people for Slovak nationalist ideas and discovered women as a new audience. But the founding also resulted from disputes between the conservative Hurban Vajanský, who, as editor of the well-known paper Narodnie noviny, refused to edit articles by female nationalists that were - in his view - too emancipatory, and those female authors, who wanted to express themselves more openly(3). So in 1897 the magazine Dennica was founded. The first editor of thismagazine was Terézia Vansová, who retired in 1907 to take care of her sick husband.
The work of the women engaged in ivena and Dennica was strongly influenced by their male nationalist colleagues, and their ideas were very much shaped by Christian ideals. Almost all of these women were in some way related to Protestant ministers or Catholic priests. Because of these male relatives they gained access to nationalist circles, could travel to meetings and were familiar with the nationalist literature. The Christian influence can be seen, for example, in the fact that most female authors argued for womens emancipation by using St. Pauls Letter to the Galatians and the quotation So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free men, between men and women; you are all one in union with Jesus Christ(4). Terézia Vansová stressed the origin of womens movement in Christian values, when she wrote in an editorial of Dennica in 1902: After all, who freed women from bondage and vassalage and set them at the level of men? Jesus Christ.(5)
Unlike in some other countries, Slovak women activists mostly rejected any kind of radical emancipation or feminism, which might destroy the main goal of a balanced partnership between men and women. oltésová, for example, criticised the exaggerated and distorted descriptions of womens emancipation in other countries by Slovak male nationalists in her most ambitious essay Potreba vdelanosti pre enu, zvlást so stanoviska mravnosti (The Need for Womens Emancipation, Especially from the Viewpoint of Morality) and described the given caricature of emancipation:
Most dubious is the view of womens emancipation as a sort of insane battle of a wife against her husband, which is to say against her calling as a wife a sort of unthinkable whim to imitate her husband, to bungle inquisitively into his role and ignore her own, to take over his rights without his weighty responsibilities, to take over his public vocation with the conceited belief that the world would be a better place under a womans rule, and so on. Obviously such an unthinkable emancipation would be doomed to fail if the idea could even be taken seriously.(6)
Her own ideas of womens emancipation seem to have been oriented towards family and partnership. She did not question a womans duty to be wife (and mother), but wanted her to stick to her tasks within the family, not taking over typically mens duties. Corresponding to the statutes of ivena, women activists wanted to educate Slowakischen Töchter (Slovak daughters) to become sittsame, fähige und fleißige Hausfrauen und pflichteifrige Töchter (demure, competent and diligent housewives and zealous daughters)(7), but they never fought for political or juridical issues, as e.g. the right to vote(8).
Nevertheless, the activities of female Slovak nationalists should not be underestimated: As Jana Cviková argues in her paper, An der Seite ihrer Männer und ihrer Nation: Die ersten slowakischen Schriftstellerinnen in der Bewegung,(9) Christian rhetoric might have been used for tactical reasons. Slovak women activists developed their own ideas of womens emancipation independently from and sometimes in opposition to - their male nationalist colleagues: They were active for womens and girls education and supported womens economic independence. Their ideas often provoked heavy criticism by male nationalists, mostly those in the rather conservative circle of Narodnie Noviny.
Almost all important women activists in the main womens organisation and the womens magazine were also writers of literature, who published novels and essays(10). Some women carried out their activism only by writing, not by participating or working in organisations. (e.g. Izabella Textorisová).
The American literature historian Norma Rudinsky analyses the works of four important women writers at that time: Terezia Vansová, Elena Maróthy oltésová, Ludmila Riznerová - who published under the name Podjavorinská, and Izabella Textorisová. They were not only active in the womens movement, but they also published novels and stories, in which they described the lives of Slovak women or female nationalists. They wrote about womens emancipation and wanted to set role models for their readers. Rudinksy states that these writers no longer described idealised female characters, as had been done in the literature of the túr tradition. Their nationalist heroines were not only more realistic and had more power than the male nationalist writers, but they also began to be more oriented towards womens emancipation. Rudinsky stresses that Boena Slanciková, who published under the name Timrava, and Hana Lilgová Gregorová even developed female characters which she describes as feminist heroines. The authors outline societys bad circumstances for women and develop characters which rebel against the externally defined roles for women as wives and mothers. These protagonists, for example, refuse to marry and stay economically independent. Such works as eny (Women) by Gregorová or Skúsenost (Experience) by Timrava show womens longing for education and independence as well as societys punishments for their failures. In many of her works Timrava criticises the nationalist movement itself. (The most famous of these is Vetko za národ - Everything for the Nation.) She exposes hypocrites and materialists within the movement, bad living conditions for unmarried women and the ignorance of male nationalists towards women writers(11).
Rudinsky stresses that the number of women writers increased rapidly in the 1870s(12) and that Writing seems to have been a nearly automatic part of nationalist activity and nationalist women were almost required to try to become writers(13) This equation of nationalism and writing seemed to be very common in the Slovak national revival: Rudinsky calls it ... the Slovak tendency to identify nationhood with language and literature(14). For women it seemed to be almost imperative: Izabela Textorisovás aptitude for botanical research was ignored if not scorned by other women nationalists, who urged her to dedicate herself to writing(15).
Czechoslovak Republic and the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
Unfortunately there does not exist much literature on womens activities in the Slovak part of the first Czechoslovak Republic. In the Czech part there were many womens initiatives, groups and organisations(16). Slovaks were freer to express their political ideas and the president of the republic, Tomá Garrigue Masaryk, was supportive of womens activities. Therefore, the political and social background for womens activism might have been encouraging in Slovakia as well. But more research about womens organisations during this period would be a necessary to verify these hypotheses.
During the period of Socialism, the state defined and regulated emancipation. The only womens organisation was the Slovak Union of Women (Slovenský zväz ien), which was directly controlled by the communist party. Women were not allowed to organise themselves autonomously. Within dissident initiatives women were active, but there was no feminist dissident in socialist Czechoslovakia. The Czech dissident and social scientist, Jirina iklova, states that, due to party politics, the old roots of feminism were forgotten and new discourses were forbidden in the CSSR(17). Feminist concepts did not get smuggled into the country, so communist propaganda shaped the image of feminism as a bourgeois concept of bored Western housewives(18).
Womens projects and rodové túdiá (Gender Studies) in Slovakia after 1989
After 1989 and a decline of womens influence in politics and in the labour market(19) women began to build up organisations and projects again. In Slovakia, the first womens initiatives were run by female writers, literary critics and (visual) artists. The first and most important independent womens organisation, which pushed - and still pushes a womens agenda in a way they themselves called feminist, was the magazine ASPEKT. It is run by a group of literary critics, writers and philosophers. The magazine contains feminist theory, literature, interviews, pictures, portraits of visual artists, etc. Every issue is dedicated to one main topic and includes translations of basic feminist texts from foreign writers as well as Slovak texts. Very often texts on theory are written by foreigners and then get introduced into Slovak society in translation, whereas literature poems, short stories, essays, collages, etc. - is mostly written by Slovak authors. Many of the contributions cannot be strictly defined as either theory/research or literature, but are rather combinations of both approaches, as, for example, text collages, fictional interviews with famous (historic) Slovak women, literary interpretations of research, comics using survey data, etc. These texts question the borders between theory and literature. They are hybrids and manifest bridges not only to link genres, but also to groups of readers: They send feminist messages to readers of literature as well as theory to people looking for entertainment as well as an (academic) education.
Questioning or deconstructing the borders between genres (or between fiction and science) reminds one of feminist authors like Donna Haraway. The deconstruction of hegemonic discourses, inventing hybrids, etc. became much discussed in postmodern feminist discourses during the 1990s. Even though in the beginning Slovak feminists did not know too much about postmodern feminist theory or about Donna Haraway(20), their work as writers, artists and literary critics with feminist theories led them to very similar approaches crossing the borders of fiction and science.
Because of the lack of feminist books, they started to publish their own works in 1996. By l spring 2003 they had published 39 books and booklets. 7 of them are labelled Slovak prose, 10 translated prose, 8 represent feminist theory or research, 5 are about the prevention of violence, 5 are childrens books, three are calendars and one is a collection of interviews, published in the magazine between 1993 and 1998. So they cover literature as well as theoretical books and sometimes publish works that are neither-nor, or in between, especially the calendars, some publications about violence and most childrens books (stories, comics, etc.) combine fact and fiction. This made some of them not only easier to read, but also very popular: E.g. all three calendars were out of print soon after their publication.
Aspekt also runs the only library in Slovakia dedicated to womens and gender issues. As other libraries and book stores hardly cover this topic (if they do, they just sell publications of Aspekt), they are the only source of information for students, journalists and other interested readers.
Besides the above-mentioned activities, Aspekt began to work in the sectors of public relations, political lobbying and especially in the field of violence against women. So the editors and co-ordinators, originally being writers and literary critics, broadened their activities to include social and political projects.
Another womens initiative is the Klub feministických filozofiek (Club of Feminist Philosophers), which started to organise classes on feminist theory and gender studies at Comenius University in Bratislava already in the school year 1990/1991. The first one was called Pohlad z druhej strany (Feministická filozofia a literatúra) (View from the Other Side [Feminist Philosophy and Literature], others were Problém rozumu v moderne a feministická literatura (The Problem of Reason in the Modern Age and Feminist Literature) and Odporúcaná literatúra v slovencine a cetine (Recommended Literature in Slovak and Czech) in 1992. They broadened the topics of the lecture to include different aspects of rodové túdiá (Gender Studies) in 1996/97 and changed it into an interdisciplinary lecture series given by different scholars from the whole faculty and counting for most faculty curricula. In autumn 2001 a centre for gender studies (Centrum rodových túdií) was established at Comenius University, where lectures, courses and research in the field of gender studies are documented and co-ordinated. Since then the number of lectures has increased to two or three per semester.
The club consists of philosophers, but one of them is a writer at the same time: Etela Farkaová. Amongst other topics, feminist aesthetics form an important part of feminist theory taught at university. In 1999 an interdisciplinary and international class was taught in this field as a joint offering with the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and the University of Vienna. In the year 2000 an anthology, edited by Zuzana Kiczková, was dedicated to this topic: Otázky rodovej identity vo výtvarnom umení, architektúre, filme a literatúre (Questions of Gender Identity within Visual Arts, Architecture, Film and Literature).
Apart from these projects female writers are organised in a club called femina.
Unlike in many so-called Western, but also in most neighbouring countries such as the Czech Republic or Poland, feminist theory and gender studies in Slovakia did not emerge within social sciences, but within literature and philosophy. This includes academic feminism at university (club of feminist philosophers) as well as feminist organising at an NGO level (Aspekt)(21).
Most of the protagonists (such as Jana Juránová, Jana Cviková, Etela Farkaová or Zdenka Kalnická) of the more active womens organisations are writers of literature. And literature, together with the magazine Aspekt, which upholds literature, are the most important ways of disseminating feminist ideas. This method of dissemination seems, indeed, to be more far reaching than others: Womens literature is the best represented part of Aspekt library. Jana Cviková says in an interview that most readers come to the library because of womens literature. So literature is not only a popular means of expression among active women and a field of experimentalism in Aspekt magazine, but at the same time it also seems to be a way of disseminating feminist ideas with far greater outreach than that of feminist theory or research.
Literature and the visual arts(22) formed and still form an important and even leading part of feminist organising. This is a big difference from womens movements in other countries, not only in the USA or Great Britain, but also in other Central European countries such as Austria or the Czech Republic.
As I have shown in this paper, the combination of literature and political activism for womens issues has a long tradition in Slovakia. It was a constituent of the first wave of womens activism in the 19th century, and it is still significant for feminist organising and womens projects in Slovakia today. In a country where political activism was very problematic for a long time - in the Hungarian empire as well as in socialist Czechoslovakia political expression via prose and poetry seemed to be more appropriate. The literary approach in Slovak feminist theory and activism can still be seen in projects and publications today, and it seems to remain successful: It opens space for experiments with genres and subjects and broadens the public for feminist ideas. In a society that is not very open to feminist issues(23), this might be a more efficient way of disseminating womens issues than plain political activism.
Inhalt / Table of Contents / Contenu: No.14
Veronika: Das verfluchte Wort Feminismus. Eine Deutungsmusteranalyse
zu Feminismus-Begriffen slowakischer Wissenschafterinnen, Wien, Dipl 2001.
As a sociologist I will analyse the roles of literature and writers of literature in a certain field of activism and the effect that authors presume that literature has. I will not give analyses of literature itself.
I think that further (historic) research on the interactions and influences between literature and politics would, of course, be necessary to substantiate these ideas about the perception and success of womens literature as a political and educational instrument.
2. Rudinsky, Norma Leigh: Incipient Feminists: Women Writers in the Slovak National Revival. With an Appendix of Slovak Women Poets 1789-1875 by Mariana Pridavkova-Minarikova, Ohio 1991: 82
3. Ironically enough: After 1875, when stricter discrimination of Slovak nationalist activities by the Hungarian government started and all Slovak organisations except ivena were abolished, the former womens organisation was transformed into an organisation for men and women and took over certain agenda of prohibited Slovak organisations as e.g. Matica Slovenska. Step by step womens issues became less important and in 1897 one of the strongest opponents of womens emancipation: Hurban Vajanský became secretary of ivena (!).
4. Rudinsky 1991: 128
5. Quote see: Rudinsky 1991: 100
6. Rudinsky 1991: 130
7. See Mikulová, Marcela: Die Frauen und das Volk an der Wende zwischen 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, in: Feminismus und Nationalismus: Dokumentation der Konferenz der FrauenAnstiftung 11.-13.6.1993 in Bratislava, Hamburg-Bratislava 1993: 43. Translation by the author of this article.
8. The absence of political goals might have also been partly due to the political context: political institutions did not offer many possibilities for Slovaks neither for men nor for women!
9. Cviková, Jana: An der Seite ihrer Männer und ihrer Nation: Die ersten slowakischen Schriftstellerinnen in der Bewegung. Paper presented at the conference Genderfragen und kollektive Identitäten in der Habsburgermonarchie 1867-1918, Vienna, 28.-29.3.2003
10. See e.g. Rudinsky 1991
11. See Mikulová 1993: p 46 and Rudinsky 1991: 175
12. See Rudinsky 1991: 114
13. Rudinsky 1991: 122
14. Rudinsky 1991: 101
15. Rudinsky 1991: 122
16. For more details see e.g. iklová, Jirina: Men and Women United for a Higher Purpose, in: Transitions, January 1998: 34-35 or: Reinfeld, Barbara: Frantika Plamínková (1875 -1942). Czech and Feminist and Patriot, in: Nationalities Papers, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1997: 13-33
17. See iklová, Jirina: Report on Women in the Post-Communist Central Europe (Personal View from Prague), in: Bútorová, Zora et al.: She and He in Slovakia. Gender Issues in Public Opinion. Bratislava 1996: 7
18. See MEJKALOVÁ, Jirina: On the Road: Smuggling Feminism Across the Post-Iron Curtain, in: replika 1/1995: 97-102
19. See e.g. Cermáková, Marie: Sozialer Status im Umbruch. Die Frauen in der Tschechischen Republik, in: Kreisky, Eva (ed.): Vom patriarchalen Staatssozialismus zur patriarchalen Demokratie, Wien 1996: 73-83
20. For a description of the first contacts between scholars from Slovakia and feminists from so called Western countries, see e.g. Kiczková, Zuzana: Úvod do feministických túdií, in: ASPEKT 1/98: Myslenie ien: 298-305
21. The director of the NGO Aliancia ien Slovenska, Katarina Farkaová, also studied English language and Literature.
22. One former important editor of Aspekt was the artist Anna Dauciková, another member of the board is the architect (and theorist) Monika Mitáová.
23. See Bútorová, Zora et alii: She and He in Slovakia: Gender Issues in Public Opinion, Bratislava 1996
Bútorová, Zora et alii: She and He in Slovakia: Gender Issues in Public Opinion, Bratislava 1996
Cermáková, Marie: Sozialer Status im Umbruch. Die Frauen in der Tschechischen Republik, in: Kreisky, Eva (ed.): Vom patriarchalen Staatssozialismus zur patriarchalen Demokratie, Wien 1996: 73-83
Cviková, Jana: An der Seite ihrer Männer und ihrer Nation: Die ersten slowakischen Schriftstellerinnen in der Bewegung, Paper presented at the conference Genderfragen und kollektive Identitäten in der Habsburgermonarchie 1867-1918, Vienna, 28.-29.3.2003
Kiczková, Zuzana: Úvod do feministických túdií. In: Aspekt 1/98: Myslenie ien: 298-305
Mikulová, Marcela: Die Frauen und das Volk an der Wende zwischen 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, in: Feminismus und Nationalismus: Dokumentation der Konferenz der FrauenAnstiftung 11.-13.6.1993 in Bratislava, Hamburg-Bratislava 1993: 41-47
Reinfeld, Barbara: Frantika Plamínková (1875 -1942), Czech and Feminist and Patriot, in: Nationalities Papers, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1997: 13-33
Rudinsky, Norma Leigh: Incipient Feminists: Women Writers in the Slovak National Revival. With an Appendix of Slovak Women Poets 1789-1875 by Mariana Pridavkova-Minarikova, Ohio 1991
iklová, Jirina: Report on Women in the Post-Communist Central Europe (Personal View from Prague), in: Bútorová, Zora et al.: She and He in Slovakia. Gender Issues in Public Opinion. Bratislava 1996: 7-18
iklová, Jirina: Men and Women United for a Higher Purpose, in: Transitions, January 1998: 34-35
mejkalová, Jirina: On the Road: Smuggling Feminism Across the Post-Iron Curtain, in: replika 1/1995: 97-102