EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006

(W053)

Westernising gender regimes? Discourses and practices in Eastern Europe

Location Victoria Harley
Date and Start Time 19 Sep, 2006 at 11:30

Convenors

Agnieszka Koscianska (University of Warsaw) email
Jill Owczarzak (University of Kentucky) email
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Short Abstract

This panel explores international discourses as resources for reshaping local gender practices in the post-socialist world, as well as the influence and circulation of gender stereotypes within the regional scholarship.

Long Abstract

Since the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, observers of the transition have commented on the clash between western feminism and ideologies, regimes and practices of gender within the region. Social science studies of gender and feminism especially have focused on the conflicts, misunderstandings and unidirectional flows of ideas and resources from west to east. Moreover, this approach often assumes historically and geographically uniform gender regimes. In this regionally comparative workshop, we seek to more critically explore the diversity of gender in post-socialist contexts and provide a more nuanced interrogation of gender and feminism in the region. Particularly, the panel explores the ways in which international discourses shape local gender practices. Inspired by developments within postcolonial studies, we assert that gender within Eastern Europe represents the synthesis of gender ideologies and practices that are both historically rooted and internationally influenced. Anthropological investigation of gender can recast the discussion in terms that explore the multiple resources upon which particular social actors draw in order to create meaningful gender practices. We invite papers that approach gender in Eastern Europe from a variety of perspectives, including but not limited to those that problematise assumptions about the dominating roles of religious, ethnic or political ideologies in the shaping of gender identities and practices; those that examine the linkages between multiple levels of gender activism (local, national, international); and those that consider the role of pop/consumer culture in the creation of new gender practices. Ethnography offers insights into gender as a site for contest and reconfiguration of officially existing social and political gender regulations and power structures, and provides the tools to move beyond rigid assumptions of east versus west and offer insight into the interplay between the local and the global.

Discussant: Frances Pine, Goldsmiths College

Papers

Choice and politics in the 'Russian' bride market: exploring post-socialist feminisms and femininities in Eastern Ukraine

Author: Julia Holdsworth (University of Hull)  email
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Long Abstract

In recent years increasing numbers of women in the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have chosen to seek marriage to foreigners through the internet. Much recent writing on this topic has treated the global rise in mail-order-brides as 'trafficking in women' (Hughes, 2001). Here, I present an alternative through exploring womens' roles and motivations and develop possibilities for seeing them as effective agents of their own lives. I do this through building on ethnographic understandings to explore local reformulations of gender roles and identities in this post-socialist context and how these intertwine with constructions of feminism and femininity.

Through investigating the images and details which women have chosen to place on internet sites, I explore the ways that women conform to roles and characteristics which they believe men will find attractive for marriage. I argue that in order to present themselves in these ways the women demonstrate considerable skill and knowledge about themselves and the expectations that others will have of them.

Developing this I move on to discuss my ethnographic encounters with women seeking to marry abroad, or having already done so, through internet sites, and to place these within their specific socio-historical circumstances. I argue that in the post-socialist era many women feel that the demands being made of them and their bodies, for example in nationalist calls to reproduce the nation, create few opportunities for exploring new forms of gender roles and identities locally. Consequently, women are looking for alternatives. Bearing this in mind I interrogate the differing motivations for engaging in marriage with foreigners.

I conclude this paper by suggesting that we need to formulate new ways of exploring this topic which recognise women who engage in internet marriages as active, knowledgeable agents who are able to make informed decisions about their own futures.

Intervening gender

Author: Thomas Chivens (University of Michigan)  email
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Long Abstract

In the transnational context of policing domestic violence, monitoring and intervention practices scale from United Nations rapporteurs and global awareness campaigns, to the record keeping practices of local police officers and phone lines intended to intervene against the violence of privacy and assist victims. In doing so, domestic violence intervention invokes a broad range of socio-psychological, cultural, scientific and criminological practices. Based on ethnographic fieldwork from 1997-2001, this paper explores the incorporation of domestic violence discourse from an ill-defined Euro-American center as it is incorporated into the context of Polish state restructuring. The paper traces a spiraling together of rights activism, police protocol, educational expertise, training programs, and the emergence of statistical infrastructures constructed across heterogeneous and complexly contested terrains. By taking up metaphors of mobility and transition that guide the translation of model programs for stopping domestic abuse between locales, it asks how and in what senses the category of "Westernisation" is and/or is not a useful frame for rendering contemporary gender politics visible. In what ways do critiques of development discourse both enable and problematize interventions into domestic violence, calling some geo-political boundaries into question while re-instantiating others? In doing so, the paper raises questions about what kind of object "gender" becomes when viewed not only as a contested identification or standpoint, but rather as a site of transnational intervention and governmentality which persists beneath the a complex of discourses of security, rights and development.

When East meets West: the discursive practice of feminist and gay/lesbian activism in contemporary Poland

Author: Monika Baer (University of Wroclaw)  email
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Long Abstract

Attempts to establish a feminist and gay/lesbian movement in contemporary Poland emerged in the 1980s, but it was not until 1989 with democratization that the first organizations were able to register formally. Since then interests in gender and sexuality issues on academic and socio-political level in the country have been gradually developing. However, the people involved appear to be still in search for common political identities and strategies. In their attempts to fight against gender and sexual discrimination in society, activists frequently evoke Western (mainly Anglo-American) ideas and models. It is commonly assumed within mainstream activist circles that the Western discourse and practice constitute an efficient remedy for Eastern problems. But, different factions produce different images of 'the West' that needs to be followed. Moreover, multidimensional dissimilarity of contexts between various countries labeled by the discussed narratives as 'the West' and those labeled as 'the East' (including Poland), which makes any literal transition of models or ideas impossible.

In the proposed paper I shall analyze discourses in which a category of 'the West' is negotiated by both mainstream and grass root feminist and gay/lesbian activist circles in contemporary Poland. In particular, I shall investigate what specific discursive identities and strategies are being forged in this process; what are theoretical and practical problems that dominant approaches evoke; and how they are being continuously contested on a grass root level. In light of gathered material it seems that any form of the-East-needs-to-catch-up-with-the-West rhetoric does not contribute to a common political identity or strategy, but blurs actual heterogeneity of social realities, which should be taken into account if any common activism is to proceed in contemporary Poland.

'Power of silence': alternative spirituality and women's identities in Poland

Author: Agnieszka Koscianska (University of Warsaw)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper is based on fieldwork among converts from Catholicism to a marginal Hindu-rooted, female dominated new religious moment in Poland and explores the role of silence in the religious practices and everyday lives of its members. I argue that silence is a performative act in the reconstruction of my informants' gender identity and is perceived by them as form of empowerment.

From the perspective of feminist discourse, particularly Western liberal feminism, silence is often interpreted as lacking of power and opposite to speech. But drawing on my informants' experiences, silence can also be understood as empowering and expressing resistance. I situate my analysis within a context of post-socialist Poland and focus on my informants' - middle age, well-educated urban women - responses to the competing demands of economic and cultural transition, Western style feminism, and Polish Catholicism.

Compulsory motherhood? Mothering discourses in the times of 'moral revolution in Poland'

Author: Renata Hryciuk (Warsaw University)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper analyzes the relation between the state - imposed mothering discource and the social practice of mothering in contemporary Poland. After the coalition of the right - wing and populist parties came into power in the fall 2005 we can observe an increasing backlash - the attack on the position of women in Polish society. One of its strategies is the invention of compulsory motherhood. It is announced to be crucial for the well - being of Polish families and therefore Polish nation. On the other hand, for last 10 years we have been witnessing the emergence of a new discourse of mothering ( and parenting in general). In spite of conservative backlash, restrictive regulations concerning reproductive rights, sexual education or access to anticonceptives, the new generation of Polish parents has been working out new approches and practices of parenting (e.g. through national campaigns in mass media). Yet, this new discource of mothering "out of choice" and responsible parenting is limited mostly to the new, middle class of big cities.

'Return' to the West: changing masculinity in post-Soviet Latvia

Author: Aivita Putnina (University of Latvia)  email
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Long Abstract

Car driving is used as an example to show gender perceptions and their public articulation on the road as micro-model of society. The paper looks at the gender aspect of traffic accidents that appears both in the statistics and common understandings of the behaviour on the road in Latvia. The statistics show a greater involvement of men in traffic accidents and legal offence on the road. Internet discussion forum and interview data analysis show that the behaviour on the road is explained using gender stereotypes. Fast and aggressive driving is labelled "masculine" and opposed to the slow and careful "feminine" driving. However, car driving is losing its gendered face with the increased participation of women and increasing role of the other stratification factors as age and wealth. The "masculine" type of driving has been transforming to the means demonstrating social status and is used by the drivers of both sexes to position them in the society.

Proper sexuality, proper citizens: teaching 'the facts' and 'the rules' of HIV prevention in the creation of new citizenship

Author: Jill Owczarzak (University of Kentucky)  email
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Long Abstract

In the late fall of 2004, the city of Kraków ceased cooperation with the local LGBT organization Lambda after it was revealed that this organization distributed material depicting homosexual acts while conducting an HIV prevention workshop for high school students. The city president and right-wing politicians accused the organization of "demoralizing" youth and violating the pro-family policies of the city. The workshop organizers countered that they were simply presenting medical information and looking out for the health needs of the city's gay citizens. To understand this controversy, this paper uses the analytical lens of sexual citizenship to explore arguments made about proper sexuality as key sites for enacting the processes of postsocialist transition in Poland. Based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork at HIV prevention programs, I argue that attention to sexuality, both as practiced identities and targets of policy development, can be used to further interrogate shifting definitions of what it means to be democratic and modern in the context of European Union expansion. Examining the practices and policies surrounding both hetero- and homo-sexuality within the context of HIV prevention in Poland, I reveal the competing discourses of risk, discipline, and citizenship through which various groups make claims of inclusion and exclusion within the body politic.

Predecessors and pilgrims: lesbian history-making and the ambiguities of belonging in post-socialist Hungary

Author: Hadley Renkin (Central European University)  email
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Long Abstract

In the last decade and a half , a considerable body of scholarship has emerged on the dramatic changes in gender regimes that have characterized Eastern European postsocialist transformations. This research has mapped in compelling detail how these changes have rendered the meanings of social and cultural membership in the postsocialist period markedly different for men and women. The growth of sexual politics movements in post-socialist countries, however, and the roles they play in transforming such notions of belonging, has been considerably less remarked. In this paper I explore three recent history-making projects undertaken by Hungarian lesbian activists: a book series recuperating lesbian ancestors, and two pilgrimages involving recent historical figures. I argue that these projects function discursively and performatively to imagine complex histories which ground complex present-day identities. On one hand they articulate lesbians into the mythologized frameworks of Hungarian national-historical narrative, thus legitimating their presence in present-day national community. On the other, they construct Hungarian lesbians as part of a transnational lesbian history, suggesting that their primary bonds of identity are to a global lesbian community, and its politics. In so doing, I argue, further, these lesbian history-making projects position Hungarian lesbians ambiguously with respect to national and transnational borders of belonging - a situation at once profitable and perilous, and ironically emblematic of the tensions currently facing Hungarian society as a whole, as it strives to integrate its own national, European, and other belongings.

Making gender matter: forms of protest or 'Feminizm jest trendy': strategies of women's NGOs and informal networks in Warsaw, Poland

Author: Anika Keinz (Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt/O)  email
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Long Abstract

Soon after the collapse of communism, protests against a bill introducing a restrictive anti-abortion law prompted public discussion about women's status, gender relations and equal opportunities in Poland. Various women's groups were formed and women's organisations founded. A new feminist movement was born.

In light of the impending European Union enlargement, women's organisations increasingly used the idea of Europe as a means and political strategy for the realisation of civil, political and social rights for women. Moreover, the Europeanisation and transnationalisation of feminism and gender brought about new discourses, practices and strategies.

In this paper I will explore local meanings, circulating discourses and multiple contestations of gender and feminism in Poland.

I will inquire into which role the 'Europeanisation of desires and practices' plays in making gender matter. The paper focuses on recent events and debates before and after Poland's EU accession. This focus allows to explore the hopes, wishes and strategies of women's organisations and informal networks in Warsaw and to look how the contention brought by the 'Europeanisation' of norms and values questions ideas about the Polish nation. In this respect, the following questions will be addressed:

How is gender reinterpreted on cultural grounds opposed to the 'Europeanisation of desires and practices' and how do economic, political-administrative and religious factors, as well as socio-cultural traditions inform a specific understanding of (gender) democracy?

The paper is based on fourteen months of fieldwork carried out in Warsaw between April 2004 and November 2005.