The campaign is part of a large-scale Women’s Month, in which, together with several civic organizations and many friends and volunteers, we set and tried in a variety of ways to look for answers to several important questions, such as “Where are women in history books?” Who wrote the story of women? “,” Why is not there a monument of a real woman in Sofia? “,” Who are the women who make history? “
At the end of the month, we decided to ask Professor Krasimira Daskalova, for whom women’s history is an area of special interest.
She is Professor of History and Theory of Culture at Sofia University. It deals with women’s and gender history, the social history of Southeast Europe, the history of women’s movements and feminism. She has specialized in these fields in the United States, Germany, England, Japan. She was the president of the International Federation for Women’s and Gender Studies and the Chair of the Board of the Bulgarian Association of University Women (BAUZ), guest professor at the Central European University in Budapest, in several universities in Germany, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Japan. Editor of international magazines Aspasia. The International Yearbook of Central, Eastern and Southeastern European Women’s and Gender History, Berghahn Books in New York and L’Homme. Zeitschrift fuer Feministische Geschichtswissenschaft, Boehlau Verlag ; author and compiler of a series of collections of studies on women’s and gender history and history of the book and reading in Bulgarian, English and German; author of the monograph Women, Gender and Modernization in Bulgaria, 1878 – 1944 (Sofia, 2012).
Throughout March, we are talking about the absence of women and their achievements in history, does not it start from their lack in history textbooks for secondary education?
Overall, there are not many women in secondary school textbooks, and this is not an isolated trend in Bulgarian curricula, but is seen throughout Eastern Europe. There is a special institute for studying textbooks from all disciplines in Braunschweig, Germany, where we conducted a comparative analysis of history textbooks for secondary schools in the Western world and Eastern Europe. It was clear that Western textbooks contained more female images, while eastern European textbooks, with the exception of Russian ones, generally contained fewer images and texts for women, but women were generally absent.
There is a brilliant study of Croatian historian Lydia Sklevitski, called More horses than women – more horses than women. It ironically shows that Croatian textbooks contain more descriptions and images of horses than of women. Sklevitski tries to articulate the reasons why women are absent from history. We are talking about different paradigms and about fighting interests. When someone gains a position in teaching history, he defends his interests, ie. its paradigm of writing history.
The story taught in Bulgaria is still dominating political, diplomatic, economic, and to some extent religious. In this political history there is not much room for society. This is a story as if without people, except for political leaders. It was only after 1989 that a massive opening to the social phenomena of history and the various fields began. In Western Europe, such an overturning of interest from political to social history took place much earlier, in the 1920s, when the school of the new historians, the so-called “Anali” school, who are pushing for the writing of social, economic and cultural history in opposition to the previously dominant political paradigm in historiography.
I do not know when we can say we have reached the position of other European countries where the history of gender relations is at the heart of historical interest.
So far we have been doing social history only by focusing on class, race, ethnicity, but gender, which is a major social category, is absent. It seems that the societies are divided into white and black, Muslims and Christians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Turks and Romanians, and not to men and women – something that is the first visible social difference when it comes to identity.
Where are your reasons for doing so? Does the role of socialism play a role where women are supposed to be equal?
Although the socialist society de jure gave equal rights to women, it was still a patriarchal society dominated by men. This does not mean that women have not acquired new rights under communism – and that should be made clear. It is easiest to trace progress if we compare the Bulgarian society before 1944 with that after 1944 and after 1989. The rural society is urbanized in an urban culture, but also among the rural population, women are always more rights, more visible, present in the labor market – something that does not happen in the west. During World War II, there was an extreme influx and entry of women into the labor sphere because men were on the front, but after men returned, there was a retreat, a depression of women. That is why the United States talks about feminine mystique , women’s mysticism and the inability to understand the problems of middle-class women who have returned to their families who have an education but can not be professionally employed. This creates conflicts, problems and mental discomfort in these women.
There is no such problem in socialist Eastern Europe.
Here, women have the opportunity to realize themselves in the professional sphere, and in the Cold War, talks about the double and triple burden, double and triple burden on women, because they are also mothers, housewives, wives, while they work for 8 hours of paid labor and then are often engaged in the public sphere.
Recent studies since 1989 are mostly based on oral interviews and pay attention to things that remain aside from official historical science: personal experiences, personal sensation, own experience. With colleagues, we published such an oral-history book, Their Own Voices – oral interviews with women, with about 30 interviews with various women of the generation living in communism. The whole language these women use is very emancipated. While after 1989 we seem to see a backward shift in this respect.
It is noteworthy that while speaking of gender equality, the word feminism seems to be lacking. Is she out of the active vocabulary of people, afraid of her?
Exactly. And that is part of the above debate. In principle, the ideological struggles between the feminist “bourgeois” emancipatory movement and the socialist women’s emancipatory movement have been visible since the beginning of the 20th century. The second international specially states that no politically conscious woman, socialist, should be united with “bourgeois” feminists because they are selfish and think only of their interests.
Despite these postulates, however, we find a totally different picture. We published a biographical dictionary of female movements and feminisms in Central, Eastern and Southeast Europe. It is clear from this that socialist women have also participated in the so- “Bourgeois” women’s organizations, i. women in their own lives before World War II have combined their emancipatory ideas with socialist ideas and were at the same time part of the “bourgeois” women’s movement. After 1944, however, this irreconcilability, which the Second International is relying on in the relationship between feminism and socialism, became a state policy in all eastern European countries. Feminism is wiped out, you are absolutely right because the Communists propagate the idea that women have equal rights under the Constitution, according to the laws, ergo they are equal. It is clear that de jure and de facto things are not identical.
And this creates tension within the female movements, between the old and the new generation in the 1960s and 1970s. Those belonging to the old generation of Communists believe that women are emancipated that nothing should be done, whereas the representatives of the new generation, say Elena Lagadinova, Sonya Bakish, the wife of Stanko Todorov and the editor-in-chief of the Woman today , emphasize the problems that exist with women in Bulgaria, regardless of the legislation. So, despite the absence of the word feminism and its denial by the Communists, ultimately these women who want rights for women in Bulgaria are feminist. This is the main message that we, the historians of Eastern Europe, are saying – that feminism is not a term reserved only for the so-called “bourgeois” feminists, for “liberal” feminism. And this is a debate that black women and feminists from the Third World also lead with feminist movements and interpretations of these movements in the West, which seem to reserve the use of this term only to white middle-class women. We insist that the history of Eastern Europe, the experience of Eastern European women deserves proper attention and must be taken into account in order to understand what ultimately is feminism or, more correctly, feminism. Yes, in a plural!
And what is ultimately feminism?
Feminism has different definitions. The best I think is the American historian, Karen Offen, who wrote the book European feminisms : a political history . She explores the history of women’s movements and feminists in Europe from 1700 to the mid-twentieth century. Based on her work on this book for 25 years, she has done a typology of feminism. You can meet different classifications: communist feminism, radical feminism, homosexual feminism, which ultimately, says Karen Offen, do not name the essence of the ideas of female emancipation that these women defend. She argues that during these 250 years, and I would add that they are adequate for the time of socialism, there are two types of feminism. One is the so-called. individualistic feminism or individualistic argumentation that insists on equality of men and women, their equal intellectual potential, and insists that women do not need special rights because they have the same capacity and potential as men. The other, relational feminism, draws attention to the differences between men and women, and says that apart from equal intellectual potential, women also have different physical bodies that design different roles in society. As mothers they are committed to reproducing the nation, and reproducing the nation are deprived of the opportunity to deal with what their men do at the same time. They have to take care of the children, stay at home, de-professionalize, and all these things related to the specific functions of women’s bodies and maternity must be reflected in social legislation. According to Karen Offen, individual feminism emphasizes equality and gender proximity, while relational feminism speaks in terms of difference and emphasizing the differences between men and women requires guarantees of women’s work and the situation of women in society.
At the beginning of my professional career, I also understood feminism in this individualistic sense and thought that others were not feminist.
But my almost thirty years of work on this issue has shown that if we do not want to disqualify and discriminate against women, we have to take into account the differences because they actually exist.
Does the debate about the place of women in history in historical science have to happen?
Yes, this is a debate we continue to lead. We publish Aspasia , a magazine for women and gender history in Central, Eastern and Southeast Europe. With it we aim to popularize, dynamize and support the development of knowledge about gender relations and enable scientists from our region to publish in English the latest research in this field.
Another thing we do in this direction is the Matilda Master’s Program in Women’s History and Gender. It is international and is the result of the efforts of a consortium of five universities – Sofia, Vienna, Central European University in Budapest, Lyon-2 and Nottingham universities.
Is your topic interesting or not so important among your Bulgarian colleagues?
In Bulgaria in the early 1990s, I was one of the few historians interested in this field, and the guild names did not believe it was a field that deserves attention. These prejudices still exist, but I think things are going in the right direction in Bulgaria as well.
Historians begin to realize that it can not be sex-free as the main category of historical analysis. Although several years ago, History of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria was published by Ivailo Znepolski from the Institute for the Study of the Recent Past, where there is nothing about women and gender relations. And when I mentioned to an English professor that in this 800-page story there was nothing about women and sex, he said, “that’s not serious.” No, this is serious according to the standards of Bulgarian science – women are absent. Half of the experience of Bulgarians during socialism was virtually not there.
And do they not really compare to a different standard and do women’s achievements permanently diminish? Does it seem uncomfortable here to verbalize this problem?
Absolutely. It is believed that women are not so important. But this is not a Bulgarian idiosyncrasy, but an international problem – even in the United States where there is much talk about equality, as is clear from Susan Falluji’s Backlash , which describes America after the second successful wave of feminism in the 1970s .
For women during socialism, as well as for women in Muslim countries, however, they should not be spoken only as victims. They have their moments and channels of resistance. Presenting them only as victims does not give a real idea of their lives and does not take into account the diversity and complexity of their everyday world.
It seems like this is a discourse of men.
Yes. One of Bush Jr.’s arguments to start the war in Afghanistan was supposed to save women from the Taliban repression. Then prominent historian Joan Scott wrote an article rebuking the hypocrisy of American politics, which, on the one hand, cared for the poor women, and behind this concern are huge economic and political interests. When this article came out, it was not unanimously accepted.
Bulgaria ranks second in Europe on the representation of women in technology and science. Are we simply not thinking that feminism has already done its job?
It is so, but that I am emancipated, does it mean that all women are emancipated? There is no empathy and understanding that there are others besides us who are not emancipated, who live in family and patriarchal relations, which are a hundred and two hundred years back in time.
In these interviews with Bulgarian women I mentioned, we talked to women from Pomak villages, then 30-40 years old, who were telling us directly, “We are not like you, I can not decide and go today in the direction in which I wish. I know that I have these rights, but I can not. “As Foucao says, there can be no domination without a little consensus on the part of the dominant. Feminist literature talks about paternalism: a kind of patriarchalism in which women exchange obedience for some security and financial security. The lives of women who create families with wealthy men, entrepreneurs, may be referred to as a variant of such a paternalistic contract.
Are not the mass media responsible for this?
Of course. See who owns the mass media and what is their intellectual capacity. If Delyan Peevsky is the standard of mass media, then what do we expect from the messages that these media broadcast? Responsible, of course, is also the consumer culture that has flooded us all over the past years, and the total blind denial of everything that has been achieved during the years of socialism. When Bulgaria started on the way to joining the European Union, talks about emancipatory policies seemed to be raising for the first time in Bulgaria – as if until now we have never spoken and we have not gone through these laws and policies of equality – something , which is really a pity.