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Nationalism And Feminism: One Coin Of Common Use
The renewed discovery of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s can be compared to the rediscovery of nationalism in the 1990s. A revelation for some; a fact for others; a repetition after a hiatus of a century for the historically oriented. The realization and the nature of one's identification with national and gender roles are a matter of personal awareness. We cannot avoid either feminism or nationalism we have gender and we belong to a group, even if it is only to assert our individuality by denying that belonging. While relevant to all individuals, not all persons are equally conscious of being members of a nation and gender. Some take their gender roles for granted, others grapple with national identities. Nation and woman can be reduced to one definition only in societies in which the individual is viewed as part of a clearly structured whole. Fully developed societies are composed of diverse individuals and constantly fluctuating groups of individuals that interact and complement each other to create a dynamic whole. That is, in a developed society I have many identities and I play many roles. If the society is an open one which permits me to be my own self, these roles complement each other and do not conflict with the society. But in a society in which there are firmly stratified functions and a clearly delineated role for each person, I cannot reach my full potential because it is the society that determines my function, and not the other way around. Dictatorships decide on the roles of their subjects; in developed democracies individuals create the society that forms the functioning state. As interest in both nationalism and feminism grows and the analyses of both become demonstrably more sophisticated in academic circles, the popular discussion both movements becomes an object of controversy.
When, after a twenty year wait, I finally in 1980 held a visa that permitted me to work in Ukrainian archives on excavating the history of Ukrainian women, my Soviet hosts were firmly convinced that my interest lay in the study of modern nationalism in Ukraine, and not in the women's movement I had been researching at the time. The soviets feared Ukrainian nationalism, which they identified with unmitigated opposition to their regime. Feminism they relegated to a western whimsy not worth serious thought. Gender, as a set of socially rather than biologically constructed characteristics of sexual differentiation, they simply disregarded as being irrelevant to their society.
They were only partially right. Despite an ideology of political centralization and economic planning, an undifferentiated Soviet man did not emerge. National identify proved stronger, even as the delineation of the identity was not usually clear cut. Nationalism encompasses many meanings from simple patriotism, to a quest for independence that would change the political structure of the country, to a conviction of the superiority of one's culture. The strength of true nationalism lies not in the opposition to others it may or may not engender, but in its power of healthy self-assertion. Only virulent nationalism, the nationalism of fascism and of the ultra right, builds its attraction on the hatred of perceived enemies. And that nationalism, as any movement based on negation, is never genuinely powerful. But the existence of this extreme integral nationalism made all nationalism seem suspect to those who do not know the power of democratic nationalism and leads to a disregard of social and political forces. The subversion of patriotic nationalism into destructive integral movements leads to wars, oppression, and genocide. Disregard of healthy nationalism always leads to the disintegration of empires. The Soviet Union offers only one more example of the general rule.
Feminism has rapidly expanding multiple meanings the movement toward
equality of the sexes; the incorporation of women into all aspects of knowledge and society; the recognition of the difference between the male and female and the overcoming of that difference; the study of women within a broad societal context; focus on women as a category in themselves, the use of the idea of the female as an analytical tool in philosophy, and its use to subvert analytical approaches. But primarily feminism stems from the recognition of the existence of an entity called woman and her right to self definition. Self is the critical term at the same time meaningful, in that it articulates a previously implicit or even non-existing category, as well as meaningless, in that all conceptual categories are relative to other categories. Any covert or open oppression of women creates and perpetuates conditions that stymie the development of an open society that would and could effectively oppose chauvinist and totalitarian regimes. Societies with passive populations, that is, individuals not conscious of their own identities within the political, social and cultural spheres, are more likely to succumb to authoritarian regimes that societies in which individual initiative is given broad field of activity.
Nationalism is studied by outsiders in seemingly scientific terms, while the nationalists themselves prefer emotional slogans to theory. Feminism, on the other hand, although equally varied, is mostly studied by its own adherents who seek increasingly nuanced formulations of what feminism encompasses. Feminist arguments are based on reason, demonstrable proof, and objective criteria formulated in the most modern scholarly terminology . Women, when they draw on emotions, draw on empathy for the oppressed and on peace. But women succumb to the emotionalism used by power, and the powerful prey on that susceptibility. Hence among the many functions of feminism a foremost one is to analyze the language used in public discourse to see to what degree both men and women succumb to emotional slogans that mask hidden goals. most part correctly, closed thinking, set constructs, and justification of authoritarian control. At the core of feminism is the right of self definition. Feminists interested in theory confront philosophical issues not limited to women and try to delineate the female self in its relationship to the larger whole. Feminist theory goes much beyond the conflation of personal into political, because it involves the conception of some community either multiplicity of selves, or immediate surroundings, political entity, physical universe, ethical norms or absolutes. Public is implicit in private, regardless of the articulation of both notions. As women define themselves, they expand the understanding of the world and therefore cannot be divorced from it.
Women's studies emerged within the context of Heisenbergian indeterminacy and all post modernist criticism. Unlike nationalism, which codified its symbols and mythology before its average follower knew the scholarly use of such terms as "constructing society," "inventing a nation," and "building relationships," feminism reached the general public in a more sophisticated period. The concept of woman cannot be reduced to a single common denominator. Woman is amorphous even within a biological framework, and few today can accept biological Manichean dualism within the social sphere. We go "beyond the binary" to reconstruct "cultural identity in a multicultural context " Along with Judith Butler, we can even become ambivalent about the feasibility of considering such an entity as "women," but when Butler suggests the proliferation of gender identities as a means of promoting de facto tolerance, we need to remember that the proliferation of nation-states did not necessarily contribute to toleration. The idealistic presupposition of both nationalism and feminism that their triumph would do away with war and greed would be laughable, had not the various other social creeds expressed similar hopes in more sophisticated language. In the last ten years scholars interested in women's role in society and history have been engaged in the time-honored academic pursuit of definitions: essentialism, pragmatics, pragmatic essentialism, transversal politics, global, local. Anyone who keeps up with feminist scholarship knows the intimate interpenetrating of literary theory and feminist thought. Because of the heterogeneity of its initial analysis, which quickly went from public and social role of the individual to private relationships and then to minefield of sex, self and identity, feminism deconstructed itself as it sought to articulate its basic tenets. Feminist theories glory in analyzing ambiguity, in focusing on ambivalence, in looking for the eighth veil of meaning in every term. For some, especially those questioning the validity of feminist discourse, all women's studies is dismissed as feminist ideology or theorizing.
Early feminism, just as romantic nationalism of the early 19th century, presumed international cooperation, peace, and non-violence. Socialist revolutionary feminism deferred feminist goals to the higher good which was defined by men; and integral nationalism made all nationalism suspect and all women subservient to a higher goal. It is only in the last decade that nationalism and feminism are discussed jointly. As women and as members of a nationality women face the same contradictory desire: the need to be individuals, but at the same time to belong to a group. Yet when I become a nationalist, I join a community, as small or tenuous as it might be. But when I become a feminist I merely make an individual decision. Feminists who lived in states where their ethnic culture was not dominant had to grapple with the additional factor of national as well gender assertion. Once legal hindrances to rights of women are removed, the struggle for the rights of women is directed against non-concrete entities sociopolitical system; the structure of society; interpersonal relationships; family; gender roles and that always takes second-place to a national liberation struggle. Moreover, as soon as women become aware of their potential role in society, they feel responsible for that society. Powerless, women nevertheless feel guilty about conditions not of their own making. Before the outbreak of World War I, activist middle class women created an International Council of Women as a force to stop all wars. Sarajevo in 1914 proved them wrong. Four generations later, in Sarajevo in 1992 at an international meeting of women, a German woman held women responsible for failing to preserve peace in the Balkans.
Feminism today is as incapable of creating an international women's force as democratic nationalism and idealistic socialism had been. Yet despite two world wars, the idea of non-governmental organizations survived, and it was the same International Council of Women, founded in 1887, that became, in 1945, the first official non-governmental organization in the orbit of the United Nations. The NGO's are an important international force today, many pursuing feminist goals without feminist rhetoric. Through workshops, publications, and meetings, they deal with family violence, contraception, and hidden discrimination. Many offer means to escape poverty through economic programs.
In their vast majority, women are gradualists. It is not easy to lure them into either an extremely traditional or a very revolutionary mode. Many feminists remember that women have done badly in revolutions in terms of changing society in ways that would incorporate women into it. Many know first hand that once women's organizations become an auxiliary of some outside group, women become mirrors of that group and have little to contribute to society or to themselves.
Except for very brief intervals, feminism, unlike nationalism, has not been a mass movement. But on the occasions when women created a critical mass they were able to achieve some significant results suffrage in the western industrialized countries; equal rights in the 1970's United States, very much connected with the street demonstrations against the Vietnam war; the Association of Mothers of Soldiers in Ukraine, who helped create a climate conducive to the break up of the Soviet Army; the Indian women who despite social tradition become active in political affairs. Russia 's Association of Mothers' of Soldiers has been an important political presence, domestically and internationally in the last decade, one of the very few speaking out against the Chechen War. In 1996 women were able to push for more active peace initiatives in Northern Ireland, and at the same time Palestinian and Israeli women were able to promote better understanding in the region. These activities were undertaken not in opposition to nationalism, but to support peaceful rights of people and nations. On the other hand, the former Yugoslavia's relatively vocal women's movement proved too weak, despite its internationalist pronouncements and the activities of some individuals, to ease Balkan conflicts. It seems that nationalism is natural, and internationalism learned. That is neither good nor bad; it is. It would follow that feminism should at least try to shape and influence nationalism. The many varieties of feminism reflect the varieties of societies in which women live. The fact that women use the term itself is a result of effective study of the whole issue of women in society and women in themselves. Women have gone far beyond the time when the term was limited to a western variant of legal equality and gender parity. Women realize that sex discrimination transcends political, economic, and world-view systems and that even when societal issues are tackled biology remains a more tangible factor for women than it is for males. Yet women know that the line between biology and emotion is so permeable as to be meaningless. In the words of Linda Nicholson, feminists are, in the words of Linda Nicholson, "negotiating between the shoals of gynocentrism on the one hand, and certain forms of post structuralism on the other." Women devise a pragmatic view of language and of perceived subjectivity as discursively constituted, and their own interpretations of essentialism To argue that women more naturally gravitate toward the personal and the emotional is equal to the argument that Russians are more spiritual and Germans musical. Just as one would think twice about reliance on theories of national characteristics, so one should hesitate about gender generalizations.
The success of the modern women's movement is most evident in the fact that young women do not see it as such they take for granted that equality and opportunity for them had always been there and see no point to further "feminist rhetoric." The slogans of feminism have been coopted by the society at large and are being used by mass media. Women have shown extraordinary resilience in devising ways of working in and around systems to address their needs. The true value of women's studies is that the continually expanding feminist perspective permits us to understand more in the human condition better. Looking at international feminism we can see the workings of colonial society beyond the flag and the lancet; we can see how equality may become less, rather than more for the female tractor driver; and how withdrawal into a monastery could lead to an assertion, rather than a denial of self. Women shape the understanding of the relationship of feminism to state welfare policies. Issues that concern women are societal problems that society would rather consider more naturally to be women's children, health, welfare, agriculture, water, food and shelter. Thus women's concerns perforce become part of the public agenda even in areas where there ostensibly is no feminist movement as such.
Feminism helps see through ideologies to understand how societies and power systems function. Women as a group display ambivalence toward generality in goals, but support specific programs. Hence, while feminism cannot be a mobilizing ideology because its very center is relational to the forces outside, individual feminist goals become effective rallying points. It is a feminism of action of the committed, pragmatic kind, rather than a feminism of exhortation. Nationalism provides an added useful tool for understanding the hidden structure of society and the roles individuals are expected to play in it. It needs to be used, not discarded, by women. Feminism provides a deeper insight into the functioning of the individual and the interactions within society, thus creating better chances for a stable society. Women created organizations to address their specific needs in society bringing more women into the political structures, providing legal aid and advice, self-help organizations, various specific ways of raising consciousness not in general but in meaningfully concrete ways. An excellent example of this type of feminism is none other than Milena Rudnytska, with whom the Ukrainian reader can become acquainted first hand through the recent publication
Ideologies may try to remedy situations, but in the process they always create other problems. The function of conceptualization should be the exposition of the current state of the problem, not its final solution. Today, not even the so called hard sciences presume to provide more than a theory with only a probable approximation of correctness, never a final proof. Boundaries are permeable in institutions and in individuals. We need to understand nations beyond the rhetoric, and feminism beyond the theory, as complementary factors which in their limited way can contribute to a slightly better society. Nationalism is dangerous as a misused theory, useful as an organizing principle, and essential as a tool for understanding political and social reality. The same holds true for feminism.
I began researching women's movements in Eastern Europe and in Ukraine as social phenomena and methods of community involvement. By the time I published the comprehensive introduction to women's history in Ukraine, I knew that Ukraine as a nation was speaking with only half its voice. Women worked, men decided the tone of high discourse. Yes, there are writers, poets, artists, scholars, all of them women but the voice of woman is not yet fully realized. Half of Ukraine does not yet know itself, and the other half men think that women have said all there is to say. Russians and Poles could not understand why Ukrainians, when given the chance, did not become part of the more dominant group. In the same fashion many men and some women still do not understand that without the authentic voice of all individuals Ukraine will not be whole.