Black protests and beyond: women’s social movements and the challenges for feminisms in Central and Eastern Europe
Call for Abstracts: 21 May 2018
Deadline for papers: 15 September 2018
Julia Kubisa, University of Warsaw, email@example.com
Katarzyna Wojnicka, University of Leeds, K.Wojnicka@leeds.ac.uk
Since 2016 Central Eastern Europe has been witnessing an unprecedented wave of feminist protests. Attacks on reproductive rights have galvanised public opinion and brought thousands of people into the streets. Around these protests an effective platform countering right-wing and highly patriarchal governments has started to form. Recent women’s mobilisations are not restricted exclusively to the region, as feminist protests have occurred in other parts of the world as well. Over the past several months, we have witnessed the emergence of the global #metoo movement, Women’s Marches in the USA, and the anti-violence Latin American protest actions organised by NiUnaMenos, to name only a few. However, the specificity of Central Eastern European mobilisations requires a closer look, as they are strongly connected to the recent political changes that have occurred in several countries in the region.
One of the largest mobilisations in recent times, the Polish Black Protest and the All-Poland Women’s Strike, can be seen as part of the women’s protests taking place around the world. Yet, their social and political dynamics, as well as their theoretical implications, have not only been inadequately analysed, but also the most pivotal problems they raise, despite having been prominent in the feminist agenda for decades, are still unresolved.
The impact and strength of this new type of mobilisation, which can be seen as the most recent face of new social movements (Melucci 1980), definitely says something (new) about the current need for feminism. The layers and levels of discrimination – institutionalised misogyny in the form of attempts to restrict women’s reproductive rights and the great scope of sexual harassment in every sphere of social life revealed by #metoo action, understood as a new form of social mobilisation – show the urgent need for action. Indeed, recent mobilisations have bought new type of actions with them.
We claim that the particular novelty of recent mobilisations concerns the action, which has taken place in new contexts, in political, economic and cultural terms, in the post-crisis social landscapes marked by austerity measures. The new populist governments, which combine a pronatalist approach and the objectification of women with a certain investment in social welfare, serve as a different kind of opposition to what was known before, that is, neoliberal governments that avoided all debate on reproductive rights and refused to make social expenditure a priority.
The unprecedented wave of women’s protests raises new questions for feminism, both for its theoretical investigations and for political practice. The Black Protest in Poland on 3 October 2016 took the form of a strike. A strike is a refusal of work – but what kind of work was being refused in this case? And what does this kind of work mean for our understanding of the division of production and reproduction? What sorts of consequences for working life arises with the protests around reproductive rights?
In recent decades, some of the ways of feminism were taking on a neoliberal agenda. According to Nancy Fraser (2009) the close relationship between feminism and neoliberalism resulted in impulses boosting free market, individualism and accumulation of capital. This has led to a proliferation of debates on “post-feminism” or the “end of feminism,” and the approach that rejects the need for any kind of social movement, which was critically discussed by MacRobbie (2009) or Ruddie (2011).
This raises a question about feminist reactions to the new political situation in this socio-economic context and how they vary.
In other words, it pays to reflect on how new forms of women’s protests shape feminist debates. Has there been a shift towards a more intersectional feminism (Collins & Bilge 2016) in which issues of gender, class, and even ethnicity are brought together? How is intersectionality acknowledged in the debate? How can we frame the agenda of women’s protests with ongoing theoretical investigations in feminism? Inverting the framework of Joan Acker’s “class questions – feminist answers” (2005), we ask about class and more intersectional interests in contemporary Central and Eastern European women’s protests. Against the backdrop of these events we want to ask what the role of current women’s movements could be in disentangling the unconscious alliance between feminism and neoliberalism? Do these movements provide space for care and mutual support in a way that allows us to move beyond this toxic relation? The postulates formulated by current women’s movements, especially in the Central and Eastern European context, concern the reproductive rights and dignity of women. What do these postulates express? The universalism of woman’s experience? A sort of “middle class takeover” that universalises its experience to all participants? And whose voice is heard in them and why? Whose is not, and, again, why? Was the question of “representation of interests of the ordinary woman” that has been a recurring argument against feminism finally solved?
Finally, the new type of activism that has been observed in Poland and other countries in the region raises questions about the type of mobilisation: Should we identify these women’s movements with feminism, or are the Black Protest and the Women’s Strike simply the independent initiatives of “ordinary” women who had hitherto remained silent? What can feminism bring to these movements and what can it learn from them?
In order to understand contemporary women’s movements, there is also a need to conceptualise and problematise hegemony as framed both by Antonio Gramsci (1971) in the context of capitalism and civil society and by Raewyn Connell (2000), who takes a more specific gender focus. A large number of Central Eastern European countries are experiencing a certain form of re-masculinisation and a triumphant revision of patriarchy (Pascall & Lewis 2004; Novikova 2008; Tereskinas 2012), all of which raises questions about the current sources of power and domination. To grasp these questions, we must engage in a deeper analysis of the current interlinking between masculinities, state and capital that creates the model of hegemonic masculinity (Connell 2000). As men and masculinities cannot be seen as a singular phenomenon, the question of different types of masculinities (subordinated/marginalised/non-hegemonic) and the variety of men’s standpoints and reactions towards women’s mobilisations need deeper reflection as well. Since the protests are organized in opposition to the state supported by a variety of (anti-choice, anti-feminist) organisations, the analysis of the dynamic of counter-movements requires a similar attention. Who are the main oppositional actors and to what extent are they peculiar to the Central Eastern European context?
Moreover, the same Polish government that refuses fundamental women’s rights, however, has adopted select social policies that help secure the material existence of numerous families in Poland and effectively diminish labour market precarity. How can the women’s movements solve this puzzle?
Thus, the main scope of this Special Issue is to shed the light on the specificity of recent women’s mobilisations in Central Eastern European countries, framed as a new form of women’s social movement. We are interested in the analysis of certain types of protest and movements, as seen from local, national and transnational perspectives. Moreover, we welcome analyses of the interconnections between new forms of women’s protest and neoliberalism, interconnections that can serve as a form of legitimisation of the latter as well as attempts to rally against its ideology. The aim of this Special Issue is the examine the variety of forms of contemporary mobilisations, in all their social, political and theoretical implications. Hence, we would especially welcome papers addressing the following points:
- The strategies of social movements: the organizational model of these protests and what is novel about them in terms of strategies of mobilisation, patterns of leadership, alliances and narration, and institutionalization;
- The place of social class in the movement, in its narration and in its strategies. Whose voice is being foregrounded?
- The strike as a form of women’s social protest;
- The new actors and patterns of mobilisation and organization (e.g. social media);
- The human geography of the women’s protests – on the local, national, transnational and virtual levels – the forms of international solidarity, transnational activism and their local varieties. What interconnections, information flows, exist between them?
- The puzzle of the feminist agenda – when women’s rights go mainstream, what happens to their feminist roots?
- The political and theoretical relation between the movement and contemporary feminism. Do and how they incorporate or challenge the notion of “ordinary woman”?
- The political framework of the protest – against which hegemony and oppression? How are they constructed, what kind of categories – such as patriarchy, femininity, masculinity, conservatism, capitalism – are used?
- Men and masculinities: opposition and/or support?
- The normative aspect of women’s protests – what kind of world and gender relations can we expect afterwards?
- The contemporary political structure (lack of opportunities) (Kriesi 1995) and its implications for women’s mobilisations;
- The theoretical and methodological implications of the new forms of women’s protest.
Photo by Elżbieta Korolczuk