Andres Laiapea: Feminism builders at work

The Estonian feminist information portal Feministeerium, which celebrated its second birthday in the beginning of the year, answered Andres Laiapea’s questions regarding feminism. We’re happy to share these thoughts  so close to the International Women’s Day

130 years ago, Lilli Suburg started to issue the first Estonian women’s magazine Linda in Viljandi, and 100 years ago, women were given the right to vote in Estonia. Do you feel like you’re continuing the work of these earlier generations in some way?

FM: Everyone who does anything to fight for women’s rights is continuing their work. Our wish is to offer feminists and people supporting feminism a platform to support and unite activists.

Feminism seems to have a negative connotation in the eyes of some Estonians. For example, Martin Helme, who was elected the Chauvinist of the Year by the readers of Feministeerium, regarded it a “very worthy title” and would have been extremely embarrassed to have elected the Feminist of the Year. What do you think this demonising of feminism stems from?

FM: Everything that questions the valid norms and distribution of power seems to be hit by demonising. It does mean the disintegration and redistribution of the current power. Naturally, some people are hit with an existential fear. As feminists have criticised the norm and phenomena related to the private sphere – for example, violence against women, women’s double burden at home, shaming of women’s sexuality, and treatment of women as a sort of reproduction unit of a nation, some men (and women) are worried that feminism seems to threaten the family.

SA PTK portal Objektiiv, which could in many ways be considered the antipode in regard to your world view, continuously organises campaigns to raise funds in order to employ activist editors to distribute propaganda. They have created full-time jobs that literally require them to provoke sharp oppositions in the society to raise even more funds from their donators. How is the economical side of Feministeerium managed?

FM: We have donators and we do a lot of volunteer work, but we also get funds from the state. We would like to simplify donating this year, but we have no plans for executing special campaigns. In our creative process, we do not, neither do we have to, think about the economical side.

In Sweden, there is a political party called Feminist Initiative, which got 5,5% of votes at the 2014 European parliamentary election and 1 seat in the European Parliament, and also made it quite close to exceeding the threshold at Swedish parliamentary elections. Lately, the Feminist Party was registered in Finland. Does Estonia need a separate feminist party as well?

FM: Parties that focus on one topic are positive as they usually motivate other parties to deal with these subjects in their platforms. Perhaps, to enliven things up a bit, we really need a feminist party.
Historically, social democrats have emphasised the fight for women’s rights in Estonia the most, but if you look at the political background of the women who have risen to the highest positions, it tends to be more conservative (former chairwoman of the Parliament, Riigikogu, Ene Ergma, now president Kersti Kaljulaid). The same can be seen in several other countries in Europe like in Germany and the United Kingdom. Feministeerium generally represents the liberal direction.

What do you think of female leaders of state like Angela Merkel, Theresa May, and our new president Kersti Kaljulaid, who, for example, do not support establishing gender quotas, etc., which many relate to feminism?

FM: Feminsteerium is actually looking forward to good texts from conservative feminists, as not many have come around. Our objective is not to offer one narrow point of view, the “one right feminism”, but to publish different feminist viewpoints. In addition to liberal and conservative axis, queer feminism, eco feminism, radical feminism, and others have offered exciting approaches. We have also published criticism of feminism from feminist position.
Feminist solutions to real problems are varied and not all feminists support gender quotas. Both Merkel and May are a little contradictory figures, especially May. During her career, she has done both good and bad for women while voting as a politician or executing as a minister of government. On the good side, as a minister, for example, she has made forced marriages illegal. Kersti Kaljulaid does not have a traditional political background and does not fit into this equation. But what unites them all is that they show young women that all is possible. And this should not be underrated.

What should one think of a female politician, who does not support women’s rights?

FM: They can, of course, do a lot of harm. It’s best to elect a pro-feminist man than an anti-feminist woman to the parliament. These women of IRL, who have actively worked against the partnership law, have done a lot of harm to women, for example, as the couples who raise children and really need to register their partnership and protect their children legally, are mostly female. Of course, they do it anyway, as the law is valid, but the lack of implementing acts has created a lot of confusion and pointless bureaucracy.