after the fall of the Wall
Susan Gal, what's most striking about the collapse of communism
is how little has been said about the role of gender in the transformation.
Yet you can hardly pick up a newspaper or a magazine in East Central
Europe, says the professor and chair of anthropology, without
tripping over gender-related issues, including abortion, rape
as a weapon of war in the former Yugoslavia, domestic-violence
awareness, even "how-to" articles teaching women to
shave their legs and put on make-up. "Gender is an enormous
component of how social change takes place, what changes first,
what are continuities with the socialist past," observes
Gal, who's spent the past 30 years working in and writing about
East Central Europe. "Yet most analysts are not thinking
at all about gendered perspectives."
there to think about? Start at the beginning, says Gal. Among
the first actions of nearly every former communist country in
1989 was to address abortion policy. In its second official decree
after the fall of the Ceauçescu regime, Romania declared
abortion legal. Abortion rights in East Germany and its restriction
in West Germany nearly derailed unification. In predominantly
Catholic Poland, says Gal, abortion has become "virtually
a permanent feature of the parliamentary agenda."
debating and making of reproductive policy, she says, is just
one aspect of how democracy is taking hold in East Central Europe-but
it's a telling aspect. For the most complete "view"
of democratization, she argues, observers would do well to focus
less on changes in specific political and economic processes and
more broadly on "how men and women are differently imagined
as citizens, and how ideas of gender are shaping political and
economic change in the region." Gal explores both questions
in two recent books, The Politics of Gender after Socialism:
A Comparative-Historical Essay (Princeton, 2000) and the companion
collection Reproducing Gender: Politics, Publics, and Everyday
Life after Socialism (Princeton, 2000), with coauthor and
coeditor Gail Kligman of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Politics of Gender, Gal takes a historical view of gender
in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the
Czech and Slovak Republics, and East Germany. Examining notions
of gender under socialist regimes as well as in the countries'
bourgeois pre-communist past, she discusses how gender is being
reconceived today. In doing so, she points out that issues of
gender equality aren't as cut-and-dried as they are in the West,
where women have long fought to achieve equality. "Under
communism, the official line claimed there were no distinctions
between men and women. Everyone was comrades, everyone had a full-time
job, and everyone was involved in political work. Whether they
were equal in reality is another question, but the perception
was there-and perceptions are important."
economies shifted away from state-mandated full employment, and
privatization kicked in, Gal notes that despite the socialist
ideal of equality, certain occupations have become "gendered."
Financial services, for instance, a field previously balanced
between men and women (if not tipped toward women, who did much
of the bookkeeping in some countries), is newly lucrative and
now predominantly a male field. And as entrepreneurship flourishes
in most East Central European economies, it's mainly the women
who are starting the small businesses that provide catering, childcare,
counseling, and computer, travel, and real-estate services.
of this "restratification," says Gal, is a result of
the influx of male-dominated Western corporations and female-dominated
international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), both of which
bring their own gender perceptions into post-socialist economies
as they hire local staff. Another factor, she says, is the post-socialist
slashing of social programs, partly out of continued suspicion
of government involvement in private lives, but also as part of
a larger trend across Europe to balance budgets. "Women were
simply left without childcare," says Gal, so they have gotten
creative in their work lives, juggling jobs and contracting out
arenas of political activity have also restratified. Women are
involved in what Gal calls "civil society"-volunteer
work, charities, NGOs-while men dominate national politics and
happens when women who spent the past 50 years as the perceived
equals of their male comrades are kept out of policy making, which
has the power to allow or disallow them to seek abortion, determines
their social-welfare benefits, and regulates their economic activities?
That, says Gal, is a story worth following.-S.A.S.