volume 17, number 2/2016: Women’s Political Activism in History: Central Europe
Guest editors: Jitka Gelnarová and Marie Vyskočilová Fousková
This issue of Gender and Research looks at women’s political agency from a historical perspective. The prevailing definition of political agency and the political subject in history is profoundly gendered. History textbooks and museum exhibits are dominated by the image of the masculine political actor. Women are often looked on as objects or victims of politics, but much less as political subjects themselves. The rise of women’s history and gender history in Western historiography since the 1970s ushered in efforts also to give visibility to the forgotten women political actors, efforts that have tended to take two forms. The first makes visible women’s political activities in the conventional sense, which mainstream political science and history long remained blind to. The second, following the dictum ‘the personal is political‘, recognises political status in activities that have traditionally been presented as unpolitical, and thereby redefines the very concepts of political agency, the political space, and what is political.
In Czech historiography, with the development of historical research devoted to women after 1989 attention gradually turned also to women’s political activities. The political activism of women in the period up to 1918 has continuously drawn interest and was the subject of the very first monographs devoted to the position of women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The struggle for women’s suffrage in particular has been of interest to historians. With respect to analysis of the relationship between gender and the Czech nation within the context of the multi-national Habsburg Monarchy the work of Jitka Malečková warrants particular mention. However, most texts devoted to the time before 1918 focus on middle-class women, while there is still a gap to fill with respect to the political activism of working-class women.
The participation of women in formal politics became a subject of study in the first decade of the new millennium, initially in studies focusing on the interwar years. Recent research has increasingly turned attention to the political activism of women during the communist period. This subject is dealt with in the writings of Denisa Nečasová and in a recent monograph edited by Hana Havelková and Libora Oates-Indruchová. Women have remained invisible not just on the level of ‘writing history’ but also on the level of sources themselves, with respect to their processing and accessibility. Important steps towards increasing the visibility of women actors in history are therefore the publication series edited and published by the team of Marie Bahenská, Libuše Heczková, and Dana Musilová that is devoted to nineteenth- and twentieth-century writings on feminist thought and women’s work, or the publication series devoted to the political speeches of B. Viková-Kunětická.
This thematic issue is guided by an effort to embrace the widest possible spectrum of forms of women’s political agency at different points in history. The issue opens with a theoretical article by Joan W. Scott translated by L’ubica Kobová. Scott studies how women with fundamentally different goals have identified themselves as social and political actors over the course of time, and she defines two main symbolic sources of identification: the orator and the maternal figure. Both of these figures and various fusions of them are to be found also in the other articles. The articles, reviews, and interview in this issue focus on different historical stages in the Czecho-Slovak and Central European space: from the First Czechoslovak Republic to World War II, the Third Republic, the 1950s, the revolutionary year 1989, up to the present day.
The articles cover both feminist activism and the activities of women who did not necessarily identify as feminists or who even directly distanced themselves from feminism. One example of this is the Catholic women activists attached to the Czechoslovak People’s Party in interwar Czechoslovakia, which is the subject of the first article. These were women who at the very least were ambivalent about political equality, but as part of the election campaign even they became political actors and had to come to terms with their new political status. M. Vyskočilová Fousková’s study traces how selected periodicals of the People’s Party press interpreted women’s political activity and how the party press came to terms with the political activity of women in the context of an ideology of separate spheres in the lead-up to the elections in 1919 and 1920.
One of the major themes in women’s political history has been the link between the ‘public’ and the ‘private’. The article by M. Láníková and A. Souralová, which transports us back to the time of the Third Czechoslovak Republic, focuses on an area that is not usually associated with political activity – housework and the housewife. The study focuses on the activities of the Organisation of Czechoslovak Housewives during the Third Republic and shows that, against the backdrop of state support for women’s employment, the position of women in the household became a subject of political discussion. From a discourse analysis of selected sources in the contemporary press the authors observe how activist housewives and some female members of parliament negotiated the status of housework and their own status as full-fledged citizens and what arguments they deployed in their efforts to induce the state to assume at least some responsibility for housework and the conditions in which it was performed.
The issue also looks at women’s revolutionary activism. The third article takes us to the revolutionary year 1989 and the years that followed. Z. Maďarová’s study examines the ways in which we remember the revolutionary events, who has a mandate to (publicly) remember those events, and to what extent the women who participated in the events do or rather do not figure in the memory of them. The historical portrait that has been formed of the revolutionary events in Slovakia that year is presented as an example of how women are ‘erased’ from history, rendering invisible the women who performed ‘typically female’ organisational work in the background of the revolution and the women who assumed traditionally masculine roles as speakers and writers of political texts.
This issue also shows how the tools or resources women political actors use to achieve their goals have changed over time. The article by V. Černohorská shows how new technologies have impacted feminist activism in the early twenty-first century. It focuses on a Slovak feminist organisation called Aspekt and the specific and local ways in which this organisation uses global communication technology in an online environment. In mapping the online activities of Aspekt the article also touches on the issue of consciously creating historical ‘traces’ online in an effort to circumvent the risk of being ‘erased’ from history.
The rise of new media in the twenty-first century has not only impacted the resources used by women political actors, it has also transformed the very definition of political participation. The article by L. Vochocová, J. Mazák, and V. Štětka focuses on Facebook where it studies new forms of political participation associated with the expression of political beliefs online. After analysing the activity of persons who contributed to discussions on the websites of selected political parties in the pre-election periods in 2013 and 2014, the authors attempt to determine how much the democratising potential of online communication, disembodied and ostensibly easily accessible, relates also to gender inequalities.
In preparing this issue we set out from the conviction that women no longer need to be defended in any way as political actors in history. We therefore also look at forms of women’s political agency that have long remained outside feminist theory’s field of interest. An interview with Hungarian feminist historian Andrea Petö focuses on the research she has done on women’s involvement in committing war crimes in Hungary during World War II and the participation of women in extremist movements in the past and the present.
The issue also includes several reviews and reports connected with the subject of women’s political agency. Of the four reviews printed here, we would like to draw attention to at least one – the review of an anthology of inspiring translated studies titled Občianky a revolucionárky (Women Citizens and Revolutionaries) recently published by Aspekt press.
In conclusion we would like to thank everyone who helped bring this thematic issue to life, most notably the reviewers of articles. We hope that this issue will contribute to the discussion surrounding the various forms of women’s political agency and the various ways in which these can be understood in history.
We wish you an enjoyable and inspiring read,
Jitka Gelnarová and Marie Vyskočilová Fousková
 Horská, P. 1999. Naše prababičky feministky. Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny; Lenderová, M. 1999. K hříchu i k modlitbě. Žena v minulém století. Prague: Mladá fronta; Neudorflová 1999. České ženy v 19. století. Prague: Janua.
 Např. Malínská, J. 2009. ‘Volební právo žen do říšské rady, českého zemského sněmu a obcí v letech 1848–1914.’ Střed, Vol. 1, No. 1: 24–57.
 Most notably, Malečková, J. 2002. Úrodná půda. Žena ve službách národa. Prague: ISV.
 Burešová, J. 2001. Proměny společenského postavení českých žen v 1. polovině 20. století. Olomouc: Vydavatelství Univerzity Palackého; Feinberg, M. 2006 Elusive Equality. Gender, Citizenship and the Limits of Democracy in Czechoslovakia, 1918–1950. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press; Musilová, D. 2007. Z ženského pohledu. Poslankyně a senátorky Národního shromáždění Československé republiky 1918–1939. České Budějovice: Veduta.
 Most notably, Nečasová, D. 2011. Buduj vlast, posílíš mír! Ženské hnutí v českých zemích 1945–1955. Brno: Matice moravská.
 Havelková, H., Oates-Indruchová, L. (eds.) 2015. Vyvlastněný hlas. Proměny genderové kultury české společnosti 1948–1989. Prague: Sociologické nakladatelství.
 Bahenská, M., Heczková, L., Musilová, D. 2010. Ženy na stráž! České feministické myšlení 19. a 20. století. Prague: Masarykův ústav a Archiv AV ČR; Bahenská M., Heczková L., Musilová D. (eds.). 2014. O ženské práci. Dobové (sebe)reflexe a polemiky. Prague: Masarykův ústav AV ČR.
 Heczková, L., Svatoňová, K. (eds.). 2012. Jus Suffragii. Politické projevy Boženy Vikové-Kunětické z let 1890–1926. Prague: Ústav T. G. Masaryka.