On occasion of March 8th / The Women's Company, or the Right to Meanings (A Response to Mariya Mayerchyk’s Article)

March 10, 2014
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On occasion of March 8th / The Women's Company, or the Right to Meanings (A Response to Mariya Mayerchyk’s Article)

The purpose of this brief article is not so much to criticize, but rather to provide a different point of view: the point of view of a participant in the March 8th events for the last 4-5 years, a EuroMaidan volunteer and a university lecturer who teaches courses on gender issues. In addition, as a supporter of the Feministychna Ofenzyva (the Feminist Offensive) and the Women’s Company [in Ukrainian: sotnia, a military company consisting of 100 men], who participated in the events held by both organizations, I am absolutely obligated to speak my mind, especially about the latter and this year’s March 8th. One of the key ideas of my course “Feminism as a Social Theory and Movement”, which I am teaching this year for the second time at the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, is that there are different feminisms which vary depending on the ideological positions of activists themselves, both male and female, as well as on political and social conditions in the country and so on; there is no single “true” feminism, and solidarity among activists within the feminist movement, just as within any other movement, is not easy to achieve. So we have now a situation in which former members of a once joint initiative, the Feminist Offensive, have different views on activism in one particular political situation.

I find it important to tell my side of the story about March 8th 2014 since Mariya Mayerchyk describes the last few years’ achievements, including the marches, and complains that this year there was no march. The question arises: why wasn’t it organized by Mariya Mayerchyk herself or by other former activists of the Feminist Offensive who also do not support the Women’s Company initiative? I am sure that this year “united members of human rights initiatives” would have also “marched side-by-side…” I am a fan of constructive criticism when there is an alternative or other initiative proposed – or better still – organized. Unfortunately, as opposed to previous years, this cannot be said about the 2014 march.

Feminists/female citizens cannot ignore political and social developments in the country. Therefore, we couldn’t remain indifferent to the events of the past few months at the Maidan. We volunteered and continue to volunteer in various capacities (and not only in the kitchens, the so-called traditionally “feminine” area, or on the barricades – a traditionally “male” one) but also in the areas of public information, logistics, medicine, psychology, law, etc. We do not want the women of Ukraine to be known as the ones who “helped” make the revolution. We want to make women more visible in society and, by doing this, we criticize and “undermine” the patriarchy as well.

I think there is more than one way to fight for women's rights and against the patriarchy. In times of global militarism and the use of force, we cannot completely distance ourselves from the patriarchal method of geopolitics. Therefore, information materials about the Olha Kobylyanska Women’s Company state the following: “The Women’s Company uses in its work methods of enlightenment, non-violent resistance, and, in cases of extreme necessity, self-defense within the limits of minimally necessary impact.” The Women’s Company organizes self-defense courses for women, which are in great demand among those women who do not necessarily know what a “discourse” is. Criticizing discourses is important, but quite often praxis and reality are different. And to change this reality, one should fight long and hard and do it one step at a time. When there are different “frontlines” engaged and there is solidarity among them, the struggle itself gets easier.

Conferences and intellectual debates, mentioned by Mariya Mayerchyk regarding the Feminist Offensive activities, are a good way of “celebrating” March 8th. But not the only one. It can be “diluted” or replaced with talking to regular women, our mothers and grandmothers, female residents of Crimea and other regions, representatives of non-academic environments. I am sure that Mariya Mayerchyk’s mother, had she known about such an opportunity, would have come to join the Women’s Company action “From the women of the Maidan to the women of Crimea.” I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that women of all ages took part in this action, holding placards, including those “in the spirit” of the Feminist Offensive – about sisterhood and solidarity. And in the media, such as the news on ICTV, one could hear Olena Shevchenko’s critical commentary regarding sexism in the Maidan movement. This means that, along with fitting into the “sexist space at the Maidan”, there was also criticism of this sexism. Different women’s voices were heard, belonging to those who weren’t told and instructed what was and was not the right thing to say. I do not recall such diversity at the Feminist Offensive marches, nor do I recall that regular women, just passers-by, joined the initiative.

As far as our name is concerned – the Women’s Company, criticized for inscribing itself into the militaristic discourse, – I have to say the following. Indeed, from the perspective of the post-structuralist feminist theories, agency (the capacity of an individual to take part in activism and fight against the system) is almost impossible because it automatically means “inscribing” oneself within the rules of the system, hence reproducing the discourse of power. According to this view, activism (feminist activism as well) does not make any sense, or rather, it does not produce any results; it is just not possible. However, such a pessimistic option is not for me and, obviously, not for a number of other feminists who use the concept of “company” (sotnia) and prove therefore that it applies not only to militaristic practices. I agree with the words of Oksana Kis’ “about our right to use dominant discourses in the way we consider necessary, possible, and appropriate in the given circumstances, and to fill the old concepts with new meanings through common practice of solidarity”.

A lot of information about women’s initiatives of the Maidan movement can be found on the Facebook page of the group “HALF OF THE MAIDAN: Women's Voice of Protest”, on the “Feminist UA” community page, and on the Facebook page of the Women’s Company. On the occasion of March 8th, 2014, Nadiya Parfan organized feminist film screenings, titled “BECHDEL-TEST: New Movies by Women Directors”, which were fully booked, attended by the media, and followed by a discussion. There was also a traditional annual feminist party.

In conclusion, I’d like to express my admiration for Olha Vesnyanka, Nadiya Parfan, Nina Potarska, Anna Khvyl’, Olena Shevchenko, Anna Dovgopol (and other activists of the Women’s Company) who communicate with journalists of both genders, conduct outreach activities on the issues of the sexism of the Maidan movement, pay attention to the presence of women. For Mariya Dmytrieva who twice lectured at the Maidan on the women's movement in Ukraine and abroad. For Nastya Bezverkha who doesn’t forget to mention women while writing for the international information center of the Maidan public sector. For all those women abroad who take part in all sorts of educational or street activism and pay attention to gender issues as well. This list is by no means comprehensive. I mentioned only the cases and the activists I know personally. Feminism in terms of activism doesn’t mean choosing “proper” or the only right strategies and forms of struggle. It means “Liberty. Equality. Women’s solidarity!”

From Ukrainian translated by Natalia Godun; edited by Kelly Iacobazzy.

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