Hello, my name is Abby and I’m an intern here at the Freedom Archives. While browsing through the collections one day, looking for sources whose metadata needed updating and getting carried away reading materials that caught my interest, I stumbled upon a journal called Connexions. Coming out of Oakland in the 1980s and 1990s, Connexions was a radical feminist quarterly that focused on international women’s movements by publishing translated articles from around the world. These articles were written by women, for women, and disseminated with the intention of connecting people across the world in order to provide them with contacts for research and general information exchange within the feminist community. Each volume had a different theme— some notable ones include “Women and Militarism,” “Women and Prostitution,” and “Lesbian Activism.”
The first edition I came across was a volume titled “Changing Course: Eastern Europe.” As a history major who focuses on Cold War-era politics and recently studied abroad in Berlin, this obviously caught my eye. This issue explores the societal changes that accompanied the fall of the Berlin Wall and the implications this had for women. After reading through the articles, which covered topics from the rise of sex tourism to the disappearance of accessible and affordable childcare, I was forced to pause and reflect. While I had studied the fall of the Berlin Wall many times, I had failed to consider what this dramatic shift meant in a deeper sense than surface-level matters. Having a major eye-opening moment in regards to a topic I thought I was quite well-versed in gave me a major shift in perspective, so I decided to dig deeper and do some more research.
One article from the journal that struck me in particular was titled “Swept Away By Domostroika.” (Domostroika is a term that describes the patriarchal nature of conventional Russian gender relations and family dynamics, literally translating to “a house with a woman in the kitchen.” This alludes to the reactionary ‘return to tradition’ mindset that was promoted in the aftermath of the fall of the USSR.)
The article begins with an eye-catching line: “National identity or gender solidarity?” It goes on to discuss the clash of ideas that occurred at a conference held in Prague in 1992 to discuss the intersection of women’s issues and nationalism, in which Western women were confronted with the experiences and analyses of representatives from former Eastern Bloc countries. In the case of a divided Germany, there was a major clash in ideologies as East met West and people had their entire reality swept out from under them. East German women, who were used to Socialist equality in the form of affordable childcare, reproductive rights, equal opportunity employment, etc., were not going to regress to the Western ideal of “Kinder, Küche, Kirche” (children, kitchen, church) without a fight. On the other hand, they were also not prepared to accept Western feminism (which many viewed as elitist, extreme, and man-hating) as a solution to their problems. Brigitta Kasse, an East German mother of two children, describes her take on this identity crisis: “We want to go beyond the simple choice that is presented between Communist emancipation, Western feminism, and the return to the traditional place within the family.”
Thoroughly intrigued by this complex coalescence of worldviews in such a turbulent time in history, I decided to further explore this issue using additional sources found throughout the archive. I found so many interesting materials while exploring the online catalog, digging through boxes of old periodicals, as well as listening to interviews on cassette tapes and reel-to- reel tapes. For example, I came across an article in a periodical called Bottomfish Blues about the Rote Zora, a West German guerrilla feminist group that engaged in armed propaganda in the fight against the exploitation of women, from sex trafficking to abortion rights. While listening to reel-to-reel tapes I also found an interesting interview with Andrei Markovits, an expert on German Studies and Comparative Politics, from a radio show produced by Judy Gerber and Laurie Simms called the Progressive. In the interview, they discuss Eastern European politics and the changes that were occurring in Eastern Germany circa 1989.
In doing this research, I discovered how complex the reality of this event and its impacts really were. In my opinion, this is one of the best parts of engaging with the sources at the Freedom Archives—it allows one to abandon their preconceived notions and discover new perspectives, ones that are often left out of mainstream history books.