I didn‘t learn about feminism from books, but from those women whom I knew. After my first serious relationship, with just a little life experience, I started to work at the age of 23 in a gallery in Budapest, which at this time counted as the leading contemporary art gallery. I was lucky to meet a woman there who was to have a great influence in my life: From basic decision makings to the formation of my emotional life, as well as knowledge gained about the world and about myself.
Orsolya Drozdik and the Guerilla Girls
Orsolya Drozdik, one of the artists associated with the gallery, has lived in New York since 1980. Orshi (her nickname) has a remarkable presence. She is an eccentric woman, with refined tastes, strong will power, well-educated, and knows how to deal with people exceptionally well. She is an intense being, yet her erotic vibes hint at her independence, which often compels the men of Budapest to swift flight. In the 1980s Orshi took part in the feminist happenings of the New York art world, and she was one of the members of the Guerrilla Girls – a female art group. In her private life and in her art, her theoretical interests and her pursuit for knowledge only tell one part of her story. Equally important, and a central part of her workings are emotions, desire and self-realisation. I studied about the theories of feminism in university. It was here that I realized how huge the divide in Hungary is between academic feminism and applied (activist) feminism. Two years ago I applied to be a volunteer at a help desk for people affected by domestic violence at an organization with the name NaNE. This organization provides real space for females, which you can only understand if you have once lived through it. It is a breath of oxygen for those women, who for some reason have become more sensitive to the strong effects of the daily self-confidence shaking process at work on the women of our society.
A process which starts already at birth. These effects have often been symbolically compared to the inhalation of smog: If you are born surrounded by it, you don‘t notice it. But standing on a mountain top, observing the world of your past, you can see the all-embracing cloud cover from above, as you breathe the scent of the fresh air. In contrast to the institutionalised knowledge of academia, feminist organizations more fully and powerfully represent the realities of the women living in different segments of society.
The most diverse of women come together in the organizations
In the organizations themselves the most diverse of women work together. These comprise language teachers, social workers, pr managers, operetta singers and directors, atheists, catholics and Jews, heterosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals, married and single women. Voluntary work with abused women and children primarily teaches humility and respect. I had to realise my own predilections, I had to reveal the suppressor in my subconscious- in order to be able to deal with the issues revolving around these women. Self-protection was a missing concept in my upbringing.
Catholic upbringing and the missing of self-protection
During my teenager years I attended an all-girls high school, where the teachers were also women. In my catholic upbringing, femininity was given a decidedly conservative role. Feminists intend to strengthen the autonomy of women, underlining the need to trust in their feelings and in themselves. Following the Christian tradition of striving to love, we come to grips with ourselves in a system of unequal power relations, in which protecting oneself could have a life-saving function. Self-protection was a missing concept in my upbringing. Feminists teach us that women are capable of defending themselves and each other.
I am a heterosexual. I am only interested in those kinds of men who bring me joy, who neither want to idealise me nor terrorise me, and who give free reign to my experiments in self-realisation. In essence, it is just a matter of choice. I have come to understand that with my creative energies I do not want to convince men, but to attract them. Those other kinds of men, regardless of what I might have been fantasizing about, I simply attempt to avoid. Concerning my needs and desires – as I already know who I am and what I want – supportive men have been able to enter my life. This has been the result of a long learning period, in which a feminist mindset has played a decisive role.
Feminist thinking as a challenge for men
Men also have it difficult, possibly even more so than women, as in the 21st Century, we women have already found our roles, whereas men are quite behind in the process of reworking their own roles. Their largest problem – perhaps just as in the case of women – is the lack of self-esteem and self-love. In contrast to women however, men receive prepackaged self-esteem pills in the course of their upbringing, which have just one problem: they are no more than placebos. When this fact comes to light, violence comes to fore as a remedy. Feminist thinking is a serious challenge, which often produces fear in men. Seeing strong and autonomous women, men often get frightened, and begin producing myths about women.
De-constructing false cultural myths like in the case of Medusa
Such a cultural myth is present in the Greek mythology in the case of Medusa. I had to live through many stages of life before I could come to understand the smothering reality of the false female myths created by our society. I would like to live in such a world where men and women wake up to the realisation that a change in attitude regarding gender roles will not just bring more freedom to women but to everyone. We don‘t need to fear the unknown. “It is enough for us to look into the face of Medusa, in order to see: She is not deadly. She is beautiful and she is laughing.”
Emese Süvecz. Translated by Justin Hyatt