In the last issue of the FF Network (November 1993) a plan for a group of Folklore Fellows in Gender Studies was announced. Since then I received eight letters of interest from folklore scholars from different countries – many thanks for them. The proposals and questions presented in these letters point out that what is needed most is information on activities in other countries and academic milieus and information on the themes of the ongoing studies, which would make it possible for individual contacts between scholars who are interested in the same types of themes. A couple of letters from India and Nigeria point out the need for support for the development of gender study projects in these areas and for cooperation between Western folklorists and others.
These ideas are very much in line with what I had in mind when proposing an FF in Gender Studies. I am still hoping for more proposals from other interested students of folklore. I shall discuss all proposals and possible ways of fulfilling the wishes for international cooperation with my Finnish colleagues during this spring. And I hope that by the time of the ISFNR conference in Mysore we will have at least the beginning of an international list of folklorists interested in gender studies, information on their themes of study and on their finished or ongoing projects.
As to the proposals for international symposia on gender studies in folkloristics, there will be a section for Folk Narrative and gender at the Mysore conference next year. The organizer is Ruth Bottigheimer from the state University of New York, Department of Comparative Studies (Stony Brook NY 11794-3355, USA). I have promised to attend that section and help in any ways needed.
Finnish-Hungarian symposium on Gender studies in Budapest
In my last note I promised to tell about the Finnish-Hungarian Folklore Symposium I was about to attend.
The 9th Finnish-Hungarian Folklore symposium was held on 26-27 October 1993 in Budapest. The theme of the symposium, “Folklore and Gender”, had been decided during the 8th Symposium in Finland a couple of years earlier. Gender questions were put on the agenda for the first time since the Finnish-Hungarian folklore symposia were started at the end of the 1970s.
The Finnish participants at the Budapest symposium represented the research project “Culture, Tradition, and the Gender System”. Their themes were “Vepsian Seers” (Kaija Heikkinen, University of Joensuu), “Women and Humour” (Eeva-Liisa Kinnunen, University of Helsinki), “Theoretical and Practical Problems of Tradition and Gender System” (Aili Nenola, University of Turku), “Gender and Socio-Economic Systems in the Finnish Countryside in the 19th Century” (Riitta Räsänen, University of Turku) and “Age and Gender as Principles of Differentation in Finnish Culture” (Sinikka Vakimo, University of Joensuu). Hungarian participants talked about “Women’s Fate in Hungarian Ballads” (Ildiko Kriza), “Two Hungarian Woman Prophets and Their Disciples” in the 20th Century Sub-Carpathia (Imola Küllös and Ildiko Sándor), “Why Were Witches Women?” (Eva Pócs), and “Aphrodisiacs and Impotents in Hungarian Folk Traditions” (Mária Vajda). We also heard about two studies in progress by two woman doctorands (Katalin Juhász on the meaning of cleanliness as a criterion of beauty in Hungarian rural culture and Erszébet Zakarias on the agricultural division of labour between Transsylvanian women and men). Other members of the symposium were Veronika Görög-Karady and on the second day Lászlo Kürti, both of whom contributed greatly to our discussions.
Vilmos Voigt, Professor of Folkloristics at the University of Budapest, who with his colleagues was responsible for the arrangements, presented in his opening speech some aspects of the Late Professor Tekla Dömötör’s work and life. The symposium was dedicated to the memory of this “Grandmother” of the folklorists of the world. I do not know what Tekla Dömötör would have thought of our discussions, which mostly concentrated on aspects of womanhood or women’s fate and position in society and culture as represented in our themes. She herself was a member of the generation whose problems in the scholarship were and are different. Somehow I think that she would have been interested in our discussion on gender and maybe even enthusiastic about it. Perhaps also about the practical connections of the gender studies, possibilities of explaining and understanding not only what gender means in folklore or folklore studies but what it means in our lives and the structures of society. While discussing these matters with some Hungarian participants and members of the audience, I got the impression that feminism or women’s studies seen from this perspective at present seem as frightening to many Hungarian women as to anyone else to whom the traditional gender roles seem natural. I find it hard to believe that Tekla Dömötör would have been frightened.
Anyway, the papers presented at the Budapest symposium showed the variety of problems and materials that can be considered from the gender point of view; they also seemed to prove right the conception that when starting gender studies in folklore, the first phase everywhere seems to be looking for representations and images of men and women in folklore materials.
“The Image of Women in Folklore” is, as a matter of fact, also the proposed theme for an international collection of articles, which was put forward by Isaac Albert from Nigeria in his letter to FF in Gender Studies. I would like to reformulate the title as “The Images of Women and Men in Folklore”, but as a whole I think that we could consider the proposal seriously. Does anyone second this?
Department of Cultural Studies
University of Turku
(FFN 8, April 1994: 7-8)