This essay was originally published at Public Seminar on October 1 2015.
It was in late July of 2014, during the final two days of the 23rd annual Democracy & Diversity Institute, that a sizable group of the Institute’s alumni — representatives of a much larger NSSR/TCDS community now living and working in Europe — joined us in Wroclaw. They were an impressive and accomplished assemblage: people who teach at excellent universities, run major research and educational projects, direct publishing houses and non-governmental organizations, and in some cases serve in the parliaments and governments of their respective countries.
The idea of returning to the Institute, which for them represents the New School for Social Research, came from their shared sense of an ethical and intellectual crisis facing academics in Europe and beyond. Drawing on the ethos of the University in Exile, and their own New School experience, and the conviction that especially in dark times universities carry a special responsibility vis-à-vis society, they considered in two intensive working sessions both the mounting problems and possible ways to address them. (TCDS is also about this kind of responsibility: without it, we are not worthy of the name.)
The outcome of the debate was distilled in their final statement, known as the Wroclaw Declaration, which calls into being the “NSSR-Europe” initiative, an intellectually engaged microcosm of the New School for Social Research within the new post-cold-war Europe.
The last point of the NSSR-EUROPE Declaration, “Recognizing and honoring courage in public scholarship through awards and fellowships.” already came to fruition on June 9, 2015, when the NSSR-Europe community presented its first Courage in Public Scholarship Award. The award ceremony, by all accounts a truly extraordinary event that has already been widely reported on, took place in Warsaw at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland, and was hosted by the Minister for Equal Treatment, Malgorzata Fuszara, who is also a professor of law and sociology, and an old friend of TCDS. The recipient was Ann Snitow, Professor of Literature and Gender Studies at Eugene Lang College. The event was attended by members of NSSR-Europe, who arrived from Lancaster, Belgrade, Berlin, Brno, Krakow, Gdansk, Tirana, Warsaw, Wroclaw, and New York. Two former recipients of New School Honorary Degrees, Adam Michnik (1984), editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, and Wanda Nowicka (2008), Deputy Speaker of the Polish Parliament, attended the event.
Ann Barr Snitow: prominent American academic, writer, and activist committed to gender justice and equality, whose work in Central and Eastern Europe over a quarter of a century has helped to recast social discourse, reshape the culture, and empower women in this part of the world.
Dr. Snitow, you are a scholar, an astute observer, and author of landmark essays on the status of women in the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. You have helped to raise awareness of the way gender has been seen throughout the region as a social variable devoid of political resonance; you have examined it as a cultural construct; and have defined it anew as an essential analytical and cognitive concept. Along with the dilemma of difference, these were questions largely absent here from mainstream social science, from public discourse, and from the larger social imaginary.
Ann, you are a brilliant and generous teacher who has worked with hundreds of young junior scholars at twenty-two annual Democracy & Diversity Institutes conducted — since 1991 — by the New School for Social Research in Krakow and Wroclaw. Your epistemological (and not just epistemological) generosity and hospitality, sincere encouragement, and honest interest have endeared you to all of your students. You have given countless lectures, seminars, and workshops in virtually every country of the region, and inspired a whole generation of women and men to be critical thinkers, to challenge both tradition and the status quo, to seek answers, to share them with society, and to seek change.
Your own now-legendary seminar, Theories of Gender in Culture, posed a key question: “What part does gender play in structuring social and political life?”, and inspired your students to take that question home and to examine the realities of their respective societies. It also emboldened them to imagine, to design, and to struggle to establish gender studies at their own universities in Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosova, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine…Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Though long resisted by academic establishments, Gender Studies challenged and then influenced the social sciences and humanities throughout the region.
Ann, you are a tireless organizer and fundraiser for women’s causes, a scholar without whom gender studies would not have been established in this part of the world. In addition, you are a person without whom many of us would not have become feminists.
Thinking about the challenge of translating realities, concerns, and strategies “from one context to another,” and about the inevitable challenges to lasting collaboration, you launched a precious transatlantic initiative — the Network of East-West Women (NEWW). Established exactly 25 years ago, and originally run from the United States, the Network, which supports women’s rights in Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the countries of the former Soviet Union, was then placed in the hands of local organizations, with a coordinating center in Gdansk.
Your students and your colleagues are now teaching gender studies at universities throughout the region, have published major books, are ombudspersons, run policy think tanks and NGOs concerned with gender inequalities, and — in one case — has become a very effective Minister for Equal Treatment of Men and Women!
We commend your intellectual resolve and your audacious feminist work, conducted always — whether in the United States or in Europe — under vexing circumstances. The NSSR-Europe community launched last summer in Wroclaw is therefore proud to confer upon you its first Courage in Public Scholarship Award.
Agnieszka Kościańska, one of the Event’s organizers, notes:
Bogna Burska is a major Polish contemporary feminist artist whose work embraces painting, photography, theater, video, installation art, and, as exemplified here, bricolage. Bogna navigates visual culture in search of both new forms of beauty and hidden paths to power, with gender, femininity, and powerful women at the center of her work. In her well-known piece A Thousand Deaths, she reconstructs the life and rule of Queen Elizabeth the First, showing her desires, gender transgressions, and ways of gaining and keeping power. The piece was the subject of lively discussions between Bogna and Snitow. Thus, it’s only natural that Bogna, on behalf of the NSSR-Europe community, chose to portray Ann as the Queen following her defeat of Catholic Spain’s armada in 1588, whereas Ann has helped us breach strongholds of patriarchy from New York and the U.S.A. to Warsaw and much of Central and Eastern Europe.
A book was published, entitled OUR ANN: Feminist – Scholar – Friend, that includes contributions by 40 scholars and feminist activists from Europe and the United States, an essay by Ann, and two sizable interviews with her.
“Women speaking has changed the prospects for radical politics.” From “Shifting Geographies Rather Than Defections.”
We would like to convey our deep gratitude for Ann Snitow’s work and how it affected our thinking, writing and being political and social. The personal is the political. In thinking about this quote from Ann’s (April 2014) post in Public Seminar (with Victoria Hattam) concerning the tangled relations between feminist movements and those of the New Left, and more so in rereading her review article on the theme of feminism and motherhood for Feminist Quarterly written in 1992, we keep coming back to this “tired dog” of a claim — or mantra — of the “second wave” of feminist thought and activism in the 1960s and ’70s. It is a claim so well-known and so often-repeated as to seem callow or even utterly bereft of content or significance. And yet, in Ann’s writing, and even more in her presence, it seems electrically alive and important.
Her 1992 reflection merits close attention today as well, investigating what has changed and how and where we stand today in thinking about the demands that feminists want to make of society at large and the status of maternity and paternity (more especially, the position of pronatalism) with respect to those demands. In this piece, among other things, she approaches what she identifies as the two intertwined taboos of America’s conversation about maternity and gender politics — the taboo of speaking for the decision not to have children and the taboo of speaking seriously about having children.
We hear Ann’s incisive, capacious and generous intellect at work equally in reflection on deeply personal questions about her own experiences with “family planning” decisions, the capacity of the feminist movement to produce thinkable identities for childless women and in critical examination of intellectual trends and their relation to political developments and their social and economic sources and outcomes. Here, at least, the political is indeed deeply personal and the personal intensely political, and both are dynamic, though we also see how some identities, those of women, even if set to be elastic, cannot be fully comprehended but still, as such, or as Ann writes, women have made a richer world out of their necessities.
And how that’s true for us, personally. Let us take a minute to consciously stress, as students and followers of Ann, how this truth resonates for Michael personally, then for Irit.
Michael: “The personal is the political” is a conviction with which I grew up long before I knew to say the sentence, and I knew that pretty young. By the time I was completing my B.A. (in 1998), though, I was no longer so sure. I wasn’t sure if it was true and I wasn’t sure that I knew what it meant. I had written a B.A. thesis on “cultural engendering and points of resistance,” and knew that I knew if taking gender seriously as a concept and as a phenomenon means anything it means insisting on the instability of the public/private distinction that is integral to the modern, liberal political order. But what does it mean for something to be personal, or to be political, or both. In search of answer, I enrolled at the New School, where it was possible to simultaneously pursue an M.A. in Gender Studies and Feminist Theory and a Ph.D. in Philosophy. And though, to my lasting regret, the turn of the millennium was something of a “lull” in history of that M.A. program, I nevertheless found myself instantly connected to a network of which Ann was at the center and which she had helped build, and without which my continuing conversation with Irit (as partners in raising a family and [we hope] as theorists and practitioners of an alternative political culture in which the micro-project that is our family grows) would never have been possible. Not least because it was Ann’s events (among other things) in Krakow in July 2002 that first got the two of us into conversation with one another.
Irit: My interest in national discourse, anti-militarism and memory in the work of a feminist movement, which was a decisive power in Israel’s Defense Force leaving of Lebanon in 2000, and in the role played by feminist NGOs in making the relations between religion, marriage law and citizenship more accommodating to women in the early 1990s in Israel, were my first attempts as a B.A. student to think about social change where I felt it most matters and where I could contribute. This was my reason to pursue a graduate degree at the New School for Social Research. At the end of the first year, as Michael mentioned, I had the privilege to attend the Democracy and Diversity Summer Institute, taking part in some of the discussions, where activists and scholars were often one and the same. Ann introduced us to the power of conversation, connecting different experiences of being a women, as activists and feminists, and of thinking through, with various texts, diverse identities and theoretical traditions about society and the public sphere. Ann’s work on the memory of the feminist movement is helpful in my current attempt to grapple with the question of how personal and political events are remembered from the perspective of home, namely: understanding that to remember is the political action of crafting a version of one’s own story, and that the same holds for forgetting.
Networking and community building. This brings us to a closing reflection on the meaning of Ann’s work — as an activist, as a writer, as a teacher and a colleague and a friend — for us, as we join you in celebrating her career today. Namely, what impresses above all when one stands back and tries to take in some small expanse of the vast fields Ann has traversed intellectually and physically is the way that she re-appropriates the term “networking,” which generally has a set of connotations that are frankly base, corporate, and self-serving, and reminds us that what this word offers, indeed what it promises and what it ought to deliver, is not the practice of “making contacts” so as to advance one’s interests, but rather the active engagement in thought, in text, and most importantly in person pointed toward the deeper integration and mutual provocation of texts, ideas and individuals who might not yet be listening to each other, but ought to be. Whether she is putting the Moynihan Report (of 1965) into conversation with Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex — and what a conversation that is! — or whether she is reporting on a visit to Buffalo, or sitting in a library she helped make from nothing in Krakow, Ann is always “networking” in the truest and the best sense; that is, she is community building. We are grateful to have had the chance to play our small role in that community and can’t wait to see where it goes and what it does next.
Remarks by Justyna Duriasz honoring Ann Snitow upon her receipt of the NSSR Europe Courage in Public Scholarship Award:
How does one start a short piece like this? “I first met Ann Snitow on………………” and here goes a precise date and place and nice story. However, I am not able to follow this pattern, and it is not because I do not want to. On the contrary, since I received the wonderful news about the Prize, I have been trying to pin down the moment we met for the first time. And, I have to confess, I am on the verge of giving up, all my hope is in Ann. Was it Elzbieta who introduced us at one of GF meetings in the Fall of 1991, a few days after I have arrived as a Kalwinska Fellow? Or was it when I came to Ann’s and Daniel’s magical place at Spring Street for one the big meetings of EWWN, the same Fall?
You are simply one of those who were always there, you are a very important part of my New School-New York years, the ocean of warmth and wisdom, a combination of all the best characteristics of a critical intellectual and a loving, warm motherly figure. The three first summer Institute’s in Przegorzały near Kraków have special place in my memoires. Not just because I took a class on feminism with you, but also because I still remember some of our discussions in class and outside of it. Feminism, social and political issues, history, literature, everyday life experiences, love, I think we have talked just about everything; the way you listened and smiled stayed with me forever. I remember us going to Krakow to have coffee in this tiny cool place Mozaika, just off the old Rynek. And, of course, Przegorzały means Daniels’s music.
After 3 years in New York I have came back home, but we have seen each other many more times, (though not as many as I’d wished for). My daughter who is almost 16 now, still has the soft she-bunny wearing skirt, you gave her when she was a baby.
Every single meeting, every conversation we had, was a comforting, uplifting experience.
Mindfulness is a word that is making it big in Poland nowadays, perhaps on the verge of becoming an empty cliché. Yet, if I think of one word that describes well how I see your presence in the world, it perhaps should be it.
Ann, I love you.
Justyna Duriasz was Katarzyna Kalwinska Fellow at NSSR. She is a Member of the Board, Rural Development Foundation in Poland.