Eva Hauserova and the world of Czech feminist writing
Hello and welcome to Czech Books. This week I'm talking to Eva Hauserova, who is a household name in the Czech Republic because she's regularly on radio and television, speaking on a range of issues. She's well known as a feminist, which we'll talk more about in a little while. Eva's the author of a number of books: novels, short stories, collections of journalism. She's also a talented cartoonist. I'd like to start off our discussion talking about her work.
There isn't so much of it in English but you do appear in a collection which came out a few years ago of contemporary Czech women's writing, called "Allskin", and this story is a science fiction story and this is your favourite genre, I think in writing:
"For me it's a wonderful possibility to extrapolate things and to create a model of any situation which I try to examine."
The part I'm going to read from this story "Between us Girls" is when Monika and her mother have a talk about the birds and the bees, as we would say..
'Ah, erm... you know, Monika, we have to talk about something...' I stared at her reproachfully, without a word, and chewed my cheese. Why couldn't she leave me in peace, when I came home tired after a hectic day? 'I can't let it wait any longer. You're a grown woman now, and I see you're going out on dates with boys....' 'Mom, for God's sake, I've already read a whole library about sexual behavior and contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. At school we constantly have some kind of compulsory sex education classes. I can't even imagine a more boring topic! So don't bloody start, I'm not a little girl!' My mother flushed crimson and winced. She put on an important expression, which means that she frowned sternly, puckered her mouth, and started to take an incredibly long time to choose her words. She also started to sweat.
'You know that I myself never... never had... anything to do with a man... Well, in short, I think that you and I are different from other women. It's a very peculiar thing, and I've never spoken with you about it openly, because....' She threw her arms up helplessly, choked nervously, and then burst out: 'Because you wouldn't believe it.' She fell silent and looked at me almost pleadingly. She was waiting to see if I would buy it and whether I would hear her out.
I felt my blood pressure rising in response. What, for heaven's sake, was this supposed to mean? Did my mother have some kind of bizarre fixation? It was true that she had always avoided men for as long as I could remember, but... What could she have in mind? Was she perhaps a lesbian? Or was she terribly afraid of something?
'You told me that my father died before I was born,' I reminded her.
'Well,' my mother's crimson blush changed into a scatter of red blotches, spread unevenly over her ashen features, and she lowered her voice to the limit of audibility. 'It wasn't that he died, exactly, it's more that... he was absorbed!'
It's a fantastic part of the story. Can you continue and tell us what happens at the end of the story?
"Well, the point is that these women are such a special race or maybe it's a club of special women like witches, which multiply by themselves. And every woman has just one daughter and the father of this daughter is "absorbed", which means that he gradually is weaker and weaker and he dies. The scientific core of this is that something very similar really happens in mice, because when you have laboratory mice and the female becomes pregnant, and when she meets a more attractive male than was the original father she absorbs her embryo. So I thought, what if women could do something similar."
It's a nice, but rather scary thought!
"People quite often ask me: what did you want to say, what did you want to express in this strange horror story? I think that no writer can say exactly what he or she wants to say, so I just leave it to the readers, and they can contemplate on it."
How have you found the opportunities for women writers in the last ten years, because I think that people outside the country will be very familiar with male Czech authors such as Klima, Kundera, Hrabal, but don't maybe know so much about women authors? Are there many women writing novels and short stories?
"I must say that even historically in Kundera's and Klima's generation there were very interesting female authors, who somehow disappeared from the anthologies and they are not published abroad, like Vera Linhartova, Milada Souckova. And of course, in the younger generation there are plenty of female authors, as we can see in this anthology in "Allskin". Generally I believe that women have all the possibilities to publish, the same as men, but sometimes literary critics tend to treat them as a bit inferior writers, like women's literature or something rather pulp or popular or not really serious, you know."
Of the women who are writing - we talked a little bit earlier about the "f" word feminism - are there many women authors who feel sympathetic towards the ideas of feminism?
"There are not many of them. I think this is quite a characteristic for Czech women that they tend to identify feminism with the communist ideology, with the so-called emancipation of women, which was really their over-burdening during communist times."
I'd like to read just a little part from one of your non-fiction works, which in English translation is: "You are some woman, ain't you? - a small and moderate how to be a feminist guide", because I think it gives a flavour of the Czech context.
Not long ago I was thumbing through the women's magazine Betty in my doctor's waiting room, and what I read nearly gave me a heart attack (at least I was at the doctor's). This issue was devoted to the topic of men and contained an article about men by a woman psychologist and one about women by Zbynek Vybiral. The psychologist - her name escapes me, but I think any woman psychologist would have written something similar - spoke about how men should be honest, reliable, sensitive, etc., in short, about the situations in common, ordinary life. Not so Vybiral. He dragged out every one of the worst patriarchal clichés: man is a hunter in search of a young and innocent girl, whom he will pursue and bag like a deer before moving on to his next prey. Her virginity holds a special attraction for him, since he can introduce a girl to the secrets of sex and feel himself to be her sole lord and master. He is most excitable with women when they reveal something to him, but not too much... And so on. What emerged, in short, was that for men, women are merely erotic toys. I believe, though, that, fortunately, men are not wholly like that - that they don't see women only as objects meant to serve them, and that - in contrast to the way pop psychologists try to dupe them - they are also, praise the Lord, inclined to take responsibility, play a strong role in the family, and wear the mantle of "male caretaker". I realize, however, how difficult this is for them when they're constantly being fed such bull. What will it do to their self-confidence when they don't feel the daily need to bag another virginal deer? I don't even want to know. Fortunately, men rarely read such psychobabble, and it's probably better that they don't.
In future where do you see your interests lie? Are you interested in writing more fiction or will you continue to write on feminism or wider social issues?
"Now I am writing my newest novel. I am almost finishing it. The main character is a middle-aged environmental activist, and so I analyze her and her life and of course her disappointment, because of course it's not easy to be an idealist in this society."
Books for this programme supplied by Shakespeare and Sons.