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New Left Review I/198, March-April 1993

Peggy Watson

The Rise of Masculinism in Eastern Europe

In the recent literature on gender relations in Eastern Europe, it is quite often said that democratization has ‘opened up a space’ within which women can now seek to identify their interests and organize. [1] See for example Maxine Molyneux, ‘The “Woman Question” in the Age of Perestroika', nlr 183, 1990, p. 44; Hilary Pilkington, ‘Whose Space is it Anyway? Youth, Gender and Civil Society in the Soviet Union’', in S. Rai, H. Pilkington, and A. Phizacklea (eds) Women in the Face of Change, London 1992. That is undoubtedly the case. At the same time, however, as offering a space to women, the transition to liberal capitalism offers men the opportunity of putting a greatly increased social distance between themselves and women. It is the rise in masculinism which is the primary characteristic of gender relations in Eastern Europe today. If we grasp this, I argue, we also grasp the opportunity to more fully apprehend the way in which masculinism forms the very bedrock of Western liberal democracy. For Eastern Europe makes plain that the gender order of liberal capitalism is not simply the result of historical contingency. It cannot, for example, be explained in terms of women’s lesser experience or expertise with respect to the functioning of democratic institutions or the market. Indeed, the very uniformity of the Eastern European experience indicates that the re-creation of the gender order in the transition to capitalism is in fact predicated on the rescinding of a range of rights accorded to women under state socialism.

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