(or: We, our invisible women writers)
Fifteen years ago, I entered the graduate studies in literature at “Blaže Koneski” Faculty of Philology as, I assume, many people around me: without an idea to which island in the endless sea of literature (and all criticism and theory related to it) I wanted to go, and of course, without a compass to help me find this island. I carried an unclear fascination with the American lost generation from my regular studies: Hemingway and Fitzgerald were my heroes then. “So much has been written on the lost generation, take something else” said my mentor. So, completely unaware, as a spare option I decided to write about the American women prose writers, positive that almost nothing had been written on them, at least not here.
However, just as I thought that I had found the real topic, in the spirit of comparative studies that silently overwhelmed our graduate literature studies, I was suggested that I should compare the American women writers to ours. Thus, for the first time at the age of twenty-three, I, the English graduate, started to wrote the Macedonian women prose writers, those who were unknown to me until then. The reading looked more like a search, for the women prose writers were but a few, and those who said something about them were even fewer. After seven years of searching, writing and rewriting, enjoying in good books and being frustrated by bad ones, I found myself sitting at my master thesis defense in front of a committee made of thee women, while two more were sitting in the audience – Jadranka Vladova and Gordana Mihailova Bošnakoska, the Macedonian women prose writers whom I had chosen for the comparison with the American ones. It was only few years ago, after the filter of time that had passed since then, Deridian-like, that I understood the meaning of this act – without an intention of an awareness of my acts and deeds, back in year 2000 I actually joined the Macedonian pink ghetto.
Pink ghetto is a term that was initially used to describe the (limited) space of living and acting of women – the bedroom and kitchen, for example, are typical rooms of the pink ghetto. In this narrow space, separated from the living room (that is, from the space of collective living and interaction in the home), women could manage, dominate and set themselves the conditions of functioning of the everyday life. Later, the term pink ghetto started departing from the borders of home and in the economy and development theories of the 80es of the XX century it started being also used for the part of the economic production related to the so-called women professions. Thus, teachers and nurses became the new symbols of the pink ghetto. In the area of (to call it like that) intellectual creation – in arts and sciences, pink ghetto first of all (at least the way I understand it) concerns women who create in these areas, outside the traditional pink professions.
As I read more and more on women and by women, entering a bit the theoretical matrices of literature, some questions started imposing themselves. The feminist movements in their struggle for equal gender rights, have do doubt contributed that women find their place in the area of intellectual creativity as well. However, (just as in the Macedonian case), the big question is – has feminism fought for an equal place of women creators in the “grand” thought of humanity, or has it only created a new pink ghetto. In other words, are the women equal cohabitants of the living rooms of creation, or have they remained closed in their kitchens, mixing feminist spices in their usual casseroles?
In her well-known essay A Room of One’s Own (1928), Virginia Woolf says that “a woman must have money and a room of her own is she is to write fiction” and adds that “intellectual freedom depends on material things”. In this text, which has the obligatory place of a primer in feminist theories, she defines the basic reason for the centuries-long absence of women from literature, or more specifically, from prose – the economic inequality of men and women. But only seemingly, I would say, because a bit further in the same essay, Virginia Woolf says that “the shelves which hold the books by the living;… there are almost as many books written by women now as there are by men.” In other words, at the time this essay was written, and even more now, the legal and factual equality of women and men (at least in the western and pro-western world in which we live) has almost completely erased the economic limitations of women’s creativity. So here I am, just as all of my contemporaries, sitting in my room, using all technical accessories that make my work easier, writing this text. The economic rights gave us all a new freedom compared to the one of several centuries ago – however, Virginia Woolf clearly stared that “this freedom is just the beginning – the room is your own, but it is still empty…”
When I tried for the first time to find the women writers in the Macedonian prose and the ways in which they have used their rooms, in the oldest anthology of Macedonian short stories (Македонски раскази, 1972) that I had, I only found one woman (Olivera Nikolova). In Антологија на македонскиот постмодернистички расказ (1990), there was again only one woman (Jadranka Vladova). However, in Тајна одаја: антологија на македонскиот расказ на XX век (2000), there were as many as six women writers! Although on one hand (seen chronologically), it seemed that in these thirty years from the first to the last anthology that I mentioned the women started writing, there is another side to the story. The latter anthology is the only one of the three for which the selection was made by a woman (Katica Kulafkova). So, the above asked question on pink ghetto remains open. This is especially if I remember that Elizabeta Šeleva wrote about Kica Kolbe and Lidija Dimkovska as prose writers, that only one Macedonian novel that I found written by a women had an afterward, also written by a women (Заклученото тело на Лу), that Olivera Kjorveziroska wrote about Olivera Nikolova, and I myself wrote about Jadranka Vladova and Gordana Mihailova Bošnakoska. So, it seems that we have been happily living in our Macedonian pink ghetto for some time now, and it seems that very few of our male contemporaries actually became interested in it. Following on what Virginia Woolfs said, I can tell you that if you enter any bookstore today, unlike the time when I started to read the Macedonian women writers, you will find as many books written by women as by men. Women are present, they keep on writing from their rooms. However, although at the shelves they stand shoulder by shoulder with their male colleagues, it seems that they are less visible than them.