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Who Is Afraid of Feminist Thought?

In Memoriam: Hana Havelková (18 September 1949–31 October 2020)

Veřa Sokolová and Libora Oates-Indruchová

Hana Havelková quickly became a leading voice of Czech feminist thought in the 1990s when she participated in the “East-West” debates about the place and usefulness of feminism in postsocialist societies. When did her journey to gender theory and research begin? She tells us about those beginnings:

I did not start to take an interest in the question of the position of women in our republic at my own initiative. I had to be asked to do so, and even then, around 1990, I thought, like many others did, that there is not much to say about the topic of men and women, that there are not many problems in this area. I quickly learned how very wrong I was. I realised with a shock that the communist authorities had managed to erase from public attention and discussion even such elementary human questions as the relations between the sexes and the transformations of men’s and women’s roles, including, for example, parental roles.

After the initial nudge, she wrote dozens of studies and essays, educated and mentored hundreds of students, gave innumerable speeches at conferences at home and abroad, and shaped the discussion on the “politics of gender culture” in Czech society, to borrow from the title of the book on which all three of us, together with a team of twelve other researchers, worked under Hana’s leadership.2 But what was that first impulse? Perhaps we thought we could always ask her the next time we met. Perhaps the thought has become pressing only now, when we can ask no more.