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Visit for more related articles at Global Media Journal. By examining the rhetoric of the lyrical content of contemporary Bulgarian pop folk songs, this essay argues that Eastern European women have overthrown traditional stereotypes of femininity and asserted a new independence. The advent of democracy in the former Communist states of Europe brought both promise and hardship.
A once monolithic fate based upon ideological rigor and progressive stalemate has been replaced by a perplexing variety of threats to stability in this fragile region, with the advances of democracy frequently drowned out by the noises of intolerance, social injustice and repression. In this changing new world, the voices of women are vital to a healthy social and political discourse Hunt, With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eastern European women enthusiastically embraced the radical social and political changes that advocated equality at home and in the work place.
Even with a new open market economy, however, the position of Eastern European women did not change as expected. The difficult transition in the countries of the ex-Soviet bloc confirmed that the collapse of Communism is nothing more than an ascendance of capitalism. A free public life and civil society were but facades for the underlying realities of capitalism, and patriarchy was a necessary component of a retrogressive social formation that clearly undermined the status of women in Eastern Europe. In the s and s, American feminists viewed Eastern European and Soviet women from afar and envied their situation LaFont, Indeed, women from the former Soviet bloc enjoyed rights and privileges which Western women could only dare to imagine and enjoy, such as laws that provided three years of maternity leave, widely available state-sponsored child care, and abortion rights.
Popular music in Eastern Europe has been a common arena for constructing gender as the most accessible and most public medium of mass communication. As Simic contends, popular folk music in the Balkans presents a unique mixture of commercialized musical tradition, integrating and reflecting daily life. Popular Bulgarian folk songs contain a complex system of symbols, reflecting both traditional and contemporary culture.
These songs are popular because they reconcile the past with the present. This dynamic characteristic sharply contrasts with the so-called authentic folk songs which are frozen in form and address themselves primarily to the past Simic, These contemporary folk songs are above all dynamic; they have a short life span with new ones replacing the old, thus providing an ever-changing mirror of ongoing social realities and the sentiments underlying it. Balkan pop folk music can be compared to the American Country and Western tradition since both are a type of modern commercial folklore with origins in earlier grass root forms.
Moreover, in both forms of musical expressions, there is an appeal to nostalgia, and on the other hand, a response to the rapidly shifting concerns and exigencies of contemporary life. No doubt the role folk music plays in stirring up social movements among young women in the United States should be taken into .
Douglas contends that listening and playing folk music was one of the ways in which young people all across America felt the urgency of extending social justice on all levels throughout the country. Douglas also points out that American folk singers showed that being female and being political were not mutually exclusive. On the other hand, Ramet argued that music in Eastern Europe was not only a cultural or diversionary phenomenon; it also was a political phenomenon. Its point of contact is the imagination.
And while both folk and popular music can be used to express political and social messages, they can also be used as a force to build and sustain cultural identity. In fact, Hudson studied the history and content of Serbian popular music to argue that the traditional song has long been embedded in Serbian cultural identity and has been inspiring Serbian nationalism since the nineteenth century. Hudson argues that in the early s, Serbian popular songs contributed to feelings of estrangement and alienation.
Hudson also points out that popular music forges cultural and national identities which explicitly legitimate the relations of power in society. Both roles are devoid of any sense of sexual identity and purified as a of national innocence. Hudson continues,. As Irvine and Kirkpatrick explain, music as a rhetorical message is powerful because it has been considered entertainment rather than a form of argumentative discourse.
Traditionally, it has been insulated from moral and cultural restraints normally associated with verbal discourse. An interesting parallel could be drawn between the thematic direction and imagery of popular songs in America during the Depression years and in Eastern Europe during the years of economic and political post-Communist transition.
The character of the gold digger, in both periods, epitomizes the survival- plus-struggle-equals-success formula. The female heroine in the song even goes a step further to ask for a holiday at an exotic location, while she promises that she will be remain faithful and loyal to her lover. She is, on the one hand, virtuous in her promised fidelity; yet she also is promiscuous and opportunistic. She transforms the whole enterprise of survival into a game—and she knows all the rules and how to use them.
In this song, the woman refuses the gift of roses for money:. Do not whisper sweet words of love in my ear. Most of all, my darling, I love the whisper of money. She is willing to exchange the symbol of love for its cash value, a materialistic motivation which nevertheless will guarantee her certain financial security and independence in a rather insecure and unstable world.
At first, she cunningly manages to refuse the roses without openly asking for a cash reward for her love. At the same time, she can also be the little girl—a return to the innocent woman of the traditional patriarchy because the mere touch of the rose can hurt her if not handled properly. Do you know my honey bunny that I cannot sleep at night.
With my levs Bulgarian currency , I think I am going to get burned. Give me foreign currency, give me real money. Only with US dollars and German marks love can be returned. The character demonstrates her willingness to offer a reward for her material acquisitions and to such extent, her activity could be interpreted as an act of prostitution, where physical pleasure is offered in exchange for money.
In this example, the heroine is the active, controlling figure, while her lover assumes the passive, receiving end of the relationship. In an examination of popular American songs from the s, s and s, Endres discovered that in the majority of songs studied, women seldom initiated the action. They were normally characterized as passive figures—important to the plot of the song but seldom active.
Similarly, Wood contends that women are usually defined by their bodies and how men perceive them. In the Bulgarian pop folk song, however, the heroine is the active and the aggressive partner in the relationship. She promises to give her lover kisses, but she orders him to behave like an adult and to refrain from begging for affection. In the traditional Serbian folk songs, the male is seen in terms of strength, blustering pride, truculence and the ability to drink heavily:.
I like to lead the horo dance! Girls want to dance by me, They all love handsome me, And blush from my glance. Pretty young maiden, Do not cross my path, Do not get yourself in trouble! In the traditional Serbian folk song, the woman is very passive and submissive, acting as though she has been rejected or alienated. Sometimes, she appears as a martyr:. Farewell, my dear, I can love you no more. I have spent too many lonely nights waiting Long nights while you were off with others.
Know, how much I have cried and suffered! The female heroine in Bulgarian folk songs appears mostly as the archetype of the prostitute. Through her body, she relieves men of their sins of sexual desire. In this sense, perhaps the post-Cold War boom in pornography and prostitution could be interpreted as liberation from the de-sexualization of life under state socialism. In fact, Deltcheva pointed out that the notion of the liberalization of a society was measured by the degree of pornographic literature it allowed to be freely distributed.
Lissjutkina went as far as characterizing the prostitute as a pioneer of the market economy, an independent entrepreneur, bravely breaking taboos. This somewhat unorthodox hypothesis has the prostitute not as victim but as heroine of the transition period, symbolically knocking both the asexual transcendental mother figure of religion and literature, as well as the de-sexed worker-mother of state socialism.
While the image of the prostitute might appear to embody the neo-liberal notion of the individual in the marketplace—rebellious, unprotected, exposed to danger but liberated, it dodges the issues of relational bonds. The heroine of the song spends most of her time at night worrying about her economic survival.
She demands to be paid in foreign currency, which will guarantee her financial stability and security. Curiously, she appears knowledgeable about the financial vocabulary of foreign currency exchange and offers her love in exchange for material possessions and financial security.
I feel best with many men around me Everyone of them should spoil me Everyone of them should be crazy about me Everyone should give me gifts everyday Everyone should really want me Everyone should play a hero for me Everyone should risk his life And always be faithful to me.
Since men dictate the rules of the relationship, the heroine in this song illustrates that women should not be excluded from the right to be in control of a love relationship, and thus, the values implied in this song clash with the stereotypical expectations of traditional Orthodox patriarchy. In a similar search for asserting her identity, the pop folk singer Kati describes herself as a butterfly, a fragile and beautiful creature which has come to life through a notable metamorphosis and has embraced a new beginning.
Perhaps this metaphor indicates the transformation of Bulgarian woman from the suffering, shapeless and asexual image of the Soviet woman into the colorful, liberated and adventurous image of the new Bulgarian female:. I am a free butterfly, and I fly around from bloom to bloom, like a little sundry wonder in this gray and arduous life. Quite to the contrary, she seems to be in control of the men in her life. The heroine clearly rejects the submissive and dormant docility of her ascribed female role.
Instead, she is the dominant figure in the relationship, charting and deciding the rules of the courtship game. She is not embarrassed by her sexuality, but rather, empowered by it. She has chosen to manipulate her admirer and entangle him in the extensive webs of her game.
You keep running after me, breathless, but when I test how much you love me, I myself am going to land on your shoulder. I am going to let you catch me And I will sin with you. By initiating the seduction ritual, the protagonist in the song not only repudiates the traditional pattern of courtship allowed in the highly patriarchal Eastern European societies but also assumes what has been customarily considered male territory—the right to make advances towards partnership in an amorous relationship and the right to direct and dominate the course of events.
The female protagonist in the song refutes yet another stereotype associated with the traditional image of the Eastern European woman. Often, as various studies have indicated, the ultimate fulfillment of the female character was only possible in family life.
She writes:. Here is a society that has proclaimed as its goal the extrication of women from the narrow confines of the family and the inclusion of these women in all forms of public activity. And it would appear that this society had achieved its goal—Soviet women work at the most varied jobs, and many of them are well educated, have a profession, and are financially independent of men.
The family, as the cure for all social ills is being prescribed once again, as often it is recorded by Eastern European traditional values Einhorn, The family was seen as a placebo for the pain of material insecurity and psychic trauma in the periods of social upheaval. Nevertheless, the heroine in the song rejects this opportunity:. She openly admits her character flaws but at the same time, she insists on protecting her independence and sustaining control of her own life.
Rather, her chief concern is leading a complete and independent life as person:. Here is a new woman, aware of her imperfections and weaknesses, but in control of her life, determined to succeed on the basis of her merits as a human being, even if it means using her sexual power to define herself without the necessity of the patriarchal or the Communist frameworks of gender values. Women in Eastern Europe might have survived Communism, but the difficulty of constructing a new social order where the language and rules of gender relations must change still lies ahead.
Unfortunately, what Communism and traditional patriarchy have managed to instill in the consciousness of women is a sense of immobility and an absence of future.Eastern european women
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Eastern Europe: Women Already Leading, Ready for More