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CROW: Promoting gender equality in Croatia's only bilingual women's e-zine

An interview with Nevenka Sudar
from Zagreb, Croatia

by Elke Zobl

November 2004




Spring 2003

"CROW E-ZINE is an Internet publication since 1998 and is the result of enthusiasm of its contributors. Each issue has a main topic updated every three months, while some of the sections are updated more frequently." Since the Winter/Spring 2003 issue of CROW, the e-zine is not be updated anymore but all old issues are still available on-line.

The editor-in-chief is Nevenka Sudar whith whom I conducted the following email interview.

Check out "the first and the only billingual women's quartely e-zine in Croatia est. 1998" working under the motto: "Only those who dare to be different, can make the difference!" at: http://www.crowmagazine.com!

 

Can you tell me first of all a little bit about yourself? How old are you, where are you originally from and where do you reside now?

My name is Nevenka Sudar, I am 45 years old, I was born in Zagreb, Croatia where I still live and where I have been living all my life.

In which projects are you currently involved and what's your occupation?

I work as an activist for women's human rights group B.a.B.e., Be active, Be emancipated in Zagreb. B.a.B.e. is a strategic, feminist and advocacy group located in Zagreb, Croatia, working for the affirmation and implementation of women's human rights. I have been working with B.a.B.e. for 6 years now as an office manager and web designer (www.babe.hr ; www.seeline-project.net) . I also design and maintain web pages of another women's group from Zagreb CESI - Center for Counseling of Women (www.cesi.hr) and one of their project SEZAM - www.sezam-hr.net - Sexual Counseling of Adolescents.

With a colleague of mine I wrote a book "Women and Internet: Croatian perspective" which I can send you by mail if you are interested. I organized and held workshops for Croatian women activists on the subject of the Internet as activist tool and web design; and I held several workshops and lectures on the topic of Internet, women's portrayal in regards to new technology etc. I participated in international conference in Hamburg on women on the web as the only representative from Croatia and I gave several interviews for Croatian and German media on the subject of women and new technology.

Recently I founded a new NGO Educational Children's Center "ARIS" (http://free-zg.htnet.hr/ariland) for education of children for humane and ethical treatment of animals and have already started with educational activities.

What has been the main focus of your e-zine CROW? What parts does the e-zine consist of?

CROW was the first and still is the only women's bilingual quarterly e-zine in Croatia. Each issue has had a leading topic covered by exclusive or translated articles and interviews with women from Croatia and from all over the world. While other media still focus mostly on stereotypical images and contexts in which women are promoted and thus strengthen the status quo of gender discrimination, CROW endeavors to light up the path towards gender equality, more sincere and more balanced relationships between people based on mutual respect of differences. CROW tries to prove that women are unique individuals capable of comprehending and interested in the variety of things and topics which widely surpass stereotypical views of women portrayed in the media - limited to obsession about the newest cosmetic lines and/or the best quality of baby diapers.

CROW promotes values which other media ignore and ignores values promoted by other media like: celebration of unrealistic bodily measures and perfect looks because many researches proved that promotion of these values, as the only ones important for women, contributes greatly to mirror-addiction and constant dissatisfaction and obsession of women about their bodies and looks. Women become dependant on how they are seen by others and with the reflection of their looks in somebody else's eyes which becomes the only measure of their worth as human beings.

 

CROW has tried to promote women's courage, adventurous spirit, vision, readiness to take risks, personal victories, talents, artistic expression, life decisions and all sorts of things women do every day faced with suspicions, questions and physical limitations of their own and of other people's. CROW celebrates ordinary women who have become extraordinary the moment they took control and responsibility for their own lives.

CROW has published on-line more than 1000 web pages in Croatian and English of different content. Every issue had one main topic covered by exclusive articles. Themes covered have been: Women & Media, Women Traveling Alone, Violence Against Women, Women in War Zone, Women Who Can, Know How and Want To; Women and Politics, Women and Internet, Unsung Heroines, Motherhood Myth, Beauty Which Hurts, Women with Disabilities, Fat and Invisible, Feminism as Curse, Wrapped in Death. Other regular columns have been: Monthly News, Women on Film, Croatian Women's Lexicon, Against Stereotypes, Readers' Stories, Press-clipping etc.


For how long did you run your e-zine? Have you been the only editor or was there a team?

I've been running my e-zine since 1997. I've been the only editor and web designer of CROW which is my "brain child". I've written 90% and translated 100% of all the articles and texts published in CROW. The rest of the articles were written by various contributors from Australia, India, Germany, USA and Croatia.

In our society feminism has a strong pejorative meaning. Many highly educated women who have achieved a lot in various fields of activities, many emancipated women whose every day life proves their opposition to the traditionally imposed role for women, many women who fiercely defend and promote women's human rights, when asked about their views say: "I am NOT a feminist, but...." But after this "but" they express values which feminism has been promoting for over a century. Why is feminism still a curse? We also introduced a Croatian Women's Lexicon, and included an exclusive interview with Dicky Dolma and more. Summer 2002

What made you decide to start this project (and to do it bilingual)? How did you come up with the idea and the name?

I started CROW because I was dissatisfied with the way women were portrayed in the media. For more than 2 years I had been writing articles for women's monthly "Working Woman" in Croatia and I hated the fact that the editor could shorten or dismiss my articles at will. I wanted to share my views with others, hoping that there were other women and men who were as dissatisfied with such a situation in the media and the status of women in society as I was. Since all the so called women's magazines were and are still alike: recipes, astrology, how to satisfy your men, how to spend all your energy and time trying to make your BODY perfect, gossip about celebrities etc. - I wanted to create a space in which I could show that women who were interested in intellectual challenges, in physical challenges, women who had done extraordinary things and were true role models existed - but no media were interested in covering their stories because they undermined the stereotypical opinion about women that the media and patriarchal societies wanted and still want to maintain.

I decided to do it as bilingual zine because I wanted to reach larger audience, I wanted to show to women who were not living in Croatia that there were women IN Croatia who did some wonderful things and deserved to be heard, seen and promoted. I also wanted to share with women from Croatia information about women from the world that were not promoted in other media. Since I graduated English from the University I wanted to employ all my skills and knowledge for the purpose of sharing information.

Why CROW?

CROW is short for CROatian Women. But also it does employ the imagery of a bird "crow". Why? I'll answer with a quote from Denis Lin's book "The Secret Language of Signs" which I used on the brochure to explain the name: "In many ancient cultures crow is considered to be a symbol of power. They believed that crow embodies the power to connect the past, the present and the future. It symbolizes the change, a step out from the common comprehension of reality and the warning for coming changes - abandonment of the old reality and acceptance of new views about oneself and the world around us." I think that this quote describes exactly what I wanted CROW to be in terms of changing common comprehension of reality in which women live today and warn about coming changes.

What did you hope to accomplish by producing and putting the zine online?

Being a person who could not find her place in stereotypical role the society pushed me in and expected me to behave accordingly, I thought that there had to be other women who felt the same, women who were as dissatisfied with brain-dead topics the media prepared for them, and who needed topics that interested them. I wanted to offer them free space where they could meet, read about topics that I found interesting and contribute with their own ideas. I did not have money to start a hard copy magazine, as many others don't, so I saw the Internet as the ideal (inexpensive) place where we could share our thoughts and ideas and find topics that interested us.

How was the response to your e-zine? Can you estimate who (and where) your main readers were?

I received numerous e-mails from all over the world from women who were so happy that somebody spoke in their name, about their concerns, worries and interests. The response has been beyond my wildest dreams :o) According to the tracker on my web site, CROW was read in almost every country of the world, from Fiji to India, from China to New Zealand. It was read in all the countries of ex-Yugoslavia and the wider South-Eastern European region. Many women wrote to me asking me for a hard-copy and were very sad when I told them that CROW existed only in electronic form. They wanted and needed a magazine which was different from cloned "women's magazines", which covered the topics CROW did and in the way it did. So it is a lie when media persuade us that women's magazines exist in the present form because it is what women need.


While the press headlines focuses on how our contestant for the Miss of the World paegant has "incredible problems" with her "disobedient" hair and while teenage magazines have still been preoccupied only with issues like: "12 signals that tell you if he is in love with you", "Would you throw yourself into the fire for him?", "Become a princess and find your prince", women without legs, girls without arms and legs, disabled women from all over the world achieve results which put to shame all of those who are healthy but consider themselves unhappy and their life unfair because: HE didn't return their call, because they can't find the right nuance of lipstick that would match the buckle on their shoes or because they discovered a miniature pimple on their forehead. Put into perspective your problems ! Read about extraordinary girls and women who have not allowed their disability to prevent them from fulfilling their dreams and becoming true role models for all of us. Fall 2001

What do (or/and did) you love and find challenging about e-zine making?

When I started my e-zine it was a big challenge for me - first to master all the skills necessary to design and maintain an e-zine, then to find the topics that would be relevant to women's lives and interesting enough to find the audience. I wasn't sure how many women shared my views and interests and it was exciting to find out that the number was so big. What made me even happier was the fact that many men wrote to me and gave me support which was the proof for me that what I wrote in CROW applied equally to men's and women's lives and that I was on the right track. Although CROW was meant to be an alternative to the existing woman's magazines, I did not want to exclude men. The idea was to show that emancipated women who take control of their lives and the responsibility, are attractive to men, not turn-offs as the majority of women's magazines want us to believe. Although at first, when I started CROW, I just wanted a space where I could express myself and my opinions and write about things that interested me - I realized that I was not alone. And that made me happy beyond words. It is very important to know that there are others sharing your views and needing the same things.At first I enjoyed it immensely, doing it all alone, having no boss to nag about this or that or ordering me what I can say or not. But after years of doing it all by myself and spending thousands of hours in front of computer, I became too tired to keep up with my own pace. I was willing to turn over responsibilities and work to others but there was no one who was interested to do it for free - without being paid - as I was. I can't say I blame them and in a way I feel proud of myself that I was a person who designed, wrote and translated thousands of pages with only one purpose in mind - to share everything I knew with others without being compensated for it. It is very rare in today's world.

Creating zines is a laborious process and many of us have run out of breath. Can you give us a reason (or several?) why you decided to stop updating CROW?

You are right, I've run out of breath. For 6 years in a row I have been the only person doing everything. Nobody ever believed me it was so. Everybody, everywhere thought I had a team because they thought it was IMPOSSIBLE that all those things were done by one woman and for free. I was proud of myself, being a person doing something "impossible", but now I am fed up with such a responsibility. I've covered most of the topics I was interested in - of course there are more to be covered - and I don't have the same enthusiasm I had at the beginning. I've been working in B.a.B.e., women's human rights group for six years now and have come into contact with various women and being so close changed my views a bit - given me much wider perspective on things. Not that I don't believe in gender equality anymore, but my passion ran out for this topic and I've become involved with another passion in my life (which was always present but not in an organized manner as now) and I want to dedicate my time to that cause - animals welfare. I founded an Educational Children's Center and I am very active in it, so I don't have spare time and energy to work on CROW anymore. And I don't think it would be fair towards readers and subscribers to do it irresponsibly and without previous passion.

 

What was your first exposure to zines? How did you find out about them?

I surfed the Net and checked various e-zines and their topics. Something like CROW did not exist in Croatia and I wanted to fill in that hole.

What are some of the zines you read and admire?

I like electronic issues of hard copy magazines like Ms., Off our Backs, On the Issues, The F Word. Today there are many good e-zines and I really support them and share their views. I am sorry that with the termination of CROW Croatia will not have such an e-zine anymore.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start an e-zine?

Write from your heart and your soul and you'll find the audience, you'll empower yourself and gain recognition, you'll empower others and maybe contribute to the change in awareness about important issues. Learn new skills of web design - they are fun and rewarding.

Do you (or did you) feel part of a (grrrl or general) zine community or network and what does (or did) it mean to you?

I did feel a part of a grrrl zine community. Over the years I established communication with many other editors-in-chief of zines. It is great to know that there is a larger community of those who share your ideas and views and are willing to do something about it.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMENViolence against women is one of the biggest problems of violence in the contemporary world. One that knows no borders, but is treated differently within a judicial system of various countries. We explored the causes, reasons and consequences with a lot of useful links which deal with this problem world-wide. Translations of true-stories told by women victims of violence. The site is available only in Croatian, because we felt that there is not enough material on this subject in our mother tongue as compared to the material available in English. All the same we thank to all of those who granted us permission to use some of their stuff and translate it for our autumn issue. It is important to talk about this as much as possible! AUTUMN 1998.

I am very interested in international grrrl zines. Could you please describe a little bit the grrrl zine community or network in Croatia, or in Europe? Are there others and who are some of the most active participants? Do you think that there is a separate grrrl zine community/network from the larger zine community?

I don't think that a grrrl zine community exists in Croatia. There are zines created and maintained by lesbian community (all links you can find on www.babe.hr), there are newsletters created and maintained by various women's groups in the region, but there is no such thing as CROW zine, neither in topics, nor in the targeted audience. Many women's groups have their bulletins, newsletters even magazines but they target a very narrow group of women (feminists, activists) - and I don't think anything can be changed for the better if we do not target so called "ordinary" women. I don't think that grrrl zine community is separate from the larger zine community. Zines on any topic are written by people, individuals or teams, who share the same interests, goals and objectives. Of course, the creators of a zine can have an approach which is a form of statement - look we are something else and we want to be something else, something different than the rest of you - which is ok if it is done consciously. But, without this conscious decision I don't think that grrrls zines are viewed as something separate from larger zine community. I think that on the Internet there is far more democracy than in real life.

 



UNSUNG HEROINES: Do you really need to climb the highest mountain, discover the cure for cancer or paint the masterpiece to be considered a heroine? We think that unknown women overcoming everyday obstacles in their lives, fighting with adversities and surviving tragedies with optimism and faith in life are as much heroines as those whose names are known to many. In this issue you will find true stories about unsung heroines from our neighborhood that will move your mind and soul. Furthermore, we ask you who are your role models in life, we show you that girls can do anything they set their mind to, we write about advantages of traveling solo, we uncover reality of women and unemployment, we criticize women whiners, we analyze men's and women's contraception, we introduce you with women in philosophy and give you useful and interesting links. Many readers tested themselves on differences between gender and sex. Come and see for yourself. SUMMER / FALL 2000
What were some of main influences that have empowered you in your life?

First of all, one cannot be empowered if one doesn't want to be or need to be. Many women ask for help but are unwilling to do anything themselves to make a change. They think and want somebody else to do the job and they would somehow miraculously feel the change in their lives. It does not happen that way. One must have true desire to make things work and then try various things that will bring about the change. Not all of the things one does will bring the change, but some will. We should not be afraid to make mistakes. I wasn't. Every time I took the risk, I gained something. I became empowered through my own doings, something that nobody else could have given me without my active engagement. Empowerment comes through action, not thinking, reading, not by being passive. You can know theoretically many things, but your life can still be a mess if you don't take action. The moment I started doing things on my own, doors began to open for me that would have never been opened otherwise. And you have to open them yourself. And of course, be aware that whatever you find behind them you will have to deal with. Nobody else can walk in my shoes and that is the beauty and the challenge of living an active life.

 

Which role does play the Internet for you?

I adore the Internet. It is my source of information, it is the means to find friends and be found, it is the place where I can express and share my ideas. I've been on the Internet since it came to Croatia and I intend to be on the Internet in the future. It enabled me to publish my own e-zine, to find great friends, to participate in international conferences, to publish my poetry in international anthologies, to communicate daily and distribute information etc - and when I think about it - none of these things would have been possible without the Internet.

Do you define yourself as a feminist? What are the most pressing issues you are confronted with in daily life (as a woman/feminist/…)?

I do not define myself as a feminist because feminism has many various forms and I do not support radical feminists' ideas. I do not think that defining myself as a feminist would cover everything I am. I fully support gender equality - but some of my views on this issue as well differ from some of feminists' views. I don't think that labeling one's identity with just one label is correct. I am also an animal rights supporter, I adore quantum physics theory, I am a pantheist, I am a book worm, an ecologist, a vegetarian, I respect many other theories and practices that have nothing to do with feminism. Therefore, by defining myself as only a feminist would not do justice to the complexity of a person I am. I hate labels, because by putting labels on person's views you are on the way of making stereotypes. And I hate stereotypes. To avoid them, I avoid also defining myself as this or that. The only definition I would sign is the fact: I am a human being.

What do you think about feminism today? Do you see yourself as part of "Third Wave Feminism" and if yes, what does it mean to you? Or, why not?

I cherish my individualism and if some of my ideas match ideas of a certain movement fine, but I do not want to be judged, or have my ideas judged by everything that is perceived as belonging to a certain movement. There are people who existed before feminism was born and promoted and defended the idea of equality of people or sexes. I don't want to make apologies for everything that a certain movement supports even when I disagree with it. As I said, even feminism, especially radical feminism is something I have nothing in common with and I think it is a also something to be criticized as any other theory or practice. Even in feminism that is not radical there are certain ideas that I do not support and that I see differently. For example the issue of violence against women. I think that every person is responsible for his or her own life choices and consequences of those choices. And feminism today is looking kindly on women victims of violence in a sense that it does not require from women to take a stand and be responsible for their life choices but tends to blame everything on men. I've been criticized so many times from my feminist colleagues because I think that an educated woman, financially independent is not a victim of violence apart from her own readiness to be one. I do not believe in helping anyone who does not want to be helped. I think that the only victims are the helpless ones like children and animals who cannot defend themselves and who cannot be blamed for anything they do or is done to them. But if an adult woman allows anybody to harm her and doesn't want to do anything about it, then she is the one who cannot be helped. And I don't think it is anybody's responsibility to help her. I am not talking here about women in Africa, about genital mutilation victims, about trafficking victims etc., I am talking about women victims of domestic violence, or in relationships. Many of these women at least in Croatia, are educated and cannot be absolved of their responsibility to think with their own heads and make changes in their lives. I think that we can only help those women who are ready to stop the violence and I would do anything to help them, but I wouldn't bother with those who insist on staying in an abusive relationship. I know all pros and cons on how they are victims of society but in that sense we can also absolve abusers from their responsibility because they are also victims of society. It is a complex issue.

Do you consider feminist zines as an important part of a social movement? Do you think feminist zines, resource sites, and projects can effect meaningful social and political change at large - or do they have significance mainly in individual lives?

I think that feminist zines are necessary in order to provide a different approach to things, a different view, an alternative. Alternatives are very important. In that sense feminist or any other zine has an important role in social movement. However, I don't think that they can effect meaningful social and political change at large. Of course that their existence and other movement's activities will bring about positive changes but on a smaller scale and will have bigger significance in individual lives which we can not disregard as unimportant. Even if you contribute to the change of one person it is better than nothing, but it is not a change at large which is desirable.

 

What would a utopian grrrl-friendly, feminist society look like in your view? How do you think society might be re-thought and transformed to come closer to an "ideal" world for women, grrrls and queer folks? Do you have any suggestions for the development of feminist and women/grrrl/queer-friendly policies?

I dislike thinking in the form of utopia. I prefer to think that a just society is possible and desirable. And such a society is not a society in which one gender, one religion, one party, one anything sets rules for everybody. Laws should protect everybody equally. And punish everybody equally. We must have laws in order to function as a society, but we all must be equal according to those laws regardless of our nationality, race, gender, age, looks, religion, beliefs etc. Freedom of action does have limits, freedom of thinking doesn't. Personal choices in life should never endanger personal choices of others. Everybody should be allowed to choose for himself or herself anything as long as such choices does not limit other people's. We can all believe whatever we want until our believes become actions that harm anybody (humans and animals alike). Men and women, queer folks, transgender folks, anybody really, should have the same rights to pursue their own goals and happiness as long as those goals do not harm those who have different goals. Nobody is to be discriminated against in any sense on the base of his/her beliefs. It doesn't mean that all of the activities can or should be allowed, no matter how much we desire them, because activities do limit other people's freedom. For example, I equally raise my voice against public display of affection between heterosexuals as between homosexuals. I think that their public display of affections , which is often very distasteful and in contrary with civilized behavior in public, limits my freedom to walk the streets or ride a public transport without being harassed by their kisses, or even more explicit sexual expressions of affection. That is what I mean by saying that we must have the same rights, but all of us, must be responsible in how we are going to use them when it comes to action, not just thinking.



MOTHERHOOD MYTH
: According to the widespread social stereotype, maternal instinct carries metaphysical connotations and symbolic quality which are never associated with men. Motherhood is believed to be a mysterious, primal, almost divine, emotional power which evokes respect, worshipping. This respect is, however, rarely shown to mothers in their everyday surroundings of trivial but multiple problems, doubts, mistakes, ups and downs of bringing up a child or children. The respect is directed towards the abstract notion of motherhood, almost a religious ecstasy in contemplating this miracle of life usually connected with an innocent, virginal and asexual Madonna, Mother of Christ. Considering the maternal instinct as intrinsically female, discriminates against men who are as capable of loving, sacrificing, caring for the children or others as (some) women. How can we ask from men to be equally good parents if we deny them the qualities of good parenting ?! WINTER/ SPRING 2001

My only suggestion for the development of feminist movement would be that it should reach out more towards women and men in general and be less elitist in their approach, meaning that feminists and women's activists in the majority of cases become self-oriented and self-indulgent, they deal with their internal problems, issues, networking etc. and in such a process lose from sight the main problem - raising awareness of "common folks". Without significant change in women's approach, not men's, feminism will never succeed in their goals. What is use of having the right to vote if women vote for the same idiots as men would if women had not had the right to vote (or maybe even contribute with their votes for the election of those people men would not have elected); what is the use of having more women in politics if their politics does not differ a bit from men's; what is the use of having the right to abortion if girls and women remain uneducated in their right to say NO to sexual intercourses without protection; what is the use of having the right to education if women who graduate rather stay at home to raise kids and cook meals for their husbands; what is the use of having thousands of choices if all the movies, music, TV series and soap operas are doing their best and most to convince women (and succeed) that marriage and children are the only ambition a woman should have and will be praised for....etc.etc.etc.

What are some of your personal wishes/visions/ideas/plans for the future, if you like to share them?

As I said, I have changed the focus of my interest and future activities. I am focusing on education of children, because I believe that education is the only way to change things and it should start as early as possible. I will be doing my best to teach children to behave humanely and responsibly, non-violently and tolerantly, I will try to give them the sense of self-worth that is lacking in today's educational programs. I will try to show them that they can contribute to changes if they DO something about it. In the long run these children will grow up to be responsible, non-violent and tolerant adults. It is the only way and the only change that can be brought about tomorrow. At least that is my belief.

Thanks for the interview!

 

 



LJETO 1999

All images are from the CROW web site.

 

CONTACT:

nevenka.sudar [AT] zg.htnet.hr

http://www.crowmagazine.com

The book Women and Internet: croatian perspective is written and published in Croatian and English and comprises of articles on: Regional and National Context, Croatian statistics (how many women and in which manner use the Internet), Women-Owned Websites, Women's on-line activism, Analysis of Women and Computers in the Media, Interviews with
Croatian women who are web designers and bibliography. Publisher is B.a.B.e., Be active. Be emancipated, Women's Human Rights Group from Zagreb, Croatia Year: 2004. Authors: Kristina Mihalec & Nevenka Sudar We mail it free of charge to all the interested women and libraries.

The entire CROW web site I can send on CD for a sum of 10,- USD. Anybody interested in the CD
can write me an e-mail.

 


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