Review: Ann Snitow, Visitors. An American Feminist in East Central Europe, 2020. Polish translation in 2022

23 August 2022 - no responses

One of the most interesting books that I have read lately was Ann Snitow’s Visitors. An American Feminist in East Central Europe. Originally published in 2020 in the New Village Press, it appeared in Polish translation (by Agnieszka Grzybek) a few weeks ago. At the beginning of the 1990s, Ann Snitow (1943-2019), an American (New York) feminist teacher, writer, and activist, became involved with feminists from several Eastern European countries. The book is a very personal presentation of various stages and forms of the partnership between American and Eastern European feminists, the majority of which was conducted under the umbrella of the Network of East-West Women.

The first phase that took place during the political transformation in the region is the most fascinating. Snitow described, with emotional richness and intellectual sharpness, the clash of various visions of what feminism could be in those turbulent times. Her book, as written by a befriended outsider, helps to understand this very important moment in the history of feminism in the region.

This is a story of an American feminist who came to Eastern Europe and was significantly concerned by her position as a colonizer. By expressing these concerns, she touched upon a difficult aspect of the development of feminism in Eastern Europe in the 1990s. It profited from the help offered by American colleagues, be it financial, material, and intellectual. The numerous feminist books sent to Eastern Europe illustrate this process and also its ambiguity. The books were wanted, as they helped to feminists to become up-to-date. With American feminism. Unfortunately, the books also contributed to releasing ourselves from local emancipatory traditions and strengthening the already significant dominance of American thought. If Eastern European feminists could contribute somehow to the development of American feminism, it was by challenging its assumptions. There are very interesting moments in the book when Snitow, describing herself as socialist feminist, talks about her meetings with feminists from (post)socialist countries. Then, at the beginning of the 1990s (it would be completely different today), she encountered the total rejection of socialist ideas, the unwillingness to discuss class (as associated with communist totalitarian powers) and to critique consumerism (after a long period of dealing with a shortage of basic goods). Snitow writes about how they – American left wing feminists – were shocked and felt that in those post communist times, there was a need to rethink political meanings globally. Has this job been done and are the results of it visible in the narration of global feminism and art? I’m not sure.


In the Polish translation of the book, its title has been changed. Instead of Visitors. An American Feminist in East Central Europe we have Guides. How we were building an equal world on the ruins of communism [Przewodniczki. Jak na gruzach komunizmu budowałyśmy równy świat]. As we can read in the afterword, this change was the decision of the publisher. It may seem to be a subtle change, but it’s significant. The American title strongly underlines the uneasiness of American feminists who felt that they were not at home in Eastern Europe (Snitow called herself an enthusiastic political tourist), while in Polish version they are transformed into those who guided Eastern European feminists, although we can also think about American and Eastern European feminists guiding themselves mutually. The Polish subtitle adds additional meaning that in my opinion is not present in the book. It reflects anti-communist sentiments, strong in Poland, but seems to confuse various types of in/equalities – communist, or rather socialist states proclaimed equality (of women and men) and even if they failed in fulfilling it, the capitalist states that replaced them did not bring more equality, in any respect. It’s awkward to read about building an equal world on the ruins of communism.

By: Agata Jakubowska

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