‘I call myself a writer and not a writer because it matters that I am a woman’

Susanna JanssenFigure Frank Rider

Ballet dancer or bestselling author?

‘Ballet dancer! Due to an injury, I had to stop in the first year at the ballet academy. Dancing, expressing yourself with your body, is something so important to me. If you’re physically inclined and you can’t do anything about it, it’s a loss. You write with your head. It is valuable, but I never wanted to be a writer’.

A pauper’s paradise or The revolution?

‘The Revolution, my latest book. Although the story of Pauper’s Paradise, about how we have dealt with poverty over the past 200 years, is still as relevant today. Ultimately, both books are about inequality. That people are treated unequally and have unequal opportunities on the basis of circumstances over which they have no influence whatsoever’.

Poverty is hereditary or a penny can become a quarter?

“A hundred years ago, a shilling didn’t turn into a quarter at all. Thanks to the Mammoth Youth Education Act of the late 1960s and increased prosperity, much has changed. Now shillings can turn into 15 øre, but certainly not always. In the Netherlands, we still believe that everyone has equal opportunities, but this is absolutely not the case. So: poverty unfortunately remains hereditary.’

Sewing machine or typewriter?

‘The typewriter, because it has had a liberating effect on women. The typewriter and the telephone switchboard were the entrance for women into offices. At the same time they enslaved women because they stuck there.

‘You can also say: the sewing machine, because women have long had to make all the clothes for the family by hand.’

The pencil or the pill?

‘I don’t want to choose between them. Without as much political influence as men, women were still forgotten. We had to fight for suffrage for 40 years. When women were finally able to vote in 1922, it took more than thirty years for the first minor legislative changes to benefit women. Only this year there are as many women in the government as men. This still does not apply to parliament, and we have never had a female prime minister.

‘The pill is of course just as crucial. Because women gained more control over carrying and giving birth to children, they gained more control over their lives and bodies.’

The mother mavo or the washing machine?

“The laundry, by hand, for the whole family, every week, was insanely time-consuming. It has been calculated that everything to do with cleaning, cooking and washing took forty hours a week back then. And then, as a woman, you weren’t ready yet. Still, I choose mother mavo. Because only when you can think about the world you live in, the position you have, you can see how you want it to be different’.

Legal incapacity or marital obligation?

“How evil, both are very bad. Women became legally unfit from the moment they were married. This was by law from 1838 to 1957. Grown women who were declared impotent overnight lost their jobs, belonged actually their husbands. If a woman wanted to leave her husband, she had no protection under the law. This is extremely disturbing.

Marital rape was only made a criminal offense in 1991. Until then, even among Catholics, the woman committed a sin if she refused her husband. Because she herself sent him down the path of unchastity. With that, you put all the blame on women if they want to be in charge of their own bodies. Why do you think it’s ingrained in women to think: it must have been me?’

Last spasms or battle still far from over?

‘Women have a completely different position than a hundred years ago, but we are still a long way from there. The patterns of inequality run deep: There is still an unequal distribution of household work, the pay gap this year is 12.3 percent.

‘When you see how much time and struggle it has taken to get normal human rights for women. It emphasizes to me that these rights are by no means firmly established. We can lose them. I see with great concern the strong rise of populism in the Netherlands and worldwide. Abortion law has been reversed in the United States. Turkey, Poland and Hungary have withdrawn from the treaty to protect women from domestic violence. We also have to be careful in the Netherlands. Abortion is still in the criminal code. All this has been a very important reason for me to write this book.’

Susanna Jansen: The Revolution or Age of Women.

Ambo Anthos; 272p; €22.99.

writer or writer?

‘Author. Because it means something that I am a woman. More than 15 years ago, I called myself a writer, which was a form of liberation at the time. While writing this book, I realized that this is a misconception. Because why does an ‘author’ count more than a ‘author’? When you come across a masculine word, you first think of a man. Where are the women then?’

First, second or third wave?

‘Feminism. I find it shocking that this is about waves and not progressive insight. Tradition always pulls you back. It is in all of us. When I look at how much effort it took my mother to release, compared to the spontaneity with which my sister, at the age of 19, rode the second wave.

‘Women are so insecure they can’t negotiate why they work part-time – we’re incredibly prone to blaming individual women for social problems.’

62-hour work week or part-time princesses?

‘The 62 hours comes from a study from 1955 of the number of hours a housewife spent on her work in the house. This does not include mothers of children under the age of 2, because then the hours would be too long. I would like to choose part-time work and a reasonable distribution of household tasks. And then without those scandalous and contemptuous ‘little princesses’. But I fear that women who work part-time also reach the 62 hours, with household tasks and childcare.’

null Picture Frank Ruiter

Figure Frank Rider

Rest home Sonnehaert or Company Wyers?

Wyers Company. Thanks to the mulo, my mother was able to work in an office. It was modern, glamorous. Until she got married and got fired. She spent her life talking nostalgically about those years, the only time she had a social life.

‘My grandmother’s generation had to work outside the house in addition to looking after all the children, which was a very hard life. Due to increased prosperity, my mother’s generation had to ‘only’ focus on household and children. In 1963, my mother spent several months in a nursing home for women with a mysterious disease that more and more women were struggling with: Housewife Fatigue. In that rest home she was not allowed to talk about her complaints, she was only allowed to rest. And after eight weeks she was forced back into the life that had made her sick.

‘Women led dull lives, they had to get satisfaction from the household and the children – regardless of their interests or talents. Afterwards, of course, my mother was depressed. The largely male medical profession was clueless. Women’s problems were not taken seriously’.

Hymen, macaroni or women’s social status?

‘The social position of women, of course! It comes from the modern WP for women, which appeared in 1968. The ‘regular’ Winkler Prins encyclopedia consisted of twenty volumes, this special edition for women had 512 pages. Between the entries ‘hymen’ and ‘macaroni’ I found ‘social position of women’. Figures were given for women who worked outside the home. In Belgium, 70 percent of children had leftovers for lunch, here you barely had that phenomenon. I think the editor-in-chief would like to think about that. And then back to the macaroni.’

The shame is over by Anja Meulenbelt et al A room to yourself by Virginia Woolf?

‘I don’t want to choose between them. Virginia Woolf wrote in 1929 that a woman could do the same as a man in every respect. As long as she has three things at her disposal: a space for herself, a space where she can formulate her own thoughts independent of the mores society imposes on her, her own money so that she is neither dependent on a man nor has to be consumed of anger towards men who make her dependent. And a story: If you are only presented with men’s lives, the mirror to reflect on yourself is missing.

‘Anja Meulenbelt wrote an extremely personal story in 1976 about accidentally getting pregnant at 16 and ending up in an abusive marriage. In the second wave of feminism, women discovered that their personal problems were social problems, that the personal were political.’

Susanna Jansen

1964 Born in Amsterdam

1988-1992 student communication at the University of Utrecht

1995 – 2001 Lives in Moscow, works for Independent Media and as a correspondent for De Morgen, NRC, VPRO, HP/deTijd and to the side.

2008 Pauper’s Paradise: A Family Story

2008 – 2011 Theater training at De Trap Theater School

2016 participates in a theater performance about Pauper’s Paradise from Tom de Ket

2017 Despite gravity

2019 Wael, the story of a boy from Syria

2022 The Revolution or the Age of Women

Suzanna lives in Amsterdam and has a 20-year-old daughter.

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