70 years old | Kaarina Kailo, a professor of women’s studies, wants to promote a gift economy in which power is concentrated on men’s and women’s councils: “It is not socialism, but a much more complex system”

Kaarina Kailo, a researcher in literature and culture, was influenced by the Canadian years with Native Americans.

“Yes it raised eyebrows when I brought with me new topics, such as natural religions and ecofeminism, ”commented the University of Oulu’s first professor of women’s studies since 1999. Kaarina Kailo the early years of women’s studies in Oulu.

“There was quite a lot of opposition. I came across opinions that women’s studies cannot be a field of scientific research, but only a subjective ideology. ”

Kailo’s interest in the industry got its start from a rather unlikely party in the early 1970s.

He studied French at the University of Helsinki, taught by a French Catholic priest Bethune. The priest also taught the course as a writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoirista.

“The course was my first acquaintance with equality issues,” Kailo says by phone from Oulu.

More than twenty years later, he was appointed assistant professor at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute of Concordia University, Canada, and acting. as a leader.

Beauvoir course as a result, Kailo’s studies changed in the 1970s from France to literature, folklore, and cultural studies. Similarly, his domicile changed, first to Switzerland, where he completed a licentiate degree in literary studies.

“In Switzerland, I came across a very patriarchal culture, which made me more and more interested in equality issues,” Kailo recalls.

In the early 1980s, after love, Kailo ended up in Geneva for eight years and then as a migrant to Canada for 17 years, first to Toronto.

“There was a whole different attitude in Canada. There was a very strong women’s movement at the University of Toronto that expressed me. ”

In Montreal, she moved to the Simone de Beauvoir Institute in 1991 to study women’s studies.

In Montreal Kailo met several representatives of the indigenous peoples of North America.

“My neighbor was a single Cree Indian woman with whom I became friends. I spent nine years with his family touring the northern Canadian reserves to meet his relatives, ”Kailo says.

In the reservations, Kailo became acquainted with matrix culture, ie the traditional matriarchal social system of the indigenous people, in which old women play an important role. In matriculture, women take care of children in a communal household and men are visiting fathers, marriage is by no means common.

Trips in the reserves created interest in a new area of ​​research.

“Through anthropology and cultural studies, I began to explore matriarchal communities where women are not in a vulnerable position according to the nuclear family, i.e., dependent on their men. Such cultures include the Mosuo people in China, the Minangkabau in Sumatra and the Khasi people in India. ”

Kailo at the same time, he was also interested in the gift economy, where society is based on solidarity and the sharing of resources. According to Kailo, many of such economic systems are matrix cultures.

Kailo has been working on the gift economy for the past 40 years, for example in the international Feminists for the Gift Economy network, touring the world.

“The gift economy is not socialism, but a much more complex arrangement. Power is centralized in women’s and men’s councils and they operate on the principle of consensus. Iroquois democracy is the first real democracy – in Athens, only young men had rights, although it is considered an initial democracy. Central to this is the annual celebrations where the property is given away so that it does not accumulate for anyone. This does not mean that there are no differences in wealth between people. ”

Kailo has considered the promotion of indigenous knowledge as part of women ‘s studies to be a key task of her career.

“Without romanticization, indigenous peoples have models of a good society for both women and men. They have a balanced relationship with nature. This is important because of both the climate crisis and the corona pandemic. ”

Kailo returned to Finland in 1999. After the freezing of the professorship in women’s studies at the University of Oulu in 2004, she was a senior researcher at the Academy of Finland until 2007. Today, she is a non-fiction writer and an avid IT artist. He has written hundreds of articles and several books.

The Canadian years and trips to the reservations introduced Kailo to the tradition of Native American sweathouses. He is currently writing a book on the common roots of a sauna and a sweat house.

“I will continue the line of research where I compare Finnish culture with the culture of Native Americans. There you will find very similar practices, values ​​and ideas about the sauna as a place of mental integrity. Finns have always been a little afraid to be a natural people. There has been a desire to identify with a “civilized” Europe, ”Kailo wonders.

Kailo, who owns three saunas himself, would like to renew the sauna culture according to the model of Native Americans.

“They celebrated the girl’s menstruation with a big party and cakes. Why can’t we have a menstrual sauna or even a menopause sauna? ”

Kaarina Kailo

  • Born 1951 in Helsinki.

  • Graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Helsinki in 1976, a Master’s degree from the University of Geneva in 1980 and a Doctorate in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto in 1990.

  • Worked as an assistant professor of women’s studies at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute of the Concordia University of Montreal 1991–1999, as a temporary professor of women’s studies at the University of Oulu 1999–2004, as a docent since 2000 and as a senior researcher at the Academy of Finland 2005–2007.

  • Works among others Finnish Goddess Mythology and the Golden Woman (2018), Get rid of economic violence (2007), edited together with the Sámi Elina Helander No beginning not end – Sámi speech (1999) and edited with Irma Heiskanen Ecopsychology and traditional knowledge – Paths to integrity (2006). Coming up with Indian scholar Barbara Mann, a book about the bear religion and the bear goddess.

  • Turns 70 on Tuesday, August 31st.

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