On September 15, TIME named CEU Democracy Institute Research Fellow Dorottya Redai to the 2021 TIME100, its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. The list, now in its eighteenth year, recognizes the impact, innovation and achievement of the world’s most influential individuals.
Redai is the coordinator of the Hungarian book project "Fairyland is for Everyone" (Meseország mindenkié), published by Labrisz Lesbian Association in 2020. The volume contains 17 fairy tales by 17 contemporary authors with diverse characters from various marginalized or disadvantaged groups. The stories, based on well-known fairy and folk tales, address a number of 'taboo' or 'sensitive' issues, including same-sex love, gender transition, child adoption, child neglect, partner violence, death of a parent, social exclusion based on 'difference', and transgressing gender stereotypes. The book aims to help parents and teachers talk about such topics with children aged 6-12. Since its first publication in September 2020 "Fairyland is for Everyone" has been sold in over 30,000 copies and will be published in 8 European languages in the coming year.
Redai obtained both her MA and PhD degrees in Gender Studies at Central European University (CEU). Currently, she is a Research Fellow at the CEU Democracy Institute, working in the Gender Equality Academy and EDUC projects. On the occasion of this honor, CEU spoke with Redai about her work. Below is an edited version of the September 15 conversation.
What was the impetus for writing this children’s book?
Working at Labrisz Lesbian Association’s education program for secondary school students in Hungary, called ‘Getting to Know LGBT People’, we thought it was important to create a component around diversity and acceptance that would reach younger children, as the social exclusion and hate that young people learn from many social environments in Hungary from a very early age is getting worse. Because the problems around exclusion and discrimination are intersectional, the idea was also for the children’s book to address broader and overlapping issues.
In Anglo-Saxon literature, classic fairy tales get rewritten and we wanted to join this tradition, which is less common in Hungary. Our call for writers received responses from professionals as well as emerging writers, and from there, we invited authors who could tell the stories that also serve as a pedagogical tool for young people, teachers and parents.
What is a favorite children's book of yours or some stories you admire?
I really loved Alice in Wonderland and other works by Lewis Carroll, which I remember reading as I grew up. I also really like folktales. There is also a Hungarian folktale collector I admire, named Zalka Csenge Virág, who has published two collections, which include feminist folktales where the heroes are women and they can do pretty exciting things.
For those who are less familiar with the social and political environment in Hungary, what would you point out about the current hostilities and discrimination?
It’s important to state that homo- and trans-phobia is artificially generated. The populist government is strategically focused on the narrative that people in some marginal groups are negatively affecting children in order to justify such homo-and trans-phobic discriminatory legislation. Their message is that homosexuality and gender is something chosen, which doesn’t acknowledge the experiences, desires and feelings of certain youth, and the fact that some children are different from others.
The aim of the legislation is fear, so the government doesn't actually need practical measures for enforcement of the law because they know that out of fear, people will act a certain way. Since this legislation went into effect, the frequency and number of violent discrimination cases has grown. It’s a serious limitation of expression, individual and community rights, and these aggressive acts keep happening - on public transport, on the street. It’s extremely unsettling.
CEU has been an intellectual home for me. In the increasingly hostile anti-gender propaganda era in Hungary, CEU has been a safe place where the topics I've been working on have always been considered relevant and acknowledged. My current project with EDUC is a comparative study of the education systems in five Central European countries and their capacity to respond to 21st century challenges, including the changing gender relations in our societies. I’ve been monitoring and analyzing gender-related curriculum changes for the past ten years.
The research and forthcoming publication notes through its findings that many of these systems are not ready to respond to gender-related challenges, with Hungary and Poland being the furthest behind. Serbia is much better because the country is preparing for EU regulations and are required to introduce measures to achieve gender equality in education.
With the Gender Equality Academy, we design and conduct trainings, summer schools, seminars and courses to help universities and researchers develop Gender Equality Plans, which are a prerequisite for applying for Horizon2020 grants from 2021. This summer we ran a program for Central-Eastern European academics and equality officers to develop Gender Equality Plans for their respective sites and it was a great success.
What does the TIME100 honor mean for you?
Being included in the TIME100 list is a great honor, because it means international acknowledgement of the enormous work devoted to this project. However, creating, distributing and managing such a book, and the handling of the huge media attention and the increasingly hostile political situation is an enormous effort which requires the strenuous work of many people. I would like to express my gratitude for the work of the authors, the editor, the illustrator, the technical editor, the members and volunteers of Labrisz. I would also like to thank for the support of book publishing professionals and many teachers and parents. Without them the book wouldn’t have come to exist and wouldn’t have become so successful. I hope that this recognition will inspire and encourage other activists not to give up the struggle for the equality of LGBT+ people and other minorities, even though it is often hard, exhausting, hopeless or scary. Being included in the list is not only about me, it is also a message to the community that we are visible and strong together, and that we can create remarkable things with joint work.