Jelena Todorović: Solidarity as a revolutionary philosophy of life

Jelena Todorović, born in Leskovac, graduated in the Italian Department at the University of Belgrade and got her PhD at the Indiana University Bloomington. She is an associate professor at the Italian and French Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she is teaching and researching medieval Italian literature with focus on Dante Alighieri and Giovanni Boccaccio and medieval manuscripts between 12th and 14th century. She is currently working on a book about inquisition and publishing of love poetry books in 16th century in Florence. She is the first in her family to attend college, and she is using her experience to support first-generation students at her University and help them navigate all spheres of university life, to identify resources at the university, and use efficiently the advantages university offers. She currently resides and works in Florence. 

1. When we speak of individual contributions, we do not speak only of money – activists that benefit from donations usually say that such a gesture of support means a lot for them – that the community is thinking of them and their needs, and that it supports the struggles they lead. As a person who donates, where do you recognize your contribution? What are the moments in which you are pleased that you support feminist movement?

I often times wish I could take part in many actions of struggle for progress and change in different fields, but I often do not have time or I am far away. In such moments, I usually express my support by donating hoping that will help activists. Donation is a small and relatively easy move, while the real work and the real difference is made by people in the field who identify problems and dedicate their time and energy to everyday struggles of people for better world. That is the real contribution of which we must not lose sight. 

2. Given that you live in America where everyone donates, what are the practices and values about philanthropy that you would like to see blossoming here?

I think there are huge steps in right direction being made in Serbia when it comes to gender and sexual equality but still a long way ahead of us. I am glad that the society is getting more aware thanks to organizations like yours. It is obvious that significant changes have been made in the last 15 years. My personal preoccupation for some time has been worker’s rights, rights of the poor, and animal rights. At first sight, very different spheres but what they have in common is that the voices of weak are not heard at all. In all cases, I think that the privileged class, in the sphere of civil society, that has access to platforms and can speak, has an obligation to do everything possible to create dignified life for every member of community. I see solidarity not only reserved for those alike, but as a universal, revolutionary philosophy of life that serves the weakest ones in society and world. 

3.  We have started the program of local feminist philanthropy on the bases of solidarity, always discovering new forms and meanings. What does solidarity mean to you? And what kind of solidarity we need in feminist movement? 

I do not see solidarity as limited to a certain group of people but as a universal value. On a micro level – in feminist movement – I see it as unconditional support to each and every woman, especially to the ones with whom we disagree. The height of self-awareness and empathy is defending attituded that we seem foreign to us (as long as they do not harm other, of course). It is easy to criticize women for dressing opposite our standards, but our task is to defend her right to dress however she wants. I am not saying anything new but we have to remind ourselves from time to time, that feminist movement has won that battle: to do whatever we want with our bodies and lives; to be housewives, professionals, judges, mothers, sexual workers and that we do not have to constantly excuse our choices nor do what society imposes on us. At the macro level of a society and world – feminist movement has to create new and nourish old alliances and connections with other movements (workers, eco, and animal rights movements). It is impossible to act in isolation and the greatest problems today demand collective action. Barriers usually come from similar causes and structures and that’s why I think it is necessary to create strong alliances and respond to the threats, small or big ones. 

Interview by Đurđa Trajković