We don't subscribe to the Estonian tabloid SL Õhtuleht, but I am bombarded by the images it places on its front page every day in varying circumstances. Usually the photos consist of either horrendous car crashes or Estonian babes, though last week there was a photo of a dead dog that had starved to death.
This post, however, concerns itself with the babes. As you may have heard, during the 1990s former President Lennart Meri initiated the search for Estonia's own Nokia -- that is a product it could use to define its existence in the international marketplace. Like many an eestlane, he drew his inspiration from the lump of lingonberry ice cream to our north, Finland.
Some extremely lazy jobud (jerks) responded by saying that Estonia's Nokia was already in existence and, uh, ripe for the picking. The lowest hanging fruit, if you will, was its natural resource of bodaciously blond women who are hotter than Raquel Welch's character in One Million Years BC and Jane Fonda's character in Barbarella combined.
Now, I have paged through many a historical photo from the Estonian ärkamisaeg of the 19th century, and I didn't notice any string bikinis, expensive manicures, hoop earrings, or eye liner. The photographic evidence from the 1920s and 30s is similarly devoid of the trappings of modern Estonian babe culture.
Therefore, the idea that beauty is part of Estonian national culture does not convince me. It's a new phenomenon. And perhaps ever since Meri enshrined the Eesti Nokia mythology in popular culture, some Estonian women have been enthusiastically heeding the call of the reactionary jobud who argued that it was their duty to put Estonia on the map by absorbing themselves in the details of babery.
For me, this babe culture is both fascinating and superficial. How am I supposed to react to the posturing of the Estonian Amazon woman? Is my jaw supposed to uncontrollably drop in salivation as I blurt out, "th-th-th-th-there goes Estonia's Nokia!" And if I don't, is there something wrong with me? As a foreigner in Estonia you hear all the time about "the women, the women." And yet, when you are actually here for a long time, is it possible that all this babe focus could get ... kind of annoying?
To make matters worse, I have noticed that I have spent a few seconds too long reading about the skiing exploits of Estonia's Kristina Šmigun in Postimees before I rip it up and load it into the ahi.
It was during one of these fire preparation sessions that I came to the conclusion that I had some sort of 'thing' for the Olympian. Not a bad thing, nor a naughty thing, not even an Eesti Nokia thing. Just a thing. I pay more attention to her than to Andres Veerpalu. Let's leave it at that.
But here's the question. Why is Kiku, who doesn't subscribe to the beibe kultuur, more interesting than whomever is pining for their 15 minutes in SL Õhtuleht? Could it be that having two gold medals is more impressive that merely having two bronze boobies? And if you put the two together, well, you just might have Estonia's Nokia right there.
Estonian women are capable of amazing things. As the old anecdote goes, a Saaremaa woman is supposed to be able to run a farm, raise 10 children, and take care of an alcoholic husband. And yet for the international masses they are too often defined by the babe culture than by their own accomplishments.
Estonia has weathered the feminist tumult of the past half century with some interesting results. It didn't go through the Western feminist revolution because of its inclusion in the eastern bloc. Hence its feminist discourse differs from neighboring Sweden and Finland.
And yet it has preserved a form of gender equality from the 1920s and 30s that rivals other nations. issues that pester other countries, like the number of females with higher education, do not apply here. And here in Estonia, this duality is reflected in the prevalence of the babe culture along with the fact that women play leading roles in politics, science, the arts, athletics -- everything.
What are we to make of this? Have things not gone far enough, as some Finnish politicians might think, or are things just right? And what is 'right' anyway?
This piece has been improved from a previous version.