PhD student Catherine Koekoek, 25, calls herself a feminist. According to her oldest friend (‘we’ve known each other since Day 1 of primary school’), she hails from a family full of strong women, so maybe she was destined to be a feminist from a young age. “Yeah, I guess Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, a story about a smart and brave girl who doesn’t conform to conventions, was my favourite book when I was a child,” Koekoek says with a smile.
Catherine Koekoek is a PhD student at the Erasmus School of Philosophy. Her doctoral research focuses on the impact of post-truth politics on democracy. Koekoek holds Master’s degrees in both architecture and philosophy. In order to keep her love for architecture alive and kicking, she puts out a podcast on architecture, called Respons. Her podcast focuses on feminism in architecture. The first episode is about women in architecture.
A Room of One’s Own
Because of this feminist approach to life, Koekoek often opts for books authored by women. Together, she and her sister keep their father’s mind on the subject, too, although her father will also read feminist literature of his own accord. It was he who recommended Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own to her. In this classic of English literature, Woolf argues that women need money and a room of their own to be able to grow intellectually, so that they can lead their own lives and no longer have to be subservient to men. Koekoek first read the book about five years ago. “It was written in 1927, but its message is still relevant nearly one hundred years later. Just to give you an example, during the coronavirus pandemic, male scientists became more productive, whereas the number of articles published by women declined.”
A few years ago, a new Dutch-language translation of Woolf’s book A Room of One’s Own, entitled Een kamer voor jezelf , was published by Chaos, a feminist publishing house. This version of the book includes a correspondence between the philosopher Simone van Saarloos and the anthropologist Gloria Wekker, who explained that Woolf focused on gender, and emphasised that a person’s opportunities for growth are also affected by their race and class. “It’s great that Chaos Publishers are drawing the Dutch audience’s attention to the book again.”
The tension inherent in feminism
To Woolf, a room with a closed door is sacrosanct. Koekoek does have a room of her own. She shares a home with her boyfriend but is able to be on her own. While she does greatly value being alone, she doesn’t necessarily need a room with a closed door to get things done. “Spending an evening with friends or taking a walk also gives me good ideas.”
Koekoek believes that the tension between the autonomy of having a room of your own on the one hand and being affected by the frequently messy and chaotic world outside your room on the other hand features prominently in feminism. She herself seeks to strike the right balance between these two things in her work and life, as well. But just because she is a feminist doesn’t mean that she actually knows how to live by feminist rules. “Suppose you wish to write, but at the same time you have to look after someone. That can get a little oppressive. At the same time, I want there to be enough room for real life in my work.”
Number of books read per year: 38 last year
Most recent read: De gelukkigste man van Nederland by Joost de Vries
Motivation: “I read philosophy for work and fiction for escapism!”
Favourite genres: novels and essays
Architecture and philosophy
After graduating from secondary school, Koekoek studied architecture at Delft University of Technology. “Architecture is where society, economics, aesthetics and technology all meet. I find that interplay quite interesting.” She also likes reflecting on social and political problems, so she embarked on a degree in philosophy, as well, being awarded cum laude degrees after completing both her Master’s in architecture and her Master’s in philosophy. In 2019 she started conducting her doctoral research at Erasmus University. “I can now work on things I find important.”
Feminism is not an explicit part of her research project, but it is tangentially involved. Koekoek conducts research on the impact of post-truth politics on democracy. “Judgements as to who is and who isn’t considered rational or credible are informed by gender, too,” Koekoek explains. “I can’t help seeing things from a feminist perspective.”
By the time she completes her research project in 2.5 years, she hopes to have formulated an answer to the question as to how democracy can deal with truths and lies, no matter how complex the truth gets.