A few weeks ago - outside Prague but in one of the larger towns, a long evening in the pub - one of these establishments that draw a fashionly public of students and young executives in their late twenties. Just ran into a young friend - mid-twenty, active in one of my most admired NGOs in this country. He`s professional, driven, eager to exchange opinions. Work talk mingles with philosophy, politics (which in our case is very often work related). He talks about his experiences on a traineeship in the United States. And then a small remark falls about "there are very many women in this pub" with a slight admiration in his voice. He wants to return to work/politics talk directly.
But stop - earlier in the evening we already exchanged our disgust about an advertisement for the "Quo" magazine, in which a young woman holds between her legs a watermelon from which a piece is cut out so that her vagina is symbolised by a sweet red slit. I need to describe this in such detail, because i don`t think that non-Czech readers otherwise can make an impression of how tastelessly sexist the advertisement industry in the Czech Republic is developing into lately. Was here at first still a hint of either aesthetics or humour in basically sexist advertisement, the idea obviously seems to be that it hinders the explicitness...
So... stop - why divert from the subject of men and women into (environmental and human rights) politics again...?
So, i remark that an old friend of mine in Slovakia in the early nineties once complained: "I sometimes have difficulties living or rather working in my country. I`m steadily distracted by all these beautiful women around me," and explain that i have the impression, that also Czech women since around halfway the nineties started to be very fashion conscious. Then my companion confesses: "I don`t know - they look beautiful, but when I was in the United States, I liked the women there a lot more than here. It was so much easier to talk with them. Here I don`t like talking with women. Look at these women - when i start talking with them, after a few minutes I am just bored. We do not seem to be able to talk into the deep, like with men - for instance like us now. With American women, I could do that as well - Czech women are so superficial." This is obviously a strong experience. Going against it directly doesn`t make sense, so i say: "Well, i don`t know. I also know very strong women here - women with whom i can talk like this without a problem. For instance in the circles around Gender Studies, but also in the rest of the social and environmental movements." "But why Gender Studies? The Czech Republic doesn`t need such a thing. Women have all the same possibilities as men here."
This is interesting. A young representative of the intelligentsia, working on highly professional issues involving human right violations, environmental and social problems. And within a few minutes these two remarks. Sticking to my strategy that denying his experience will probably only drive him into the defence, i say: "But why do you think that these women around you have problems talking about these deeper subjects? What about the fact that they have less career chances and when they succeed will still get 35% less payment than a man on the same job? What about the fact that the whole Czech culture around them pumps into them the idea that after studying they should get children and stay with each of them at least 3 years at home? What about the fact that if they want to be taken seriously, they first of all need to adapt to the prevailing beauty fashion. And when they do, professors, teachers, male students first look at their breasts and legs and maybe, maybe a long time later may pick up a sound of what they are saying? Aren`t those all reasons to focus on other issues than these stupid politics and philosophy? If you really take the time to get through all the barriers, i suppose you will be as astonished about the depth of this women`s talk as i am." A bit of a shock - that`s enough for one evening.
He already had a few more shocks before - around the fact that if you want to influence large structures like multi-national corporations, you not only need to push from the outside, but also take care that truth is biting away the resistance from the inside. And later on the role of conspiracy thinking in this country - relations to the old `communists`, political games and so on... Next talk with him maybe a bit more around why women approach a lot of subjects in this country differently than men. And why exactly his male way of discourse is so much related to the prevalence of dogmatism and ideological thinking, as well as conspiracy-thinking and -building in this country. There is now space enough for some real `men`s talk`.
Epilogue: For the sake of fairness i have changed some of the circumstances of this discussion. I don`t want this young man to be troubled by its publication. He is a great personality. But the discussion was real - very real, and unfortunately very representative for Czech men`s talk. My partner Adela reacted later: "Well, i think one of my problems is that i am bored with the way that Czech men talk. I think that foreign men can talk a lot easier with Czech women." Is the only way in which real communication between Czech men and women can develop over foreigners? It`s a curious country...
|Jan Haverkamp is of Dutch origin and immigrated into the Czech Republic in 1997. He worked as organizational development specialist for Central and Eastern European environmental organizations and is currently Greenpeace anti-nuclear campaigner for Central Europe. Besides that he is facilitator in the ZHABA facilitators collective. He lives with his partner and daughter in Cvrcovice near Kladno and has a son in the Netherlands.|
Názory z druhé strany - Thought from the other side
In this weekly column, pro-feminist men - men that are strongly influenced by the feminist movement - write their observations in daily life on the role of men and women in the Czech Republic.