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Women`s problems

5. březen 2001  | Jan Haverkamp
A seminar on campaigning. A young woman introduces herself. As feminist she would like to campaign more on... "women`s problems". Direct reaction from the
other side of the circle in a strong male voice: "What problems???"
A seminar on campaigning for the School of Civil Initiative. Place: Police nad Metuji, time: an early Saturday morning. As professional facilitator for the ZHABA facilitators collective, i have to be aware steadily of power relations between participants while facilitating this kind of processes. That includes power balances with a gender factor. And that is in my experience in the Czech Republic a larger challenge than anywhere else in Europe.

We make an introduction round. Everybody tells her/his name, place where she/he comes from and what kind of campaigning she/he would like to be active in. About a third of the 20 participants is female. Campaigning ideas run from children`s projects to opposition against motorways. On roughly three quarters of the round, a young woman introduces herself. She is currently campaigning against the increasing number of hypermarkets, and as feminist she would like to campaign more on...

... "women`s problems". Direct reaction from the other side of the circle in a strong male voice: "What problems???" A few seconds of silence. The young woman does not directly know how to react. Because we are already a little late on schedule, I need to decide fast to do something to prevent a huge discussion, but I also want to strengthen the position of the young woman who was so courageous to out herself as a feminist. I decide for a short and pointed reaction: "That kind of problems - like the fact that you don`t see them," and we continue with the next person in the line.

This was conscious use of my own power position - as facilitator, as oldest in the group, as foreigner (in spite of the fact that my Czech is not really fluent and the whole seminar went in Czech), and certainly not in the least as... man. It is not easy for me to assess when and how i can use my own power position as man in this country, in spite of the fact that i already live her for a considerable time and work in the region already much longer. More then 10 years ago, when I was active in progressive church movements where feminist theology was the prevailing paradigm, i know i should not have tried to react as I did now. It would have been perceived as taking power away from the woman that was attacked - and abuse of my power position as a man (with my stronger voice, higher acceptance of interference and so on). But the situation here feels different. It felt to me, as if this young woman did not stand a chance in reacting. The "joking" remark was pushing her into a corner where it was very difficult to get out without having to set up an extensive explanatory defense... because the reacting young man not only wanted to ridicule her outing as feminist - he possibly really doesn`t know what someone can mean with "women`s problems", because Czech society, men and a vast majority of women, still actively close their eyes for the reality of women`s lives in this country. Media support them in this sexist view (sexist not only in the sense of "gender biased"!), as well as public and political life and even a majority of the arts.

In a following break i overheard the young man talking to the young woman. "But seriously, what problems do you mean?" "He was right, you know... amongst others the fact that you don`t know." "Don`t know what?" "Women getting 35% less payment for the same job, having to do over 85% of the caring duties at home in the family, worse career possibilities because men block off higher positions, too little attention to violence against women, sexist advertisement, the use of women as objects in media and advertisements, the fact that women are expected to take care of the children - also when the wish for children comes from the man... things like that..."

Maybe it was a good move to side up openly with this young woman - as a man... I at least hope so. But I remain confused about my role as pro-feminist man in this society.

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. 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.

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