Feminism in Poland – A long way to go?


Polish women take care of their husbands just as much as they take care of their children.

I’m just about old enough to remember when ‘feminism’ wasn’t just a dirty word in the UK, it was an absurd word. In those days calling a woman a feminist was automatically funny and ridiculous, and calling a man a feminist was completely inconceivable. In those days ‘feminist’ was more-or-less a synonym for ‘lesbian’ and lesbianism was perhaps the most appalling of sexual crimes. The word has lost it’s power in the past 30 years and is rarely used these days with either positive or negative intentions. There’s no need; the fundamental battles have been won, in principle at least. Looking around me at Polish society I wonder if another 30 years will be enough to achieve the same result here.

Let me make it clear that I am not an expert on the philosophical underpinnings of the feminist movement but that I do generally think it is ‘a good thing.’ It seems to me that, so far, the sisters ain’t doing it for themselves in the land of the red and white flag. The situation as I see it is as follows:

Polish women are raised to believe that they are ‘special’
In practice this means they are raised to believe that they are more precious and lovely than their brothers, but that it’s ok for them to clean the house, cook the dinner, and do the shopping while said brothers sit around drinking beer and inheriting things. Sounds like a pretty poor exchange to me, but it’s a message that is driven home by family and church from a young age and it’s very hard for an individual woman to see through the scam.

Polish men are raised to believe that women are ‘special’
In practice this means they are raised to believe that women are weaker in mind and body than them but that it’s ok for them to do all manner of hard physical work around the house and cope with the massive mental stress of keeping a family together. It’s equally hard for the individual man to see through the scam when the society around him insists that women aren’t capable of opening doors or putting on coats on their own.

Will somebody please explain to me why Polish women are considered perfectly capable of using a mop for hours on end, but are not considered capable of opening doors or carrying shopping bags?

Will somebody also please explain to me why anybody has the right to make women feel guilty about their sexuality while male sexuality is openly praised as a good and healthy thing (as long as it’s straight of course)?

Let me leave you with another quote from the truly scary polishmarriage.org

Polish girls are not as liberated and modern as western women and they take their commitments very seriously.

This is the picture that accompanies these words. Clearly they also like to walk around with their tops off and jeans undone while ‘taking their commitments very seriously.’


My personal blog. Go there if you know what’s good for you.

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40 thoughts on “Feminism in Poland – A long way to go?

  1. some dude says:

    It’s not the matter of capability, it’s the matter of social model. While I’m perfectly able to bring my own food to a restaurant table, I have nothing about waiters.

  2. island1 says:

    dude: But waiters get paid to do that.

  3. some dude says:

    So are men, nudge nudge say no more say no more. ;)

  4. island1 says:

    dude: “Is your wife into ‘candid’ photography” know what I mean, know what I mean. :)

    Ok, Eric Idle moment over

  5. darthsida says:

    Re: “the massive mental stress of keeping a family together”

    I think you mixed up the sexes :) The massive mental stress of keeping a family together is little else but the stress of providing money for a family.
    [Under the stereotype you provide] it goes M/F, mnemonically:
    M (male => [organising] money), F (female => [organising] family)

  6. some dude says:

    Would you say that it is women who hold Polish families together?
    Maybe it’s just me but Eastern Europeans always seemed to me more tight-knit than Westerners.
    Americans (yeah, I know, it’s different for them) according to survey seem to define ‘family’ as three people: me, my spouse, one child.
    That was a shock for me. As an Eastern European I would include parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and their children… Not to mention brothers and sisters. An average family, for me is 10-12 people. Not exactly living together, but living at least close.

  7. pinolona says:

    Interesting post… On the news last night there was a report on sexist advertising in Poland: you know the one with the female firefighter in hotpants?

    I suppose my usual reaction is to laugh, but then I’m not identifying myself with a busty blonde Polish woman in little shorts. It’s a different group of women that’s being laughed at, not mine. And so I’m falling into the trap of internecine female vindictiveness again…

    I disagree with you on the word ‘feminism’ though. One thing I notice all the time is how many of my British female friends will say ‘I’m not a feminist, but…’ or ‘I hate feminists, but…’
    The stigma attached to militant feminism still tends to sabotage any reasonable debate on issues like equal pay, women in politics, childcare and so on.

    What’s the news on this in Poland, any ideas?

  8. michael farris says:

    Women should run for the hills (or shotguns) whenever they hear that women are “special” as this is a very simple con game. The steps are approximately as follows:

    1. Man says women are “special” and performs a few meaningless courtesies (opens doors, kisses hand, gives flowers once a year).

    2. Woman falls for it and before she quite realizes what’s happened, she finds herself working two full-time jobs only one of which she’s paid for. Man gains precious time for tv, internet and beer drinking.

    A hint: women got the right to vote, own property in their own name and walk down the street without a guardian over the strong objections of men who claimed they were too “precious” and “special” to do any of those (or lots of other) things.

  9. darthsida says:

    There’s a time I’d consider running for a secretarial post in a town 30km away. (“Running” could be true, as I had no car then and buses would not cover the route). Yes, I was desperate to find any job.

    I was interviewed — on the phone:
    — you’re a man?
    — well, yes
    — uhmm, but we’re looking for someone presentable, you know…
    [silence, it could be guessed they wanted a hot long-legged high-heeled make-tits-no-wits blonde the chairman could be so proud around]
    — i can shave my legs and wear kilt at work
    [it was true, i really was desperate]
    — …wear what?
    [i explained]
    — {laughter} but, but, you’re charged with too many diplomas, you’re overqualified, we want someone just to make us coffee
    — I’ve never dreamt of anything but making coffees.
    — sorry, no.

    Just a scene. It’s personal and it’s not funny. (It’s not.) Some time later, I talked about it with a feminist in my family. She didn’t feel sorry for me. She didn’t say I had been wronged. Instead, she said: “You see?! You see how they are?! So sexist! They treat women as bimbos, as objects!”

    Yes, it was sexist — but otherwise, the way I see it. So, as feminists don’t fight for my right to pour coffee but grant this right pretty much exclusively to sexy chicks [who’d retire aged 60 — not 65 or dead], I don’t believe the movement.

  10. island1 says:

    Dude: Mama Papa and Junior is the western model of the ‘nuclear family’ yes. Extended families tend to disintegrate as wealth increases. People take the opportunity to move away and set up on their own. I’m sure it’s coming here as it came to us. Today people talk about the evolution of ‘urban families’ (friends, co-workers, and online contacts) that are supposed to be replacing the old model of the extended family.

  11. island1 says:

    Pinolona: Your scathing comments on Myth #21 spurred me into action :)

    I’ve always been surprised by what advertisers seem to be able to get away with in Poland, especially on billboards. It just doesn’t seem to fit with the image of a conservative Catholic nation. There’s probably an interesting post to be written about it.

    I don’t really know what the situation re ‘feminism’ is in Poland. Pawel’s post about the 8th March contains pretty much everything I know about it. I was hoping somebody would enlighten us.

  12. island1 says:

    Darth: It’s a damn shame you didn’t get the chance to wear your kilt in a professional setting.

    It is a serious point though. The only way to allow women to have access to any kind of job is to allow men the same right. That means male secretaries, nurses, primary school teachers, and house husbands. In exchange you get female brain surgeons, firefighters, CEOs, and tank drivers.

  13. mochafueled says:

    Island… I go offlice for 24 hours and you keep digging that hole….

    tank drivers? Tanker trucks or tanks with cannons?

  14. Pawel says:

    darth, is it true there is nothing underneath a kilt?……..

  15. some dude says:

    It has to be that way. I read that in a book. It’s supposedly easier to catch a sheep that way. :>

  16. scatts says:

    I see you have decided that the best way to get attention is to post pictures of scantily clad Polish girls!

    It is underhand, a cheap trick, but I approve. ;)

    As for the serious stuff. I think Polish women are smarter than the men, broadly speaking (present male company excepted!). So, I’m sure they can deal with any issues they may be facing.

  17. Kinuk says:

    I’ve really enjoyed this post and all the comments, too. It would be interesting to hear from a Polish feminist on this issue (I’m neither Polish nor foreign…to the Poles I’m foreign to the foreigners I’m Polish…story of my life).

    I think it’s hard, regardless of which side of this issue you’ve found yourself on. It’s hard bringing home the bacon, but it’s also hard to sit at home, make funny faces at the baby and try to think up what the hell to cook today (trying not to repeat anything you cooked in the past 2 weeks). I think both sides should be more supportive and understanding of each other.

    Feminism to me and to a huge spectrum of my friends is about equality. Equality in the workplace, at home, in offices, in the world. And if that is truly the meaning of equality, then Polish women don’t have it. And feminism does have a long way to go. I remember arguing with my (well-educated, well-travelled) cousins over whether or not a wife’s duty is to iron her husband’s shirts. I remember my male (Polish) friend getting offended when I called him a feminist (he espoused ideas very much on the side of equality and I was impressed). I remember a female friend making her husband’s sandwiches, while he sat at the breakfast table twiddling his thumbs. Not huge issues, just minor irritants that get in the way and really piss me off.

    The women are “special” thing? Yeah, that is such a crock! Bet they don’t feel special when scrubbing the toilet and cooking (hopefully not at the same time!) after a full day’s work.

  18. darthsida says:

    => Pawel, re “Is it true…”?
    Trust me: Ignorance is bliss.

    => Scatts
    If women were smarter than men, the former would have lots of (pictures of) “scantily clad girls” in their vicinity, so luring and dragging the latter into the feminist thinking with the power of the argumentative force.

  19. J-23 says:

    Dear people who claim to know Poland,

    I wouldn’t say that impressions of a couple foreigners living in RP for some years aren’t amusing. How the hell did you qualify for Global Voices – that’s amazing :roll:

  20. J-23 says:

    Dear Sir Island1,

    I cuoldn’t decide to click the following link

    href=”http://wordpress.com/report-mature/?url=polandian.wordpress.com” rel=”nofollow”>Global Voices Online<

    Could you :?:

  21. scatts says:

    Russian guy – true, smarter than British AND Polish men.

    J-23 – what’s that supposed to be, a threat??

    This global voices bullcrap seems to be more of a pain in the arse than anything else, frankly. Certainly seems to get other people all fired up. What is it, like the oscars of blogdom?


  22. guest says:

    Polish men have too much Wodka in their brains, that’s why the women are smarter and more ambitious.

    ps: island no i am not a spyware ,and i will not post a link to a polish wodka online shop or something like that ;) .

  23. scatts says:

    And another thing. We don’t “claim to know Poland” in the way you’re insinuating but we do know what our own perspective is on Poland, Polish people, Polish food, etc and so on as foreigners who have lived here for a while and I don’t see why that gives you a problem?

    Your blog’s the best Polish blog in the universe is it? Perhaps we should all go check it out?

  24. island1 says:

    J-23: Please don’t put misleading links in your comments. I believe that’s tantamount to spamming.

    Sorry you don’t feel that our opinions are worthwhile. Please note that at least two of us are Polish anyway, so it’s not just the opinions of ‘foreigners.’

  25. scatts says:

    J-23, perhaps it would help if you explained what it is we did to upset you?

    Or is this just you throwing your toys out of the pram because we’re on Global Voices and you are not?

    Perhaps you are simply an attention seeker?

    Anyway, thanks for the link.

  26. Dorota says:

    I think it’s GREAT that there are non-Poles living in Poland who are interested in understanding Poland and Poles, who take the time to think and express their opinions in writing. I love it. I’m learning something. It would be nice to know what _their_ nationalities are since I’m interested in trying to see how these opinions differ depending on that, if at all.

    My two bits: I’m a Polish woman who has been living in the US since 1996. Polish women are pretty independent in their choices but within the confines of Polish society which is conservative or traditional (I think _traditional_ is more accurate). I used to HATE the fact that my relatives would tell me that “girls don’t do that” trying to make me more girlish. I ended up hating girlish women (I call them kobitki or towarki) who think their asses, boobs and makeup are more important than what they think or do. They exist everywhere, not just in PL. On the other hand I don’t see anything wrong with trying to look good or showing courtesy to other humans in a doorway. Regardless of gender. I often gesture for men to go ahead of me in a doorway and I appreciate the gesture myself.


    P.S. the “russian guy’s” name is Stirlitz (we had a TV series with this Russian spy on PL TV. It was good! Also J-23 was a TV series spy – Hans Kloss, Polish spy in the Nazi army. This was great too! I though you might appreciate knowing this. :-) You can google this!

  27. darthsida says:

    => Scatts

    Stirlitz is the icon. You have to know him a bit more at least.
    More to the subject: he’s the old-school gentleman that makes your James Bond a poligamous heathen bastard. Strirlitz’s utmostly friendly towards women. If there is anything he loves more than women, it’s the Cause. The scene from the movie in which he meets his wife in a cafe and they cannot share a word, just steal pineful looks one from another, is so un-Hollywood you could watch it over and over. I mean, I could.

  28. island1 says:

    Dorota: Thanks for dropping in, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. Poland is a fascinating place, and there’s so much more to it than the shallow propaganda and empty cliches that we tend to be subjected to in the West. All the non-Polish Polandians are British (sheer coincidence really since we all live in different parts of the country).

    The whole issue of feminist thinking is fraught with difficulties and I’m not convinced it’s always applicable in all cultures. At the very least I would be inclined to say that women are marginalized in Polish culture to an unhealthy degree, although it’s interesting that far more Polish women work than was the case in the UK 40 years ago.

    So J-23 is Kapitan Kloss; I’ve seen episodes of the TV series a few times, but I didn’t know his code name.

  29. skakanka says:

    hmm, we have no tradition of feminism, as our women were engaged in such more “important” matters as, let’s say, conspiracy, before Poland regained independence. in 1918 , just after Poland came into life again, Polish women automatically gained the right to vote, marhsall Pilsudski wanted even to give them the right to join the army. You know-Polish women didn’t really had to fight for their rights throughtout the history and feminism isn’t really rooted in here. Even though women aren’t represented in our Parliament in such a proportion as in Sweden, we actually have the highest percentage of them in the statistics of business-owners that embrace all the EU countries. i think that the word has become quite a “controversial” one not before the 1989, when our society started to laicize (though some may try to deny it…) and some women started to demand the right to abortion. all in all, it’s not the fact that the Poles think that women’s calling is to sit at home and cook meals for their husbands, some people probably unconsciously copy the pattern that they were accustomed to in their families-in the People’s Republic of Poland it was the heavy industry that enhanced the country’s economic rates and in some regions they were mostly men who worked hard, drinking a lot after the shifts as there was nothing else to do at that time. well, I’m not going to follow the pattern, the times have changed. at least, it’s nice when somebody I don’t know opens the door seeing me coming, even though I hope that they are just as willing to do the washing up for their halves while at home.
    In fact, it seems to me that the USA has an incomparably greater number of “proper”housewives than we, am I wrong? on the other hand our housewives seem to have two “jobs”, which is a real drudgery :(.

  30. island1 says:

    skakanka: Good points, thanks for making them.

    It’s certainly seems to be true that women are expected and encouraged to have as good an education as men and that they are fully accepted in the workplace, and I assume both of these things are legacies of the communist era.

    I’m not from the States so I can’t say for sure, but I suspect it’s like the UK where very few women can afford to just stay at home. The richer we get, the more we have to work and the less time we have to enjoy it. So it goes.

  31. BritGirl says:

    I came across this blogging site today and I fell into hysterics when I read this particular blog as back in February I too stumbled upon Polishmarriage.org. Tell me, what were you exactly looking for?? I was having a conversation online with a Swedish friend about whether it was possible to buy Polish brides in the old way that Thai brides used to be fashionable and so I Googled it …obviously. My friend and I spent hours disseminating the contents thinking that perhaps it must have been written slightly tongue- in-cheek or that some repressed, chauvanistic moron had written it trying to falsely lure pervy foreign men into securing a nice piece of Polish booty willing to provide 24 hour non-stop fallacio for capital gain.

    At the particular point of discovering polishmarriage.org I had only been living in Warsaw for a couple of months and hadn’t really made any Polish friends. Now nine months on, I still haven’t made any Polish friends (and really I’ve tried hard) but on the rare occasion when a Pole actually allows me to speak to them (I use the word “allows” without irony) I am amazed at the reactions I get from men and women alike.

    But firstly, a little about myself. I’m in my 20s, born and raised in England but of Polish background. Oh and I’m female. I’d been to Poland a few times as a child, I grew up observing Polish customs, I’m not unfamiliar with the language etc etc but that was no real preparation for me living here and the fact that being born a woman basically reduces me to a lepper. Sexism exists everywhere in the world, granted, but thinking about it now, the sexism evident in England, for instance, is more about men trying to overly exert their masculinity – in general it’s harmless and women openly don’t tolerate any connotations of inferiority; whether their behaviour contradicts this is another matter all together.

    Back to Warsaw/Poland, I am looked upon as a woman of easy virtue if I attempt conversation with a stranger on a night out. I know it’s naive of me but in England this isn’t weird- whether men think ill of a female for doing this is another matter but in general the UK is a sociable place and you can mingle without everyone thinking that you’re on the prowl. In Poland, it’s quite the opposite. Because I like a drink or three, I am viewed as an alcoholic. On arrival here I was already a woman of inferior human stature now I have progressed into an alcholic whore from the simple act of attempting social interaction whilst in possession of a martini. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting an Irish girl and a Dutch girl who had experienced the same which delights me.

    Now I mentioned earlier that I haven’t any Polish friends but for a few short months I did have one. Now I completely misjudged his international credentials (he lived in the States until he was a teenager, foreign travel wasn’t unusal for him, he was very familiar with western culture etc etc). I had only been in Poland for two months without anyone else to judge him against and thus was appalled by the way he would speak to me. It angered him when I treated him the same way. And whilst I never swapped DNA with this chap (because i have many platonic male friends which is also not weird for me) he, in not so many words, implied that I was a whore for talking to him in a bar. Actually, I found out he lived a two minute walk from me and thought we could meet up because I didn’t know anyone in the city. Anyway, when I told him about a job I had applied for but didn’t get he responded with “yeah, you were obviously aiming too high”. I thought this comment unnecessarily rude for our first meeting but decided to ignore it.

    But as it turns out, this is nothing unusual. Every single Polish man I have engaged with in conversation makes an effort to degrade me because I am a woman. And these are seemingly educated, professional men of a number of ages. During every conversation I’ve had at least one of the following phrases has been vocalised: “women shouldn’t…”, “like all women…”, “women don’t know how to…”, “as a woman you should…”.

    Only on Saturday I was a flatwarming party and was chatting to an old childhood friend of the host’s (in his 20s also) who apparently contributes to one of the national dailies. Host informs old schoolfriend that I also, on occasion, work for the Polish media, a notion that elicits the response “no doubt you make the tea there”. I shocked him into silence with the explicit and unladylike ripost of “oh no, I make ice-cream there”…

    One of my favourite comments, however, arose when my best friend came to visit me a couple of months ago. A stranger approached us in the bar we were at (an unusual act in itself) and when he heard us speaking came out with the gem “you two speak English so much better than I do and you’re women”.

    Now after nine months and a variety of conversations, I have come to realise that it is the norm for men to freely pass remarks like this without redress, Polish women not only tolerating it but seeming to agree with the whole separate, gender role basis which forms such sentiments.

    So, as it turns out polishmarriage.org isn’t stooped in irony and the very repressed and chauvanistic image it portrays of Poland is sadly true. Now I’m in Poland I very openly and regularly challenge the way Polish men speak to me- this offends them but it actually doesn’t do me any harm since my repution is already tarnished :-)

  32. island1 says:

    BritGirl: Ouch, sounds like you ran into the old culture shock wall pretty hard. Thanks for sharing, it all sounds very familiar; judging other people does seem to be rather a national preoccupation.

    Here’s hoping you continue to act disgracefully with a gin and tonic in your hand.

  33. Nick says:

    God did not make a man and a woman equal – if we were equal then why do we have different sexual organs ? – I think there is nothing wrong with a woman being feminine and cooking etc….
    There is this awful backlash in the UK from the “GIRL POWER” mentallity started by groups such as The Spice girls etc….
    ever since that, girls seem to think they have the right to be hostile and rude to men (even if they are fat and ugly and the guy is good looking and charming/polite) and just generally have this “I don’t need a man” mentality…
    In my opinion this creates a huge social problem and makes the men more effeminate also…. the amount of young single men in the UK is astonishing… when I have been in Poland, the guys seem to have no problem finding a polish girlfriend…
    Many of my friends, including me have found our girlfriends from different countries – not because we are pathetic with women – but because we don’t want a fat stuck up cow who wont do anything but sit in front of the TV watching big brother, farting and getting fatter by the second.
    I know this will upset these type of women – but I’m sorry, you will all end up alone… we like our women to behave like women – not loutish beer swilling men.

  34. […] on Polandian about feminism: here and […]

  35. lejos del usa 6 says:

    USA girls are like the Englsh girls they are mostly feminists–skanks–like to get drunk & lie about “abuse” when they don’t ge their way–they are spoiled–when I read a USA news item about some girl getting raped after she was drunk in a bar for hours–then see the usa media scream about “evil men” I have to wonder why any man will desire to be with such a USA or Englsh type of feminist—it seems the women of Poland are like the women of Venezuela–feminine–respectful–sensual–& know how to TREAT & KEEP a man-ever notice?? there are no websites that say “marry a USA feminist” or “marry a fine English girl who like to get drunk”–while many exist for marrying latinas polish etc—only a dunce will consider marriage with some USA_English type of femnist–as these women insist on tryng to imitate men–they hav elost femininity–lost sensuality & lost their souls–the men ot Poland seem to be like the men of Venezuela–MACHOS—TOUGH–MASCULINE –SALUDOS MEN OF POLAND– FROM A MACHO VENEZOLANO–DUMP THE USA-ENGLISH FEMINISTS–KEEP THE WOMEN NORMAL!!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. Steven Woodruff says:

    I purchased my Polish wife from a catalog…and yes she is VERY Special

  37. […] Feminism in Poland – A long way to go? …the sisters ain’t doing it for themselves in the land of the red and white flag. […]

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