Feminism in Slovakia - finally escaping the clichès?

Feminism is for some a way of life and for others a source of jokes. Western countries have a much longer tradition of feminism than those of the former communist states of Central Europe where the impact on politics and public debate has been muted. Michal Groch takes a closer look at the state of feminism in Slovakia.

Feminism is basically a result of women's fight for acquiring gender equality in all spheres of life. It is based on a critique of existing political, intellectual and religious structures, which underestimated, subordinated or absolutely excluded women. Feminism originated in England at the dawn of the 18th century when Mary Wollstonecraft released a book called the Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ursula Kovalyk can easily be referred to as a Slovak equivalent of Mary Wollstonecraft. One of the most popular Slovak female writers, she openly endorses feminism.

“Everything I write is based on my own experiences. In the beginning I wouldn’t even know that I’m actually writing feminist stories. It wasn’t like I have decided that, alright, now I’m going to write something really feministic. I think that in literature, it is necessary to reflect both men’s and women’s standpoint, because in some cases they are very different.”

Some women would not openly admit that they are feminist. The reason may be the fear of public degradation. Ursula Kovalyk, however, does not have fears like that.

“When I read about early days of feminism and women who would be called feminists today, I really like that they were very active. They were going after their goals and also because of them I have for example a voting right today. They weren’t very popular and despite that they were creating strong values that help me today in everyday. So when somebody calls me a feminist, I take it as a compliment.”

Feminist organizations and movements have an impact in many countries but does feminism in Slovakia also have considerable intellectual influence? Etela Farkasova from the Centre of Gender Studies talks about the recent development of feminism in Slovakia.

“I think that the concept of feminism is viewed differently today. It is no longer only a cliché and people create their attitudes on better awareness. So today you won’t see only strictly negative and mocking opinions on feminism like it used to be in the past. In the last ten years there is a clear trend of feminist topics being more successful in the areas of philosophy, literature and arts. It is often a subject of expert discussions but also public debates.”

Popular writer Ursula Kovalyk is less optimistic though.

“It looks like a lot of things have changed from the first sight.Thanks to the feminist organizations; we started to talk openly about topics like home violence against women or lower salaries of women. So I believe that the status of women in our society has improved a bit, but it is still not equality.”

Men especially like to make jokes at feminism, at the same time though many of them admit that the current state of things is not just nor equal. Even Europe, with the longest tradition in fighting against discrimination of all kinds, suffers from gender inequality. This is most evident when a man and woman having the same occupation look at their paychecks. In Europe, women's salaries are still 25 percent less than those of men.