It is very difficult to define feminism because of the great complexity of the term. We may take feminism as a set of philosophies, political movements, ideologies and social theories that aim to study and fight phenomena that feminists consider manifestations and part of oppression of women in society and that upset the balance between both sexes.
The term feminism was coined in the second half of the 20th century when it gained popularity. The name Women's Movement was also used. The movements themselves fragment into many wings and branches, from fairly moderate variations to the most radical ones that express and promote direct hostility towards men. Feminism is also a subject of many half-truths and myths.
History of Feminism
When we hear the word feminism, we most frequently imagine its older form, called the First Wave. It was part of the Czech history prior to the Communist era. The second wave went fairly unnoticed in the Czech Republic, since this concept was not supported or developed during Communism.
The first wave took place from the last third of the 18th century to 1930. Representatives of this first wave of the movement called for admission of basic rights that were declaratively given to all people, but in reality only men enjoyed them. They included the most basic civic and political rights - a right to education, right to vote, right to own property. During the French Revolution, women went out with their requests in the form of a mass movement for the first time; they presented them in the Convent but the Convent not only sent them off without hearing them out, but immediately took action to limit women's rights even more. In England, women fighting for their right to vote were called suffragettes.
The basic issue was the division between male and female roles in the society; men and women were two different species and each of them had a different life program planned. Modern European civic codes are based on the Code Civil by Napoleon from 1804. Many other countries took after it. In the Czech lands, it was the General Civil Code of 1811. This Code stated that the husband is obliged to feed his wife, represent his wife before authorities, decide on the parenting of their children, and that the wife is obliged to obey her husband's commands. Only the husband had property rights. In case of divorce, women must not raise boys older than 4 years and girls older than 7. After this age, the father gets the custody of children. In case of death of the husband, the widow cannot be a sole custodian of the children - she must find a male co-custodian.
The requests of the first wave of feminism were as follows:
- the right to the same education for men and women, equal attitude to education
- equal salary for the same amount of work
- the right to vote and own property for women
In the end, the first wave of feminism was successful when some legislative obstacles were removed, and the movement fell silent for a while. Before the second wave of feminism comes, some basic works are created that change the approach to the women's matter. It is now considered a problem that women are socially situated on the basis of their husband's successes and their dignity also depends on them. Women live in immanency, in the regime of renewal of basic life functions; and women live in transcendence, the order of creation and transcendence. Women accept their role but it does not do them any good, because it pushes them on the side rail. Actual position of women in the society also changed in this interlude period; in the 1930s, the number of women with university education increases - women become doctors, scientists, lawyers, etc. During World War II, women also proved their abilities in the public life. After the war, a period of societal flourish ensued. Men were able to support their women again and so the women were "pushed back" into care for their households. The bourgeois idea that women are satisfied with devoting their lives to care of their husbands and children, returned. This time, this opinion also strikes women with university education, which makes the situation much more escalated and conflicting. This makes men come back to the opinion that access to university education should be limited for women.
After a huge wave of conservatism which was rather disadvantageous for women, the second wave of feminism started forming. This wave gained mass proportions in relation to the hippie movement after 1968. The second-wave feminists fully refused the bourgeois model and they based their attitude on the request that women make their own choices about their own lives. This women's movement soon broke away from the hippie movement and formed an independent direction. The first wave achievements were: women have control over their bodies; they have the right to abortion and access to all occupations.
With regard to the fact that women had access to education at the time of the second wave, the greater part of the feminist movement moved to the academic environment. There, the movement established itself as a university field of study. The academics and activists had certain tension between them, but their contribution to research results and their impact on the status of society is indisputable. The second wave brings new topics and approaches: The attention is paid to two basic levels, where academics seek the origin of gender inequality and search for the perspective on culture in the widest meaning of the word.
In the Czech lands, the second wave of feminism hardly manifested after WWII. On the one hand, the Communist regime did establish advantageous conditions for women and asserted some of their requests, e.g. the right to enter the public sphere, supporting women's employment, promoted gender equality and established a system of kindergartens and nurseries. On the other hand, the regime did not allow much space for self-fulfilment and freedom of choice.
The closing of the Communist society from the Western world caused that feminist concepts permeated the barrier in a much weakened form as late as in 1990s.
The Biggest Myths about Feminism
1. Feminists are women who hate men and fight against them
Feminists do not promote hateful attitudes towards men, but they are trying to make the uneven system of men and women in the society more balanced.
2. Feminists are against marriage and motherhood
This myth is also untrue - many feminists are married and have children. On the contrary, feminists emphasize that happy family is an important value; they do not want women to marry patriarchal tyrants who would limit their rights and prevent from fulfilling their needs, who would force them to only be at home with the children and take care of the household. In an equal relationship, the man is an equal partner who respects the woman's desire for self-assertion and career and he understands that her needs are the same as is.
3. Feminism is equivalent to male chauvinism
Feminist do not try to gain advantages for the female sex, nor do they express sexist opinions against men. They strive for equality of both sexes.
4. Feminists are women exclusively
Not even this is entirely true. Anyone who believes in gender equality and wants to support and develop this idea may call themselves a feminist. Not only women take up the gender studies programme in schools.
5. Feminists do not care for their female beauty
This is very far from true. To be a feminist doesn't mean to give up make-up and high heels and stop caring for oneself. Anybody can be a feminist regardless of their preference of looks and care of oneself.
6. Feminists are women promoting sexual freedom
That is not quite true. Feminists merely decided that women may have as many sexual partners as they see fit. This is their effort to break down the standard that men with many sexual partners are studs while women with many sex partners are sluts. Both sexes should be equal in this matter and it is only up to men and women how they will live and what kind of sexual life they will pursue.
7. Women already gained some advantages in the society, feminism is therefore no longer necessary
Although the society has undergone a lot of significant changes, there are still topics to be solved when it comes to gender equality. One of the topics is the existence of the so-called glass ceiling - the unseen, yet unbreakable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.
What Are the Present Reasons Feminism Should Continue to Exist?
Theoretically, women in the Czech Republic have the same chances as men at present. They may study, work, build a career, fulfil their potential, etc.
However, they also have to manage to take care of their family and maintain their attractiveness. But women did not establish families on their own, that is why their partners should help them, not expect that women will manage to take care of both the family and their partners. Even today, women still have smaller salaries than men; this is given by the idea that a woman has a man to bring home the bacon so she doesn't need to earn as much money. Sometimes, the argument is that a woman has a family to take care of and therefore she does not represent valuable workforce as she is not expected to give high work performance and dedication to work. Although this situation may genuinely suit some women, the fact that the approach is applied generally makes this attitude a little discriminative.
Another problem specific for the Czech Republic is the form of the surname. In most languages and countries, female and male forms of the surname are the same, so you can't tell whether the surname belongs to a man or a woman. Women in the Czech Republic also came to a decision they want to have a choice whether to take up the female ending -ová to their surname. Some surnames, like the long or extraordinary ones, get even more complicated by this addition. The ending -ová is not very popular with women living or working abroad. Feminists also point out that this ending is grammatically possessive and expresses that the women is someone's property.