Women "not ours" are anti-female

Polish feminists are still fighting for women's rights: their development, independence, freedom or equality. At least that is what they declare. And maybe it even used to be so, and it was certainly meant to be. However, emancipatory slogans were quickly transformed into indoctrination subordinated to current politics and discussion replaced by the principle: either you are with us or against us.

A week ago, on 2 and 3 September, the 15th National Congress of Women (KK), advertised as a jubilee event, took place in Poznań. The slogan of the gathering was: "Women have a voice! Equality, education, future".

KK is an association founded in 2009. It was no coincidence that it was founded in that year - the idea was to point out that 20 years after the overthrow of communism, women still have to fight for their rights. The association has now been in existence for 15 years. On this occasion, its founders, Henryka Bochniarz, an economist, politician and businesswoman, and Magdalena Środa, a professor of philosophy, decided to review on the portal the state of the feminist movement in Poland, and at the same time the situation of women, and in their opinion it does not look good.

"I will insist that our Polish situation is exceptionally awful. 34 years after the democratic revolution, Polish women are deprived of the right to decide about their lives", Henryka Bochniarz laments.

So what went wrong?

Stab in the back

Both activists recall with nostalgia the time when their congress took off, uniting, they say, different communities. The grassroots work was not easy, but over time it became apparent that the women's workshops were producing results, even, or perhaps especially, for those from whom one would least expect it. Magdalena Środa recalls how they invited the Women's Choir to one of their congresses, which was still held in Warsaw, in the Palace of Culture. "It's a group that sings harsh songs: about the body, abortion, very anti-church. I remember we had a long discussion about whether the girls should perform and whether they would alienate women from villages and small towns, many of whom were in the Palace," she says. Meanwhile, it was the ladies from the provinces who had the best time then.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE The philosophy professor, known for her anticlerical rhetoric, has thus achieved quite a lot: she has managed to breathe new life into 'parochial' and traditionally conservative women. But what good is that, if the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Status of Women and Men appoints such an Elżbieta Radziszewska, in the words of Prof. Środa, the "most churchly" woman in the position. And she recognises, among other things, that a Catholic school does not have to employ a lesbian as a teacher. In addition, her arguments (another stab in the back) are shared by the well-known lawyer Prof. Andrzej Zoll and half a dozen other opinion leaders who opposed the procedure to remove her as an authorised representative.

There were more such unpleasantnesses.

"We vote for feminists"

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In 2013, activists from the organisation Women for the Nation appeared at the congress. They, too, decided to fight for women's rights, but they didn't fit the goals of the Congress at all. Because instead of fighting for the right to unlimited abortions, they wanted to deal with the problems faced by mothers and women who want to have children. They wanted to ensure that they had jobs, that they were encouraged to be self-fulfilled, that they had the same respect for women who worked and brought up children at home as for those who worked elsewhere. They also opposed violence against women, particularly in the fight against sex trafficking. They went along with the national tradition, rather than Virginia Woolf's motto that a woman has no country because she does not have to hide behind the nation if she wants to be a feminist activist.

It quickly became apparent, therefore, that the fight for equality for all women was missing the point. "Women who do not share our views want to be battered by men, which is why the Congress's slogan 'We vote for women!'quickly turned into 'We vote for feminists'" recalls Magdalena Środa.

The professor had previously recognised that women think alike on certain issues despite their political differences. However, to her disappointment, she has nevertheless come to the conclusion that women with differing views are "totally anti-women". And this is not an isolated perception.

Sylwia Chutnik, writer and feminist activist, has similar observations. In one interview she admitted: "I think I would be willing to sit down with the girls from the nationalist march. I have always been willing to look for common ground. This was taught to me by my social activities, various alliances with people who were on the other side of the barricade. But as the years go by, I have more and more questions about whether it is worth talking. Our public life makes it so that the stronger will win, those who interrupt do not have democratic values."

Thus, feminists who fight in theory for the rights of all women have limited their mission to fighting for the rights of women who share enthusiasm for abortion without borders or fight against the 'church' mentality.

At the beginning, the Congress ladies did not exclude cooperation even with men, but here it was much worse. Yes, there were some who supported the slogans of the feminists, but they soon turned out to be either narcissists or sexists.

Don't denounce your own, because you won't be "our own"

The male world of 'phallic leaders', as one female activist described it, was about to crumble, or at least shake up solidly, following the 'Me Too' movement's action and righteous anger following the media coverage of the harassment scandal of actresses by powerful Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein. The slogan #Me Too has been tweeted and retweeted more than half a million times. So what if, as Henryka Bochniarz and Magdalena Środa lament, both in Poland and abroad the effect of the movement was relatively short-lived. And the idea of opposing similar treatment of women was selectively tackled.
The 15th Women's Congress is over. The organisers thank the participants with a poster on Facebook.
An example? In autumn 2017, an affair erupted that heated up the internet. The cup of bitterness overflowed in the most progressive of progressive circles when a well-known writer with the proper views shouted to his colleague in a café in the presence of a "High Heels" (WO) journalist: "Come on, the whores are already here!". The journalist was stunned, but after some time she decided to describe the incident as part of the #Me Too campaign.

And this was already too much. Feminist agitators, thriving on the KK such as Kazimiera Szczuka, for example, lit up with holy indignation that a journalist had demonised a witty guy with perhaps a pathological sense of humour, but nevertheless in no way eligible for the 'Me Too' campaign. Accusations were made of diluting the sexual harassment action. A group of authorities from the wider 'milieu' joined the criticism of the careless journalist. Among them was another 'Gazeta Wyborcza' journalist Magda Żakowska. She quoted several other "cheerful" sayings of the well-known and popular writer with correct views, including a joke that "if she let him to be fucked, he would let her drink his beer...". Well, but he is, after all, a warm and kind man, so why the hype?

It turned out that the unfortunate "WO" journalist had broken the sacred rule of feminists: "we don't denounce our own".

Kazimiera Szczuka showed similar female 'solidarity' when it came to commenting on the then notorious harassment of women on New Year's Eve in Cologne and other German cities by fresh immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. Although Szczuka acknowledged the terror, she justified the newcomers' actions by explaining that gang rapes also occur at discos in Poland. Her voice was particularly surprising because two years later she herself publicly admitted that she had been a victim of molestation as a child.

Not a very diligent student
But among female activists from the same side of the barricade, the array has never been straight and the step equal. Henryka Bochniarz, for example, was reproached from the outset for her wealth and accused of lashing out at the backs of the 'Biedronka girls' who hawk goods from the warehouse to the shelves as part of 'gender equality'.

Moreover, the lack of consensus is evident not only in content, but in form. Henryka Bochniarz emphasises that the most fashionable feminist formation in recent times, the Women's Strike (SK), is no competition for the Congress of Women. One can even believe this, as the leader of SK, Marta Lempart, is after all a graduate of the Women's Congress Summer Academy, and thus an alumna of Bochniarz and Środa. It was there that she learnt how to act and used it later on the street.

Bochniarz, however, resents her disciple for not realising the potential of the Women's Strike so far and turning it into a political party. "It's nice to take to the streets and shout 'get the fuck out', it's nice to do a Congress once a year, but what is it besides a nice meeting and exchange of views? I'm not saying it's not important, but it's not enough to make a qualitative change. I know what a laborious job it is". - Bochniarz laments.

Lempart does not seem to have any desire for strictly party activity for the time being, but Professor Środa still believes in her movement and the strength of its founders. "The Congress does indeed bear our stamp, and we have authoritarian elements in our actions. We argue among ourselves, but once we agree on something, that's it. (...) Because we are old women and we know what we want...", admits Środa, then adds: 'The phenomenon of the Congress is that from the beginning it has been an extraordinary meeting of women and communities that do not normally meet. No one is trying to take advantage of anyone."

Are we sure about that?

– Sławomir Cedzyński

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski
Main photo: Founding mothers of the Congress of Women Henryka Bochniarz (right) and Professor Magdalena Środa (left) during the opening of the 14th Congress of Women, held last year in the Centennial Hall in Wrocław. Photo: PAP/Maciej Kulczyński
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