Feminism in Poland

On the rise of grass root movements and the possibilities for feminism in Poland.

In Poland, we have seen the rise of many anti-abortion organizations and "pro-life" movements. "Pro-life" is in fact a bad name, as it is difficult to talk about a pro-life attitude when taking away a woman’s right to life; hence a better term that fully reflects the idea of its eulogists would be "anti-choice", including even highly extremist organizations. These movements are most often associated with religious organizations. Although in countries that are religiously diverse – such as in the USA – anti-choice movements lead a fierce, ruthless struggle for the "life of the unborn child" even going to such extremes as crimes committed against people (doctors from abortion clinics). This being their "defence of life".

In countries where access to legal, safe and free abortion is questioned and simply impossible – e.g. in Poland – women’s movements emphasize this issue in their statutory activities more strongly than the fight for equal wages, the battle against sexual discrimination or combating the both pervasive and hideous rape culture. Poland is a specific case in this respect, because the rape culture is openly practiced by politicians on the right of the political scene, and the entire ruling camp generally permits the same.

At the same time, from the very beginning, left-wing groups, including those evoking Marxism, took note of the broadly understood problem of discrimination against women. From the outset, the Marxist movement promoted women’s equality and women’s rights, while treating women’s oppression (like racial, national, and other forms) as something that can’t be eradicated without overthrowing the capitalist social system that supports and sustains it. Marxists argue (and rightly so!) that women’s liberation is linked with the struggle against capitalism because ultimately, sexual oppression serves the material interests of the ruling class. Moreover, capitalism as a source of inequality in general is also responsible for women’s hell. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority among the feminist movement in Poland avoid the class struggle and do not seek a solution to the problem, but consider Marxism an anachronism, and fear being accused of communism. Which after all, in Poland has such bad associations and suffers from such a bad reputation. So Polish feminism flows in calm, liberal and polite channels, where even such obvious issues as feminative displays of gender asymmetry heat discussions to boiling point and "feminists" claw at each other’s throats (and keyboards). Likewise, in discussions about abortion – the firm, steadfast stance that "abortion is OK" – actually became fuel for the anti-choice community, as it saw how much this short and true slogan split "feminists".

At this point it is necessary to take a look at the activities of one of the largest feminist organizations in Poland – the Congress of Women. Although its banners call for freedom, equality and sisterhood, the Congress of Women has repeatedly proved that firstly, it strongly favours the interests of capital, and secondly, that it doesn’t treat all women’s postulates as "its own" and worth fighting for or publicizing. For example, the Congress denying any space to lesbians and fighting for their rights, or rather failing to act in defence of women’s labour rights. Or workers’ rights in general. Regarding access to legal and safe abortion, the Congress of Women rather prefers to safely remain silent, firmly avoiding radical or ruthless slogans – knowing that such will not necessarily win the approval of their economically liberal and God-fearing sponsors.

It should be noted, however, that the greatest progress in the field of equality has been achieved in countries traditionally governed by social democratic parties, an excellent example of which is the position of women in Norway, Sweden and Finland. The same applies to wage discrimination against immigrants, youth, racial minorities or any other sector of the labour force. In addition to lowering wages, male chauvinism – like racism, nationalism, homophobia, and other backward ideologies – obscures the mechanisms of social control and divides those at the very bottom, thus providing a bulwark for a hierarchical and inherently oppressive social system. Yet the truth is that women’s oppression is a phenomenon above and beyond class issues, and affects all women, not just those who are poor or who work and earn a poor wage; the degree of oppression and its consequences are qualitatively different for the members of the different social classes.

Polish liberal feminism does not understand (or perhaps at least guesses) that within a few generations the socialization of production may allow all citizens to enjoy a decent quality of life and a certain economic independence that only the elite enjoy today. The elite, including the wealthy, influential "feminists". Access to leisure centres, summer camps, sports, cultural and educational facilities, and other institutions that are currently beyond the reach of most people, would greatly enrich the lives of the majority of the population. When once society escapes the tyranny of the market, which only promotes activities that generate private profit, people will have an increasing range of options for choosing how to organize their lives. The domestic workforce could be significantly reduced by providing social welfare with high-quality childcare, restaurants and laundries. Eventually, as competitiveness, anxiety, and insecurity of life under capitalism recede into the distant past, social behaviour will be transformed.

The situation in Poland looks quite interesting in this respect, as on the one hand, one can see a quite clear leadership, or rather the leadership forms of several well-known activists related to science, journalism or capital, and on the other hand, a number of informal movements, often taking the form of ad hoc, spontaneous actions related to the current political situation. Just as an example: the "Black Umbrellas". These were created absolutely from the grass roots and suddenly arose in the shortest time as a reaction to the PiS (Law and Justice Party) parliament’s attempts to take away the remnants of women’s reproductive rights. And only when the movement gained "momentum" and showed its grassroots strength, unity and effectiveness did the mainstream feminist celebrities of the media "join up".

In the shaping of these movements of great importance is the dominant role of the Catholic Church, which is closely related to the ruling party. A significant role is played here by the informal leadership and influence of a well-known "media empire" of highly conservative provenance. Contributing to this situation are leading publications and film materials, as well as the well-known speeches by some hierarchs and the demonstrative "religiosity" of some politicians. All this creates a picture of conflicting views and a polarization of positions. There is no doubt, however, that the dominant role of the church and the political climate favouring it is slowly heading for collapse. Will this be as spectacular a change as happened in a very short time in Ireland?