The Feminist Curtain

PRAGUE: Sometimes I feel like a schizophrenic. When in the West, I criticize Western feminist ideas about Central Europe. At home, I refrain from such criticisms and go after the potent anti-feminist stereotypes of my homeland, the Czech Republic. My unpopularity, it seems, cuts two ways.

Thirty years ago, I participated in similar East/West debates. Back then, the issue was socialism, with Western university students imagining that salvation would somehow be found through street demonstrations and left-wing politics. Having experienced what a real socialism was all about, I could only disappoint them, shattering their illusions.

Today, many Western feminists think in similar ways to those leftists of the 1960s. They apply broad generalizations to very different (and usually inappropriate) situations. Their overall effort may be useful, because it injects into Central European debates a diversity of ideas that is essential for people who once lived in the sterile atmosphere of a totalitarian regime, and where habits of conformity linger. But the lives of women in Western and Eastern Europe are far too different for Western feminist notions to be imported whole.

Many Western feminists cling to the belief that socialism's fall harmed women, or at least "threw them back" into the past. They deemed it a plus of the old regime that more women sat in socialist parliaments; that women received "free" medical care; that women held jobs once reserved for men; that the social situation of women was more stable. This is also an opinion held by some women in the Czech Republic, and even more often among women in those postcommunist societies where living standards nowadays seem lower today than under the Communists.