Feminism in Poland until 1989 and some “feminist” artists

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but I’ve been very busy. It’s amazing how I always think I have more time than I actually do. You’d think I’d learn at some point, but no… I still feel like maybe somehow I can squeeze more hours out of the day. Anyway, on to the post…

Feminism in Poland is divided into 7 waves. I don’t want to spend too much time discussing the earlier waves as I’d like to tell you about modern feminism. The earlier waves assured women the right to an education and the right to vote (Nov. 28, 1918).

The 6th wave is from 1948-1989. After the end of WWII, the situation of Polish women differed from that of women in Western Europe and the U.S. Communist Poland propagated the emancipation of women at home and at work. This period was characterized by mass propaganda promoting gender equality and called women to join industrial manufacturing and collective farming (popular slogan of the times: Women on tractors!).

The peak of the sixth wave was the legalization of abortion by the Sejm in 1956, which was accompanied by “pro-abortion” propaganda and heated debates with Catholic groups. After that, feminism in Poland pretty much ceased to exist (until 1989), because authorities deemed that they fulfilled all the requirements of feminism. The fact is that the legalization of abortion took place in communist Poland almost 20 years earlier than the US and France (but later than in the Scandinavian countries).

Formally, gender equality was guaranteed, and sexual education was being gradually introduced in primary schools. Contraceptives were also legalized. However, in practice, gender equality existed only theoretically. Any sort of debate on the problems and issues of women’s rights was forbidden. Any contact with “western” feminism was also forbidden (as a result ideas of feminism reached Poland only after 1989). Communism only tolerated “limited” official feminism, mostly aimed at propagating removing the burden of the family and household, and active participation in the workforce. This, of course, was also in theory, as Poland was and is a patriarchal society, and women were (and are) still responsible for childcare (despite the proliferation of public child care facilities) and household duties.

Some “feminist” artists associated with these times often focused on the body and female sexuality. Some artists worth checking out are:

Natalia Lach-Lachowicz whose “consumption” series of photographs and films evoke comparisons to pornographic advertisements and introduce a discursive tone to the rigid view of women.

“Consumption” series. http://nataliall.com/

Maria Pinińska-Bereś created soft, organic forms with erotic sounds and in candy pink colors evoking the aura of the boudoir – the contractual place of pleasure and erotic kitsch produced by urban culture.

Ewa Partum did performances. She would show up on the street nude. She organized street interventions and actions calling women liberate themselves from married slavery. She ran a “flying gallery” and published manifests until the 1980s when she left Poland.


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