No, Sweetie, You Can’t Hit Women and I Don’t Care If It’s Easter!

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My cultural and feminist angst came to a head this week in a major way. A significant, if not the main part of Czech Easter tradition consists of men running around with pomlázky (braided sticks) and whipping girls on the butt for fertility. They are rewarded with candy eggs but more often than not shots of 40% proof alcohol. Here is a guest post from two years ago which our HollaBack! mother site was kind enough to place on the homepage.

My partner and I were instructed last week to have our six-year-old son come to school with two pomlázky yesterday. Naturally, we refused and had a conversation with him about this tradition since we’re not Czech. We’re conflicted about causing offense to the people of the country where we happily live but also frustrated as it’s hard enough explaining many things to kids and it becomes even more difficult when certain things shouldn’t actually apply to you. Our son, I was quite pleased, looked horrified and said he had no interest in hitting girls. We instructed him to go to school, tell the teachers he didn’t believe in hitting and find something else to do. So when I picked him up yesterday and he ran to me happily swinging a pomlázka I flipped.

In short, he behaved like a normal six-year-old. The teachers said it was OK, everybody was doing it, the girls were all laughing and he got candy. I cried on the corner of our street for 40 mins on the phone to my partner wondering how on earth I was supposed to explain our patriarchal society to my little boy. In the end I frightened him and he thought I was mad at him. I told him I wasn’t angry with him or his teachers but at something bigger. I reminded him that sometimes when his papa is tickling him he laughs but he doesn’t really like it. But how should I continue?

In the wake of Steubenville, I imagine many of you have seen articles on “How Not to Raise a Rapist”. Well how do I convey to a little boy that what happened in school yesterday in and of itself was technically OK? We like his teachers very much and are confident they made sure nobody got hurt and the class all had fun…but the truth is that as the years go by these boys will get stronger; these girls will become used to giggling their feelings away; these girls will become used to no one around them intervening; they will get used to saying “yes” because that’s what polite girls do; they will become inured to not going against the grain or rocking the boat; and they will get used to seeing boys rewarded for bad behavior. And should I even get started on the “stick”, the “egg” and the messages of procreation as female function?

When he told me he was sent hom with instructions to hit both me and my elderly mother I seriously thought my head was going to pop off. As much as I feel it’s never too early to preach non-violence it can be way too hard to explain the nuances of what violence really means. I wonder if I’ll have a grip on this by the time he’s seven.

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6 Responses

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  1. Magoonski says:

    The only thing you need to do is cry in front of your son, let him see your emotions and how it upsets you. Do this and your son will never do it again.

    • Julia says:

      This was my initial thought as well. It doesn’t do any good to hide the true emotions from little kids, unless it’s misdirected anger. To see you cry will form a guttural reaction that no words can convey

  2. [...] about gender equality and the way we treat women. As a fellow expat in Prague pointed out in a recent blog post, particularly in the wake of recent highly publicized acts of sexual violence against women, [...]

  3. Michaela Freenab says:

    Oh, c’mon. I grew up being “beaten” like this and it never once transferred to me thinking that I should let boys be nasty to me any other way.

    You are forgetting the second part of that tradition! In the afternoon, the boys are supposed to get wet – we poured buckets of cold water at them – in revenge and for fertility. And in some cases, to wake them up if they had too much to drink :-)

    The one thing you SHOULD explain to your son is that there is such as thing as a theater-like staged situation, when it is OK to do something, be reasonable doing it and nobody gets hurt and everyone has fun. Then there is life and in life, things are different. And THAT knowledge will be very important for many aspects of his life.

    This is about as ridiculous as being jealous when your husband kisses someone under a mistletoe at Christmas. Sorry, it is. As a child, I was terrified of St. Nicholas and his devil, but not once did I feel truly threatened or uncomfortable at Easter.

    Easter pomlázka is fun. My American husband refused to participate as well and for years, I missed it. I feel there’s something wrong without it. I don’t get to run around the house, squeal and giggle and spill a bucket of water at someone later. It may not be funny for you, but it’s fun for us.

    Let your son be a part of it, it won’t make him a rapist. Other things might, this is not one of them. The one thing that’s much more dangerous is if you loose a sense of humor.

  4. [...] Czech boldy hollas back at a longstanding Czech Easter tradition. In this week’s post titled, “No, Sweetie, You Can’t Hit Women and I Don’t Care If It’s Easter!”, the team calls attention to the widely accepted Easter tradition of whacking women in the behind [...]

  5. Nya-chan Production says:

    As a Czech person, I think this reaction is kind of overblown. It’s a tradition and you’re not supposed to “beat” the women – I think most families will be fine if you only make a gesture of that way, fairly sure that they won’t say something like: “Beat her more” (there are Moravian families that you wouldn’t want to visit, though, they go at it quite hard, or so I’ve heard. But for them the tradition are sunk in way deeper).
    Also you are free to skip it – ever since a certain age I skip it, because I feel uncomfortable even pretending to beat girls, and no-one has questioned it. But the young kids enjoy it a bit more (because it involves running around and screaming), so I can understand letting them do it. I have to repeat that it’s mostly done in a good fun.
    By the way, the tradition has its other side to it – if you come to a house as a guy after 12 o’clock, the local girls are free to throw buckets of water at you – so it’s a bit of double-edged (and many guys have to hide in the afternoon before girls with buckets full of cold water. Not that it helps).

    Just for some insight on how I see it after years of doing this tradition.

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