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.