Clash of Cultures vol. 3

Lately I've come face to face with the biggest cultural difference, not just between Finland and Slovakia, but between Nordic (and some Western European) countries  and the entire rest of the world: equality between men and women.

I grew up in a world where my sex didn't determine anything for me or the people around me. I had a lot of boy friends (not boyfriends) already in kindergarten and it could never have occurred to me that I couldn't or shouldn't do something that they did just because I was a girl. In my family I was the only girl child and I was usually the one who did all the crazy things that boys are expected to do like climbing trees, walking first in line to a dark forest and jumping off rocks. As I got older I as a person was never seen as someone whose main function in life is to settle down with a man, not necessarily a man I would like, just some man, and produce children and be content with the fact that that's all my life would ever be.

I've always been aware, of course, that anywhere South from my hometown things get more old fashioned but it has been shocking to realize just how old fashioned things are in most parts of Europe, including Slovakia. OK, it's a Catholic country, I'm sure in Czech Republic things aren't quite as strict as here, but it's also a cultural thing so I don't think people would accept my ways of living my life that much better there either.

Couple examples: I go on "dates" with men, sometimes couple different in one week. When I say date I don't mean it like anything more serious than a glass of wine, it's just about getting to know new people and spend time in the city when my colleagues are not available. But here this is not looked at in a favourable way because a woman is not supposed to have male friends. It's OK to go out in a bigger group but going out just a man and a woman gives them both, and the people around them, the wrong impression (because obviously it's everybody's business).  

In Hungary police published a campaign last year saying that women who dress like prostitutes deserve what they get when they are raped; In Slovakia women march against abortion; In Poland people voted against a law that would have made domestic violence a punishable crime. So if a wife is raped by her husband because she wore short shorts and the preagnancy turns out bad it's totally acceptable and the man deserves a pat on the back... I cant describe my disgust.

There is also a big divide between what women should and shouldn't say/do. For example it is quite weird for a woman to live alone, apparently. She should at least share with complete strangers. A woman should also think twice before expressing an opinion because she's not really supposed to have an opinion about certain things. Also a lot of "personal things", like farting(!), should never be mentioned, it is extremely unsettling especially for men to hear. Truth is traumatizing!

These are extreme cases, of course, but these ways are very much alive and well here. Sometimes in a group I can see people flinch or their faces falling when I say something that in Finland wouldn't cause any reaction. The funny thing is that the most extreme opinions on these matters I've heard from women here. It's a sad day when a woman thinks that it's good that they be kept in "their place". Which is every day here for some of them. 

The most ridiculous encounter, though, was with a man who is from a small town in Ukraine right on the Russian border. The bubble that those people live in there became very clear to me when I was joking about Tinder and he almost fell off his chair. When the conversation went on he at some point laughed at me "Are you seriously telling me you carry you own bags home from supermarket?!"... He couldn't even imagine such an impossible thing. When I asked him who he thought might then carry my shopping bags if not me he couldn't really tell, but that was because he couldn't really understand my question. Because there had to be someone. So far he's told me multiple times he finds it disturbing when I say things honestly and straight because he has never met a woman who says things honestly... I don't even wanna know what sorts of women he grew up with.

This all makes me quite sad. But it also makes me appreciate my upbringing even more and the Finnish culture where nobody is determined as a person by such an insignificant factor as sex. Yes, a woman's Euro is still 80 cents and we should keep fighting to change that but by all indicators we're doing quite OK!


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