I rarely come across articles about Bulgaria in the international press. It’s even more difficult to find something interesting in them. Most stick to well established stereotypes that get repeated over and over – corruption, poverty, organized crime. But once in a Blue Moon I stumble upon things which are really fresh and – dare I say – daring. :)
Like this analysis of gender equality with the smirky title Do women rule Bulgaria? published on Al Jazeera’s site. It’s written by a Bulgarian journalist and that’s even more remarkable because we excel at trashing our own country. He’s not exactly free from this addiction but he offers a good summary of what women in Bulgaria are able to achieve with very little fuss.
Feminism in Bulgaria never existed, especially as it is understood in the West, with all its waves, talking vaginas and voting rights spectacles. The waters in Bulgaria are usually calm, the vaginas – too busy to hold speeches and their right for independence is understood to be something so natural that saying someone should aim to reinforce it seems like a pledge to maintain Earth’s orbit around the Sun stable: Ambitious, yet unnecessary.
Don’t get me wrong, we have our share of gender prejudices and most of our men still think penises shouldn’t be washed by hand.
And yet, there’s a huge difference when you compare Bulgarian women to their supposedly “more” emancipated Western counterparts. They simply kick ass. And as usual with all our country’s modern misfortunes, the blame is all on communism.
Communism never discriminated according to gender. It had one very important goal – to make everybody a worker. Period! Right after it took the Russian empire by storm, communism started encouraging women to drive tractors and harvesters, to operate cranes and production lines. The only thing that could make a job “male only” was its reliance on pure muscle power. Such as lifting bags with cement or replacing tractor tires. And even then you could find a crazy Natasha in almost every Kolkhoz who would try to challenge all the lads just for the sake of it.
It was this kind of culture that emancipated Bulgarian women after the Soviet occupation, and it happened in a country which was so poor that none of the sexes were given a real chance to clearly dominate over the other. Gender prejudices based on religion weren’t a particular Orthodox specialty either, our priests were always free to fuck as much as they wanted, so the church didn’t play a role. With the industrialization and urbanization of Bulgarian life during the 50s and the 60s, even the muscle power arguments began to weaken and by the end of the century the stigmata associated with single or divorced women (or men for that matter) became an anachronism.
I grew up in a family where the wife earned more than the husband. And my father, who in many respects fits the stereotype of a macho rather gracefully, didn’t have a problem with it.
Women are often considered to have better organizational skills and better judgement when it comes to spending money. My mom didn’t earn the nickname “the Bank” for binge-shopping shoes and skin moisturizers.
Most of the accountants in Bulgaria are women. And it may really surprise you but I’ve even seen women dressed as Santa.
To add insult to injury, the best students in school were girls. In fact, there was a strange prejudice about boys who had too many good grades – they were often considered… girly. How do I know that? I was one of them. Men’s God-given right for intellectual misery and laziness is deeply rooted in our national mentality.
Many people praise countries like Spain who have “positive discrimination” that favors women but few know that 20 years ago there was “positive discrimination” in élite Bulgarian schools and universities and it favored men. Again, I was one of them. If it wasn’t for this policy that forced each school to accept equal numbers of boys and girls, I would have never studied what I really wanted. Even with these restrictions in place, the gender ratio in my class was 1:4! There were simply not enough boys who didn’t completely fail their entry exam to fill the available places.
And this is where I agree with the writer of the article – our women really had to try hard. One little correction though. They didn’t compete with men. They were competing with each other.