Czech independent feminist organization Čtvrtá vlna uses videos to spread awareness. Check our interview with the collective sharing their views on feminism within the space of social media.
A few months ago, a video which felt uncomfortably familiar has popped up on Facebook feed. Empty corridors turned into a walk through disturbing testimonies of female art school students confronted with blatantly sexist slurs and remarks. The creator behind this video is a social-media based organization Čtvrtá vlna which have quickly drawn the attention of both supporters and critics. We have caught up with Čtvrtá vlna to talk about feminism as a sinister word, feminism as media hot topic, feminism in pop culture, and most importantly, feminism as new means of collaboration to create space without oppression or hostility.
Via the name of your organization, you clearly place yourself within the historical continuum of the feminist movement. What are the characteristics of the fourth wave? What was the signal for establishing a new era?
We are not really trying to distinguish ourselves from the past generations. Our name is a marker of continuity with the previous feminist movements and it symbols the aim to encompass their themes while finding a new language to express them. That’s the reason why Čtvrtá vlna focuses on the influence of information technologies and social media. Quite recently, we attended a meeting of feminists of various generations and one of them mentioned that this would be the fourth time in her life witnessing a rebuilding of the same feminist agenda from scratch. That statement unfortunately shows that the progress of our society is questionable, but it also made us realize the importance of being acutely aware of our contemporary demands in relation to both the past and the present.
We see difference in our approach to men. We take them for our equal partners, involved in our activities, and discussion of our plans. We aim for reciprocity, not a combat.
What was the initial impulse for the creation of Čtvrtá vlna?
We are involved in the fields of art and political science, areas which have a long history of excluding women from public production. For us, to study at an art school meant to study within a narrative written by men – for men. We are still to this day confronted with the idea that the direction of these fields of expertise is naturally set by masculine dominance as if that was an unchangeable, given fact. Eventually we came to a realization that this is not a situation of an individual failure. Every woman is predestined to a social defeat for simply existing in a world of masculine hierarchy. We don’t hope for an ultimate and easy overturning of these rules, but we can share the experience of all who don’t feel at home within such society and don’t agree with its fixed structure.
You chose to communicate your views through short and striking videos. Why the preference for this format? Is feminism supersaturated with text? Do you plan to expand beyond the internet social media?
We rather see a lack of feminist point of view in the domain of visual media. Most of Facebook videos portray a woman as an object and create a false image of her status in society. We would like to create an alternative to the sexist visual smog. We operate on social media platforms because they allow us to address the younger generation and to expand our viewing audience beyond our friends and mutuals. We realize that reading a text requires a different type of concentration, more demanding than watching a moving picture. We ourselves engage in a variety of work and studies. We take an active part in various clubs, we collaborate with other feminist organizations, we write for newspapers. Feminism is reflected in our professional output, be it art or political science.
The video which have so far drawn the greatest attention is a solemn walk through authentic experience of female art school students encountering clearly sexist approach. Have you anticipated such a huge wave of interest?
To be honest, we did not expect such a feedback. We created this video with the same expectations as any other of our works. But social media are an unpredictable mechanism, able to surprise as this video has proved. Ironically, this has been one of the less difficult videos in terms of production.
Why do you think it was this video of all that have resonated with many of the viewers?
We think the reason for those thousands of views is the fact that it addresses a widely shared experience. It’s scary how many female students and graduates have contacted us with their own stories once the video was published. There is something in these schools that has not been spoken about, it is festering inside and suddenly it is brought to light. Moreover, the video was created to be expressive and loud, even without hitting the play button you can see its message hovering before your eyes.
What have you learned from the discussion which has erupted in reaction to the video?
That the oppression and discrimination of female students is even worse than we dared to think. We learned that there is a deep-rooted belief that an equal partnership is something a student has to fight for. In certain circles it is believed that to be able to study at university, one has to have the strength; something which is, moreover, supposed to be a natural characteristic of an individual. If you don’t have it, don’t study at university.
One of the reoccurring reproaches of your critics and anti-sympathizers is that you, as well, lapse into generalizations, or that you are seeking problems in a wrong place. How do you react to similar opinions?
We are trying to approach our videos and protagonists with sensibility and as little categorizing as possible, even though the format of Facebook videos is quite limited. The criticism concerning generalizing is rather a criticism of not treating the issue as a structural problem. True, not every female student is discriminated just like not every single mother is poor and not every female is a victim of domestic violence. However, we are trying to demonstrate that these are not individual problems but phenomenons with reoccurring patterns.
It seems that a lot of the criticism coming from the wider audience is based on the general misconception of feminism as such. Do you think there is a reason behind the array of negative connotations and stereotypes attached to the word feminist within the Czech context?
We can see a parallel between the contemporary nationalist moods in our society and the aggressive rejection of feminism. A certain loss of securities and understanding of the current state of the world often leads to an exaggerated defence of one’s own space and unwillingness to accept thoughts which do not fit within the traditional and conventional order of the things.
Feminism is often misunderstood as hatred of men, an effort to replace the patriarchy with matriarchy. However, we understand it as a possibility for new means of co/operation which, nevertheless, sometimes requires stepping out of the comfort schemes/roles.
What is more, when feminism gained on visibility in public space after ‘89, its image was mainly articulated by anti-feminists. That led to this aversion to the word and the movement itself.
The previous question links me to the next one. You have talked about the fact that Čtvrtá vlna has, at the moment, in a sense limited potential for its viewership. You talk about wanting to step out of your social bubble, a vital but difficult goal. Have you thought about strategies to achieve that?
We are trying to strike up collaborations with organizations which already work with disadvantaged women. At the same time, we believe that our common belonging to female gender allows for an easier access to women working as barmaids in 24-hour bars, women with no home or placed in shelters, but also women in high manager posts. We are connected by shared experience which runs across different levels of education, space, or age. We have all experienced discrimination of sorts.
The reactions surrounding the above-mentioned video have also drawn the attention of media – you are featured in articles, you make interviews – are you happy about that?
We are, because it makes it easier for us to reach to people which would otherwise be hard, if not impossible, to get to. And, naturally, it makes us happy to see that media are interested in a topic which doesn’t celebrate heroes but presents its anti-heroines, forgotten women, oppressed female students, men not afraid of crying, and others.
Speaking of media – it seems that, in recent years, feminism has become a hot topic of popular culture. How do you perceive this media cloud around feminism?
We know that seeping of feminism into popular culture has its supporters and opponents. Sometimes it’s really just a superficial exploitation of a trend for boosting one’s attractiveness. There’s no doubt Beyoncé has got a smart team that knows when to strategically shift from cheap body objectification to “conscious activism”. What is relevant, however, is the fact that they succeeded in turning the attention to women of all colours, body shapes, and different conceptions of partnership.
But we do not want to succumb to the naive belief that we are witnessing a feminist revolution, particularly not based on media interest.
Coming back to the story at the beginning of this interview, those feminists always felt a wave of progress and things getting into motion, but when it fell off they had to start all over again. At the same time, it is apparent that at least a heightened sensibility towards gender issues is becoming a part of social debate. There is less pressure on complying with prescribed gender roles, there is a higher emphasis on diversity (e.g. in advertisement – H&M, Always…). The impact of queer aesthetics definitely has a role in that.
Unfortunately, it seems that feminism as represented in contemporary pop culture and media is more of an added value coming from above; affordable for those who have enough time, education, and a sufficient social capital. Through advertising, feminism is susceptible to becoming a commodity which sells but loses its activist ethos of female liberation and emancipation.
Do you feel a certain progress of thought when it comes to understanding feminism in Czech context?
We feel a strong support coming particularly from the younger generation. It is great to see the work of some female and male journalists, works in the field of music… Certain series of radio Wave, fanzine Obrovská by Mary C, texts by Karel Veselý or Kamil Fila, all of these contribute to the improvement of conditions for female/male collaboration and relentlessly subvert the conventional stereotypes in music and film production. We have a feeling that feminist topics are more and more heard in public space but there’s still a lot to fight for.
What are your plans for 2017?
We are planning a collaboration with allied organization such as Konsent, Nemravky, or RFK. We are looking forward to shooting with girls from Jako doma, a non-profit organization devoted to the issue of homeless women. We are planning events and shooting for International Women’s Day. We are also going to shoot about a dance project focusing on the issue of gender identity and its challenging. In response to the school-themed video we have been contacted by several representatives of these institutions, and we are working on a seminar and conference dealing with sexism and forms of oppression in academic space. Besides these plans we are trying to be operative and react on topical social issues creating stereotypes and hostility which we are trying to eliminate.