Marta Mazurek, Ph. D. graduated from English studies and went on to receive her PhD in American literature studies. She is a researcher and a university lecturer at the Institute of Linguistics at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań and a member of the Program Board of the Interdisciplinary Research Centre for Gender and Identity Studies at AMU, Poznań. She is also a member of the Congress of Women.
Marta Mazurek, Ph.D.
Mayor’s Proxy for Equal Treatment
ONEPoznań: We are talking today on the centenary year when women gained political rights in many European countries. You have been the initiator behind the project to set an online portal where socially and professionally active women of Poznań and actions they take may be presented and heard. Across Poland, it seems to be a one of the kind project included under the celebrations of the centenary?
Marta Mazurek: Yes, I believe it is! We think it essential to show that there is such an astonishing and varied women activity present in Poznań. The ONEPoznań platform, where this interview is featured, is a useful tool. I am happy that it appeared and hope it will develop, as I think, a variety of initiatives undertaken by the women of Poznań and Wielkopolska Region will be widely publicised, which will allow many people to participate in them. I am also glad that, as the Mayor of Poznań Plenipotentiary, I was given the opportunity to launch this worthwhile project. All online content will be archived, and, hopefully, will be available in a form of an extensive publication once the Women’s Rights Year is over.
What does this symbolic anniversary represent to you as a woman?
Most importantly, I find it an anniversary of a true and never ending revolution, which I may partake in through my professional and social engagements. By ‘true’ I refer to an essay by Agata Bielik-Robson, where she quotes a thesis by a recognised American political philosopher Michael Walzer, who states that any abrupt change in the history of human kind over the past thousands of years is but a shadow of the one true revolution, namely the women’s strife for equality.
The Centenary is an opportunity, a duty even, to look back, to recount what the revolution and these women have achieved, and how their achievements now stand as the foundations of our today. Consequently, we get the abundance of Poland-wide initiatives and projects on the history of women or, should I say, herstory. The task is to call these brave and important women back to mind. They were trail blazers in politics, culture, science or social morals, which turned them into symbols of progress and an example to us all. I am aware of how pompous that sounds, but I truly believe, that memory loss is overpowering to contemporary women and lethal to our emancipation.
You hold the position of the Mayor of Poznań Plenipotentiary for Countering Marginalisation. Surely, you are expected to tackle exclusion mainly on the basis of disability, skin colour, sexual orientation or religion. But in legal terms women are equal to men. Do women in Poznań still experience discrimination against gender?
Women as a social group, which is obviously far from being homogeneous, do suffer discrimination on the basis of their gender irrespective of how solid the Constitution is or whether or not they live in Poznań. Since October 2016, women have been mass-protesting in Poland and world wide, which, I think, indicates best that women human rights are not being respected. The reason being the fact that the world we live in is patriarchically oriented and female lower standing is conditioned systemically and culturally in the process of socialisation.
But aren’t women today holding high offices, being professionally active…
It is great that women are professionally active, unfortunately, they often constitute cheap labour and the wages in female dominated sectors testify to that. These are socially responsible jobs often related to care givers, as womanhood is associated with care giving, where the deficiencies in wages are outrageous. Additionally, gender pay gap requires a mention, it is a situation when women are paid less than man despite the same level of qualifications held and responsibilities performed. Estimates vary, but a 7 to 19% gap is assumed for Poland, which amounts to about 700 PLN per month. Now, if you multiply that by the number of working years…
According the estimates given by Ewa Myszkowska on the Time for Women [Czas na Kobiety] conference the higher the position held, the wider the gap is and may amount to 34%. I find the calculation credible, especially if you compare pay gap to pension gap which across Europe reaches 39%. Polish Social Insurance Institution (ZUS) has recently published information which point to the fact that the recently lowered women pension age has resulted in 80% lower average pensions for women compared to men. Poverty it seems has the face of a woman. What is more, any ‘privilege’ for women should be treated with a pinch of salt, as they hardly tend to be privileges at all. A large percentage of women entrepreneurs is often used as an argument in praise of female enterprise, but out of a few businesswomen I know many were actually forced to go self-employed not to lose their source of income.
In my opinion, to be able to earn one’s own living is essential. It enables women to break free of abusive relationships, which are devastating and suck the life out of them. Violence towards women, including sexual harassment, is an experience common to many women – as #MeToo movement or its Polish equivalent #JaTeż have clearly shown.
Also, I’d rather we did not get overjoyed with those higher offices, because once gender factor is taken into account across the structure of posts and functions within various institutes and organizations you can clearly see who the boss is, who governs and allocates funds and honours, and who serves an auxiliary role and is paid less. The glass ceiling is still there and no wishful thinking can change that. The extent of sexual harassment at work is, unfortunately, a function of this relation as #MeToo evidenced.
Important as career is to me, not to be accused of propagating a career cult here, let me say a few words on those women who choose to work at home for their families, and who are often demeaningly referred to as ‘stay-at-home mums’ or ‘housewives’. If we wanted to compare the amount of women’s housework to a full-time employment, than according to a recent survey by the national Central Statistical Office (GUS) Polish women do house chores and take care of their offspring as if it were a nearly full-time job (by the way, the labour market expects employees to leave the house in the morning only to return in the afternoon, which can hardly be considered welcoming to employees who hold custody of any dependants – in Poland a role traditionally ascribed to women). The work remains invisible because it is performed outside the labour market; it is also underappreciated both in economic and social terms. Fortunately, even in Poland women begin to form close partnerships based on a more balanced division of house labour. So let me just answer your question: Yes, they do experience discrimination, and I have only touched upon the issues you have brought up.
During your speech at the Time for Women conference in November 2016, you addressed the issue of single women being perceived by the society as incomplete, definitely lonely, sometimes weird unless they is a man by their side. But I can’t help but see that there are more and more young girls and women who know exactly what it is they want, which does not always go hand in hand with the patriarchal way in which they were brought up. On the other hand, I do see how aggressive the young women have become – the media report on peer brutality among high school or even junior high pupils. Perhaps, nowadays teenagers trapped in their social networks are unable to form strong supportive female relations as women of our generation have?
The reality of today’s teenagers differs from our own experiences of youth on many levels and aggressive behaviour has generally increased across the society, so I would not demonise girls in particular. Also, I am far form claiming that girl ties are rarer that women’s, nor do I think they fail to serve an equally supporting function. In my opinion, we should nurture favourable conditions and encourage girls to play sports, especially team sports, where not only do they strengthen their bodies, but may also form a tight-knit girl group which might develop into a circle of true and supportive friends.
In general, the society where we bring up our women does not advance female solidarity, rather it pits us against one another, making us fierce rivals for a small piece of the pie in the men’s world of power, money and honours; or turning us into competitors in a fight for a must-have man, which you alluded to before. It is a good thing that young women become more assertive and know how to set boundaries. It is enough just to listen to what the girls themselves voice on their painful experiences regarding sexual harassment and how it makes them mad. This is in reference to a newspaper headline to an article by Justyna Suchecka published in Magazyn Świąteczny by Gazeta Wyborcza on 3rd March; a text I wholeheartedly recommend for educational purposes.
You seem to be open to fool around with your own image of an established academic or a mayor’s plenipotentiary for all delicate yet thorny issues. Admittedly, I enjoyed it when you danced alongside the participants of One Billion Rising movement or when you acted out on stage in ‘The Vagina Monologues’, or when you do stand-up comedy tongue-in-cheek at yourself…
Of course, I try to keep things in perspective! Still, I take all those things you mentioned quite seriously. I believe them to be as important as my engagement in the black protests, my lectures, official meetings and conference presentations. I deeply believe them to be actions taken in a good cause. Although, to participate in initiatives like One Billion Rising or The Vagina Monologues tests my courage forcing me to leave my comfort zone as ultimately I stay true to myself and act on my own behalf. In the end, I am glad to take on such a challenge and I enjoy emotional involvement it brings, which is what all these project have in common. I was also happy to join the crew of a stand-up comedy series by Barbarzyńcy PL called The Patriot Store, which I value for its witty subversiveness.
What are Poznań women like on the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote?
Definitely, very diverse. And wonderful! Times we live in demand an increased civic activity and solidarity built among women, too, perhaps especially among women. Even though, I know it is hard, I firmly believe that it is not impossible; it seems to me that I experience women’s solidarity everyday and it is noticeable. I have been privileged to meet smart, ambitious, determined women of different age ready to fight for themselves, for others and for a better world. I also notice wrathful women and I hold women’s wrath in great respect for I can see its power. And awareness. Which reminds me of a line by Fran Lebowitz, who said, “To me, any person who is not angry is either sleeping or an idiot”. A bit radical, I guess, but there’s something to it, and at the time it seemed ingenious.
And who is Marta Mazurek privately? How do you relax? Do you have any time off for private life being the plenipotentiary?
Well, I hope she’s funny (laughter). Of course there is room for private life, although, I do miss some free time, and then, there’s also my academic work. It also requires focus and preparation. For instance, February had me promoting a few diploma papers. I also like to indulge my time-eating bad habits, and there are a few, none is a sports discipline, though (laughter).
The nature of academic work, and I have been an academic for over 20 years now, is such that there is actually no end to it, so I tend to work at home a lot. And the position I hold relates to my social involvement which does not favour a clear cut division into private and professional life, either. So, I relax mostly with the change of scene, for example during spa trips to other cities. Which is what I have planned for an upcoming weekend.
Thank you for your time.
 [translator’s note] The women’s Black Monday Protest in Poland took place on Monday, 3 March, 2016, in response to proposed restrictive anti-abortion laws. Since then a series of protest have been carried out and the movement adopted the name Black Protest in reference to black clothing worn by the protesters. The name is not to be confused with the American Black Protest, which is a movement against racism..