I’m writing this on an Easter Monday. Any second, a bunch of men can knock at my door and expect me to let them beat me with sticks. As a reward, I should give them eggs.
While this tradition seems really weird to any foreigner, many Czech men absolutely love it. No surprise there — the Czech Republic is one of the most sexist countries in Europe, and so if anyone should beat women with sticks to celebrate Easter, it’d probably be Czech men.
The tradition is supposed to keep women fertile
Since ages ago (the exact date isn’t clear), men have been making what is called “pomlázka” out of tree branches, usually the willow tree.
On Easter Monday, boys and men basically of all ages imaginable go from house to house and knock at the door as if it was trick-or-treating.
Girls and their mothers open the door, the men whip their butts while singing a song with lyrics such as “give me your painted eggs, if not painted, at least white, the hen will give you another one.” After the whipping is done, the men receive their painted hard-boiled eggs and off they go to collect more eggs and do more whipping.
By the end of the day, men have lots of eggs to eat and women have whipped butts. That’s the tradition in a nutshell.
The opinions on why Czech men beat women with sticks differ, however, one of the common ones is that it keeps the women fertile and healthy for another year.
Uhm. Sexist much?
What’s more, the exchange of whipping for eggs is supposed to have its own meaning too — the whipping apparently shows the man’s interest in the woman he is beating (girls who aren’t visited at all on Easter Monday should be sad because they’re unworthy of the attention). In return, the woman gives him an egg as a sign of gratitude and forgiveness.
If this isn’t a big fat message to all women out there that abuse should be forgiven out of love and gratitude, I don’t know what is. And yet, every time I point out the absurd sexism of the tradition to a Czech man, what follows is uncomfortable squirming or straight out calling me out for being a radical feminist.
As if that’s an insult.
Every Easter, I felt like a prey
Ever since I was about 5, I had to open the door to any boy or man and let myself be whipped together with my sister, my mother, even my grandmother.
The range was wide — little boys with their fathers, a group of teenage classmates, big groups of drunk full-grown men (because together with the eggs, they often receive a shot of hard alcohol as well, and so by the end of the day many are completely wasted). Boys I fancied, boys I hated, boys that disgusted me, boys I felt humiliated by.
Everyone had the right to whip my butt.
Sometimes, especially when it was the little boys accompanied by their fathers, the whipping was very gentle. You could hardly feel it. The humiliation was still there, but it was present on both sides as the little boys were shy to not only whip me but also sing an awkward song while doing it.
The real nature of the tradition came to light when nobody was looking. It was the spark in their eyes as they beat me harder than was necessary, it was the fear to go outside because groups of teenage boys were running after us, whipping our butts, backs, calves, thighs with all their might.
Every Easter, teenage boys with their hormones going crazy had a hunt. And girls were the prey. It was the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I’m in the middle of a literal gender war.
“Two of them would hold me as the third one whipped me,” my mum remembers her own teenage years. “I had big bruises for a long time afterwards.”
When I turned 12, I refused to open the door — I slowly started to realise how horrible the tradition was. I felt humiliated each time I had to turn and let some guy touch my ass with a stick. But my dad sometimes invited the men in, and a bunch of boys ran at me in my own bedroom and whipped me as I shrieked and hid behind the bed.
Can we just stop?
Every Easter, girls all over the country shriek and run, and it’s considered fun. Every Easter, boys feel like violence is suddenly justified and approved by their own culture — and so they have a spree.
Many women literally don’t feel safe not only outside but also in their own houses, in their own bedrooms. When it’s not classmates, neighbours or random strangers, it’s their own fathers and husbands — and even if they don’t mean it and just try to have some fun, they often don’t realise how strong they are and they do end up causing you pain.
And what does the whipping teach us? Girls are taught to let men whip their butts and thank them for it. Boys are taught that they’re entitled to women’s bodies and that it’s okay to hurt them — after all, everyone else is doing it too.
It’s a tradition.
Well, it’s also the 21st century. Some traditions are simply outdated. I have an idea — how about instead of whipping women with braided willow branches, we search for hidden eggs like normal people?
One thing is clear. It’s only me and my mum in our flat now. And if someone knocks, we pretend we’re not home. Our door is shut every Easter Monday.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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