As a Polish feminist, I tend to be seen as something of an oddity. Polish feminists hadn’t really had a known presence in London before 2016 and the Polish women’s strike. And then all of a sudden, last year, we sprung up all over the place. New groups, masses of actions, at conferences and feminist festivals. Same in London, as in Poland – Polish feminism does not really have a history of mass movement before 2016, so it sent shock waves around the feminist world, reaching everywhere, from Asia to the US.
A seasoned English feminist friend of mine once explained it to me quite rightly, around mid 2016, when all the Polish Black Protest action was really starting to kick off: ‘Where did you all come from?!’ I mean, she’s known me for quite a while, but I guess she’s assumed I was the only Polish feminist on the planet (or perhaps at least the only one in London), since she’s been a feminist activist for something like 50 years, so she knows more or less everyone in London feminism!
And then all of a sudden dozens of us descended onto London in 2016 after the Polish government has decided to seriously threaten our reproductive rights. So I get her sense of confusion. Frankly, I was massively surprised myself. 2016 was a year of the Polish feminist rising. And it all happened so quickly! I never thought that 7 million of us would have joined the October’s women’s strike in Poland, even just a week before it was called. And then it just happened! Polish women’s feminist consciousness was raised like wildfire. So I don’t blame Western feminists for being in awe. The world rarely sees massive uprisings like that. Much less in Western feminism. It took the Second Wave feminists years of consciousness raising to get to a stage like that.
I have been going on about the Polish women’s strike for ages. But I have to admit, it was possibly the most exciting, heartwarming – as much as it might have felt completely unexpected at the time – event of the year.
Yet, that is not the reason I’ve started this post. I’ve written about the Polish feminists’ 2016 elsewhere extensively. I am hinting here at the apparent incoherence of my identity to the rest of the world.
Polish and feminist is bad enough. In London, where I live, it is a new concept, but at least feminist women are not uncommon, so I can feel at home being among them. But last year, when I went back home, my father told me in no uncertain terms to get over myself and stop being a feminist.
Needless to add, I ignored his ultimatum. But he’s not the only one. In Poland, being a feminist puts one on par with communists – which, after a long history of Soviet occupation, is possibly the worst thing one can be called.
To add insult to injury, I have decided to be vegetarian as well! Which is near impossible in my home country. I once ate almost exclusively strawberries for two weeks when I went back there, because everyone was trying to feed me goulash or sausages all the time! I mean, I’m not complaining – I love strawberries. But one can only eat so many of them in one go!
London is much kinder to vegetarians! There are vege restaurants popping up all over the place, and most cafes don’t just offer soya milk as an alternative these days, but also almond, and often times coconut or oat. Yum! There is even now a vegan chicken shop in Hackney! I mean, nowhere in Europe that I’d been offers that much vege choice! London is a haven for veggies!
Considering that last time I went to Spain a waiter got upset with me because I didn’t want to eat fish, I am pretty happy to be living in London! But still, Polish vegetarian feminist is not the easiest identity to have! I mean, whenever I leave London, I worry about not having anything to eat for a week or two!
So I should have known better than to decide to make my café vegan as well as feminist! But then, as a Polish vegetarian feminist, I don’t really care much for the easy way, as you can probably tell by now! Plus, the feminists that I know are predominantly vegans or vegetarians, for all sorts of ethical and health reasons. So it seems to make sense. Only when reality hits, when I’m outside the feminist world, becomes a feminist and a veggie is a double challenge!
Trying to set up a feminist café has been highly challenging. Being a feminist tends to be, but then other women in the community don’t tend to want to have their own eateries! Ones that did, in the past, found it many obstacles on their paths – from internal feuds between different factions of feminists to cost. This brilliant herstory article talks about it in more detail. But it also posits that those kinds of spaces are no longer needed!
2017 is going to be even more of a challenge. The coffee shop is finally getting off the ground. Not the way I originally planned but it is. I am starting with a few stalls here and there, testing the market, seeing what people think. While I look for a permanent location for a shop somewhere perfect.
Last year, I had to challenge all my preconceptions. This year, I am taking the lessons learned to heart, and starting out small. With a stall. Then another. Hopefully, growing into a shop.
It hasn’t been easy. But I am not giving up! Hell no!