Hungary and gender equality: An abysmal record

Ignác Romsics, a historian best known for his work on the twentieth century, is a prolific writer who just published an ambitious book, a one-volume history of Hungary. Romsics has been making the rounds to publicize his book. During one of his interviews, he was asked about “the guiding principle of the Hungarian nation” in history. Is there some kind of “inevitability” to its fate? Romsics, without making any reference to politics or specifically mentioning Viktor Orbán’s name, had some harsh words to say about the romantic notion that the guiding principle of the Hungarian people is its “longing for freedom.” In Romsics’s view, “if there is such a thing as a guiding principle, Hungary in the last 1,000 years has been trying to follow the modernization efforts of Western Europe. Our gaze was always on the West; both our revolutionaries and our consolidators have followed European and not Asian models. Both Mihály Károlyi and István Bethlen were guided by this principle…. But despite continuous efforts, we have never managed to catch up with the advanced regions of Europe.” Here Romsics, who is considered to be a conservative historian, goes against everything the Orbán regime stands for. It seems that he, like other conservative thinkers, realize that their place is not on Viktor Orbán’s side.

I recalled this interview, which I read a few days ago, when I looked at another study by the European Commission, this time on gender equality. Two days ago I was decrying the fact that Hungary, in almost all comparative polls, ranks worst or close to worst among the 28 member states. It is depressing always to see Hungary among the same three or four East European countries, whether the issue is healthcare or the performance of 15-year-olds on PISA tests. Or, as we will find out, when it comes to the position of women and the societal attitude towards them.

A couple of years ago 444.hu got hold of a recording of an informal conversation between Viktor Orbán and university students at his old dormitory. A female student inquired why there weren’t more women in Hungarian politics. Orbán replied that, yes, some people claim that “women should be given more opportunity in political life,” but, according to him, Hungarian politics is built on “continual character assassination,” which creates the kinds of brutal situations that “women cannot endure.” Perhaps they could be used in diplomacy. An ambassadorship might be a safe place for a woman, but being a “mayor in a town that is a county seat is a soldier-like political task for a woman.” Of course, within Fidesz it is Viktor Orbán who decides which women are strong enough to be politicians since he approves all appointments within the party. Mighty few  qualify.

Gender Equality 2017 is a survey that was undertaken at the behest of the European Commission. It was published a few days ago. As everyone knows, the West is a great deal more progressive than the East. But even within Eastern Europe Hungary stands out as an extremely conservative country with societal outlooks stuck at the end of the nineteenth century. This is especially strange after forty years of socialism, when women were brought into every field of the working world. For instance, in the 1950s Hungary was way ahead of the United States, where women were largely excluded from such professions as medicine, law, and engineering.

The traditionalist, deeply conservative view of Hungarian society is  demonstrated by Hungarians’ answer to the following statement: “The most important role of a woman is to take care of her home and family.” Respondents had the option of either agreeing or disagreeing with this assertion. Bulgaria leads the way with 81% agreeing, but, don’t fear, Hungary is right behind at 79%. And 79% of Hungarians believe that “the most important role of a man is to earn money.” Given such an attitude, we shouldn’t be surprised that an overwhelming majority of Hungarians (87%) believe that “women are more likely than men to make decisions based on their emotions.” The EU average score is 69%.

The survey included two statements on women and politics. The first was about women’s interest in acquiring positions of responsibility in politics. The majority of Hungarians (57%) believe that women are simply not interested in politics. The EU average is 34%. The situation was even worse when Hungarians confronted the statement “Women do not have the necessary qualities and skills to fill positions of responsibility in politics.” Forty-one percent of Hungarians believe that women are simply unfit to fill political roles. Well, you could say, that’s not so bad. At least it’s better than 79% thinking that the most important role of a woman is taking care of the home and children. Yes, but Hungary, along with Romania, heads that list. Just to illustrate the seriousness of the situation,  only 20% of Poles and Slovenians are as backward as Hungarians. Sorry, but I consider that true backwardness.

Political analysts like to portray Viktor Orbán as the political genius who keeps his finger on the pulse of the nation. He knows “Kádár’s folks,” the saying goes, but I think it would be more accurate to say that he is one of them. It is unlikely that he keeps women away from power because he considers it to be politically advantageous. No, he does it instinctively because he truly believes that they are neither fit for nor interested in politics.

Strangely, when Hungarians were faced with the statement “Politics is dominated by men who do not have sufficient confidence in women,” 82% of them agreed, the highest score among all member states. Hungarians, when it comes to women and politics, seem to have a somewhat schizophrenic attitude to the whole question. On the one hand, women should stay at home and take care of the family and, on the other, the men who are in charge of their affairs don’t really represent their interests. The majority (61%) of Hungarians realize that “political gender equality has not been achieved” in their country.

With a political leadership that not only wouldn’t reflect and exploit present prejudices but would try to bring the country more in line with the West, toward which Hungary has allegedly been striving for a thousand years, the abysmal standing of Hungary on the issue of gender equality could be shaped over time to conform at least to the European Union average.

November 27, 2017
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Aida
Guest

Before I read and maybe contribute to the discussion may I make a point. Gender is a term of grammar. In other words “la maison” is of the female “gender”. Humans, in my opinion are either of the male or of the female “sex”. In my opinion the current, and in my view overhyped publicity given to “gender” inequality is a misnomer. For “gender” we should use “sex”.

exTor
Guest

You are correct, Aida, about ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. Both my Canadian passport and my Ontario driver’s license use the words ‘sex/sexe’ to bilingually label the category that designates my sex, not my gender.

‘Sex’ is between the legs, ‘gender’ is between the ears. ‘Gender’ is more than a grammatical construct, it is a sexuality construct. Annoyingly, many (who are either ignorant or sloppy) use ‘gender’ instead of ‘sex’ when merely referencing females and males, nothing else.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Member

Not a very useful comment, Aida. This blog is aimed at the English-speaking world, a world in which the word “sex” immediately conjures up issues about sexuality. The word “gender” has been used for many decades in the way of which you disapprove, and it has the advantage of avoiding people tittering about sex when it is not the issue. I don’t know what your motivation is (perhaps you just don’t like the issue of gender studies?), but languages evolve, and only minimal use is to be gained from ignoring or objecting to this change.

exTor
Guest
Unfortunately, Éva’s response to me was garbled. Point taken about Aida, DR Evans. She could have [read: should have] better stated her point about ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. Those two terms started linking denotationally from the 1300s. The following ‘gender’ points are from my Mac’s Dictionary app. The sense ‘the state of being male or female’ has also been used since the 14th century, but this did not become common until the mid20th century. Although the words ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ both have the sense ‘the state of being male or female’, they are typically used in slightly different ways: ‘sex’ tends to refer to biological differences, while ‘gender’ refers to cultural or social ones. The misuse of ‘gender’ is less about societal discomfort over ‘sex’ and more about creeping ignorance. While certain linguistic formulations using ‘sex’ might result in awkwardnesses, that is no reason to not use ‘sex’ when that word is called for. A smart rewrite solves many problems. Re language evolution, your point that “only minimal use is to be gained from ignoring or objecting to [language evolution]”, is somewhat true, however sometimes one must object intellectually. Accordingly, I avoid the ‘beg the question’ idiom, which many ignorati treat… Read more »
Aida
Guest

My mother, like before her and her mother and so on, stayed at home. When my brother and I were children we had a full time mother. She was not some sort of slave or underprivileged exploited female. She was a wife and mother. Full time.

For my part, having seen both versions, I happen to prefer a stay at home woman who concentrates on managing a home and bringing up a family. I do not deny the right of people to make different choices if they wish. I know the daily recurring stress of a family with a wife having a career and an ambition. This is referred to in modern jargon as “challenging”. Soul destroying is more appropriate, I believe.

Back to the article about “gender inequality”. If a society chooses not to follow the prescribed role model are they backward or just people who want to do things differently.

I know I am going to be called a troll. You might instead prefer to deal with the point if you take the trouble to respond.

Member
The model in which the man is the breadwinner and the woman (alone) dedicates herself to the family can be really soul-destroying, for the woman at least. (Ever read Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” and its heart-rending accounts of women doomed to lead an intellectually and spiritually empty life?) Moreover, it has only been true for a short time in human history and for the wealthy middle-class in certain wealthy countries. Outside these small worlds, poor women have always worked, either taking their kids with them or leaving them with elder siblings, grandparents or other relatives, while rich women have had servants to take care of their children and homes. Besides, not all women are mothers nor wish to be mothers, and in our society most women are mothers of young children for only a part of their fertile adult lives. Yet, attitudes and political decisions affecting working mothers will affect all working women. “If a society chooses to follow the prescribed role” – now that sounds like trolling. Prescribed, by whom? (Sorry, I forgot: Soros of course.) I don’t believe that most Hungarians consciously vote for the present policies because they “want to do things differently”. Rather, it’s a… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Aida
The happy “traditional” family model is largely fictitious as S.Santra implied, it did put women in full economic dependence with all the consequent dependencies and with no alternative or opt out. Marital violence and rape were acceptable.
The West offers CHOICE for women, not prescriptions, although the economics of labor/wages strongly suggest two earners for everyone, but the upper mid class and above.
From this point of view the retrograde regime here does nothing to promote pay equality, but rather concurs with the existing inequality.
Finally, yes, it is backward, retrograde, anachronistic, etc. Otherwise we are denying progress in societal norms, the Renessaince, the Enlightment, the Civilising Process (Norbert Elias). Shall we live by the Bible: killing all opponents, keeping slaves, offering daughters for sex, stoning wives, etc? Or shall we acknowledge women’s rights to own property, be protected from physical harm or death, get a divorce and custody of their children, vote, receive equal pay? All these were granted in the last 150 years, remember?

zsuka
Guest

As a woman having a career and a family with children still at school age I understand that some women might wish to have a full time job just caring for their families. And yes, the word challenging is a euphemism. At times combining a job and a family is just hard and exhausting.
Nevertheless I wouldn’t want to be a full time mother. I’m happy to have an intellectually demanding job and not being financially dependent on my husband. But I think that the (western) society I live in should change its attitude towards working hours for parents (men and women) who raise children. Equal pay for women is also an issue.
My female Hungarian relatives have all been working and most of them have been raising children. They are not paid well and sometimes overwhelmed by the load of work they have to do as Hungarian men are still not expected to contribute their share to the housework. Still – they have the conservative attitudes mentioned in Eva’s article. I have always wondered why and think that’s partly due to the lack of a culture of open debate.

Aida
Guest

When men earned enough to support a family including a stay at home mother the need for their wives to take jobs was minimal. The economic necessity of making ends meet changed all that. Now we are making a virtue out of necessity.
My point is a different one. If in a society where attitudes are freely formed I cannot see there is much that should concern us if people chose a different role for women. I am not discussing oppressive regimes like for example Saudi Arabia and others like it. They institutionalise female oppression. I do not think every country must be forced into the same mould if people who live there are free to chose the kind of family life they want. Hungary is, I think a good example. If, as it maybe, the results include poorer economic performance, so be it. After all unfortunately we cannot undo the catastrophic Brexit vote whatever its political and economic fall out. That is what the crazy, backward, ill educated English wanted. Why cannot Hungary have its own approach to family life?

Roderick Beck
Guest

The point is that is a waste of half the human race for their main role in life to be taking care of their husband and children. Sorry, but that is a fact. It is enormous of talent and ability. And yes, those societies that insist on traditional roles will inevitably fall behind.

Observer
Guest

“those societies that insist on traditional roles will inevitably fall behind.” not “will” , but

they have fallen far behind and are not catching up, e.g. Hungary.

exTor
Guest
A few years back, some local firefighters appeared in one of the Csepel libraries on a tour of some sort. I watched, pleased to see that there were women in the group. As an exfirefighter from Toronto, I wanted to ask questions, however the group departed quickly once the demo finished. At some point much later, I learned that (counter to my initial impression) Hungary does NOT hire female firefighters. In my experience, Toronto was already hiring females for the fire service in the late 1980s. That is one example of sex differences between Hungary and the West. On principle, I support having women firefighters, however the reality is that it’s a tough job for an ‘outsider’. I just read something about a woman in Toronto who’d been harassed so much that she left the fire department. An ex became a firefighter in Toronto around the time I left. (Dont ask, it’s a long story.) I often felt sorry for her because of the double whammy I expected she experienced occasionally: a black woman in a white man’s job. At 6 feet, she could probably handle it, but why should she have to. Haven’t talked to her in decades. No… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Asked in the “parliament when is his gov going to ratify the Istanbul Convention on the prevention of violence against women (note the narrower focus of the convention), Orban responded that the migrants with their attitude to women pose a danger to women and that the opposition should rather help the gov “to defend Hungary”.

Guest

Observer

Interesting comment from Orbán about defending Hungarian women against violence, in view of his beaviour with his own wife, as witnessed by the doctors in ER, on the numerous occasions when they have had to treat her for wounds inflicted by none other than her hubby, Mr.VO himself.

Guest
That behaviour against women is quite common among Hungarian men – my wife told me several stories where neighbours felt obliged to tell her about their husbands after they had died – how happy they were to be rid of them! A policeman e g that I knew as a heavy drinker, quite nice while sober – but when he returned home from the bar he must have been horrible. And again on a personal level (I probably told that story already): When my wife spent the first night with me (we were already over 60 years old then …) after breakfast I went out with the dog and when I came back she had just started to do the dishes. When I called out: no, no she looked at me: why shouldn’t I do that? And I opened the dishwasher and put everything in … This has become a kind of routine for us – I’ m responsible for the dirty side of the machine and she puts the cleaned dishes back. When we have visitors I kind of make a show out of this – and usually the Hungarians look surprised, for our German friends and family of… Read more »
1956
Guest

German relationships should get an injection of relaxations.
My German girl friends have been lovely, but occasionally too regimental.
Relaxation is a poorly applied virtue in Germany.
Eva Balogh, herself is closer to the German model than to the Hungarian one. (Will you forgive me my opinion?)

Observer
Guest

time4
No point in speculating re Orban’s behaviour at home; the apaling public life record of this half baked, totally ammoral and corrupt criminal is indicting enough for me, add the hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed by undue poverty, inadequate health care, politico/economic repression, stress, etc. Undue, because the available or ongoing remedies were shunned or discontinued.

wrfee
Guest

Re: men, women and violence in the culture

Growing up in a ‘Magyar’ family has taught me one thing and that is that the country’s mores and gender ‘traditions’ seriously mitigate the efforts of those who would not have women to be looked upon as punching bags to a physically more powerful partner who feels that it’s ‘ok’ to take out their anger, hatreds and resentments against them. Magyarorszag on that seems back in the prehistoric as its culture cannot seem to pay adequate attention to the aggression within its family relationships. It is simply a ‘looking away’ as the hits keep going on.

I was lucky. Looking back I never had the confrontation that I thought would have had to come one day if things kept up. Death by drink took care of that. I am sure as the sun rises and sets that this continues on every day in Magyarorszag. Such a country in some respects, so dismal on such an important relationship which is the familial one in society. And it is evident why the country has problems in both.

dino
Guest

Orban just as another smart leader and Hungary’s richest person behind Orban himself Sándor Csányi simply don’t trust women. They are quite conscious about this in private I gather.

They only use extremely reliable, uncritical and thoroughly tested people around them almost always people with connections to the state security apparatus which as we know selects for reliability and discipline at least with respect to one’s superior.

In their opinion a women just isn’t reliable enough. They are not deemed disciplined enough, they break under pressure too easily so Orban and Csanyi just don’t trust them, don’t use them. For example both require people who with absolute certainty will lie under oath if push comes to shove.

The only influential women around Orban is Tünde Handó who is a close, essentially childhood friend of the Orban family (and whose child is a friend of the Orban kids). Other than that I can’t really remember any influential women around Orban. Maybe Ms. Laszlóné Németh (a former infrastructure minister) who is a silovik herself, but she was only Simicska’s stooge in the government.

Member

Nothing to do with “not trusting the women”.

It is an accepted part of right-wing Hungarian culture (and proipagated by the men at the very top of the Fidesz ladder) that the battering of their women folk is sometimes required to keep them in their place- witness leading Fidesz scum like Szilard Nemeth rejoicing in the beating up of the young female protester at Orban’s speech in Romania during the summer.

That being the case, Hungarian women have too much fear of getting a bottle in the face from the Magyar misogynist filth in their midst to worry about some non existent migrant feeling them up

dino
Guest

The prevailing culture is what you describe but that doesn’t negate my point. Those are two distinct issues.

When in power paranoid leaders rarely trust women, who are more educated, often seen as more pragmatic, more emotional, and less ideological, seen as more open to compromises, seen as less ruthless. The opposite of what an autocrat requires.

A leader like Orban demands absolute, unflinching loyalty. He has zero tolerance for people who think and may second guess him. Orban needs people like Szíjjarto who would never dare to second guess his boss but will always without fail execute the orders like a mindless droid. For thinking there’s Orban. Subordinates must only execute.

Last time Orban chose a woman for a semi-important position, ie Réka Szemerkényi (who mind you was considered an ‘alter ego’ of the ruthless Orban) he had to be disappointed again. Of course he knew he couldn’t really trust Szemerkényi no matter how loyal she used to appear but unfortunately she proved him right again.

Member

Of course there is a small logical rationale behind it, but I think you undersestimate the emotional, irrational hatred that Orban feels for so many sectors of Hungarian and wider European society. He hates women. as he hates liberals, Jews, anyone of colour etc etc.

He is that rare type of politician who enjoys, actually enjoys the thought of torturing others…whether that be refugees being physically abused in his concentration canps or women getting a punch for answering back.

dino
Guest

He does enjoy those I totally agree. I never had any doubt about that. Orban is deriving enjoyment from seeing others being tortured and this is what drives him.

And he receives the most enjoyment when his adversary begs for mercy but then he finishes them off anyway. Nothing compares to that enjoyment to him.

The physical act of killing (either a man or an animal) always has a sexual component. Feeling the power that enables someone to decide to take away another life causes a high that is in part sexual in nature. I wouldn’t underestimate this component in the crazy attachment of Americans to their guns.

Hearing liberals begging for mercy – this is what gives meaning to Orban’s life. And he just loves taking his time in such matters, he wants to savor every moment.

Member

Scarey stuff that this is the man in charge but I wouldn’t disagree with anything you said there.

exTor
Guest

https://www.youtube.com/embed/Heda8CVBJ4c?start=0

The FIRE RISES: The EU’S ROGUE STATE: Hungary DEFIANT

This rather short [11:26] video was uploaded in early October 2017 by Black Pigeon Speaks, a relatively new [October 2011] YouTuber, who has gained a large following. This Canadian from Vancouver, now living in Japan, has more than 272-thousand subscribers and his videos (which are exceedingly well-done) have been viewed more than 32-million times.

BPS is clearly racist, though that is not evident in the Hungary video. He has a related video about Poland. He is rightwing to be sure, but how much so is open to question. BPS is abreast of Fidesz, though maybe not Jobbik.

I’d be interested in feedback from the Hungarian Spectrum readership and I would be especially interested in what Éva thinks of this production.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Observer
Guest

extor
I’m sure this post is sponsored by the regime here, as it uses the well known panels.
It’s well made, much better than the primitive domestic propaganda, but it’s full of half truths, exaggerations and a couple of lies: flagbearer of the V4, defending Europe, one of the most significant politicians, etc. It is self contradictory, e.g. Orbán fought the Russians and now him favoringl Putin’s Russia.
Its propaganda BS.

Istvan
Guest
Ignác Romsics is consistent with consensus among Central European studies scholars from my readings in his perspective of Hungarian political and economic development. Here is one summary of that perspective: “The origin of this pattern goes back to the agricultural revolutions of the early modern age, and to the diffusion of agricultural technology along the Northwest-Southeast axis. It was subsequently reproduced by both market and political forces operating within the context of material aspirations, themselves the product of the economic revolutions of the Northwest. The experience suggests a potential model for peripheral societies in the Third World, though the relevance of the historical analogy may be limited by currently unfolding changes in the nature of technology and in the terms of exchange between core and peripheral regions in the contemporary world.” I don’t see anything unique in the crux of the Romsics analysis that Hungarian history reflects an attempt to catch up with the advanced regions of Europe. But that historical thrust also relates to national survival because the interface of the political and economic development with military power is intimate. The idea that Hungary as a whole is vastly behind advanced western societies in terms of gender equality is… Read more »
Roderick Beck
Guest

You seem very defensive today. The reality is that Hungarian culture is extremely backward relative to American and Western Europe. Not in the same league, Istvan.

Istvan
Guest
The culture of sex opression in Western Europe and the USA is now hidden. Who would have thought liberals like the US media figure Charlie Rose who did interviews with militant feminists was as much of an abuser as it appears he was, or that US Senator Franken did the things he apparently has now apologized for after his polemics against conservatives for their social backwardness. It’s deep and persistent in the USA and in Western Europe, Silvio Berlusconi is not an anomaly in Europe nor was Dominique Strauss-Kahn in France, or French Green MP and deputy speaker of parliament Denis Baupin who carried out sexual harassment of female French MPs. To think Hungary is especially awful in comparison to the west is to close our eyes to our own problems. Hungary is overtly sexist and oppressive towards women, we are covertly so in the West. We are more than willing to allow many women into numerous formally male dominated professions in the West, but many women must pay tremendous prices for that privilege. My own daughter who is a US Army Major was harassed by a higher ranking officer and according to her own telling of tale she sweetly… Read more »
Jean P
Guest

Sexual harassment and gender inequality are two different phenomena. You will find sexual harassment all over but not gender inequality.

Guest

And another difference:
Harassment happens in the “West” but it’s not the rule, while the inequality in Hungary is kind of official policy in Hungary!
It’s in the open – but (almost) nobody cares …

Istvan
Guest

Gender inequality is enforced by sexual harassment, it’s part of a total reality of oppression of women. It’s unspoken and accepted as a norm, just today one of highest paid media figures for NBC was removed from the air for sexual harassment Matt Lauer.

More than 55 percent of of female homicide victims in the USA are killed in connection to intimate partner violence. The Human Rights Watch report on violence against women in Hungary titled “Unless Blood Flows” has no data point comparable to the one I just cited for the USA. Matt Lauer would never make public comments similar to Fidesz MP István Varga, who stated that the problem of domestic violence could be resolved if women do their societal duty and give birth to three or four children, he is too media sophisticated for that. Nor would numerous other men with power in the USA, but their actual practices are the same.

Jean P
Guest

“Gender inequality is enforced by sexual harassment…”

Sexual harassment has its own purpose. The purpose is not to enforce gender inequality. Sexual harassment is a biological phenomenon whereas gender inequality is a sociological phenomenon. They should not be confused.