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Exploring Zurich, Switzerland

Feminism vs. Chivalry

How My Internal Conflict Was Resolved

By Nataliya Horbachevska

F

ifteen years ago at a train station in Germany, a simple act of assistance with a suitcase sparked my curiosity about feminism for the first time. A man helped carry my heavy suitcase and then made a rude remark — he implied that, in Germany, women are feminists and carry their own weight, so I should be grateful for his kind gesture. It struck me as arrogant, because he assumed I took his help for granted.

This encounter contrasted sharply with my perception of chivalry and mutual assistance, regardless of gender. It seemed only natural for a physically strong person to help someone who is physically weaker. I didn’t understand why women would refuse such help — what are they fighting for? After that encounter, I knew for sure: I am not a feminist.

However, as I spent more time living in Germany, Switzerland, and Poland, my eyes were opened to the challenges women face in these countries, particularly regarding administrative constraints on their basic rights. I began to think that maybe feminism isn’t about rejecting chivalry or asserting fierce independence — maybe it’s about fairness and social equality.

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According to 2023 UN data, women in these countries still spend more of their time on unpaid care and domestic work than men do. In Germany, women spend 5.7% more of their time on unpaid work than men. The difference is 5.3% in Switzerland and 7.3% in Poland. When it comes to representation in parliaments, women are in the minority in all three countries: Switzerland is leading with 42% of seats, followed by 31% in Germany, and 28% in Poland. But what does this look like in real life?

My German and Polish female friends are generally happier with the state of women’s rights in their countries than my Swiss female friends are with theirs. In Catholic and conservative parts of Germany, women are not expected to get back to work earlier than when a child is three years old. My German friends comment that there are often special advisors helping women to protect their rights, as well as special budgets in certain organizations to pay women more in order to close the existing pay gap.

Meanwhile, in Poland, a lot of work is being done to strengthen gender equality, such as the CHANGE project by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Additionally, Polish women are very active in community engagements.

In contrast, my Swiss friends comment that women are very often paid less than men, sometimes because they are less forthcoming about their pay expectations and less confident that they deserve such equal pay. They also lament that the Swiss school system’s lack of lunch provision necessitates a midday break for children, which often disrupts the workday of parents, typically women.

The experiences of women in these countries are sometimes at odds with those of women in my native Ukraine. Despite having only 20% female representation in parliament, Ukraine nevertheless seems to be a place where women enjoy a lot of rights — and mirroring responsibilities. Ukrainian women have historically been perceived as equals to men, almost like Amazonians, contributing significantly during times of national crisis and wars. In the current war with Russia, many women are fighting in the Ukrainian army together with men as soldiers, drone operators, and paramedics. To go to the frontline or to be evacuated from dangerous regions to become refugees all alone in new countries — that is the personal choice of each woman in Ukraine. In both cases, responsibilities and risks are huge.

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As I reflect on my understanding of feminism, I have to consider that my background as a Ukrainian has significantly shaped my views. This may be why it was hard for me to imagine someone needing to fight for what I have ingrained in me by default.

My personal experience as a working mother in Ukraine never felt like a fight for rights, but rather a choice I willingly embraced. I could have stopped working, but it was my decision to continue combining work and motherhood. This realization made me understand that I had been practicing feminism all along without recognizing it.

Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving brought clarity to my internal conflict; his idea that men and women are inherently different and equal resonated with me. Accepting help from men in various forms is not a sign of weakness, but rather a beautiful acknowledgment of our differences. It doesn’t detract from women’s equality or rights. This understanding led to my belief that chivalry and feminism can coexist harmoniously. What a relief!

Nataliya Horbachevska is co-founder and CEO of the Task Force translation company, established in 2011 and proudly originating from Ukraine. The Task Force team translates more than 100 language pairs with a primary focus on Eastern European languages.

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