‘I’m looking forward to Easter like no other holiday of the year,’ 24-year-old Kamila told a reporter.
‘Not that I love egg coloring and baking so much, but I can’t wait to howl on Monday. I’m excited about the spanking.’
‘I’m ashamed of it, I don’t tell anyone. And so I eagerly expect carollers and I enjoy it to the fullest.’
‘I wear sexy miniskirts and lace panties. I bend over and that’s it. Men like it and the whacking is much more intense.’
‘It’s a pity that spring holidays don’t happen more often.’
This article concerns the tension in Kamila’s comments between her feelings of pleasure and of shame. For, sadly, there are a lot of people in the world who want to make us ashamed of our pleasures. But before we engage with these joyless neo-Puritans, let’s remind ourselves of the pleasure Kamila looks forward to so much every year, the Czech custom of whacking pretty girls on Easter Monday, and on their bottoms, using a ribboned switch known as a pomlazka.
It’s fun for all the family,
and it’s widely enjoyed by celebrities too, such as the singer Monika Absolonova,
the actress Katerina Brozova,
and the Slovak singer Vlasta Mudrikova:
It’s worth pausing over one detail of what’s happening to Vlasta there. It’s often seen in pomlazka pictures:
Skirts going up!
That’s all very well for girls who’ve dressed appropriately for the occasion, but what if they’re wearing pants?
Sorry, girls, there’s no guarantee that will protect you!
We’re in central Europe, so there’s a proper way to ply the pomlazka!
Girls on vacation at Easter-time can be said to be self-prepared:
And you might not be surprised to learn that Easter often sees an upswing in sales of padded panties!
But this vintage Easter greetings card shows that even those protective measures can’t always be relied upon:
That also helps to make the point that the custom is not only widespread, but a long-established tradition.
But nowadays it is a tradition under attack by certain illiberal individuals (exemplified by an online essay here) who say they want to ‘talk about’ it. For all the superficial reasonableness of the tone, and for all the claims of seeking a ‘respectful dialogue’, these people don’t actually want an exchange of sincerely-held but opposing views, hopefully leading to greater mutual understanding and culminating in a civilized agreement to differ. No, what they want is for their view to prevail, according to which the pomlazka custom is not a harmless annual bit of festive fun, but a monstrous practice which is also, worse, a facilitator of ‘the bigger monsters of patriarchal aggression, gender inequality and domestic violence’. In short, they want the tradition to be discontinued, canceled, consigned to the supposedly barbarous past that they believe we should all be glad to have outgrown.
This requires a counterpoint, and it’s worth starting the rebuttal with some polling data that shows the diversity of attitudes to the subject. This includes acknowledging that, however widespread and entrenched the custom is, it is not universally enjoyed. Surveys typically find that 15% of Czech women feel scared or humiliated, which is obviously not to be shrugged off. But the statistics tell a different story, too, and not just that there are 85% who are not scared or humiliated.
Of the women who participate, one third report that it left them with bruises or other marks on their bottoms; 40% say they felt pain when being whacked; but 60% love it so much that, like Kamila with whom we started, they describe it as the highlight of their year.
What’s interesting is that the tradition’s critics, trying to present it as abusive, quote that sequence of statistics the other way around: the feelings of the unhappy 15% become the grand conclusion, the clincher to the appalling evidence of pain and bruising that has already been presented. Of course, even in the unlikely event that every woman in the 15% was also a (presumably unwilling) participant, they would still represent less than half of the pained 40% or the red-bottomed 33%, and they are anyway a much smaller fraction to set against the pomlazka-positive 60%. You can feel pain and get bruised from playing sport, to name only one regular human activity that isn’t critiqued in the same way: whether it’s a bad thing is surely up to the participants, and if anyone doesn’t want to take part, that’s their choice.
The argument then ‘helpfully’ proceeds to suggest a variation to make the tradition more acceptable: the girls should spank the boys. Well, if both individuals are content with that, I have not the slightest quarrel with it (but also not the slightest interest in it). But why should this notion even be proposed, merely to suit the cultural and political agenda of somebody else?
Many Czechs perceive and resent this as insensitive and culturally illiterate interference by ‘stupid Americans’ (though the author of my example happens to be British). But it’s more than just a form of cultural imperialism, foreigners trying to dictate to the Czechs the rights and wrongs of their own traditions. It is also about the adherents of a belief system trying to impose their own opinions on the rest of us, wherever we may be.
The problem, over and above the underlying authoritarianism, is that these opinions do not arise from a sympathetic understanding of the thing they are critiquing: there is a kind of perception filter at work, skewing how they comprehend the world. They see women cowering in terror of the pomlazka:
They see men imposing themselves by brute force on unwilling members of the ‘weaker sex’:
They see physical injuries, and, to be fair, there are out there a few extreme pictures, with otherwise mainstream vibes, showing very severely whacked bare bottoms; I don’t like them and won’t reproduce any here. But the girls in them are usually smiling…
And of course there are dark suspicions that this is a form of sexual violence,
which sends the toxic imagination down the route that leads to rape.
What these critics ought to notice is that the women’s ‘distress’ is just play-acting and that the whole thing is participatory.
They also miss the occasional guidance issued to the inexperienced on where to aim for to avoid inflicting serious damage:
And if it’s a mildly sexy game between young people (and some older ones, too) – well, what’s wrong with that?
The Easter Monday custom has been described, in an online forum, as ‘officially sanctioned domestic abuse’, to which a dismayed young man responded, ‘Oh no! I committed domestic abuse today.’ Don’t worry, lad, you didn’t!
But if people have been taught to look for misogyny, then misogyny is what they will see, whether or not it’s actually there, because it’s in the lens they’re looking through – which means there will never be an end of perceived misogyny, nor any hope for anyone on any side of the argument.
Wouldn’t it be better, and more humane, to let the Czechs simply get on with their Easter fun?