Guest writer Margarita Chala writes her debut work for Boshemia on the role of women in modern Greece. Margarita is writer, mother, and dreamer from Andros.
I look in the past, in those moments when women defiantly wrote their own chapters in history—I seek them out:
I read Sappho’s poetry.
I read about Aspasia’s influence on matters of politics during one of the most celebrated periods of culture, prosperity and Democracy, the Golden Age of Athens.
I get lost in the splendour of Maria Callas’ voice.
I read about Kallirhoe Parren, the first Greek feminist, journalist and publisher in 1888.
I read about Manto Mavrogenous’ heroism as a leader-warrior during the Greek War of Independence—leading her armada to war.
I look in the past and I can’t help but wonder; how progressive are we entitled to call ourselves today?
How has our role as women in modern Greek society really improved when:
No matter how hard a husband and wife may both work, she is expected to cook, do all the housework, and take care of every single aspect of their children’s upbringing.
When I listen to young fathers indicate to their wives how they should take care of their child, when they have never woken up at night to help their exhausted-with dark circles-unwashed hair-on the brink of breakdown wife and mother of their child.
When it is an inescapable fact, that when one of them has to stay at home with their child, she will be the one who has to leave her job—no matter how successful she was.
And then, she has no right to a pension and if she gets a divorce, or her husband passes away, she will be left with nothing.
When there are still people in our society, who only say hello to the man—as if she is invisible—or they consider him praiseworthy because of his family name or profession and they never ask if the woman standing next to him has a degree, reads, or writes poetry.
When the only thing these same people ask that woman is if/why hasn’t she/when will she get pregnant, as if this is her only ability/responsibility/right as a woman, as a human being.
And when she does these will be the same people who will judge her for her child’s upbringing—just her.
When the number of women in local government is decreasing instead of increasing.
When women in politics are dismissed as hysterical, they are undermined, or not even heard.
When our country can’t sustain her brightest female minds because there are no worthy jobs; and those who do come back—aching with nostalgia—with a job not equivalent to their degree—and think themselves lucky to even have that.
When I realise that we have no voice [even in conversations our opinions do not seem to matter].
When, even worse, we are supposed to tolerate all of this.
I can’t help but wonder:
Why aren’t we doing something about this?
We, the intelligent, educated, Greek women.
We, who are not just reproductive machines.
We, who are the daughters of such worthy women; revered women, women who have worked, fought enemies, created art, wrote history, made important discoveries—and all these on top of the prejudices and sexism of their time.
Why are we silent?
Why are we not heard?
Why have we forgotten that we have a voice, a soul, strength?
Somewhere in this current battle for survival in Greece, women seem to have lost their identity and perhaps at some level it makes sense. The high taxation and constant reduction of wages has impoverished—almost eliminated—the middle class; businesses are shutting down daily [244,714 businesses shut down between 2008 and 2016], which in turn means elimination of positions and unemployment [842,670 positions eliminated, with unemployment levels for women at 64%].
Albeit not every one of us will be able to be part of an active workforce—these lucky, underpaid few—we need to claim what is available—create something out of nothing.
Let’s turn to paths that are more creative, channel our inspiration and ambition in higher creations. Let’s volunteer. Let’s work to substitute the State in the sectors in which it is lacking. Let’s ask for more from our husbands, our children, our families, the people around us; from the State which purposely looks the other way or does not listen.
Let’s speak up, loud and clear.
Let’s shine again as Greek women and this light of ours—as another Olympic flame—let it travel the world.
you Athena, Mary, Helen, Eve
this is your moment!
Try your beautiful wings and soar
and as you are light
and no longer a slave
you should travel sooner toward the future holy land
and prepare a new life
as the new joy’s
and then embrace, rise, and bring there
and mould the Protoplast.”
-Kostis Palamas’ poem to Kallirhoe Parren