The organisation Liga otevřených mužů, League of Open Men, are currently running Dry February, a campaign aimed at encouraging Czech men to abstain from alcohol for the month. To find out why, I spoke to the group’s Lukáš Talpa. Our conversation also took in a wide range of other gender issues, including stay-at-home fatherhood and the lack of male teachers in Czech schools. To begin, I asked Talpa to characterise Czech men in general.
“I would say the men are mostly developing, starting to care more about themselves, to be more open about their needs and their feelings.
“But on the other side they still tend to be, let’s say, stubborn in some sense. You can still sometimes meet macho types who are influenced by ‘men don’t cry’.
“That’s slowly changing. But very slowly.”
Would you say that gender roles are quite traditional here generally? For instance, a lot of women wouldn’t use the word feminist to describe themselves.
“Generally, yes. I think that has its roots in the early ‘90s, when feminist came to be a bad label for women’s rights.
“Women don’t call themselves feminist and definitely men wouldn’t call themselves feminist. There are very few of them.
“Equality is becoming a topic more and more among the young generation. But overall Czechs tend to be traditional.”
Do you think the Czech male identity is shaped in any way by the recent history of the country, particularly communism?
“Definitely it plays a role. I would say that under communism the rules were quite strict, even though there wasn’t a big need for women to work, to be on the labour market.
“The roles in the family were very traditional. The man was the one taking care of the money, being the breadwinner.
“On the other hand, women in most cases had what we call two jobs: one was a full-time job and the other was in the family.
Is that changing, do you feel?
“It’s changing. It’s changing. You can even see it on the streets. There are much more fathers playing with kids, walking around with trolleys, just enjoying being a father. Active fatherhood is becoming very normal.”
We’ve heard a lot in the West in recent years about a so-called crisis of masculinity, in which men don’t know what their role is today. Is it the same here?
“You can see it. There was the emancipation of women – they’re starting to be independent.
“As I just said, men in the Czech Republic are very traditional, but men are starting to rediscover our roles as men, what it means to be men.”
Do you think Czech women want Czech men to be different – more sensitive and all that kind of thing?
“Well, I would say in the majority, yes. I think for them it’s quite challenging not to know what is going on inside [men].
“But definitely you can find women who would still prefer the macho type or the old-style man, let’s say.”
At the moment you’re into the second half of your month Suchej únor, Dry February, in which encouraging men not to drink. Why did your group launch this campaign?
“Because that’s one of the biggest problems concerning men. One of the areas we focus on is men’s health.
“Drinking alcohol is very normal for Czech men. We are always at the top of drinkers, worldwide.
“There is also a lot of tolerance in the Czech nation, Czech society, towards drinking alcohol, so we are trying to point out that it’s causing some problems. In our lives and in our relationships as well.”
Do you yourself find it hard to resist alcohol? For example, at some social occasions there is pressure to have a panák [shot] or a few panáks.
“It’s challenging, you know. When we did it the first year, which is three years ago, my friend was about to get married.
“There was a rehearsal and it was challenging to say, I won’t take any beer, any alcohol. There was social pressure.
“What I hear from other friends, other man involved in Dry February, is that the pressure is quite high.”
Would you like to see some restrictions on the sale of alcohol in the Czech Republic?
“We are not so much about restrictions. But let’s say, looking at it from the positive side, if there were in restaurants at least one non-alcoholic drink cheaper than beer, which is the cheapest alcoholic drink, that would be of great help.”
You really think so? I think people just like beer and they don’t care that much about the price.
“Price plays a role in it. Yes, we do like beer and we’re proud of it, but this would definitely provide a choice.
“Also what would very much help would be if the authorities in the Czech Republic would say something about alcohol. But we can see that tolerance among the Czech authorities, as well.”
You’re specialised in active fatherhood and you run a project called Full-time Dad. How common is it in the Czech Republic for dads to stay at home?
“Well, it’s becoming more and more normal. More and more people are having this experience. But still it’s unusual, I have to say.
“But for a man it’s good to try for, let’s say, three months to taste how it is to be a full-time father.
“On the other side, for the woman, they try how it is to be the breadwinner. The roles change and they appreciate each other much more.
“I would say for fathers it’s easier in society because they’re seen as a hero – they’ve left their career and they’re with their kids. So in this it’s easier.”
Is there any stigma attached to being a house husband?
“Especially in the big cities, being at home with young kids is not stigmatised.
“I know that in villages it’s much more challenging. And the further east you go, the more challenging it is.”
Is that because Moravia is more Catholic?
“Religion plays a role. And also the villages tend to be more traditional.”
Your group is also focused on men’s health. Are Czech men relatively unwilling to look after their health?
“Relatively, yes. We are unwilling to look after our health. Our health becomes a topic when something goes wrong, something serious.
“But going for regular checkups is quite unusual. Sometimes we tend to care more about our cars than about ourselves.”
Why is that, do you think?
“Partly, I would say, it’s because we want to be successful. We want to feel that we are doing well. If we are not doing well, we are weak.
“And sometimes we have a fear that if we went for regular checkups that they find something.”
It’s a form of machismo?
“I would say, yes.”
I understand your group also supports the idea of having men more involved in the education system?
“Yes, we are trying to encourage more men being part of the elementary schools and pre-schools system in particular.
“Because we can see that there are few of them. It’s mostly feminised. And we think it’s healthy for kids to have both perspectives on topics; from the men’s side and from the women’s side.”
What is the impact of not having many male teachers, especially in primary schools?
“So they’re missing a male view in their families and they’re also missing it the schools. It’s a view of the world that’s missing in the eyes of the kids.
“Men tend to play more. They approach things from a different angle. It’s just broader.”
Looking to the future, do you have a sense that Czech men may become more emancipated, more sensitive?
“Sure. I think so. And on the other hand we won’t lose what’s typical for men.
“We will still be more playing with toys or being more… I don’t want to use the word aggressive, but we just have testosterone so we fight more and do these kinds of sports.
“It’s still going to be there and it’s still part of us. It’s not about becoming a woman. We are still going to be men. But a bit different than 50 years ago.”