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Men’s View of ‘Women’s Issues’: What Parliamentary Discourses on Family Policies say about Masculinity in Poland

Europe (Central and Eastern)
Elites
Gender
Nationalism
Parliaments
Religion
Analytic
Institutions
Barbara Gaweda
Tampere University
Barbara Gaweda
Tampere University

Abstract

Men are significantly over-represented in the Polish parliament, like in most national legislatures. If men enjoy such a majority, how do they discuss so-called ‘women’s issues’ in Poland? Is there truth to the argument used by Polish MPs that ‘men can represent and speak for women’? What are the implications of the gendered discursive constructions of ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ areas? This paper argues that, discursively and institutionally, the Polish legislature is permeated by a very specific type of masculinity. I show how parliamentary discourses are ‘male’ or ‘masculinized’, according to a very specific type of masculinity – one that is directly constructed based on the teachings of the Polish catholic church. The Polish Sejm displays traits of hegemonic masculinity. This dominance is a tacit acceptance of male-dominated structures and presents itself as silence on gender or as an acceptance of masculine-attributed values as norm. Therefore masculinity is institutionally constructed as a neutral standard and blueprint for conduct in the Polish parliament. However, I argue that this hegemonic masculinity has very specific characteristics. As a discursive construct it is both a product and a producer of catholic, conservative and nationalistic worldviews. In order to show this, the paper looks at how men talk about issues that are traditionally and stereotypically labelled as women’s in Poland. In particular, it exposes the discursive construction of issues like family planning, abortion, and changes in maternity leave within the male-dominated legislature. The different parliamentary institutional tensions stemming from this, especially the implications and consequences of the discursive constructions for legislators and ‘women’s issues’ legislation, are also explored.