The Netherlands has a reputation for being a progressive and tolerant country. After all, there is a wealth of coffee shops and legalised prostitution, right? However, it turns out the Dutch society has its fair share of problems too. One problem I wasn’t expecting: a pushback against feminism.
How can this be in a country full of strong and independent Dutch women? Well, maybe that is exactly the problem. Do the Dutch believe that they have achieved a completely equal society, where feminism is no longer necessary?
No need for feminism in the Netherlands?
Dutch working women are paid on average 13,7% less than working men, says the Institute on gender equality and women’s history. The Netherlands also only ranked 25th place on The Economist’s glass-ceiling index, which measures equal treatment in the workplace. For a so-called progressive country, attitudes towards women in the workplace seem to be stuck somewhere in the 50s.
There is a long way to go not just in terms of policy, but also in breaking down stereotypes that slow down societal change. Talking to other feminists in The Netherlands, I learned that my views are often seen as radical. To be honest, this was news to me.
Getting your Dutch feminist groove on
My first step to mend my broken feminist heart was to dive into the history of feminism in The Netherlands. I wanted to honour those Dutch feminists who came before me. In a book written by two Dutch professors, Rosemarie Buikema and Iris van Der Tuin, there are interesting examples of the evolution of feminism in the Netherlands. Here are just some of them:
First wave of feminism
Yes, feminism existed before Beyonce. Dutch feminist writer, Cecile Goekoop-de Jong, wrote the political fiction book, Hilda van Suylenburg in 1897. It addressed the crucial first-wave questions of how to liberate women. This included campaigning for women to get the vote, as well as economic independence.
Second wave of feminism
The feminist revival of the 1970s brought important developments for women in the Netherlands. This included the creation of fierce feminist activist groups, like the MVM (Man-Vrouw-Maatschappij) and Dolle Mina. They raised important debates around female autonomy at the time. These included the fight for abortion to be legal, free contraception, challenging gender roles, and fighting the gender pay gap (an ongoing struggle).
If you’re interested in learning more about this period, Buikema and Van Der Tuin suggest reading the article “Discontent of Women” (Het Onbehagen bij de Vrouw), written by journalist and professor Joke Smit and published in 1967.
Third wave of feminism
Over the Hill is the 2007 documentary by Dutch filmmaker, Sunny Bergman and daughter of a second-wave feminist activist. After working as a model and soap opera actor, Sunny embarked on a journey to analyse the influence of the beauty industry on women’s relationships with their bodies. A very pertinent analysis in the golden age of make-up, dermatologists, and plastic surgeons.
How have you found attitudes towards feminism in the Netherlands? Is it what you expected Let us know in the comments!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2021, and was fully updated in March 2022 for your reading pleasure.