Being a feminist in the Netherlands: surprisingly, it’s a challenge

The Netherlands has a reputation for being a progressive and tolerant country. They make a strong case for this image with the wealth of coffee shops and legalised prostitution. However, it turns out the Dutch maatschappij has its fair share of problems too. One problem I wasn’t expecting to find was a pushback against feminism.

How could this be in the country of the strong, independent Dutch women? Well, maybe that was the problem. Could the Dutch believe that they had achieved a postfeminist society, where feminism was no longer necessary?

No need for feminism in the Nethelands?

At first glance, I can see why you might think so. But look a bit closer, and it will reveal worrying statistics. Dutch women are paid on average 14.6% less than men, one in three people think that women are more suitable to take care of children, and the Netherlands 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 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. According to some, I’m an advocate for female supremacy. 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 who came before I claimed this land for my home. 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 some of them:

READ MORE | 11 kick-ass Dutch women you should know of this #InternationalWomensDay

First wave feminism

Yes, feminism existed before Beyonce. Aristocratic 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 feminism

The feminist revival of the 1970s brought important developments for women in The Netherlands. This included the creation of fierce feminist action groups, like the MVM (Man-Vrouw-Maatschappij) and Dolla 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 (a fight we’re still fighting).

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, published in 1967.

Third wave 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!

Feature Image: creatista/Depositphotos


Maria Rita Reis
Maria Rita is an ex-International Relations teacher on a lifelong affair with the news. She enjoys reading about light topics such as minorities, terrorism, and war. An immigrant, a polyglot and a very curious human, she's always rooting for the underdog. Keeping up with international politics and understanding the power of language are two of her biggest passions. Not surprisingly, a lot of her time is spent drinking obscene amounts of coffee and laughing at silly linguistics memes.

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  1. It has its shortcomes, specially for women with children. Exemple1: short parental leave for dads. Example 2: when the government does not pay in full for children to attend daycare for when both parents work 40 hours a week it leaves the women who gets pay less to stay home one extra day to take care of the children, not everyone can afford 8 euros an hour day care not subsidesed.


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