Friday, February 05, 2016

Google CZ doodle celebrates a woman we've never heard of

Františka Plamínková was a brave democrat, kindergarten advocate, and a rank-and-file politician, too

Half an hour ago when I opened Google for the first time today, I was greeted by this "doodle" (modified logo) that contained the portrait of a woman I couldn't recognize. "Who's that?" I asked myself. And I immediately answered: "It must be some feminist and the U.S. company would love such people to be popular here." Indeed.

One click is enough to get a bigger picture and find something about Františka Plamínková. (The first name is the female counterpart of Francis, the surname is the feminime adjective derived from a Little Flame. She was born 141 years ago.) Honestly, I was not familiar with the name or at least, I didn't realize that I was. At the end, she doesn't even seem to have a page on the English Wikipedia – something that thousands of Czechs do have. This already says a lot about the "non-mainstream" status of the folks at Google within the Czech society.

The youngest of three sisters, she was born in a Prague shoemaker's family in 1875. She is said to have been a great speaker and debater, an autodidact who has learned lots of things, a teacher, a school bureaucrat, a tourist who has been to all places of Europe. Her appearance seemed attractive to her fellow feminists. Feminist issues were basically her main topic, however. Between 1925 and 1939, she was a Czechoslovak Senator for the National Socialist Party, a democratic party that had virtually nothing to do with the German Nazi Party although the names may sound similar.

Between 1923 and 1942 (her death), she was the chairperson of the Female National Council, something we unsurprisingly have never heard of, either.

She fought for the creation of kindergartens and her personal intervention was enough to abolish the celibate for female teachers around 1912. As a lawmaker, she was only looking for ways to make the laws better for women and mothers, a one-dimensional politician of a sort.

But aside from this feminist stuff, there have been features that would make me agree she had to be a special person. First, she knew the first president of Czechoslovakia Prof Masaryk and his wife very well. She was admired by Dr Ms Milada Horáková, the most famous (and famously executed) warrior in the Czechoslovak anti-communist movement of the late 1940s.

In September 1938, she sent an angry open letter to an arrogant German spoiled brat, bumpkin, and jerk who dared to insult our (second) president Dr Edvard Beneš. The recipient's name was Adolf Hitler. Not bad. ;-) After the occupation, she was offered to go abroad (Scandinavia) but as a patriot, she refused. She continued to fight for her feminist issues in the Protectorate. At one moment, she sent a letter to the protectorate State President Dr Emil Hácha – which complained about the absence of women in the government or somewhere. I don't think it was the greatest defect of the protectorate, however. She was first arrested in 1939. Second time, after her newspaper battle against a collaborationist journalist, Gestapo noticed her and she was executed in 1942, during the Heydrichiad period (the era of German revenges for the exile government' execution of Reinhard Heydrich).

The Czech Wikipedia page describes many of her other activities in the Czechoslovak and international feminist movement.

Should many Czechs know about this woman? From some viewpoint, she was just a random politician, one of hundreds of comparable First Republic of Czechoslovakia's lawmakers, and one of tens of thousands of non-Jewish Czechs who were murdered by the Nazis. From another viewpoint, she was special and it's a shame that virtually no Czech has an idea who Ms Františka Plamínková was. Aside from her controversial feminist legacy, she was clearly a courageous democrat, too.

Whatever you think about it, the gap between the Czech society's mainstream thinking and the thinking that is mainstream at Google – which is probably not far from the U.S. society's mainstream thinking – is very wide. Ms Plamínková's was just the third Czech woman who appeared as a Google Doodle – and it was already one whom almost no Czech knows. The first two women were Božena Němcová, the most famous Czech (19th century) writer and author of "The Grandmother"; and Helena Zmatlíková, mid 20th century animator. I know the name of Zmatlíková but I am afraid that the younger generation is no longer familiar with her. But I am sure that no living generation is familiar with Plamínková.

Plamínková had lots of virtues but it's obvious what is the main source of the Czech-American gap: it's the attitude towards feminism. Virtually no Czech – and I mean virtually no Czech man and virtually no Czech woman – thinks that the 19th century and early 20th century feminists are something we should remember or even celebrate. Every politician has some opinions and having feminist opinions isn't making one better – the converse sounds much more reasonable.

Moreover, even if you considered the kindergartens as great ideas, she didn't really invent the concept (the first Czech kindergarten was established in Prague's Spálená/Burned Street by ethnic Germans in 1862; the main German inventor was Friedrich Fröebel); and it seems trivial to create lots of them, anyway. The communists did so rather easily and we don't celebrate them for that – because it's not hard; and because this excessive emancipation has produced numerous negative effects, too. After the fall of communism, many aspects of the kindergarten began to change. For example, mini-kindergartens began to rise. The collective education of many pre-school children is less hot than it was during the communism. People generally agree that communism has overshot the emancipation of women and the deconstruction of classic families.

For Google, Plamínková is one of the most famous persons of the Czech history. For almost all Czechs, it's an unknown woman who was born more than a century ago. To see how incredibly unknown Plamínková is among Czechs, try to Google search for her name. You will get the articles about the today's Google Doodle at the top. The first two regular articles are a text on, a feminist blog that doesn't have enough traffic for to tell you anything at all, and, a website with rank of 8 million or so (at most a few hundred visits a day) that tries to introduce 50% quota for women in politics and has already collected 800 signatures from supporters (0.008% of the Czech nation).

There's one more aspect of Google's selection that makes the appearance of unknown names inevitable. Google sort of wants the men and women shown by the doodles to be balanced. But the famous people of the Czech (and world) history are mostly men. Almost every man and almost every woman knows that very well. Women could compete among singers, actresses (including sex partners of top Nazis), bosses of charities, athletes (because women and men have separate competitions), and perhaps (but it's not quite clear) among writers; but they simply can't compete among composers, scientists, inventors, politicians, and generals. If you impose 50-50 quotas in these and many other occupations, unknown personalities become unavoidable.

Feminism is virtually non-existent in Czechia today (the women in the humanity departments who call themselves "feminists" are partly hired guns paid by foreign funds) but I think that it was a negligible fringe political direction or a bizarre inconsequential bias during Plamínková's years, too. Now, Google CZ has tried to find a famous Czech feminist. (The 19th century author Ms Karolina Světlá and a few others would probably be more well-known Czech "feminists" but it was still a form of feminism that wasn't combative or anti-male in any way.)

What about the next Google CZ doodle? Will we learn about some famous Czech history's warrior for the rights of an ethnic minority or something like that? Because I really don't have a clue who it could be. Google may try to spread such memes and cults but these efforts will almost certainly fail. I think that Plamínková will be about as unknown tomorrow as she was yesterday. People are just not excited about feminism let alone its history in the Czech lands.

Almost everyone agrees that we don't need and we didn't ever need feminism and that the ideas that feminists are talking about don't contain any recipe or value to improve our society.

Google is probably not going to pay much for its surprising doodles. The pure search engine of Google currently beats its Czech competitor (the name is a "directory" or a "list") by a small margin. However, when all other affiliated websites are added to both companies, still safely prevails over Google in the Czech lands.

By the way, Google's disconnect from the Czech society and basic data is rather clear at Google's page with details about Plamínková. For example, we learn that in 1875, Plamínková's native country was "Czechoslovakia". Wow. The native country was called Austria-Hungary (and the country of her death was known as the Third Reich). Plamínková is described as a community organizer; I've heard that label somewhere. Also: "Our Czech colleagues asked for emphasis on Plamínková's leadership in advancing career potential for working mothers." These colleagues probably wanted to describe her as a champion of kindergartens because they saw that it was still more sensible than what the U.S. colleagues wanted to emphasize.

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