Category Archives: Translations

The drop in the ocean, or the drop that wears away the stone? Street Harassment

I have been very conflicted about this topic for a while. Mostly, because I wasn’t sure of how significant it was in comparison to other issues, and whether this significance merited  the amount of feminist responses, initiatives and organisations that have developed over the years (Hollaback, Stop Street Harassment, Pro Change, to name a few).

Obviously, this is a problem that concerns all women, whether cis or trans, femme or butch, coloured of colour or white, or androgynous looking (even “feminine” looking men)… The list goes on. So the many responses are justified by the amount of people involved and interested in them. Clearly, we have a problem here! I guess, my hesitancy can be explained  by a perception of normalcy of the problem, resulting in more or less callous acceptance. Come to think of it, what a terrible way to live!

I am 25 years old. One can rightfully assume that I have been subjected to street harassment for over ten to fifteen years. Needless to say, it has become a part of my every-day life, a constant variable in the way I behave in public. For more than ten years I have been exposed to comments, leering, catcalling and groping, and I have learned to deal with that. I had to. Now, at 25 years old, I have graduated with honours in the art of making myself invisible in public (if I want to), but there are no rewards. The bullying continues, only now I am better at looking away, leaving, pretending to ignore it, but it has never stopped to bother me and it seldomly fails to lead to its most devious effect: I want to make myself smaller, hide inside myself, run away.

Normally, I would consider myself a strong, independent woman. I am an outspoken feminist. I never hide my political convictions. If justified, I talk back to my employers at work. I often call out people for misbehaving or making stupid remarks. And no, I am also not afraid to yell back at catcallers, when I feel safe enough. It makes me feel better about the situation, but there is nothing empowering about it. I still feel angry and humiliated, uncomfortable and exposed, and sadly, my body language in public has incorporated these fears.

On the train, I am often crouched in the corner of the seat, my legs and arms crossed, looking away. I don’t like waiting on the street; if I am early I prefer to go for a walk or “look busy” by playing games on my mobile phone. Hanging around unattended on the street is a surefire way of being approached by someone uncalled-for. I avoid making eye contact with men in public, and I try not to touch them accidentally. When men offer me anything in the street (a product, help) or want to ask me something, my initial reaction is to refuse. Immediately, my heart starts beating faster. When I go outside wearing short dresses or skirts, I prepare myself for unwanted attention.  At night, I change the side of the street in order not to run into approaching groups of men, or I avoid certain areas altogether. In my day to day life, I don’t think about the reasons for this behaviour and I don’t analyze its impact. It’s my life, my naturalized means for navigating public spaces with the least risk potential. It has become what the German blog High on Clichés calls a “second skin”.

Naturally, we all guard ourselves in public. It is the space in which we’re most vulnerable. But do men prepare themselves in this way, at every hour, every single day? (That’s not a rhetorical question; I’d really like to know.) How can it be that mere words can have such a violent impact on large amounts of people, yet there is rarely any backing from the public when incidents of sexual harassment occur (at least that’s my experience)?

The worst thing anyone can say about this issue is: “Men simply can’t help it.” It makes me feel so much more unsafe, having to accept that men are completely volatile predators. Fortunately, I know that this is untrue. Most men actually don’t harass women in the street, the same way as I don’t harass men. It would never occur to them; just like it doesn’t occur to me to yell “nice ass” at a guy with a nice ass. That doesn’t mean men aren’t allowed to look, and can’t enjoy a nice cleavage every once in a while, but there is such a thing as subtlety and simple human decency. It is something we all learn eventually, being social beings and all, some perhaps more so than others. But I believe there is a difference in how men take up public space as a matter of course, whereas women are often in a constant state of tension. I could go into the wider implications of this, but I suppose you all agree that this is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

Nowadays, I feel like I can handle most forms of sexual harassment without being too shaken by it. But just because human beings are able to adapt themselves to most circumstances, it doesn’t mean they’re acceptable. Knowing that this behaviour is wrong and harmful is the first step to generate a culture that refuses to participate and citizens that will stand up to this injustice publicly. That this hasn’t happened yet is an outrage, but at least it’s better to be angry than scared.

Feel free to leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, but not without checking out this awesome Street Harassment Bullshit Bingo, created by High on Clichés (translation mine):

original via high on clichés

That Pesky XY% – The Gender Pay Gap

It’s spring and countries all over the world are “celebrating” their specific Equal Pay Day on the day that symbolizes “how far into 2011 women must work to earn what men earned in 2010”. The global gender pay gap amounts to 15.6 %***; the European rate is 17.5 % on average. However, there are large differences between the nations that contribute to these average rates: Georgia’s pay gap is more than 50%, Japan’s more than 30%, Canada and the United States more than 20% and in Europe the numbers range from 4.9% (Italy) to 30.9% (Estonia). You can find the data of your home country here (only Europe). Note that these numbers do not mirror the countries’ overall progressiveness regarding gender equality. So what do these numbers actually tell us?
What needs to be pointed out first and foremost, because it has led to a lot of misunderstandings, is that the European 17.5%  gender pay gap is for the most part NOT a result of direct discrimination, meaning women generally DO NOT get paid less than men for doing the exact same job. While this form of discrimination may still occur, it has been outlawed by the European Union and can be subjected to prosecution. The more relevant reasons that factor into the wage injustice are the undervaluing of women’s work, the segregation of the labor market into “male” and “female” professions, the traditions and stereotypes that are often responsible for this segregation, and the difficulties of balancing work and private life (for example, only 62,4% of women with dependent children are employed, compared to 91,4% of men). From the website of the European Commission:

“Jobs requiring similar skills, qualifications or experience tend to be poorly paid and undervalued when they are dominated by women rather than by men. For example, the (mainly female) cashiers in a supermarket usually earn less than the (mainly male) employees involved in stacking shelves and other more physical tasks.

In addition the evaluation of performance, and hence pay level and career progression, may also be biased in favour of men. For example, where women and men are equally well qualified, more value can be attached to responsibility for capital than to responsibility for people.”

While these inequalities certainly are a problem in Europe, they become even more pronounced in a global perspective, especially in developing countries where women can be found more often in vulnerable working positions, while at the same time working for free as primary care-takers of the home and children:

“Women may get paid less than men for the same work, or be denied access to better paid jobs because of entrenched attitudes that incorrectly assume men are the main breadwinners and need to earn more. Or women may not be able to compete equally with their male colleagues because they cannot invest an equal amount of time in work when they remain responsible for the greatest share of household and child-rearing tasks. In other words, women’s unequal status can restrict their ability to choose to leave a job as an accountability strategy if their rights are infringed.”(Unifem, p. 55)

It is useful to mention that the feminisation (i.e. the expansion and outsourcing of the tertiary service sector) and informalisation of labor go hand in hand, and that these developments sustain gender discrimination by keeping the female working sectors (subsistence agriculture, care-taking and services) low-paid and free of “fixed costs” (benefits, social security etc.)(p. 57/58). While the statistics show that the wage gap has been decreasing over the last few years, there are studies that claim that this development can be attributed to a decrease of male workers’ wages. So while work that is traditionally considered “feminine” is on the rise, this does not mean that overall working conditions or wages have improved for women. The neoliberal labor market requires well-trained, flexible and less demanding workers, and women who, as mothers and homemakers, are often forced to work part-time, are the ideal employees.

In conclusion, there is not a lot to celebrate on Equal Pay Day, not even the steady reduction of the global gender pay gap. German journalist and blogger Antje Schrupp has gathered some interesting and clever ideas on what we really need to talk about, when we talk about equal pay. I have taken the liberty to translate them here:

1. The actual upsetting “pay gap” we should be talking about is not the one between men and women but the one between rich and poor. Therefore it is wrong to be focussing exclusively on the gender aspect.

2. The gender pay gap is not an illness in itself but a symptom of a much more profound problem of our society. Therefore it cannot be our goal to simply cure the symptom, but we have to tackle the illness – the crass material inequality between people. If we end up having a fifty-fifty quota of men and women among the rich and the poor, but the divide between the two remains as big as ever or even increases, I don’t see how we’ve achieved anything.

3. It is not very useful to compare “men” and “women” regarding their income. Statistics are per se not very conclusive regarding our real lives, but in this context it makes even less sense, because not many men and women find themselves to be in these average situations: in fact, the difference is especially big among the lower income bracket and among the ones who earn a lot; in between among the white-collar employees and other professions, the difference is not that distinct.

4. There is a lot of talk about women earning less money than men, but in my opinion there is too little talk about (some) men simply earning way too much. Now and then, the wages of managers are being debated, and rightly so. But why has no one ever considered presenting the female managers as role models, who are satisfied with earning less money for the same work?

5. All studies show that women confronted with the question of what they should do with their lives, seem to care less about money and status than men, and more about the meaning and the community (study here (in German)). For some reason, this is considered to be a problem. I don’t see why. Rather, it is a problem ( and not just regarding gender relations) that there are still too many men who mainly care about money and status and not so much about the meaning and necessity of their work. We should be talking about this, and about the images of masculinity that lie underneath, and whether or not we still want them. Fortunately, many men don’t want them anymore either.

6. Incidentally, this happens to be my suggestion for getting more women into leading and executive positions: simply pay these positions much less in general. That way, all of those who are attracted to these positions only because of the money and status that they offer, will stay away. Which would surely be to the advantage of the directorates’ quality. Consequently, the amount of women would probably increase on its own.

7. There is always a lot of talk about women choosing the wrong professions. But who should do all the work of the nurses, the carers of the elderly and the nursery school teachers? As a society, we should be thankful that there are enough women who want to work in these professions (and if men want to follow their example, go for it!). It is imperative to have a discussion about the value and the importance of these professions – and, consequently, about how to increase their wages.

8. It is appropriate to encourage women to talk and reflect more about money, and to question their historically socialized distaste for monetary issues. However, the goal should not be that they take on the “normal” approach to money according to “male” standards, but rather the goal should be that they develop their own approach and introduce it to the world.

9. Finally, we need to abandon the idea that men and what they do should be considered the norm to which women need to adapt themselves to, and if they don’t they are to blame for their discrimination. What men do, their tendency to overvalue money, is just as much historically socialized and not at all “normal”. Moreover, it is often enough detrimental to the world at large; financial crisis etc.

10. Therefore I would like to suggest to celebrate Equal Pay Day in autumn from now on: on the day when men can stop working, while normal people (joke) have to keep working until December.

You can find the original text here.

*** I have found different numbers from various sources, some as high as 22%. This variability can be explained by the lack of data from some countries, especially in the developing world.

Translation: “Fifteen Theses Concerning Feminism and Post-gender”

I have attempted to translate a blog entry of one of my favourite German feminist blogs . Antje Schrupp (http://antjeschrupp.com) writes about all sorts of topics, personal and political,  that deal with issues concerning  feminism and gender and are usually a very worthwhile read. Recently, she posted a topic called “Fünfzehn Thesen zu Feminismus und Post-Gender” which I would like to share with you because I think it sums up a lot of issues that most (post)feminists come across at some point.

I have to point out that this is not a professional translation and has not been developed in cooperation with the author of the original. Therefore I  apologize if I may have confused the meaning of certain words that mean the same in German. However, I do believe that I managed to adequately convey the ideas of the fifteen points. I personally agree with the majority of them, even though I might have phrased them differently, but I certainly appreciate Antje Schrupp’s attempt to create a concise overview of current (post)feminist concerns. You can find the German original here:

http://antjeschrupp.com/2010/05/25/funfzehn-thesen-zu-feminismus-und-post-gender/

(For further explanations of her theses check out the comments section below her post.)

Fifteen Theses Concerning Feminism and Post-gender

1. The most important point concerning “gender” has nothing to do with women but is, in fact, the criticism of the masculine as the norm or standard towards which one should orient oneself. Women certainly come into play, given that feminists were the first ones to question the norm of the masculine.

2. It is appropriate to argue that gender clichés should be refused in general but it can easily distract from the actual problem: the masculine has been the only gender to ever place itself as the norm. However, “the masculine” is not always identical with “male”. There have always been men who criticized the patriarchal order, and women who supported it.

3. The main feature of patriarchy has not been to attribute certain clichés to men and women, but to interpret certain differences between humans (mainly but not only sexual differences) hierarchically, in the sense of “normal” and “deficient”. Meaning “men are normal humans” (humans as “mankind”, as suggested by the English language) and “women are deficient humans” (if human at all). This creates a model for the hierarchization and normalization of other differences (skin color, sexual orientation, age etc.).

4. The emphasis on biological clichés of womanhood and manhood became increasingly meaningful as the legitimacy of gender hierarchies was troubled by the Enlightenment era and its premise of the equality of all people. Therefore, the overcoming of gender clichés (“post-gender”) does not guarantee the freedom of all people and certainly not the freedom of women. Post-gender thinking can in fact cause its opposite: the reconfirmation of the “unimportance” of women.

5. Women’s freedom cannot be achieved by eliminating ‘Women’.

6. There are a number of reasons for differences between people. Whether these reasons are grounded biologically or socially may be interesting to investigate, but in the end that is not what is important. After all, in a political sense the most interesting differences are the ones chosen by people to purposefully and actively differentiate themselves from other people.

7. It should be common knowledge that no one can act completely detached from their social background, their own body, their cultural heritage or other outside influences. The “autonomous I” is a construct of male (Western?) philosophy. Human freedom is always freedom in relativity; it only exists in combination with physicality, nature and social belonging.

8. Liberal politics is not the claim of the equality of all people (which can only be thought abstractly), but the creative and appropriate way to deal with the (existing) inequality of the people, without creating another form of domination.

9. The idea of “post-gender” implies the tracing back of these inequalities to exclusively individual differences. This, however, does not only run the risk of ignoring the distinctive power of social conventions and norms, but also of reintroducing the masculine as norm “through the back-door”. Masculinity has historically been one and the same with the “gender-neutral human”. Masculinity never understood itself as consistent, but rather always as versatile. “Consistent” – in the sense of stereotypes – has always defined the “others”, specifically women.

10. Therefore, an important feminist strategy is to acknowledge the differences among women, to render them visible and to debate them publicly. Its practical execution is the conscious cultivation of relationships among women, and the acknowledgment of female authority, without assuming a consistent “We” of all women. This is the only way to establish women’s freedom. However, this naturally does not rule out women having relationships with men or other genders, be it privately or politically.

11. Free womanhood means neither the assimilation into, nor the separation from, the masculine. There is a difference between women and men which is not symmetrical and determinable but only reveals itself in a concrete situation (or does not). Women are neither the same as men, nor are they different. They are as they are. The masculine is not a criterion, neither in its positive nor in its negative sense (but it may be an inspiration and encouragement).

12. A free society which has overcome the gender dualism is not a genderless society but one of gender versatility. Whether there are two, three, four or five genders is of no importance and depends on many different factors. The important point is: there should be more than one!

13. Women and men (and other genders as well as other “Others”) should communicate and exchange ideas about the formation of the world in which they live and should negotiate those ideas free from domination. This can only happen based on a free female (meaning gender-versatile) difference. Every perspective insisting on a supposedly universal norm is to be rejected. There is no higher standard to which everyone is supposedly subordinate. That is the essence of pluralism.

14. The essential stimulus of feminism for a free society lies in this: to free difference from the trap of its hierarchical and power-related interpretations. Free women, meaning those who neither submit to female stereotypes, nor accept the masculine as norm, have brought sexual difference (and difference in general) into the world’s political discourse as a factor to be reckoned with.

15. However, this practice is not limited to women. Men as well as all other genders can -and should- participate in it. After all, it is not about lobbying for women’s interests but about a world which allows for a good life for all people.