Recently I posted a blog entry about the women’s quota. During the process of writing I marvelled at myself for taking such a clear position in the debate. Naturally, I had familiarized myself with the pros and cons and developed my own opinion, but not without wondering: How does someone with rather socialist leanings such as myself end up defending the rights of the top (female) capitalists in Western Europe’s neoliberal society? The answer is fairly simple: what seems like a paradox at first sight is really a strategy.
But it doesn’t end there. Contradictions run through my blog like a red thread:
How can I justify promoting women’s liberation all over the world, even though I strongly reject the burqa ban?
Why do I bother fighting for the rights of mothers and families, when I’m trying to deconstruct the deification and euphemization of motherhood at the same time?
After reading and endorsing post-feminist theory, how can I still refer to men and women as biological and cultural categories?
How can I be pro-choice but anti-abortion?
How can I criticize commodity fetishism, while enjoying watching Sex and the City?
Why do I want to see more non-white models in Vogue etc., when I am critical of sexism and ageism in our society in general, and decry the objectification of women in advertisement?
a walking contradiction?
Everyone with strong convictions will come across similar difficulties at some point, be they personal or professional, or else their convictions are not very convincing to begin with or have never been challenged. So how do you negotiate this predicament? The answer: Don’t practice what you preach. The world can’t do it, and neither can you.
The Republican Party is a good example (no, seriously). Their entire program is highly paradoxical, culminating in their recent “pro-life” activities, which are really more adequately described as pro-death. How do they live with themselves, you might wonder? Well, I cannot answer that question for you but I do suspect how they make sense of it all: Behind all the seemingly contradictory aspects on their agenda lies one major goal that holds them all together. In the Republicans’ case this goal is to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, and with this in mind all of their recent activities make perfect sense all of a sudden: bust unions, fight health care, defund crucial women’s health institutions. The math is easy: The rich will always be able to pay a doctor – for a nose job, an STI screening or even a (secret) abortion. The poor will be left to their own devices, and especially poor women will be forced to once again give up control over their bodies. Occasionally the Republicans drift into hypocrisy, when they claim to act out the “will of the American people”, but generally their actions are rather consistent with their ultimate goal. While this strategy may seem cruel, for the Republican Party it has proven very successful.
Back to my strategy: Just like the Republicans I, too, have an ultimate goal. Mine is, and I am not ashamed to say it, to make the world a slightly better place. All my convictions are based on that premise, as paradoxical as they may seem separately. The reason for that is that I had to learn to distinguish between theory and practice, between ideal and reality, between utopia and feasibility.
As I wrote in the aforementioned blog post, in theory a government may have implemented all the laws necessary to protect every minority from discrimination, in practice, however, some of the same structures are still in place that prevent us from truly living in equality. Some of those structures are systemic, some are cultural, with the two reinforcing each other constantly. In a post-gender, post-race society (I’m referring to the elimination of gender and race clichés, not the elimination of those categories) discrimination should be radically diminished or even non-existent; a quota system would become obsolete. However, it should be clear to everyone that this is by no means an adequate description of our reality.
As German grunge band Tocotronic put it back in 1995: Die Idee ist gut, doch die Welt noch nicht bereit. (The idea is good, but the world isn’t ready for it yet.) To put it in familiar feminist terms: “I’ll be a post-feminist in the post-patriarchy”.
I have to face the fact that I can’t eliminate discrimination (a quota can only do so much), but I can support measures that would improve the situation. Likewise, I cannot change the fact that our labor market is highly hierarchized, with some positions enjoying all the benefits and others hardly making a living, but I can try to give a greater variety of people access to these positions and to improve the way society views them.
I may not live up to all of my standards. I may have to make tough calls under certain circumstances, but in the end I hope that small victories will make it all worthwhile.
In everything I do and promote I try to keep the greater picture in mind, but sometimes it is the small steps that count. Even if they seem to be sidetracked for a while, at least they are moving forward.