Tag Archives: gender equality

War – Feminism’s Final Frontier?

Not too long ago I attended an event hosted by a women’s association advocating for women’s equality in the workplace. They had invited an army general as a speaker to elaborate on the military’s investment in ensuring women’s equal representation. The irony of this situation did not escape me.

image by israel defense forces via fotopedia

image by israel defense forces via fotopedia

The business of war – is it feminism’s final frontier? After all, we are fighting for equality in all other aspects of society – politics, media, academia, family, religion – so promoting women’s equal role in the army seems like a logical step. But for what purpose? Continue reading

Interview for Internal Voices

Internal Voices, the magazine made by and for UN and EU interns in Brussels, has interviewed me on the occasion of International Women’s Day. You can read my answers here.  Many thanks to @SigurdTvete for making it happen!

Positive and Negative Feminism in Campaign Ads

Recently, I have been thinking about the context in which feminist activism presents itself and the rhetoric used to frame the issues.  I have identified two camps, which I would call positive and negative feminism, that sometimes oppose each other and sometimes overlap. To be clear, I don’t mean to hierarchize the two via this labelling, but I am curious which approach would be better suited to aiding certain causes.

What do I mean by positive and negative feminism? Positive feminism to me is the kind of feminism that emphasizes the positive outcomes and benefits of gender equality, the achievements of feminism, and the particular qualities and contributions of women within society.

Negative feminism, then, would be focussing on the problematic issues of an unjust society, would draw particular attention to the discrimination and suffering faced by women and minorities, and would be more accusatory rather than celebratory. Continue reading

A Cushion Against Reality: girls-only and boys-only schools

Ever since I’ve moved to London, I have encountered a very interesting phenomenon that I’ve never really thought about before: girls-only and boys-only schools. They may exist in the countries I’ve lived before, but are so rare that it’s not at all astonishing to believe that this phenomenon had died out in the fifties. Well, not in the UK apparently, where it seems perfectly normal to send your children to schools that segregate the sexes.

I don’t know if that’s just my foreigner bias talking, but I am veeery sceptical of this model. In my opinion there are only two main reasons why parents would want to send their children to this kind of school, both of which I find highly problematic:

1. The essentialist approach: They want their children to be educated specifically in relation to their gender. We all know where that would lead: boys will have more sports lessons, build models, have IT classes; girls get to paint and sing and write stories, because that’s what they like to do/are better at, because SCIENCE! I don’t know if this is in fact being done in those schools – I certainly hope not – but I wouldn’t be surprised…

2. The evolutionary approach: Parents may think their children will concentrate and learn better, if they’re not constantly surrounded by the opposite sex. That idea implies that kids are always and exclusively attracted to the opposite sex, and that perfectly normal and healthy desires are somehow problematic in general.

Don’t get me wrong. Boys can be distracting at school, in the good and the bad way; I know what I’m talking about. But the thing is, they never stop being distracting, so you might as well learn what that feels like from like the beginning. Most of us, fortunately, don’t live in a bubble where we will never ever encounter people of the opposite sex in our daily lives, on the street, at work, in our free time. So why bother shielding kids from that?

And I’m not just talking about possible flirtation, crushes, unrequited (or requited) feelings. I’m talking about every form of daily interaction, which includes politeness, respect, generosity, but also rudeness, arrogance and ignorance. I think children can only be properly socialized if they get to experience all kinds of behaviour from all genders, and learn to appreciate or to deal with it. And it is the role of parents and teachers to make sure they don’t get discouraged along the way, but not to shield them from it.

A school environment is what will eventually prepare young people for a work or university environment, and I could imagine that it would be very hard to be confronted with the other sex for the first time way past puberty in that type of setting – a setting where they will have to respect each other opinions, listen and learn from each other, and become a team.

Segregated schools are robbing children of that fundamental and influential experience.

didn’t particularly benefit from a girls-only environment: “mädchen in uniform” (1931)
via manchesterfilm.coop

My Quota Memo

Just in time for International Women’s Day, the discussion about quotas for women is back with a vengeance. The EU is once again pushing for quotas in boardrooms and in Germany, journalists are demanding equal representation in the media. Naturally, the news is all over it, printing opinion pieces everywhere, which has prompted me to gather all the thoughts and ideas about the quota that seem relevant to me. None of these ideas are mine; I have simply collected them from articles, blog posts and comments, in order to weed out the ones that continuously derail the discussion. None of this is new, but I figured it cannot hurt to be repeated as much as possible.

1. When we talk about the women’s quota, we are already making the first mistake, because generally what is proposed is a gender-based quota. A 40% quota law could  mean that at least 40% must be either male or female. The fact, that such a law would primarily promote women is the sad underlying truth of the whole debate.

2. A 30%, 40% or 50% quota that promotes women would still effectively result in a 70%, 60% or 50% quota of men. Considering that men and women make up about half of the population each, how exactly does this translate to “discrimination against men”?

3. Quotas are supposed to benefit the disadvantaged, not to increase their disadvantages. Demanding quotas for women in less desirable occupations is such a lame argument, I shouldn’t even be mentioning here, but it seems to come up every single time. Firstly, some sectors, such as the public cleaning service in Berlin, already have a quota system, even a successful one. Secondly, men and women are already fairly equally represented in low paid, exploitative and dangerous jobs, there’s absolutely no need to distribute the social inequalities more evenly.

4. A quota arrangement is never an ideal situation. An ideal situation would include the potential results of a quota (equal representation) minus the actual quota rule.

5. A quota can never be a single solution. It is not an all-encompassing remedy for the inequality of the sexes; it may not even be a start in the right direction. The quota as an isolated measure is useless. It is not a coincidence that it has been embraced more in countries, which already have a fair amount of laws in place that promote equality (for example France and the Scandinavian countries).

6. Here is what the quota does:

It furthers the equal representation of half of the population. It helps create a society in which women are active and equal participants; a society that inspires young girls to follow in their footsteps and have high aspirations. Women’s issues and perspectives will become part of the agenda. 

they didn't need a quota to discuss women's issues: the all-male panel testifying before congress about the insurance coverage for contraception. via abc news

7. Here is what the quota doesn’t do:

It doesn’t necessarily improve the performance of a business or generate higher profits. It may even have the adverse effect. A quota arrangement is not designed as a push for the economy. It is an affirmative action to counter structural discrimination.

It doesn’t necessarily change or improve the working culture or hierarchical structures. That’s a whole other set of adjustments that does not automatically follow the implementation of a quota. A lot of rethinking is necessary in that area, and a quota can only ever be a tiny part of that process, if at all.

All things considered, I am still in favour of the quota, but as an isolated measure suggested  and enforced by politicians I find it unconvincing and populist. Evidently, there are different kinds of quotas, and in certain areas they make more sense to me than in others. I am certainly in favour of a quota in the media, and a political party without a considerable amount of women should be unelectable for any woman in my opinion. But when it comes to the boardroom quota for corporations, I kind of don’t really care. Somehow I highly doubt that any woman (or man) could end up in that position without compromising their convictions and throwing other women (or men) under the bus…

Male Consent, or Can Women Rape?

I don’t need to tell you about how much feminist activists have done to reveal the proportions of rape culture. How they have fought to make unconsensual sex within marriage a crime, created rape crisis centers and hotlines, and made SAFE kits, also known as rape kits, obligatory in the U.S…. All of these measures were taken in order to help women who become the victims of some men who rape. Unfortunately, that’s well-understood. But can women rape, too?

The short answer is yes. However, those cases are often hard to detect, because they are legally not defined as such. In England and New Zealand, for example, rape constitutes the forced penetration by a man’s penis, which would make it virtually impossible for a woman to rape in legal terms. In most nations, however, a woman having unconsensual sex with a man can be punished for committing sexual assault rather than rape.

Call it whatever you want, I’m sure we can all agree that forcing someone violently to have sex against their will is not right and should be punished, regardless of the victim’s or the perpetrator’s sex. But of course, life isn’t always black and white; there are these damn grey areas, for example when people seem incapable of clearly stating what they want and do not want. As feminists have pointed out over and over again, a sleeping or highly inebriated person cannot give consent. But what about that hot girl you meet at a party, who may have had a few drinks too many but is dying to go home with you? What about the shy one who is too nervous and embarrassed to speak up?

via le-anyblack

These are particular situations many of us will know all too well. In order not to end up in a dodgy situation, feminists have come up with the concept “Yes means Yes”, also known as enthusiastic consent. It takes the saying “No means No” one step further, where the only sure road to consensual sex is asking for it and being explicit about what you want, ideally by saying that you want it.

This concept is not one that everyone can easily agree on, it seems. Some argue that it may kill the mood or the mystery of a sexual situation. Others claim (mostly rape apologists) that it will ruin their chances at sex altogether, because women are socialized/”cunning enough” to say no, even though they mean yes. After all, most of the time the discussion revolves around the question of women’s consent. Apparently, she has to be the one to call the shots, she is the only one that needs to be asked, because men are implied to always want sex by default. This presumption is, of course, just as dangerous as the assumption that women are much less sexual than men. Both open doors to sexual violations, because the specific needs and desires of an individual are completely disregarded.

I am mentioning this, because for every temptation in the shape of a drunk party girl, there may be a drunk party boy; for every young woman too shy to voice her likes and dislikes, there may be a young man too inexperienced and insecure to say no to sexual advances he doesn’t welcome. Some of us women may have been in situations where we violated someone’s boundaries without even realizing it, because both men and women perpetuate the stereotype that men will never mean no, and they certainly will never say it.

As women who believe in enthusiastic consent, we need to make sure we don’t hold up double standards. Education about consent needs to be directed at everybody, regardless of gender. Just like women, men need to learn to speak up, but most importantly, women, too, need to learn to insist on consent and how to get it.

An erection does not equal consent. Agreeing to sex does not mean agreeing to unprotected sex, to sex with other people, or to rough sex. A man can be too drunk to fuck, but a man can also be too drunk to want to fuck. Of course, these guidelines require a certain level of maturity and responsibility from both partners. If this level is not a given, you should ask yourselves whether you should be having sex at all.

After all, who would want to have sex with someone who doesn’t enjoy it? Only rapists would.

If you’re interested in learning more about enthusiastic consent, go here! Already a pro? Here’s the advanced version.

Because of the particularity of man-woman relationships, I have focused on heterosexual relations, but fortunately enthusiastic consent is a concept that works for all sorts of constellations!

Confessions of a Movie Fan: I’m tired of androcentrism in film

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I really like movies. A lot. I wouldn’t consider myself a nerd, because my knowledge isn’t exactly academically backed and I rarely reach outside of the mainstream (except when it comes to horror), because my interest in a film is often influenced by its potential sociological and cultural impact. And so I like to keep up to date as much as possible.

Recently, however, I haven’t seen many films that I really, really enjoyed. You could blame me for my choice in movies, of course, but I obviously wouldn’t pick anything that I wasn’t at least somewhat interested in. My boyfriend and I usually make the decision together and we also watch most films together, and on average he seems to responds to them more positively than I do. You could say that we simply have different tastes, but that still doesn’t account for the fact that he is satisfied more frequently than I am, and I certainly wouldn’t consider myself more critical than him. Or am I?

Just a few days ago we discussed the film Drive that recently came out and was lauded by many film critics and friends of ours alike. My boyfriend loved it as well, so he was taken a little aback by my hesitation to fully endorse him, and he tried his best to understand why I didn’t like it.

In fact, I had liked it, certainly more than a lot of other ones that had recently been released. After all, Drive has the full package: It is thrilling, cool, sleek, stylistically impeccable, features great actors and actresses and references the 80s – what’s not to like?

lonesome dude on a mission, 2011

In the end, I just didn’t find it that original and it didn’t leave any lasting impact on me. It’s probably not a movie I would recommend to someone several months from now – because I will most likely have forgotten about it. The boyfriend disagreed, and he came up with many wonderful arguments for why this film might be relevant in our postmodern, self-referential condition. I, on the other hand, had little else to say than “I just didn’t care that much for it” and “it just didn’t resonate with me.”

After all, focussing on content over style, what’s so special about a twenty-something white dude as the lead character, a lonesome wolf, whose emotional coldness is only briefly undermined by his feelings for a young mom and her son, and who otherwise comes off as a bad-ass violent superhero (he can drive, he can fight, he’s in control) whose only emotional conflict lies in maintaining his independence versus protecting said young family? This type of lead character has been around at least since the 1930s and it has dominated much of American cinema ever since. I’m sorry, but I can’t find anything original or progressive in this uncritical depiction of a man seemingly struggling with his masculinity, but eventually repeating all of the same clichés, and not only does that make me sad, it alienates me from the movie, as it alienates me from film in general.

lonesome dude on a mission, 1946

I’m tired. I’m tired of watching male heros. I’m tired of watching male anti-heros. I’m tired of watching men do things and women watching men do things. In fact, it bores me to death. Drive has simply been the latest example.

lonesome dude on a mission, 1976

I’m sick of having to identify with support roles. I want women to be the center of attention at last, with everything that entails, the good and the bad. When do we get to be powerful, corrupt, invincible, vulnerable, cold and rational, or criminally insane? When do we get to be mothers who fail, daughters who disappoint, lovers who disappear? I know there are wonderful cinematic examples for all of these, but they are just too rare to really have an impact.

Lead characters can sometimes develop iconic qualities. They can set the standards for idealized versions of us, for better or for worse. They can also show us how we’re wrong. But only if we are in fact represented. As a woman represented in film, I find myself reduced to fewer versions, fewer options in life. I find it hard to conceive of myself apart from my relation to a man. I find myself idealized or demonized only in relation to men. I would like to think that this didn’t impact my life in reality but I believe it does. Movies are about imagination and if we cannot imagine women as leading figures and independent personalities on film, how can we imagine them in real life?

I am not asking to always show women as fully developed characters in positions of power and responsibility, who only make good and healthy decisions, because that’s not what all women do, that’s not what all men do. I simply demand to exist in film as a group of individuals that make up half of the population and not as the inevitable trope, supporting the image of a system that puts us in the passenger seat. I want to see women Drive.

I’d watch that movie. And I might even like it.