Gender Politics Return: Germany’s Rebellious New Feminists, Part 1

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Jan Fleischhauer and Wiebke Hollersen, June 7, 2013 (Photo Galleries: The New Faces of Feminism; 2: Topless at the Chancellery).

Daring, young and self-assured, feminists have reclaimed social discourse in Germany in a big way. But along with activists’ successes have come fresh ideological conflicts … //

… The Issue of the Hour:

  • Feminism is a hot issue these days. Anyone who organizes a conference on future challenges would be well advised to come up with something that touches on this topic. Not surprisingly, the final major presentation at re:publica, the largest and hippest blogger conference in Germany, was dedicated to online feminism last May. Even the Grimme Award, one of the most prestigious awards for German television, is getting in on the action this year: #aufschrei has been nominated for the online award, the first such honor for a Twitter hashtag. 
  • This is an astonishing development for an issue that seemed to be getting on in years. It was 40 years ago that German activist and publisher Alice Schwarzer put feminism on the agenda in Germany. A great deal has happened since then: Child support legislation has been tailored to the needs of patchwork families, abortions have been practically legalized, and the right to equal pay is undisputed. But thanks to these successes, it looked as though the women’s movement had basically served its purpose.
  • All that seemed to remain was the demand for more women in management positions. It’s an honorable goal, but light-years away from the fighting spirit that gave the movement its drive and energy in the early years. The generation that followed Schwarzer, which is now between 40 and 50 years old, apparently no longer wants to change the world, but merely the gender ratio on the executive floor. Women like Messmer call that “elitist feminism.”
  • Today’s feminism has become rebellious once again. It asks fundamental questions about the balance of power, and is thus right back where Schwarzer began — dealing with gender politics. Everything is on the agenda again: how men look at women, how they speak to them, and how they put down the opposite sex in jokes and silly comments to make themselves feel bigger and more important.
  • If one were to summarize what the movement is about, then it would be the notion that gender shouldn’t make any difference anymore. Along the way there, the idea is to shatter the images and clichés that assign women and men to different positions in society. The problem is that there are widely divergent notions about how to achieve this objective.

A Trusty Old Method: … //

… Big Goals: … //

… The Feminist Spring:

  • Things actually couldn’t be better for feminism these days. Besides #aufschrei, Femen is now the second-most successful group at attracting public attention. But many feminists take a critical view of the topless protesters.
  • “What bothers me about Femen is that there are apparently no women in this movement who do not meet a certain standard of beauty,” says Anne Wizorek, one of the initiators of #aufschrei, at an event in Berlin. Messmer also can’t help making a pointed remark: “Thinking about demonstrating for the liberation of the Femen women,” she twittered after the group burned a cross during a protest that marred the opening of the life-size Barbie Dreamhouse in Berlin. “They are slaves to the media system and need our help.”
  • There are many things about Femen that are not appreciated by other feminists, who say that the concept is too simplistic and the method is questionable. Their lack of a theoretical foundation is a major problem for many women who are critical of the group. They point out repeatedly that the activists have no knowledge of feminist literature. This is not just a question of envy, but also of distancing oneself from other groups.
  • Feminism has traditionally been a project organized by academically educated women. It was always in seminar rooms — and not in supermarket checkout lines — that the ideas for an equitable society were formed. This is a sore spot for a movement that claims to speak for half of humanity. The left-leaning Berlin newspaper Die Tageszeitung (taz) recently reported on an evening debate hosted by the feminist publication Missy Magazine and asked the following question: “Was it only the white, young, good-looking, German upper-middle class that joined the debate?” This immediately prompted a firestorm of furious online comments.

(full text incl. Hyper Links).

Part 2: A Simple Concept.

Comments are closed.