And the images that fucked ya’
Were a patriarchal structure…
(Black Tie ~ Grace Petrie, 2018)
This post – or rather this series of posts, which will hopefully follow – has been on my mind for a while. I’ve written occasionally about women’s rights or a particular issue that matters to me as a woman. After I had been to a Womens March or after I chatted with Louise Brealey at MagicCon. I’ve never written about it all encompassing or conclusively or on a regular basis, even though it’s on my mind more and more often these days. Just getting around to starting this one, took me much longer than I had hoped. The main reason was my annoying habit of “overthinking” things. Story of my life, but that’s not the topic right now. At the end of this first post I’ll also mention another thing that held me back from starting to write this .
Anyway, I knew if I wouldn’t start writing by today – 8th March – of all days in the year, I’d never ever begin, so… [I did wrote most of this last night, but exhaustion hit before I could publish the final draft.] I should start these series of posts with how I came to calling myself a feminist and why it took me so long. And for that I need to get back to what “feminist / feminism” meant, when and where I grew up and grew from a young girl into a young woman, who was interested in social issues and politics in general.
I was born in 1975 in West – Germany, where I still live now almost 44 (crap, I’m old) years later. I’m the youngest of four and the only girl and our parents lived rather traditional gender roles, even while having progressive / left wing politics. My stay-at-home-mum was raised with the traditional “women take care of the family” understanding of a woman’s role and in quite a lot of ways projected that onto me when I was growing up. Which led to a quite a lot of shouting and fighting from my part. It took me a long time to realize she didn’t know any different and that she didn’t consciously want to make me feel like “less than my brothers”. In her defense she also was adamant that equally to my brothers I got a good education and a job and became economically self sufficient. She never pressured me in a “find a husband, settle down and give me grandchildren” direction. My dad died when I was 14, so I was never able to really find out what his stance on gender roles was. I was only slightly interested in politics at that time and while he and I had talked about politics in general, feminism wasn’t an issue for me then. Maybe because I believed the narrative that feminism wasn’t needed anymore, because woman had equal rights in Germany at that time. The narrative that feminists were angry, arrogant women who hated men. My recollection as a young woman in the 90s and even in the early 2000s was that no one really liked a feminist. Men certainly didn’t. And I liked boys / men. And I wanted to be liked by them. Yeah, I know that’s a fucked up way of thinking. I blame my (still ongoing) self – esteem issues and all that crap.
In 1994 I started studying urban and regional planning and in 1995 did an internship at the urban planning department of a small town. Their gender equality officer asked me to work with her on a project about how urban planning was failing women in general and showing evidence of that from this small town and to make suggestions for improvements. This project opened my eyes to so many women’s or equal rights issues. In planning aspects at first and from that on further bit by bit, even though it took me many more years to uncover all the myths about how the women’s movement has reached it’s goals and women had the same rights and opportunities as men in the western world. Because of course we hadn’t and still don’t.
Looking back on that time – the 90s especially – I’m appalled about what we girls / women had accepted as “normal”. At least what I had accepted. Being catcalled on the streets. Being taught to not walk home alone in the dark. Having distant male relatives or neighbours make ‘funny’ but actually lewd comments about my big bust, once I had gotten it. Male teachers being kind of creepy “mentors” to female students they liked and offering to meet with them after school. All these little things which were and still are not ok! Looking back now I also realize that I’ve been lucky at least, that I’ve never been threatened, violated, abused or attacked from any men. One guy exposing his dick to me was the one extreme and I got over that. [I was so sure I had written a post about that last year, but I didn’t find it. Bit freaked out by that to be honest. I was so sure, I had written and published it]. I’m also lucky, because even if something like that would ever happen, I know I’d have people I could turn to.
Being an active member of the Green Party since the early 2000s opened my eyes to women’s rights issues and the lack of gender parity even more. I joined the Green party for the environmental issues, but soon realized that other issues – like women’s rights – were just as important to me. About 15 years ago I got elected to city council, on which I’m still serving. The Green Party has made it a rule that there should be equal representation in politics and in Germany the Greens are the party with the most women in office. But even they only get to about 38% of women in federal or state parliaments and it’s similar on the local level. Our Green group on the council was made up by 2 – 3 people over the years, and it’s always only been one woman among them. For over the last 10 years that woman has been me. The council has 43 members, 13 of those are women, which is 30%. Still a far cry from equal representation. It’s often even worse in committees, like the planning / environmental one I’m serving on. 19 seats, 2-4 women, depending if someone sends their proxy, which means that female representation ranges between 10 – 20%. And it’s often very similar on the administration side of the room. Planning or finance officers and such are most often male. As a woman on the other side this can be exhausting to be honest!
A few years after I was elected to the council, Male 1 in our Green group, who was acting as our speaker wanted to resign from that role for personal reasons. Male 2 would have loved to take over the job. I didn’t volunteer as such, but I knew that I would be a much more competent and reliable speaker than Male 2. Everyone else in the extended group (Green members on committees) thought so as well. In fact this was the first time I realized I needed to step up – overcome my self esteem issues and such – and take over a leading role. It was my first “Before I let HIM take over that job and screw it up, I’ll better do it myself!” moment. Male 2 didn’t like that the group unanimously voted for me and left the council group and the party. Sore loser! I acted as speaker for a couple of years, before I as well stepped down for my own personal – mostly health – reasons and Male 3 took over. At that time I had to switch medications because my MS had progressed and I felt the need to reduce the stress in my life. And being speaker for a small party on a small town council can be stressful. Often being the only woman on the council of elders or whenever the speakers were invited to represent, added to the stress I personally felt as well. Self-esteem issues and all that again.
That was quite the tangent here. Anyway, by now I often make it a habit in any meeting (political or work related) to count how many women are present. I hardly ever count more than 30%. Give it a try next time at a larger work meeting or a conference or when you watch the news report about an international conference and see which number you end up with. Ever since I started out in politics the lack of equal representation is what keeps me going even if I’m exhausted when our Green issues are being ignored by the council majority over and over again.
It was another female politician who in the end made me realize that after all these years I definitely considered myself a feminist. Fighting for equal pay and representation and rights and everything. In 2010 the German minister for family and women and equality, was a young conservative woman, Kristina Schröder. She stated that she didn’t see herself as a feminist and that she was against quotas and all that. I remember being stunned that the female minister for women proudly claimed to not be a feminist. And I remember thinking “Fuck you!” And thinking “You might not be! But I for sure am!” And I’ve proudly called myself a feminist ever since. Pointing out lack of representation. Reminding coworkers and external staff working for us to use gender-neutral language instead of mostly masculine terminology, which is a big issue for me with the German language by now. And warrants an extra post.
Besides a post about language I plan to write about lack of equal representation at work or women issues in the work force in general. Write about how frustrating and annoying I find it to see gender stereotype in so many toys and children clothes. The German “Kinder Surprise Egg” exists in a special girl version with girls toys in them, because the world might end if a boy gets a “girly toy” from a ‘normal’ chocolate egg. I mean WTF?!?!? I want to write about how focusing on the male perspective of things actually endangers women in so many aspects of our life. Write about the lack of representation in the arts, music and movies and such. If you haven’t seen this astounding and honestly maddening statistics about how much men / women speak in Oscar winning movies, have a look again.
As this year's #OscarNoms are announced, here is a reminder of how little women have spoken in previous Oscar winning films.
— BBC 100 Women (@BBC100women) January 22, 2019
Women are underrepresented in every part of the music business as well. Don’t let a few great and commercially successful female artists like Beyonce, Lada Gaga, P!nk, Madonna fool you. The music business is still a men’s world. Which brings me back to… the inspiring male ally I mentioned at the start of this post: Frank Turner. (Who else, on this blog, right?)
In all the years that I’ve been a fan of his art and experienced him as one of the kindest, caring, smartest “public figure” I know, I’ve also always known him to be an ally to women’s rights issues. Whether through talking about it on social media, in interviews and or giving some groups exposure at his shows. He’s such a champion for Safe Gigs 4 Women! He’s often trying to put female fronted bands or female solo artists on his support bill. His last tour introduced me to the wonderful Grace Petrie, who sings amazing songs about politics and gender and love and life and lots more. Listening to her music and following her on Twitter made me realize once again that I need to make sure that my feminism is intersectional too. I’m a straight, white woman living in a democratic western nation. Compared to others I’m so privileged and I need and want to fight for these other women too.
A few years ago Frank had been talking about a concept album he was planning and had actually finished writing. An album about “women from the historical record who have been ignored and would be famous if they were men.” (From an interview in 2018) Even back in 2016/2017 when he started mentioning it, I was thrilled about this idea for several reasons. I had heard a few songs on a concert bootleg and loved them. I furthermore appreciate that Frank actually noticed, that there are many interesting – not necessarily positive role models, but interesting in any other way – female figures in history, we don’t know anything about. I love that Frank found this an inspiring enough topic to write songs about. If he felt the creative urge to write a ‘concept album’ he could have picked any topic from the wide range of possibilities. He chose historical women. Not any big famous historical figures. Women! That alone made my inner feminist happy.
On a side note: If you’ve ever been to London, you’ll have noticed the distinct “blue plaques” commemorating a historical figure who has lived / worked in a certain building. At the moment only 14% of these plaques commemorate women and while English Heritage are trying to raise these numbers, people obviously find it difficult to suggest more women. Because they don’t know about many of them, because historical records ignored women!!
Shortly after the UK Tour a few weeks ago Frank started posting photos from the studio. [Scroll back down on his Instagram]. In some interview he had mentioned this “Historical Women” concept album as one of the planned side projects for 2019, so I was relatively sure he was in the studio to record this one. I was pretty damn sure, when after a few photos it became blatantly obvious to me, that he was exclusively working with female musicians. I guess he was doing the acoustic guitar and piano parts, but he had a female drummer, women playing strings, others playing horns, accordion and a variety of instruments. A small women’s choir and his fiancee Jess to sing backing vocals. All brought together by a female producer! How much more feminist can a record be? I didn’t imagine I could love Frank any more than I already do, but… I was wrong. Obviously! I can’t freaking wait for this album to be released later this year.
But yes, I’m the woman who got inspired to write about feminism by something a man did. Which at first made me feel a bit… ‘traitorous’ maybe when there are so many amazing inspiring female role models around. I know could have easily just left out this bit about who inspired me, but where’s the fun in that on a personal blog ;-)? Accountability and all that. And it would have been a disservice to Frank, as the man, ally, artist, who did in fact inspire me to gather my thoughts and to share them. Inspiration is a good thing! And male allies are good too.
I was wondering if I should do a post about male allies as well, but I probably won’t. Because I would have get into too personal territory or have to stay vague, as I don’t want to share too much personal stuff from other people without their consent. And while I consider a few of the men in my life an ally, I’m afraid I have to say that most men are still rather indifferent about a woman’s plight. They might recognise it when I point them to it, but that’s the extent of it. The fact, that most of the men in my life at least aren’t misogynist, isn’t really something to celebrate, because that’s quite a low bar, isn’t it?
Thinking about this though makes me miss my dad, or more precise miss / mourn the lack of opportunity to find out what he thought about a woman’s role. I was a “Daddy’s girl” and as the only girl and the youngest I got special treatment from him. I’m pretty sure he would have supported anything I had set myself out to achieve and would have been an ally to me personally. But to women in general? Was he or would he have been a feminist? I have no idea. And that makes me… not quite sad, but wistful, maybe? This turned into a downer post now, sorry :-) I’ll try to post something happy next. It might not be part 2 of the feminism series, because those posts might be filled with more anger and frustration than happy thoughts. There’s other happy stuff in my life to post about though….