Friday, February 27, 2009

REPORTER BLOG: Feminisim in 2009?

by Julia Woehrle

I can’t help wondering if it would have made a difference. Would the coverage of the Empowered Woman’s Week have been different if a team of men had done it? In terms of the journalistic outcome, not necessarily, I think. I think the difference between the genders in this case lies hidden in the way such an event makes the reporter think about it after the work is done. Oh yes, it’s still all about those little differences weaving through our everyday lives. It turns out that covering the Empowered Woman’s Week really made me think about them once again. A lot.

Yes, It Still is Important
My colleague Nicole DeChant and I interviewed Women Acting for Change treasurer Emily Dunlap and Empowering Women of Ohio’s president Lacey Rogers after the week’s last event. Pretty much after about five seconds of the first interview I was wide awake and intensely concentrating from my toes to the tips of my hair. That kind of positive tension I know comes when I’m absolutely absorbed by something I like.

I enjoyed interviewing Dunlap and Rogers, because I knew perfectly well that what they talked about affects me, too, each and every single day. But sometimes, I just forget it. As Dunlap said: "It's something we don't think about enough. We're the generation that gets told that feminism isn't necessary. So I think it's important to show yes, it still is."

Women Acting for Change's Emily Dunlap speaks about today's issues in feminism

Images of Feminism from Alice Scharzer to Charlotte Roche
Feminism. In some contexts the word itself has almost become a bad word. Rogers said in the discussions about inter-generational Feminism, the women found that a lot of the issues of yesterday are still on top of the list today, like sexual abuse and equal pay. But I think, at least in my country, young women don't identify with the "old league" of feminists anymore. In Germany this means I don't identify with Alice Schwarzer.

As a student of American Studies my education in feminist theory is not too bad. I devoured Judith Butler’s “Gender Trouble”, Annette Kolodny’s “The Lay of the Land” and others. But I still see an image of Alice Schwarzer in my mind whenever I hear the term feminism.

Schwarzer was born in 1942, moved to Paris in 1963 where she studied under Michel Foucault and was one of the founders of the Feminist Movement (Mouvement de Liberation des femmes, MLF) in Paris. Schwarzer contributed greatly to the German abortion debate of the 1970s, published the women's magazine EMMA for decades, is against porn and, well, controversial.

I think young women know that they owe her and other second wave feminists a lot, but they don't identify with the certain rigidity they represent. Maybe Charlotte Roche has become the new feminist spokesperson in Germany. But Roche clearly represents a new kind of a more open-minded feminism. Roche made her mark with her unique style and high quality interviews (the kind that made even reluctant music stars happy) for Viva, Germany's version of MTV. Lately Roche has confronted the German public with her own twists on the topic.

In 2008 her first novel “Feuchtgebiete” (“Wetlands”) was the number one in German bestseller lists for weeks. Critics wondered if the book was erotic literature or plain pornography, fact is: it’s about femininity, disgust, sexuality. It's a manifesto against full-body shaves and exaggerated cleanliness, it’s very explicit, and many people read it and talked about it. Just thinking about how the U.S. public would react to a book like that makes me chuckle in an evil way. Compared to that book "Sex and the City" is a kindergarten show.

In interviews with Roche the topic again and again was feminism. Among many other things, Roche said that she always complains about feminists even though she is one herself and that she thinks that women are still raised to be passive, because they supposedly aren’t attractive to men otherwise. Still not everyone would even consider her a "real" feminist in the profound Alice Schwarzer sense.

I can relate to many things Roche says, but on the other hand she's not a feminist in the sense that she fights for women's rights politically and I feel that's somehow emblematic for a lot of today's younger feminists. They are outspoken and say they don't need to burn their bras or cut their hair to make a point, but sometimes I get the impression that, well, they don't have as much collective and political inspiration either.

Despite the differences in culture and opinion Schwarzer, Roche and the women’s groups on the OU campus have several things in common. They are all feminists in their own way, they address the same or at least similar issues and their bottom line is, power to women. I am personally thankful for the fact that women like them remind me of the fact that it’s not only ok, but still very necessary to speak out for women’s rights and equality.

Empowering Women of Ohio President Lacey Rogers speaks about why male feminists are important

Everday Feminism Oblivion
So what is Feminism about today? Like Rogers and Dunlap said it’s still about the same old things like sexual abuse and equal pay. Like Rogers, Dunlap, Roche and I say it’s about the image of the female body, because that’s what we’re still defined by in our societies and more often than not, that’s how we define ourselves.

It’s about Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits and German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cleavage that she exposed when she went to the opera in 2008.

It’s about Britney Spears who has lost weight and about Jessica Simpson who has gained some and about Jeanine Vailes’s legs in this week’s "American Idol" shows.

It’s about the fact that the mannequins in the Latino Mission District in San Francisco actually have butts and that women’s and men’s social roles and gender images are culturally distinct.

It’s about Rhianna and Chris Brown, and that the boyfriend of a woman who’s less famous and rich would not necessarily be sent to an anti-aggression training as quickly.

It's about my classmates discussing if the pregnant man is a he or a she or what.

It’s about power.

It’s about how we view and judge ourselves and others and our societies and other societies.

It’s about women AND men.

It’s everywhere. Constantly. So much that we sometimes actually forget how much should be changed and that it is possible to change things. Just like earlier generations of feminists have shown. This world, our world is not the same for men and for women, it is not equal and that’s why it is important that groups like Women Acting for Change and Empowering Women of Ohio keep reminding us that there is something we can and should do about it.

The eternal binary opposition
If you have read the novel Middlesex or watched this week’s episode of "House" or last week’s "Private Practice", you know there are people out there who were born without a clear biological sex. Now that's where things get really complicated.

That realization always reminds me that life out there is actually a lot more diverse and complicated than those little categories and standards we try to squeeze it into. It's just not only black and white, or night and day, or standard male and prototypical female. So maybe in the end we have to learn to adjust the categories in which we think and judge to life as it is, instead of trying to do it the other way around.

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