But is there cause for celebration?
Many question this public holiday, and, I must say, with some justification. What we need is real equality in our society, not another holiday. On the other hand, the holiday is more than a day off work: it is a symbol and a memorial.
We are all called upon to be aware of the issues surrounding equality, and we should do our part to sensitize the public for those issues as well. Let us take this day as an opportunity to ask ourselves:
why are we still not living in an equal society? Which challenges are women facing today, and what can we do to collectively jump over those hurdles, in the long run?
I have observed the public debate on feminism for quite a long time now, and have asked myself exactly that question. Generally speaking, I think it‘s wonderful that women have managed to create such a sensitivity for the issues in the broad discourse. While I disagree with many Twitter-feminists on a whole range of individual subjects, I have all respect for the awareness they cause in areas that I personally consider to be legitimately problematic. But there is room for improvement in the general debate, especially if we‘re serious about discussing the issues at hand constructively, and if our aim is to achieve lasting equality. How can we improve? I have some ideas, that I would like to suggest to all of us.
We need to transcend the victim mentality
Whenever I ask successful women in my industry how their own femininity factors in their job, i.e. whether they see their gender as an asset or a hindrance, I have never – not once – received the reply that being a woman is a hindrance (and I asked a great many people). The contrary seems to be true. The main differentiating factor, as so often, is the mindset. I do not know a single, genuinely successful woman who considers herself to be a victim of her circumstances. However, I do know plenty of people, men and women alike, who sometimes adopt a victim mentality (often unconsciously), in order to justify personal failure or mistakes, along the lines of „the deck was stacked against me from the outset. I never had a real chance, I was always at a disadvantage.“ Seeing yourself as a victim, and using this stance as an excuse, is, in my humble opinion, one of the most common mistakes feminists make in the debate. Victimizing oneself in a debate, paves the way for exactly this victimization in the future.
And before the outcry becomes too loud, I‘d like to clarify this statement: I do not mean to insinuate that there are no victims. Many women are genuinely being discriminated against, victimized in every conceivable way. That is understood, of course. What I‘d like to add, is that there are a number of women who approach this reality differently than others. Some peopel manage to turn disadvantage into drive, and some women overcome the most incredibly odds, leap over the highest obstacles, precisely because they have been driven to prove the world wrong. Others, however, become dispirited, disillusioned, and lose courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. No matter what the circumstance, the personal attitude may not make all the difference, but it contributes enormously.
We need to enable each other
Why are so few women in leading positions? One of the main reasons is, in many cases, the lack of a network.
Women form alliances far less frequently than men. But support and mutual nurturing is often a crucial component in the ascent of the career ladder. Like many jobs, high-responsibility positions are often filled through personal relationships and connections. Before hiring an external person, deciders tend to draw on their own network to see who could be a good fit for a position, and who is trustworthy. But then, why are so few women suggested for these positions? Well, I may be generalizing, but it appears that men have a more pronounced culture of mutual support. Although there are more and more network events, in for women, but the actually logical step would be out into the world on to go to mixed events. At the same time, it is also important to invite men to the to women’s only networks. Only then do we have the chance for the leadership position also to be suggested by a man.
Women tend to be more doubtful of themselves and the work they do. The direct result is, that rather than being overly confident, they often under-estimate themselves. This is clearly reflected in wage negotiations as well. We women often struggle with asserting ourselves strongly enough, we ask for too little in exchange for our contributions, and we budge too quickly when our demands are not met. We‘re consequently ripped off pretty frequently. We may even get that raise, but we will still, more often than not, have committed ourselves far below the value of our work. In order to achieve equality in this respect, in order to close the pay gap. We are all called upon to stand up for ourselves, and to not accept foul compromises.
Demand equal rights, and lead by example
I often roll my eyes listening to panel discussions in which all participants are white and often very privileged, dissecting the issue of equal rights together. It strikes me as short-sighted, to put it lightly. If we‘d have the same panel filled with a round of white men, there‘d be an immediate outcry. On the other hand, there‘s a lot of shoulder patting and self-congratulation, when a panel of white women agrees on such an obvious subject.
Many of us seem to forget: equal rights is not a women‘s or a men‘s issue. Addressing equal rights, we talk about gender-gaps as well as the discrimination between black and white, and all the nuances in between. Why do we keep seeing so many of these monochrome discussion panels? Where are the public debates between sexes, people of different skin tones, religions and representatives of different social strata? Wouldn‘t such a discussion yield infinitely more real insight, given that we‘d have to genuinely engage with a position that is not ours, but may still be completely vaild in its own right? Talking about equal rights, I really believe we should talk more with people that may not necessarily share our point of view, and whose position we don‘t understand (yet).
Conflict and disagreement is never pleasant, but it‘s crucial to stay objective and factual.I often observe how emotional debates can get, especially debates on feminism. Sometimes, banalities cause waves of outrage (sorry, dear Twitter-activists, but I must say that many of you don‘t necessarily add to the seriousness of the debate at all), and many a lost argument ends with that end-all weapon of „mansplaining“ allegations. But it is so crucial that we listen to each other, to make, defend and test rational arguments. Let‘s silence destructive voices by making better points, more clearly.
Again, don‘t get me wrong here, I think it‘s extremely important to talk about discrimination and all the genuine problems at hand in all their facets. But complaining about the space men take up on underground trains, and linking this to an expression of patriarchy („manspreading“), or constructing an offense out of the shirt of a scientist („shirtgate“), does nothing but drain the discussion of the seriousness and substance it so badly needs. Being taken seriously, by men as well as other women, is fundamentally important, not least because most positions of power are still held by men. We need alliances with men and women, and we will only be able to forge these alliances if we present strong, objective arguments for our cause.
Equal rights – for all.
Why is it ok to ridicule the body-shapes of Reiner Calmund or Peter Altmeier? Why this glee, when men are body-shamed? Imagine the comment section if a men directed the following statement at a women: „I read men‘s literature. Nonetheless, not bad.“ By the way, I love how Karls, Hansens and Norberts freak out today because it’s not about them. A real choleric crowd in the Replys.” Sure, you can shrug it off as a joke, but if such a comment was directed at a women, the feminist joke police would immediately be up in arms to castigate the wrong-doer. It‘s funny, if you‘re not the target, right? This application of reverse inequality is one of the biggest mistakes I observe. To tout the horn of equal rights in one moment, and to jeer at others in the next – what does that say? I think it‘s good practice to always second-guess your own comments. We should routinely ask ourselves: „How would I react, if the comment came from a man and was directed at me? Would I laugh, or would I feel offended?“
Be a role model
As influencer, I receive a great many appeals to use my reach responsibly. Ironically, these appeals often come from people who avoid their own responsibility, claiming it is my role to engage, not theirs. Many don‘t seem to realize that we are all called upon to act responsibly, not just public figures from influencers to politicians. EVERY women and EVERY man is a role model for those around them. We are in this together, for better or worse, and the responsibility for our society rests on all of our shoulders, collectively. Every voice assumes a part in a choir. This is the essence of democracy. Look into the mirror, whether you‘re a woman or a man, reflect on your own behavior and role in life, and ask yourself: which contribution can I offer to better society? We‘ll only be able to advance this great project of humanity together.
So here we go, these are a bunch if ideas and impulses for a responsible approach to the profoundly important issue of equal rights.
You may not agree with me on each and every point here, but in the end I hope we can establish consensus on the main thrust of my arguments. Broadly speaking, we all want the same thing, don‘t we? We all strive to live in a society where there is no doubt about the equal worth of each individual, and we‘d like to see that reflected in similar access to opportunity. I think we are longing for a society in which each member participates and assumes their share of responsibility. As I said above, I do believe that we can only create such a society together.
We can‘t rest on the laurels of those who came before us, and we can‘t assume that the plant of progress will keep growing into the future if we don‘t nurture it. The rights we have already achieved, must be defended. Nothing is a given.