Dipping my toes into second wave feminism

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Most of our moms didn’t manage to break through the glass ceiling as they anticipated, no matter how many bras they burnt in the 60ies. With women overtaking subject after subject at Western universities, but not leadership position after leadership position, it’s no wonder that more and more well-educated ladies are now adjusting their comfy bras and rolling up the sleeves of their cute floral dresses in order to find new ways of securing their rights. Second wave feminism, here we go!

Percentage of women in leadership positions world wide (original image from http://www.businessinsider.com.au/women-worldwide-still-struggle-to-break-into-leadership-roles-2012-3?op=1)
Percentage of women in leadership positions world wide (original image from http://www.businessinsider.com.au/women-worldwide-still-struggle-to-break-into-leadership-roles-2012-3?op=1)

I mean, seriously, just give us a minute, will ya? 50 years weren’t quite enough to reach a post-feminist era. We have to update a couple of thousand years of knowledge that was acquired from an almost exclusively white, Western, male perspective on the world. So, our whole entire worldview needs to be nudged about 90 degrees into a less androcentric position (and a less hetero-, ablebodied-, and eurocentric one, too, while we’re already at it, yesthankyouverymuchnowletsnotforgetabouthterest). That stuff takes time!

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Yet, most people already  treat the discussion of women’s rights in industrial countries as a discussion of First World problems.

Admittedly, not a lot of us girls have made the experience of being bluntly discouraged from tertiary education. For most of us, it was quite the opposite: we were told we could do anything we want.

(Anything! No restraints! Just ignore any contradictions you might find in the oh so pleasant depiction of women in the media! Because, umm, there’s a bit of PRESSURR! Yep, we will look down on you if you don’t have it ALL by the age of 30! You’re thinking baby or career? Hahahaha! Loser.)

Anyways. Where was I? Right. The moment when you realize that you’re not meant to be all that – it comes. When I was still working for this organization that supports a Madagascan hospital, I got my fair share of awkward “Umm… What just happened?” moments.

Whenever we showed up somewhere together, it was always my male colleague who got addressed on questions of funding, accountability, our networks, logistics, etc. The girl at his side was frequently mistaken to be his girlfriend, or a hostess, or some kind of helping hand. Over and over again, I found myself as the passive bystander to conversations about a project that I was perfectly qualified to talk about, because I kinda cofounded it. Yet, whenever I tried to sneak my perspective into these conversations by interrupting, I felt like an attention-seeking child, so I practically never did.

On the occasions when my male colleague did turn the spotlight on me, I was referred to as ‘the heart’ of the organization. He could have called me ‘the right hemisphere’, because I got stuff organized, or ‘the biceps’, because I lifted a whole lot of ultrasounds onto trucks, or ‘the gas pedal foot’, because I drove all over Germany in order to collect donations. But I was ‘the heart’ of the organization, because I baked the occasional cake for staff meetings.

The difficult thing to admit here is, that I liked being ‘the heart’ of the organization. I told myself that that name acknowledged that my work was process-oriented, meaning that I tried to keep everything we did flawlessly participatory and ethical, while my male colleagues were more product-oriented, and pushed the project forward no matter what. I thought that was a good dynamic. Oh the elaborate rational bullshit I come up with in order to justify my irrational behavior!

Really, being ‘the heart’ of the organization was nice, because it was a ‘feminine’ role. Finally (!) I didn’t have to hide the fact that I like floral prints and cooking in order to do meaningful work. I was exhilarated to give up the eternal tomboy position that I had learned from first wave feminism and had stuck with throughout my undergrad.
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However, nobody had told me yet that one can be covered in floral prints and still have a valid opinion. Along with my newfound love for wearing skirts came submission, receptiveness instead of assertiveness, and valuing the majority’s opinion over my own for harmony’s sake. Do I like floral prints? Yes, absolutely. Am I a weak person, apolitical, illogical, hysterical, dependent? I don’t think so. Yet, in my role as ‘the heart’ of the organization, I held back criticism, exerted self-neglect, and stuck around far beyond my breaking point. I quit my job there when I was so exhausted that I spent a bunch of hours per day staring at carpet patterns from sideways and had to go to a clinic for two months.

Now, I’m a white girl from a rich family with all the privilege in the world except for having a penis. Extrapolate my troubles to any other person who has to struggle with a bit more, and you have a real societal problem.

A male f(r)iend of mine once summed up a common attitude towards feminism by stating: “The tragedy of feminism is that it creates the problems it deals with by designating them to itself.”  At the time, I didn’t have the breath to shove that sentence up his  contradict him. What I should have said:

Constructing feminism as the self-perpetuating wailing of insatiable children is exactly the kind of societal defence mechanism that keeps critics down, so that men don’t reeeeeeaally have to question their superior power position in society. How did the attitude that ‘woman are in their place these days’ become acceptable again, despite the glaringly obvious persistent inequality of men and women on every health and income statistic? I mean, whaaaat? That attitude is up and well in the victim blaming in the reporting on rape, domestic violence, eating disorders, teenage pregnancies, female leadership failures, child neglect, etc. Women aren’t ‘asking for it’, and it is harmful to think, say, and act so. Isn’t it just common sense that nobody would ask for that shit?

Contemporary feminism is not a demand for more privilege, but for less discrimination. No matter how much capitalism needs us to believe in living in a meritocracy where errrbody can make it – we simply don’t. If you grow up working class, you have to work harder than middle class to get to the top. If you’re born minority, you have to fight harder to get your rights. If you’re born a woman, you have to give up more, in order to gain the same. Yet, you’re never guaranteed anything. In fact, if you’re one or more of these things, you’re very likely not going anywhere. In short: The way things are, they aren’t fair.

Enough for now. Let me hand over to my most favouritest person ever…

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6 thoughts on “Dipping my toes into second wave feminism

  1. Great post – thanks for this one. In our supposedly enlightened, egalitarian part of the world (sic) it’s the start of the football season here so the representation of women in any media will be non-existent for the next 6 months (unless there’s a woman alleging sexual assault by a football player.) Disheartening but true.

  2. Sounds like you’re ready to take that leadership position.
    Personally I worry to much about the risk of it myself.
    I don’t like that highly subjective social hierarchy.
    I like engineering it’s not perfect but it’s generally closer to a meritocracy than many fields.
    I’d certainly like to see more women pursue it.

    • Hm, I don’t know about that, most of the time I wish I was more of the ‘quietly working from the background’ kinda person, if only I wasn’t so loud… It’s nice that you say that about engineering, and it makes sense to me- probably doesn’t ask for a lot of interpretive skill as other occupations?

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