Vulgar Feminist

I was able to attend the German Wikipedia discussion about the deletion and relevance discussion last week in Berlin (more on that in another blog entry). I made my point that most of the admins who are doing all the deletions are youngish men of German descent who live in cities, to make the point that they are quite biased in their view of "reality". Other bloggers have extended this to include childless. My point was rather drowned in lots of other points, although the blogs Spreeblick and Netzpolitik at least recorded it.

We stood around afterwards making small talk and I went over to join two other professors who are active and tend to attend such events. We began speaking and then two journalists joined us, a male reporter from a print newspaper and a female blogger. I repeated my point about the bias of the Admins, and a colleague began berating me as a "vulgar feminist". I was rather taken aback, especially at the vehemence of his words and his agitation.

This is something that I have been noticing recently. The gentlest of mention of the word "gender", or a reminder that professors are German Beamte and have a constitutional duty to work for equality of the sexes, brings out the fighting in many men, especially in colleagues.

Now, when I was going to university in the 70s the women's movement in Germany was much more radical. We wore purple bib overalls, cut our hair, smoked pipes, debated politics, and set up women's health centers. We fought for abortion rights, started discussions about rape and about violence against women and noted that we were not paid the same for doing the same work. There were radical groups that demanded the castration of men - I never saw that violence was useful for fighting violence, but there were people demanding this.

But why was I a vulgar feminist for pointing out a gender difference? It was impossible to get rational argument out of the colleague, and he could not listen to me even speak a complete sentence - as so many men can't - before he interrupted me. He began ranting about the nonsense of "feminist mathematics" - so I challenged him to name 5 female mathematicians. Before I could say "besides Emmy Noether" he interrupted me with "Emmy Noether, the first woman professor in mathematics". Sigh.

I waited. I goaded him. He couldn't come up with any names, then sputtered that it was the fault of the women if they didn't go into mathematics. Great job, it's always our fault, right? I remarked that Sonja Kovalevsky was the first woman professor in mathematics. She submitted 3 doctoral theses in Berlin to Karl Weierstraß, so they pretty much had to give her a doctorate. She was made professor in Stockholm (the first in Northern Europe) before her early death of pneumonia, caught while traveling to Paris to receive the Prix Bourdin.

He lashed out again, this time at the female German politicians in Hamburg who had voted against something that was near and dear to him (I didn't catch what). The female blogger pointed out that there was at least one man who also voted against the measure. He got called a green "Weichei" (a German derisive term for an unmanly man). And again he complained about vulgar feminists.

I asked for a definition of "vulgar feminists", as I tend to see the anti-feminists as the vulgar ones. Seems that he has a problem with the PorNo campaign. I see. And these feminists are prudes. It seems to be flashback time. The woman's strike at the taz newspaper where I was a free-lancer end of the 70s, beginning of the 80s was started over exactly such a reproach. A journalist had published a full page under a pseudonym about pornography that we complained about. When we were called prudes - which we were expecting - the leader of the group gave the code words "Sisters, are we prudes? Let's make ourselves free." Which we did. The author of the pornography page was so freaked out by all those women sitting calmly with bare breasts at the table that he ran screaming from the room and never returned. And we got a daily woman's page in the paper.

But what does that have to do with my point, that the admins find lemmata in the Wikipedia about women's topics "irrelevant"? The female blogger and I tried to get back to the point at hand. He now turned the blogger a cold shoulder and brushed her off. "Fräulein, I'm trying to talk with this journalist." And he turned to the male journalist.

I was speechless. I have seldom seen such bad behavior in recent years, and then to have a colleague, one who is interested in many current topics, act like that and call me a vulgar feminist - I was nonplussed. I nodded - oh, by all means, do speak with him. And went to another corner of the place to speak with the blogger in peace and quiet.

What on earth is going on? Some men seem to be of the opinion, we have had quite enough of this equality now, it is time to shut up and get back to more important things. I remarked that an oldish SPD sticker I have in my room is so true: you can judge the necessity of specific actions by how loud the men shout about them.

I am reminded of the book by Susan Faludi, Backlash, that I read many years ago. I dug it out at home - it was from the early 90s. It was published in 1993 in Germany as "Die Männer schlagen zurück". I surfed around a bit and then found a wonderful book review of this in the Emma from 1993, written by the Minister for Family of the time, the current German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The book review is excellent - she notes how Faludi makes clear that men use irrelevant statistics to try and make us feel guilty about having power. She states that women must continue the march through the institutions.

Spot on, Angela. You made it, now we have to see to it that our sisters are not drowned in guilt and accusations because it is still making many men uncomfortable. And that they, someday, earn the same money for doing the same work. We aren't there yet.

My colleague left in a huff, I went out for pizza with the usual suspects from the Wikipedia. One young man of German descent who lives in Berlin and is an admin brought up the women's topic again. He just didn't see why, when two people are equally qualified for a job, it had to be the woman who got the job. I sighed and explained that this was only necessary in cases where women are underrepresented. As soon as 40% of the jobs go to women, this is no longer necessary. And in fields where men are underrepresented this rule holds equally. He shook his head - he just didn't get it. I wrote, calmly, to my colleague the next day. I wonder if I will get an answer.

Sisters, we got a lot of work cut out for us. I wonder where my purple bib overalls are.

Update: My colleague has replied within a day and apologized. And promised to read a paper if I send it to him. I immediately looked for Frances Grundy, "Computer Software - A Clue to De-Gendering Technology?" And guess what? Frances is now retired, and her department had nothing better to do than to remove her works from their server. I'm so mad, I wrote to them and asked for her private email. I want to publish a collection of her papers. Now!


acw said...

Ja, wir sind noch meilenweit entfernt von wirklicher Emanzipation - und erst recht in Deutschland.

Zu der Auswahl unserer FachexpertInnen auf der eVideo-Online-Konferenz erhielt ich den Kommentar eines Mannes: "Ganz schön frauenlastig." Ich rechnete nach, und das Verhältnis Rednerin zu Redner war 60:40 ...

hans said...

Ja, immer das gleiche Problem. Die ehemals gute Emanzipation ist zu weit gegangen, und jetzt jammern die Frauen schon, wenn sie nicht bevorzugt behandelt werden.

Gleichberechtigung für alle bitte!

WiseWoman said...

Oh hans, you are right - I want equality for all. Men *and* women. We still haven't gotten there yet, though, but letters like yours demonstrate that many men believe that the women are getting the better end of the deal all the time. You try to demean our discussion by using words like "jammern" (whining).

Sorry, but we still have a gender problem! Women are still marginalized, the male is defined to be the norm. Females are "special cases", abnormalities. And they are expected to stay home with the kids and bake cookies and get out of the way of the Real Men (tm).

The German school systems still expects Moms to stay home (or only work half day) in order to make lunch for their kids and do homework.

Women are *still* not paid the same as men.

Did you get an eyefull of the ministers of finance of the G20? Check it out: http://www.tagesschau.de/wirtschaft/finanzminister132.html

I count 4 women and 49 men. We only have equality when there are at least 20 men and 20 women in any group of 50 persons who have power or money.

Anna Roth said...

"He lashed out again, this time at the female German politicians in Hamburg who had voted against something that was near and dear to him (I didn't catch what)."

Being the female blogger I do remember what vote it was he mentioned. Not a Hamburg vote, but the vote on internet censorship (said to be used against child pornography) this summer. He said that the members of the Green party who abstained (instead of voting 'no') were mostly women. I said that surely there were men, too, and he took a lot of satisfaction in telling me that there was ONE man.

I just checked the facts (http://bundestag.de/bundestag/plenum/abstimmung/index.html): there were four men out of 15 altogether.

Which is completely irrelevant to the question discussed. It is, however, relevant if you want to understand how much hatred against women he must have accumulated if a) he pays attention to the gender of parliamentarians in a vote concerning some tech-related matter and b) he uses this to make a point about women and technology.

Scary. More than his emotional outburst as such (wasn't it women who're supposed to be getting emotional all the time?).

Anyway: thanks for writing this. And for keeping up for such a long time. My memories only go back to the late eighties and already I feel quite like a veteran from another time.

Anonymous said...

Ich kann mich dem nur anschließen. Gleichberechtigung ist noch lange nicht erreicht. Und die armen Männer können sich noch immer so ziemlich entspannt zurücklehnen, denn noch immer sind sie diejenigen, die (mehr) Geld, Macht und Einfluss haben. Und das nicht nur im öffentlichen Bereich. Auch im privaten Bereich haben sie in der Regel die Hosen an. Sie kochen seltener (wenn überhaupt), putzen weniger, kümmern sich seltener um die Kinder etc. Frauen müssen sich im Beruflichen zurücknehmen, wenn sie ein Kind erwarten, damit der Mann nicht zu Hause bleiben muss und das Gefühl kriegen könnte, nicht männlich genug zu sein, weil er seine Familie nicht versorgen kann... so ein Blödsinn. Männer, werdet erwachsen!