Our society and the working environment don’t need patriarchal men, who in their mental corset of outdated male roles have strong careers while pushing other people off the podium and, in the process, withering away emotionally. But what we actually look for is more than a man who is merely adapted to feminism.
What is needed is a new male self-image, inspired by and in harmony with basic feminist ideas, which develops independently from men in a co-creative process of self-reflection and introspection.
The basis for this is a holistically conceived understanding of feminism itself. Feminism as a life-affirming interplay of all genders, a transformative dance, a kind of experiential shared learning process at the end of which all parties can evolve into a better version of themselves.
Now, many courageous women have already come forward in recent decades and have firmly shaken a leg on the dance floor of transforming limiting norms. Most men, however, are currently still standing somewhat timidly on the sidelines. It’s a little cramped – a pinch of stubbornness mixed with a portion of ignorance about what step to take next.
But no matter how softly padded the audience benches may be, at the very bottom of a man’s soul slumbers a deep longing to be a living part of this unique transformational process that is happening right now. The magic of an authentic encounter at eye level beats any boys club atmosphere, no matter how elitist. The need for connection, spirituality and meaning may be buried under a mountain of conformity to current beliefs of toxic masculinity, but it still exists and wants to be lived.
So the question that arises is not whether the broad mass of men are fundamentally willing to take the next step in their development, but how men can best be picked up where they are right now. With their past and future, their strengths, weaknesses, prejudices, fears and desires.
What kind of spaces and processes are needed within society and the corporate world in order to not solely force the necessary changes and thus, in some cases, only fan the flame of resistance even more. But rather to find formats in which intrinsic motivation is awakened and the transformation process is experienced as meaningful and therefore worthwhile.
The essential guiding principle for such formats is: As well as. It’s about encouraging men to come fully into their power and at the same time be allowed to be emotionally vulnerable. It is about showing the possibility of a communication culture in which a wild primal scream is just as allowed as a quiet whimper. In which being a man can mean both having a successful career and being celebrated as a stay-at-home dad. Not as either male or feminist. But both at the same time.
I believe that we’re focussing way too much on women.
It might sound a bit provocative, so let me explain.
For a significant time now, our focus has been on promoting women into leadership positions and on overcoming gender gaps in our companies and in our societies.
And although those are the right things to do, we are missing something important here. We haven’t answered a simple question: Who is responsible for our status quo? Who has set the rules for our actions? What is the norm for our behavior?
The underlying framework of such a status quo is a system; a system in which we all try to perform, to accomplish, to survive, to be successful, to make a career. There are quite a few names for this system, but I prefer calling it “patriarchy”. But if you’d just like to call it “a system” – no problem at all!
Men are and have been the focal point of this system and men profit from this system, no matter if they are supporters of patriarchy or just beneficiaries of the system’s outcomes and opportunities.
If you are born a man, you can’t help but being rewarded by the system of patriarchy. It has been designed for the likes of us, for the likes of me, since I do identify as a cis gender heterosexual older white male.
Women can also profit from a patriarchal system, depending on their degree of adaptation to the system. And like we all do, women have to adapt to the system in order to be able to work and to live within it. Or simply in order to function in this system, to cope with it, to get along.
But adapting to the system is taking its toll. Since the system is designed mostly for men (and by men), the task of adaptation is a much bigger one. And it is a task that requires energy, dedication and sacrifice. Dealing with an almost unbearably huge mental load is one of the most drastic systemic outcomes for women.
As human beings, we are reacting to a systemic framework in comparatively smart ways. Our behavior adapts to what the system signals to us what would be a smart behavior. A behavior, which would be welcomed and rewarded by the systemic norms. Systems reward smart behaviors according to the system’s rules.
So back to my initial remark, that we are focussing too much on women.
We have also quite recently, I believe, embarked on a journey to empower women. And I don’t think we should do that, either! And yes, I will try to explain this, too.
Women are empowered. They have been empowering themselves for ages. Because they had to. Living in systems which don’t fulfill your particular needs in the first place needs a lot of empowerment and even more self-empowerment.
Women are not broken, the system is broken. And the system is upheld by patriarchal parameters. But instead of fixing the system, we are fixing women. To make them fit into the system. At this point, I sincerely hope that this sounds as absurd to you as it does to me.
Keeping in mind what I said about systemic preconditions, we should stop fixing women and instead fix the system. And since the system has been designed for and is upheld by mostly men, I think men should be the primary focus of systemic change towards a more gender equal society.
And thus, we need to empower men.
This may sound odd, if not reactionary. Empowering men? In a system, which already provides huge boosts for male egos? Where men are the norm and marginalized social groups are struggling?
Yes. I believe it is necessary. Not despite these systemic outcomes, but precisely because of them. I believe that men are the key to changing our systems and to create a path towards gender equal and fair and inclusive organizations and societies.
Men are struggling. Masculinity can be a very fragile thing. Men live under the fear of losing privilege and power. They very often believe that they need women to deliver stability and care. Some men only function because there are women in their lives who provide them with an emotional foundation.
And deep within, most men are aware of their emotional dependency on women. But they can’t admit it. Instead, they lash out, attack, blame and behave in a way which can only be described as a display of toxic masculinity.
Don’t get me wrong, please: The men I am writing about aren’t toxic, the underlying concepts of masculinity are. And thus, we need an evolution of male socialization and of male behavior.
In an organizational context, we need to show men where their true power lies. Not within homosocially reproducing monocultures, but in self-empowerment. Not within exclusive in-groups but in diverse and inclusive cultures and networks.
Men do have a choice, but it’s a demanding one: Either, they become a part of the solution, or they are automatically a part of the problem.
But before some men revolt or take to the barricades: I don’t blame individual men, when I am advocating for change. What I do is I am addressing a systemic malfunction. Men have to adapt to systems, too. And they have been compromised by the systems, often without knowing.
I would like men to embark on a learning journey about themselves and their roles. And about the systems they live and work in.
To me, the key to change is a process of reflection of men. We need to become aware of our privilege, especially if we don’t feel it. If we feel accused and neglected and blamed by all those attempts to heal a sexist, misogynist, exclusive, classist monocultural system, then we have a lot of work to do.
We are key players in the process. We need to become allies in changing the system. We need to live up to our responsibilities and play a role as change agents. We need to identify how and where our behavior is harming people who are different from us.
“People who are different from us” is quite an accurate definition of the concept of diversity, which goes way beyond the binary and narrow debate of male vs. female. We’re all so much more than just men and women.
We need to understand people’s access to our systems. How does the world look like for a person who is non-white, trans, homosexual, poor, disabled, illiterate, introvert or else? How does our world feel for others?
Our approach to understanding these facts must be an empathic one, not just a rational one. We need to educate ourselves and learn about our biases and about concepts such as intersectionality.
Diversity is very demanding, very exhausting. But we must all go to work and create inclusive and fair systems that are based on equality. Our KPIs shouldn’t be awards or manifestos or metrics from the pipeline only – but a feeling of belonging of those who haven’t yet had equal access.
Is there such a thing as feminist Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba?
Contact, proximity, tension and flow, dynamics, harmony, rhythm and aesthetics. Dancing is an incredibly fulfilling occupation. For me, it’s the first activity that really captivated me and made me constantly reach for more. More knowledge, more ease, more precise movements and clearer interaction. It delights me and makes me euphoric. Before, during and after. We don’t have to travel far to dance. We hardly need any special equipment. We do not even need special weather. Dancing always works. All this, for me, makes social dancing a captivating activity for every day of the week. I have never felt more fulfilled than when I am dancing.
This is how I feel about it.
However, dance can be interpreted differently. I have personal insight into the dances Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba. Dance is also fertile soil for macho fantasies, sexual assault and outdated gender role concepts. As a man who is gradually learning to think feministically, I often ask myself whether — as a member of the dance community — I am acting against my feminist convictions, carrying on sexism, or perpetuating stereotypes and unequal treatment.
Is there such a thing as feminist dancing of Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba, or is sexism an essential pillar of these dances? Throughout this text, I understand sexism as unequal treatment and judgement based on assumed gender differences.
What’s the problem?
Can something that triggers as many positive feelings as social dancing be problematic at all? I believe YES. On the one hand, it’s indeed possible that both dancing partners enjoy the moment of dancing without any reservations. On the other hand, this enjoyment takes place in a heavily burdened bigger picture. In a mindset that indisputably nourishes from fixed role concepts and attributions.
The basic principle of dances like Salsa is the distribution of roles into leaders and followers. In these dances, this distribution is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, the system of such dances would not work. The way figures are created by action and reaction is based on this distribution. Just as statics and dynamics, which have to apply to make the characteristic moves possible. Spinning, i.e. fast turns of the follower in the rhythm of the music, is not imaginable without clear guidance. Neither are lifting techniques that require a stable foundation to not appear uncontrolled. Without the leader-follower relationship, the dance would result in chaotic misunderstandings.
Some dances do not rely on the distribution of roles or are performed alone. But these will never provide the Salsa/Bachata/Kizomba feeling. This feeling that’s unique for each of the dances.
Now, this doesn’t mean the follower has to be female and vice versa. For the dances to work, it’s sufficient that the roles exist at all. Nevertheless, experience shows that the roles in the overwhelming majority are filled by men and women following the common stereotypes. The assigned functions of leader and follower are often carried out by men and women due to the traditional social narrative of the “natural” qualities of the respective gender. What does this mean?
The necessary functions of the leader in Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba, regardless of who takes on the role, are the following: He*She is the proactive, initiative part. The provider of ideas. Shapes the basic structure. Defines what is danced. Gives the framework. Forms the roots of the couple.
This coincides with many clichés projected onto men in the social mainstream: The man acts and defines; is the subject; is strong and rough.
The functions of the follower, however, are these: He*She is the reacting part. Can decide how the given framework is filled. Is the eye-catcher. Presents him*herself and is presented. Stands for the blossoms of the couple.
This in turn coincides with clichés usually projected onto women: The woman reacts; is the object; is beautiful and presentable.
Thus it’s obvious that a sexist role concept is portrayed and reinforced here. In my opinion, this is no coincidence. I am convinced that a sexist basic idea was always in mind, if not essential, when these dances evolved in the second half of the 20th century. Otherwise, I couldn’t explain how certain seductive gestures and the over-emphasis of bottom and chest entered the aesthetics of those dances. It’s striking who seduces whom, who represents whose adornment. Explicit sexism was more accepted in the old days. But even today the tales of boss and secretary, of rock star and groupie, of football player and football player’s wife are still present in people’s minds. The essential forms of expression of Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba fit into this hierarchical understanding.
Many of us have a queasy feeling about this. In 2020 we are questioning dated social patterns in all aspects of our lives. This also applies to dance.
What can we do to further develop the beauty of our dances and simultaneously throw the sexist ballast overboard?
As they will be frequently mentioned in the next few lines, I would like to once again point out the difference between the concepts sexual and sexist.
Sexual is what in the widest sense draws its energy from interpersonal attraction and reproductive drive. I here include love and amorousness in a somewhat simplistic way. The sexual drive is as fundamentally anchored in the human being as the need to eat or sleep. Although it’s overlaid by culture, it remains present. Still today it’s manifested, e.g. in the attractive or repulsive effect of body odour, in the perception of beauty and the desire for closeness. I enjoy observing the work of these energies and find nothing wrong with them. It’s sexist, on the other hand, to limit people’s freedom of expression based on assumed gender differences, to expect supposedly gender-specific forms of expression from dancers, but also to associate these forms of expression with sexual availability. Furthermore, it’s sexist to carry on social power constellations on the dance floor and to use dance as an excuse for sexual harassment.
Consequently, sexual is a neutral term, whereas sexist is a description of behaviour that’s condemned in our century.
In my opinion, social dancing could be made less sexist on these three levels: Basic agreement, simple changes in behaviour and role concepts.
First of all, I believe there should be a basic agreement to consider dancing as a sport. A form of social interaction giving people a good feeling, regardless of their position. Dance should create a space for appreciation and respect. For me, this means that I dance at least one dance with everyone treating me with respect and inviting me to dance. Part of this respect is to be cultivated, friendly and not completely drunk. Furthermore not to rip me out of a conversation. At the same time, the sportive way of dancing I am talking about here should be practised without sexual intention. It’s true that feelings arising from sexuality play an essential role in the completeness of a dance, as we will see later. Nevertheless, dance events should be non-violent places where closeness and interaction depend on the consent of each person.
Dancers who use the dance floor for abuse and harassment, who grab, grope and don’t want to distinguish the hip from the bottom, are beyond any discussion I would like to have here.
Simple changes in behaviour
It’s easy to leave out obviously sexist details from the dance if they don’t add any value. This includes suggestive gestures and names of certain figures. Here I am talking, for instance, about moves of Salsa Rueda de Casino, which clearly represent penetration or slaps on the bottom. In the European context of social dancing, they portray nothing else than male domination and assault. As a white German, it’s not up to me to judge the original meaning of the moves originating from the Cuban Guaguancó. Still, I will not use them in my dance.
A second behaviour, which can easily be identified and dismissed as sexist, is the traditional dance invitation: the follower waiting for the leader’s request. This custom from the last millennium has no value for dancing, except stamping the follower as passive once again. In my circle of friends, the one-sided dance invitation already has become history. This makes it easier to treat each other as subjects. As subjects who put themselves into a certain role for a limited period of time and can leave it whenever they want. Invitations can also be refused at any time if the person being invited is not in the mood for it. The person asking must respect this choice.
Ifind it more difficult to change the role concept in dance. By role concept I mean here: Who takes on which of the roles described above and consciously or unconsciously fulfils the whole package of expectations associated with that role? The core components of dance are affected by the role concept and the actual individuals playing the roles. At the very top of that article, I have named these core components: tension, flow, rhythm, dynamics, proximity, harmony, contact and aesthetics. Some of them are clustered around the attraction of two people. Tension to dynamics are imaginable without interpersonal attraction. For me, this means from concrete experience: As a heterosexual cis man, it’s quite easy for me to experience these components with any other person of any gender positioning. That means also with people I am not sexually oriented towards (e.g. other heterosexual cis men).
However, to put life into the components proximity, harmony, contact and aesthetics, I need interpersonal attraction. Or at least the rejection must not be too strong. How attraction or rejection work is unique to each person and includes gender identity and sexual orientation. Everyone has met a variety of people whom they are not attracted to.
Wait a minute! Why am I writing about sexual attraction here, although this text is actually about overcoming sexism (a cultural phenomenon) and not sexuality (something supposedly natural)? I feel our sexuality hinders us from overcoming sexist behaviour.
It’s the sexual attraction that, in my opinion, makes it possible to let oneself fall entirely into the dance. I think every dancer knows the short falling in love occurring when a dance is perfect. This falling in love, that makes the dancing partners briefly melt together. This is the case even though I have excluded sexual intentions earlier and defined the dance as sportive. That sounds paradoxical! But it makes sense if we acknowledge that it is a conscious decision to exclude sexual intentions. A social agreement and a product of cultural education.
At this point, there is often irritation of outsiders who are not familiar with the dancing agreement. People who see Bachata Sensual or Kizomba for the first time are often convinced they witness a kind of obscene sex with clothes on. It’s true: What is performed has sexual expressions. But as far as I can tell, there is usually no tangible thought of sex between the partners. The dancing agreement allows us to reproduce the supposedly sexual expressions with many different people, even strangers. The best time to observe the dancing agreement at work is in the seconds after the end of the song. Often there is a short hug and then the dancers quickly re-establish their intimate sphere. Thereafter both rapidly go their way. This phenomenon can be observed on social dance floors and also in videos of professional dance couples.
For me, attraction is an important component in fulfilling dance. I guess it’s quite relevant for many dancers with whom they dance. At the same time, the aesthetics the dancing couple wants to feel and express are determined by social conditioning, which cannot simply be thrown overboard. We have seen these aesthetics over and over again in films, YouTube videos and advertising: Sunset. Beach. Tenderness. Face to face. Cheek to cheek. These are just some of the common associations with couple dance. So beautiful, so limiting.
This leads to the following problem: To avoid confirming role clichés, it would be worth striving to dance with one another without regard to gender. That way, all roles would be adopted by all genders. Attribution would be dismissed. At the same time, it would be easier to break with the familiar aesthetic expectations because of the unusual image. New impressions that do not depend on perceived gender could arise: sporty, playful, circular, linear, clear, cool, explosive, energetic, soft or flowy. However, my sexuality (in a wide sense) hinders this gender-independent performance. Regardless of taking the role of leader or follower, I feel most comfortable dancing with a woman I find attractive (or at least not repellent). And so I return to my Hollywood-Sunset-Comfort-Zone. This way, the most fundamental chance to shake up clichés is wasted.
So I try to at least break with the clichés within my frequent man-woman dances. I like to play the follower-role in dancing with a woman. I can then fulfil all components of the dance… except for the typical aesthetics. For example, I do not want to perform certain gestures which woman traditionally do when they play the follower-role (stroking through the hair or overdoing hip movements, etc.). And when I perform them, it’s meant self-ironic. Hence, the aesthetics of our dance with reversed roles becomes different from the classical one and feels incomplete.
Why do I not want to perform these gestures? Because I feel ashamed? Because I am afraid of people’s judgement? Because I have a problem with what these gestures say? Because I equate attributed femininity with weakness deep in my subconscious and I do not want to appear weak myself?
Then why do I find it OK for women to use these gestures? Am I less feminist than I would like to be? Do I unconsciously demand that women use such gestures and therefore interpret a dance with a reversed role assignment as incomplete per se?
Probably a little bit of everything is right! I still carry expectations inside me which I need to drop. On the other hand, we obviously lack a comprehensible offer of dance aesthetics that can be used regardless of gender. Aesthetics that don’t transport any traditional clichés (such as weakness and sexual availability), yet still feel beautiful and complete.
The development of new aesthetics beyond familiar attributions could be the first step we can start with today. Starting points could be the adjectives I mentioned above (sporty, playful, circular, linear, clear, cool, explosive, energetic, soft, flowy). Possible topic of a workshop: What can dancers do to make the dance look “playful”? Possible topic of a series of courses: How do we create a feeling of “explosiveness” for us and our environment? … There are forms of expression waiting for us which we can’t imagine today within the Salsa, Bachata or Kizomba community. All this requires a long process. Dances are in constant change anyway, but the direction of that change can possibly be influenced by some special focus on anti-sexism.
The aim should be to uncouple dance with its beautiful aspects from power structures and outdated role concepts. At the same time, we should not deny the importance of interpersonal attraction. That e.g. means not to expect a progressive dancer to dance with each and every person. Expression always is highly subjective. One thing is particularly important: everyone must be allowed to stay who they are. From personal conversations I know that many women, even those with a thoroughly feminist attitude, enjoy letting themselves fall into the follower-role. Knowing full well that they do so intentionally, being able to escape this role whenever they want.
We must not mistakenly invent counter-norms. For me, acting feminist means creating a climate in which everyone can be him*herself without being devalued. Every dancer is allowed to express what he*she wants to stand for at that moment. Without aesthetic constraints, without limits. For themselves.
The author was born and raised in East Germany. He is currently based in Bremen/Germany. Philipp says he’s a passionate feminist, dancer and engineer. He’s constantly trying to figure out how privileged people can be part of the solution to discrimination issues.
Good evening. Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words.
The fact, that I am doing this keynote – a white, heterosexual, able-bodied, comparatively old, cis-male from Germany – can be both: a provocation and a sign of hope. And maybe it is indeed both.
Male feminist engagement is a paradox in itself. We need to be aware of that. And I need this, my awareness, to be followed by a sense of responsibility: I am responsible for the choices I am making.
One of the things I always want to achieve through activism is to criticize the very privilege of mine, which I have been trying to describe by listing my non-diverse setup. My role raises a lot of questions. And quite frankly: I do not have an answer to a lot of those questions.
Should I participate, should I speak up and share a perspective that has probably been shared too many times already?
Or should I step away and make room and just listen and learn?
And no matter which decision I am making: There are always well-founded arguments against and legitimate criticism of my decisions.
So thank you once again, dear Global Shapers, for giving me the opportunity to speak, knowing that this means, that so many people, who should be speaking, who should be heard and included are not getting this very opportunity – at least not today.
If I may, I would like to talk about the current situation in my home country, which by many people around the globe is seen as a positive example during the Corona crisis. Germany is being regarded as an economic powerhouse of global scale. But I do have some doubts whether these two assessments are fair and correct.
What we’re experiencing in times of the global Corona crisis, is nothing less than the escalation of gender gaps.
Speaking from Germany and about Germany, we have an average Gender Pay Gap of 20 %, a Gender Care Gap of 52.4 %, a Gender Pension Gap of around 50 % and many many more rather invisible gender gaps.
Corona is a magnifying glass for these issues. And this magnifying glass is clearly pointing out: Germany is not doing well. Actually, not at all.
I got a WhatsApp message last week from a friend of ours. She’s a married mother of two and is currently working part-time. What she’s doing is: She’s getting up at 4:30 in the morning, starting her job at 5 a.m. and working until 9 o’clock. By then, her family would be up and she would take over the kids and the household so that her husband can do his full-time job out of their home office.
This is just one story, there are literally thousands. This has to do with a German obsession with the ideal of a traditional core family as well as with our widespread image of women and mothers being kind of a natural default option for care work. This is very hard to tackle.
And there are, of course, stories that are far worse, and that are hardly being told at all. Stories from much less privileged people. From single mothers and parents, from people with disabilities who depend on the help of others, from marginalized groups and individuals, whose situation has even worsened through Covid-19. This list goes on and on.
Here in Germany, the massive consequences of systemic toxic masculinity, for instance, are still being largely ignored. Misogyny and sexual harassment are still being seen by many as imported phenomenons rather than as deeply rooted integral parts of a German socialization. Covid-19 has already taken its toll: The quantity and the quality of domestic abuse primarily against women and children has increased in more than dramatic fashion.
Globally, the economic and physical disruptions caused by the disease could have vast consequences for the rights and health of women and girls. According to UN Women Germany, a new analysis by the United Nations Population Fund estimates
seven million unwanted pregnancies⠀
31 million additional cases of Gender violence
two million cases of female genital mutilation and
an additional 13 million child marriages within the upcoming decade that could have been prevented.
All of this is devastating. And all of this stands in sharp contrast to so many articles and op-eds claiming that the Corona crisis is a huge opportunity für positive change.
In Germany, it took the public debate more than six weeks into the crisis, before politicians even started talking about families and children and parents. They’re still not talking that much about women, which clearly indicates a systemic deficiency once more.
The reason why parents and mothers and women do not have a lobby is because they are not represented in the decision-making processes. They do care work instead of career work, instead of paid work. Because they have to. The debate is lacking their perspective. And we are blaming the women and mothers and parents for not contributing their perspective rather than blaming the people in charge: predominantly men who hardly have any care responsibilities and who have pursued their careers on the backs of a legion of caseworkers and caregivers who have been ignored for so long.
Speaking of systems: Virtually everybody is talking about system-relevant parts of our economies and societies. System-relevance seems to have become the new hard-skill. The discussion is a large-scale in-group/out-group lab trial. If you are system-relevant, you get praise from our balconies at 9 p.m. If you are not, well… you’re not.
As if those, who have been ignored by our systems for so long already, didn’t know that…
The problem is: What if the expression “system-relevant” is just a euphemism for “Yeah, let’s get them some applause and praise and spotlight so that we wouldn’t have to change anything about their working conditions, let alone their financial resources”? And what if the really system-relevant groups haven’t yet been addressed at all?
Maybe this is complaining on a comparatively high level, but what I will never understand is, that German politics in the context of diversity and gender equality is so obviously lacking a vision. Instead: Paid work and the economy are and remain our dogma.
Our workforces, on the other hand, have been reduced to their mere capability to…. well… to work, to function, to fulfill, to provide, to support, to engage, to accelerate, to optimize, to adapt… and yet, even in times of a pandemic, hardly anybody seems to be able or willing to acknowledge a simple truth: The way our systems speak about people and their system-relevance says much more about the systems than about the people.
“Stop fixing people, fix the system” has been my credo ever since I have started working as a freelance consultant for organizational cultures. And actually, this credo has another connotation most of the time. It reads “Stop fixing women, fix the system”. For it is still an organizational reflex to expect women to adapt to organizations. And this reflex is by no means an exclusively male reflex. Patriarchy has gone to great lengths to imprint its manipulative logic into our brains. We need huge efforts to make this visible and to create access to understanding and to deconstructing our systemic reflexes.
This is where all our activisms can come together. Because together, we can make significant system change possible.
Sonja Bastin, a sociologist from Bremen, has recently given an interview in which she states:
“We have to understand that none of us could open a business, none of us would be politicians or could find a vaccine if it weren’t for people who do care work. No one should be allowed to take advantage of an adult worker or employee without paying compensation.”
Does that sound radical to you? Maybe yes. But is it a utopian or a dystopian thought? I believe we need to re-negotiate our utopias and take responsibility for our collective future as human-beings.
This is what activism can be about: bringing our utopias within striking distance. Creating safe spaces where we can discuss and negotiate our ideas of a collective present and future. Including diverse perspectives and different points-of-view across continents, industries, societies and social spheres. Like tonight.
This does not mean that we should ignore all the bad things that are happening. And this does not mean, either, that we cannot be critical about one another, that we shouldn’t challenge or speak out about our biases and blind spots and privileges.
This just means that there is still enough common ground for us all working together in very different contexts.
I would like to thank you all for being part of this. For seeking new ideas and platforms and technologies to bring change. For supporting each other and for becoming allies for all the different approaches towards gender equality. For tolerating educational gaps of activism and for trusting the good intentions of each and everyone who is participating tonight and beyond today.
I am very much looking forward to some exciting startup pitches by very smart entrepreneurs as well as to listening to the panel discussion and the exchange of diverse points of view a bit later.
Have a great evening and thank you.
This keynote was being presented (remotely) by Robert Franken during the NEXT B2B FORUM by Global Shapers Hub Frankfurt on May 26th 2020.
Gender equality is a topic that Germans seem to find particularly difficult to deal with. On an international level, we are doing anything but well. According to the Gender Equality Index of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), with a value of 66.9 (100 means full equality), Germany lags behind the European average. The EU Gender Equality Report highlights the most important developments over the last twelve months as well as processes of change since 2010 and focuses on potential factors for the progress of equal opportunities for women and men in the EU.
The situation in Germany is pretty bad in the area of wage equality: The gender pay gap, i.e. the wage gap between the sexes, is stalling at 21 percent. Some people believe that this gross wage gap can be reduced to a net gap of less than five percent. However, they lose sight of the fact that wage discrimination is no less unfair simply because a large part of the responsible factors can be explained. The opposite is true: Those who know about the factors and who do nothing about them are explicitly discriminating.
Other gender gaps are no less dramatic. On average, women perform 52.4 percent more care work than men (gender care gap), earn just half of an average male lifetime income (gender lifetime earnings gap) and, finally, women are quite frequently confronted with poverty at old age as a result of the gender pension gap. It is truly a vicious circle of gender gaps, and it is high time to take countermeasures.
The economic sphere faces significant challenges. For a long time, politicians, in particular, appealed to companies to finally ensure that equal rights should also be introduced at management level. With the “Act on the Equal Participation of Women and Men in Management Positions“ (German: „Gesetz für die gleichberechtigte Teilhabe von Frauen und Männern an Führungspositionen (FüPoG)“, the federal government introduced a binding quota for supervisory boards of listed companies in 2015. In addition, the law also provided for an obligation to set target figures, according to which certain companies must set themselves target figures for increasing the proportion of women on their supervisory boards, boards of management and top management levels. However, the latter in particular subsequently proved to be hardly effective.
Many companies simply carry on as before. They more or less stoically take note of their glass ceilings and their leaky pipelines (i.e. hierarchies in which the number of women decreases in proportion to their career level). As if these phenomena were laws of nature, and not the result of structural injustices and systemic misconfigurations. If, against this background, listed companies continue to set themselves a „Zielquote null”, this seems only cynical against the background of the debates on equality. Politicians have already announced that they will react.
But it is not only because the political interventions and regulatory frameworks are too vague. Corporate leaders – and the vast majority of them are men – have also become accustomed to delegating and institutionalising the issues of diversity and gender equality. This means that they appoint equality and/or diversity officers, but generally do not take care of the details themselves.
But it is precisely these details that have the potential to provide the solution. As a man, I have to deal with my role and responsibility in the area of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), otherwise little or nothing will change. And this responsibility cannot be delegated, neither to departments nor to individuals. If the right attitude of those responsible is lacking, every individual measure is obsolete. And this attitude must be the top (management) priority.
There is still a lack of “agency” in this area. Those who have decision-making power in organizations must also take responsibility for the issues mentioned. Responsibility means that they must make these issues their own personal agenda.
Men have a key role to play in this context. Why? Because they can change the system: by reflecting on their attitude, by questioning their behavior, by making concrete decisions from positions of power. Men must eventually give up power so that power can be distributed more fairly. We need an honest examination of our internalized beliefs and behaviors, our socialization as men and our numerous blind spots and biases.
It is simply human that we think and act on the basis of so many biases. It is human that we are subject to stereotypes and prejudices. It is human that we occasionally think and act sexist, racist or classicist. It would be inhumane, however, if we did not do everything in our power to improve. Unfortunately, simple anti-bias training or similar interventions do not help, and some of them are even counterproductive. Such measures must be embedded in the cultural transformation of our organizations. And that is hard work that many seem to shy away from.
Up to now, attention has been focused almost exclusively on women. They had been identified as having alleged deficits. Mentoring programs, behavioral and communication training and numerous other measures have aimed and still aim to train women to behave in a very specific way. In other words, to teach them how best to fit into the system. However, such an approach hinders the much-needed questioning of the system and also feeds two dangerous narratives: that women are supposedly not (yet) able to do it; and that women who have been selected for certain leadership positions but refused such promotion would simply not want it. Both are distorted perceptions that distract from structural problems.
Inclusion is about fair and equal participation. Fixing women, i.e. making women fit in, is the exact opposite: It creates every conceivable loophole for our systems and their protagonists so that everything can stay the same. But that would be fatal in view of the transformation tasks that lie ahead of businesses, politics and society. Diversity is a coping strategy in the context of VUCA, not a nice-to-have.
Hopefully, it will soon no longer be a matter of teaching women how to perform management tasks in predominantly male environments. Instead, we finally have the chance to focus on changing the system. And the system is built for men, designed by men and influenced by men. This brings with it great responsibility. Men have a choice: they can become part of the solution, or they automatically remain part of the problem.
For companies this means a major rethink. The times in which paid work was standing monolithically in the centre of an employee’s life are coming to an end. It used to be the individual responsibility of each and every one of us to create compatibility between work and life, to ensure that paid work and care work could function next to each other But this is increasingly becoming a challenge for employers, too – at least in higher-qualified professions and sectors. Companies must get used to including aspects beyond the context of paid work in their area of responsibility. In short, they must do more to live up to their social responsibility. And that also means helping to ensure that men do less paid work and more care work.
All this is linked to overcoming male hyperinclusion. Men are so involved in being managers, CEOs, VPs or directors, that there are oftentimes no other responiobilities left fort them in life, in particular no care work responsibilities. When men realize that they should not only take a step back, but that this is accompanied by a great enrichment of their own life experience, then opportunities for female careers and the chance for a fairer distribution of care work open up at the same time. The latter is a core task of our time, not only from the perspective of a feminist economy.
For it’s true what Sabine Rennefanz recently formulated in her column for the Berliner Zeitung: “For a long time the Western-style welfare state only worked because women did work for free. They raised children, they cared for the elderly. But women are less and less willing to do this, with drastic consequences that everyone feels.”
Women are more and more tired of dealing with their “mental load”, the never-ending to-do list in connection with care activities. It keeps them from making a career or simply from having time for other things than housework, childcare or paid work. Some call it life.
The economy benefits immensely from unpaid care work performed by women. In a recent study, the development aid organization Oxfam calculated that women and girls worldwide perform more than twelve billion hours of unpaid work every day. If the minimum wage were applied to this work, it would be worth over eleven trillion US dollars a year.
We must finally turn our attention to men. The Swedish AllBright Foundation has been monitoring developments in Germany for a long time. Christian Berg, who runs the foundation in Germany together with Dr. Wiebke Ankersen, cites as a key factor for employers “encouraging men to take more parental leave, pick up children from daycare or stay home with sick children. If you don’t do this, you automatically promote men in the company at the expense of women.” These are already very concrete recommendations for action, which have the potential to shift organizational and ultimately social norms in the medium term.
The fact that norms are already changing can be observed not least in the investment decisions of the major players. Goldman Sachs, for example, which has not exactly been a role model of fairness and justice in the past, will no longer accompany IPOs of companies whose supervisory boards are “white and male”. A small step, but one from an influential niche.
In case we get our systems moving and start to eliminate asymmetric gender relations, we should tie a huge knot in our handkerchiefs. We must not fall into the trap of simpy replacing men in influential positions with women. This must also involve a questioning of our economic systems as a whole. Without constructive and systemic criticism of capitalism, the call for gender equality remains a lip service.
„The enemy of feminism isn’t men. It’s patriarchy, and patriarchy is not men. It is a system, and women can support the system of patriarchy just as men can support the fight for gender equality.“ (Justine Musk)
Most people are done with patriarchy. No, really. I mean it. They have analyzed and studied it. They have experienced its narrow limitations and its discriminatory nature. They came to the conclusion, that patriarchal systems are counterintuitive in times, where we’d rather embrace diversity than stick to predominantly male monocultures. We need a multitude of perspectives in order to cope with what we have framed in a cryptic acronym: „VUCA“. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity.
And yet, we haven’t abolished patriarchy once and for all. We still rely on it in times of radical change. This is absurd. We almost behave like alcoholics, well aware of the fatal implications of the drug.
Female authority as a key concept
Antje Schrupp, a German political scientist, feminist and author, wrote an excellent piece on female authority back in 2001, in which she describes how the patriarchal system remains in charge simply because a trusted new approach is yet to be established. Patriarchy’s logic, Schrupp explains, has left women with only two alternatives: They can either adapt to roles and behaviors typically framed as female, or, they can strive to become like men themselves. And, of course, this is a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Sometimes, while trying to fully grasp the implications of patriarchal systems, I get the impression that there’s a fight going on on all sides: a fight for the interpretation sovereignty about what is to become an alternative system to patriarchy. And only after having read Antje Schrupp’s essay, I have understood that we are still lacking such a new order. The disorder, Schrupp has already been pointing at some twenty years ago, is still affecting large parts of our systems today.
This disorder leads to an increasing alienation: Women (and more and more men) feel like they don’t belong any more. Whether it is political parties, transnational organizations or companies: All of these institutions find it harder and harder to create attraction and, even harder, retention. And I have an inkling, that this may well have to do with the rules, by which they are still playing out campaigns or employer branding.
New rules, new narratives
The old narratives won’t resonate any longer. But what’s next then? Is this just a challenge for a new kind of storytelling? I believe, that it’s a discussion much more fundamental. It’s about a completely new set of rules.
There are still no widely accepted rules for social cooperation in a post-patriarchal society. And a lot of people (women* and men*) remain „within the logic of the patriarchy by constantly protesting against its rules or by interpreting their feeling of alienation by claiming that the patriarchy has indeed not ended yet.“
We are still struggling, both with the alienation by existing systems and with our inability to live and act by a fundamentally new set of rules. This might also explain, for example, why some men are fighting organizational promotion of women as being discriminatory against their own career advancements.
Men being stuck in traditional dramas
Instead of focusing on their impact while changing the existing system, these men are acting within the old paradigms of a system they almost certainly despise for its discriminatory setup. They simply can’t see any other way, they’re stuck in a mono perspective: get a job, make a career, establish a status and thus become attractive for a partner–then (and only then) you can have a family and a meaningful life.
It’s pretty obvious that this way of defining meaning in life has several inherent dangers. If you pursue such a one-way street in life, you’ll lack resilience every time something goes wrong. You’re only option will be to push through. The outcome can be devastating, when relationships, finances and health are at risk.
Our individual and collective actions are once again lagging behind our ways of thinking, which are already crossing boundaries from time to time. We have adopted new ways of thinking our societies, economies, businesses etc., but our actions still support the very foundations of the systems in charge, above all: the patriarchy.
Caring economy as an alternative framework
In order to overcome this paradox, we must change our reference point. No longer should we make the existing system the foundation of all our endeavors and ambitions, but a new system of sustainable relationships, where humans are no longer a disposable factor within certain economic cycles, but at the center of a caring economy. This may sound comparatively socialistic when we first hear it, but, in fact, it is most certainly the only way of creating a future foundation of social welfare economies.
If we take a look at the spheres of the economy it becomes obvious, that there are two spheres which represent a monetized economy (finance and production), while the remaining two spheres (reproduction and nature) are part of a non-monetized (or: maintenance) economy. We are looking at nothing less than at the core of capitalism’s drama. The barrier between production and reproduction marks the single point of failure of our economic system: It is a system of exploitation. And a one-way street.
By breaking up the barriers between the two spheres which are so deeply interlinked and dependent on each other, we could initiate a holistic approach to answering fundamental questions: How do we want to live and work together in a future where paid work will become an increasingly volatile factor while care work will even more become the centerpiece of functioning societies?
„Female“ symbolic order
Women are the cornerstone of such a caring economy. In a talk from 2017, author, philosopher and learning therapist Dorothee Markert relates to the Italian feminist thinkers, who recommend substituting female power relationships by authority relationships. Markert, once again, points to Antje Schrupp, who argues in her publication „ABC des guten Lebens“ for these new kinds of relationships among women, which could create a new foundation of social cooperation and unleash „independency from a male-shaped symbolic order“.
The key question for me would be: How can I create impact and how can I support the development and establishing of a „female*“ symbolic order? I have no answers yet, only ideas. But I am curious and thus looking forward to seeing the debate unfold.
On November 8, 2018, I had the opportunity as well as the honour to hold the keynote speech at this year’s #iphiGENIA Award ceremony at the Museum für angewandte Kunst MAKK in Cologne, Germany. The full speech has been published at IGDN’s website (verbatim). This is a an edited and abridged version of the keynote, in which I talked about (male) privilege, awareness, solidarity, feminist impact and changing norms.
My name is Robert Franken. I became an activist for gender equality and diversity, more or less. And, admittedly, I became an activist of privilege.
My privilege is a privilege that I share with quite a few people, I believe: I’m a 45 year old, white, heterosexual, tall, cis-gender male who is living in Germany (in case you don’t know what the term „cis-gender“ means: cis-gender is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth. The opposite, of course, would be transgender.)
And here’s a piece of advice for all the guys: You are not suposed to be ashamed of your privilege – but you need to be aware of it!
Again: white, heterosexual, tall, cis-gender, German – You can’t be much more privileged than I am in this world, even if you tried very, very hard.
And my privilege of truly global scale is the number one reason why it took me so long to realize that there are quite a few things going terribly wrong in this privileged world of mine. Not for me, though, but for a lot of other people.
Have you ever thought about your privilege? Have you ever made up your mind about how your privilege constitutes your status? If you are privileged, of course.
It can be a pretty sobering experience. I mean, it sounds good: „I am privileged.“ But when you think about it: It becomes very normal very soon. It’s just your personal reality. Your routine. Your norm.
You’re getting used to it, and when you’re getting used to something you’re losing awareness of the very fact that it has always been there: your privilege. It may not feel like being fun anymore, maybe it never has. It’s just normal.
There’s this diversity awareness exercise you might have heard of or even experienced yourself. Imagine a group of people forming a line, holding hands. They’re being asked questions. Questions such as „Do you think your gender is properly represented in the media?“ or „Did you have access to a full school education?“. If the answer to one question is „Yes“, then the participants are being asked to take a step forward.
You can also add questions where a „no“ as an answer would mean a step back. And you can use very tough and challenging questions. For instance: “Have you ever been a victim of sexual harassment?“.
The goal of this exercise is, of course, to challenge privilege and to create awareness for discrimination; to prove that the particular group is much more heterogenous than you would think in the first place, and, that privilege sometimes leads to discrimination – and vice versa.
So eventually, when the exercise is over, you would ask the people standing in the back how they’re feeling. And they wouldn’t feel that great, actually. And that’s because they, once again, are being confronted with their personal discriminatory past and/or present. They’re probably quite used to that, but nevertheless, this exercise sometimes works as a kind of trigger.
The most interesting part of this exercise, however, is how the people in the front are feeling. The people who would be answering „Yes“ to almost every single question. They are the privileged ones, that’s quite obvious, isn’t it? But, awkwardly enough, it doesn’t seem to feel particularly good.
In fact, the people who are standing in the front feel extremely weird. „Weird“ as in „uneasy“ as in „bad“! And that’s because they have just been confronted with their privilege. Maybe for the very first time ever in their whole life!
So, what have they been missing?
Well. There’s so much discrimination in the world of ours that it would take ages to even come close to a summary. I feel that it’s quite an obligation to confront ourselves with at least some facts that are driving inequalities. With the dark side, if you like.
We need to acknowledge a sad fact: Germany is not doing very well in some areas of gender equality. And I will spare you the discussion around the almost untranslatable phenomenon of the „Ehegattensplitting“. Only so much: We’re the only country in the world which is rewarding a husband for a stay-at-home wife… sorry: a stay-at-home partner!
There are even worse imbalances. You’ve surely heard of the vicious circle of gaps: a gender care gap leading to a gender pay gap leading to a gender lifetime earnings gap resulting in a massive gender pension gap aka „Altersarmut”. These are embarrassing facts for one of the wealthiest economies in the world.
I am particularly interested in the gender care gap. Why? Because it is one of the main reasons for all the other economic inequalities between the genders.
According to the latest inequality report („Gleichstellungsbericht“), the average gender care gap in Germany is 52.4 percent. What does that mean? This means that, on average, women are doing 87 minutes more care work per day than men. Every day. The most dramatic care gap occurs at the age of 34: Women of that age are doing more than five hours of care work every day – men only two and a half hours. This represents a care gap of more than 100 %!
And why at the age of 34? Well, this is when there are children in the household. It’s as simple as that. With our family structures and our strange out-of-date attribution to motherhood, women are still a kind of a default option when in comes down to childcare.
This has to change if we really want to tackle the gender pay gap and all the other financial imbalances that follow and that have dramatic consequences.
I you are a woman, sooner or later, you might find yourself in the trap sociologists have called „retraditionalisation“: modern couples are entering the delivery room at the hospital – and out come couples who act like it’s 1958. It is a trap for women, because they are still the „default option“ when it comes down to childcare.
And finally, a short glance on our economic paradigms: If you look at the DAX 30 companies, you’ll have another sobering moment. 92 % of the board members are male. Germany is the only country in the world which hasn’t got a single female CEO in one of its top 30 listed companies. It’s more likely for a man named Thomas to become a board member than for a woman. We’re talking about monocultures here.
If you google for the term „Vorstand“ and switch to image search, the search results are close to satire. A smart mind once coined the term „homosocial reproduction“ which basically means that people are hiring people who are resembling themselves rather than diving into diversity. It’s a diversity horror movie with a lot of sequels. There’s not much more progress in politics, either: More men with the beautiful German name Hans have become state secretary than women.
Let’s face it: Women will not be able to initiate a turnaround here by themselves. And they shouldn’t have to!!
The obstacles that come with working in a sexist culture are beyond any individual’s control. Or, as writer and laywer Ephrat Livni has argued in a recent article for Quartz.com:
“It’s the society we operate in that needs fixing, not how we ask for money, the tone of our voices, or our outfits.“
We need to stop fixing women. And we need to include the other 50 % in order to make change happen. In order to find a collective answer to the question: How do we want to live and work together in the future? In order to achieve this, we, as men, need to live up to our responsibilities!
But, as you all might have experienced yourselves, there’s quite a massive backlash to gender issues at the moment. It’s a global backlash. It hasn’t started with Trump, but the unbearable misogyny, white supremacy, racism and sexism of the Trump era shows that a lot of men – and some women, too – have decided to remain a part of the problem rather than joining forces and become a part of the solution. As a matter of fact, sexism and misogyny are on the rise.
A sexual predator is president of the United States of America and a sexual offender will be in the Supreme Court until his death. The Hungarian prime minister has banned Gender Studies from the universities because he thinks that they are, “a threat to the traditional family“. An Austrian female politician has been sentenced for calling out a male harasser, because the judge doubted her evidence. The terrible stories keep on coming, day by day.
And gender seems to have become (or maybe alway has been) a battleground. Many people – predominantly men, but also women – feel offended by the mere discussion of gender-related issues, let alone by a debate on gender equality. The concept of masculinity (and of femininity sometimes) seems fragile. Or at least, I’ve been trying to explain some of the more severe attacks on feminism and feminists by fragile masculinity.
Am I wrong? Maybe.
But the concept of gender is so very personal and gets so uncomfortably close to our socialization as humans, that the only way to maintain our foundation as human beings very often is to lash about and hit all those who question this foundation. And those who want do debate gender roles and responsibilities.
As I said: The backlashes are everywhere, and they seem to be getting worse. Is it just patriarchy’s final battle? Or is that, what we call „patriarchy’s dividend“, so attractive, that a majority of people is once and for all working on upholding its systemic paradigms?
To me, one thing is cristal-clear: men have to get moving. We have to stand up and show sustainable solidarity. Solidarity in the fight to end patriarchy. This fight would be for our own good. The sooner we realize this, the better for us all.
Victoria Bissell Brown, a retired history professor at Grinnell College in the U.S. has written an article for the Washington Post in which she’s calling on all men. She writes:
„In the centuries of feminist movements that have washed up and away, good men have not once organized their own mass movement to change themselves and their sons or to attack the mean-spirited, teasing, punching thing that passes for male culture. Not once. Bastards. Don’t listen to me. Listen to each other. Talk to each other. Earn your power for once.”
So again: Gender equality is a responsibility for all men. Yet, men seem to have a problem with their responsibility. We still haven’t organized ourselves around the task of creating a gender equal society or to ensure fair and inclusive systems of mutual support. We still don’t engage at scale.
Let me give you just one example: Women in Iceland went on general strike because they feel discriminated against by a gender pay gap of 13 percent. The pay gap in Germany is 21 percent. No strike. Not by men, not by women. I am asking you: Where’s our consternation, where’s our rage and where’s our solidarity for this fundamental issue? We all have our answers. And maybe we have to turn those answers into collective action.
If I had something to say, I would make the diversity awareness exercise I have been talking about a few minutes ago a monthly routine. Maybe with a changing set of questions. Why? Because it is so utterly important to challenge our norms and biases on a regular basis. By doing so, we would be training ourselves to change our perspectives. To learn to walk in other people’s shoes. To create an understanding of systems and norms and privilege and discrimination. To develop an empathic approach to diversity & inclusion.
Before I end, I’d like to sort out one or two things, so we all wouldn’t be confusing them any more. I want to do this by quoting Canadian author Justine Musk who is commenting on basic truths:
“The enemy of feminism isn’t men. It’s patriarchy, and patriarchy is not men. It is a system, and women can support the system of patriarchy just as men can support the fight for gender equality.“
We do not need more women in management positions.
Wait… what?! No more women in management positions? But that is exactly what all diversity and equality officers in the organizations preach. And that is precisely what it has been about for years and for years in connection with the advancement of women in corporations and in politics. After all, the proportion of women among German DAX board members is stagnating, and nothing seems to be happening in the rest of the economy without a quota.
But you read right: We do not just need more women in management positions. Because before we demand something like this, we have to look closely at the nature of these management positions. After all, people can only develop their potential when the environment is right. And in this case, the environment doesn’t fit at all.
Fixing the women
We are facing major system upheavals because some developments are cumulating in our present time: Resource scarcity, digitization or the post-growth economy are only the first keywords in this context. Against the backdrop of these fundamental changes, there is little or nothing to gain from making women fit for a system that makes it so difficult for women, especially women, to find their own way and to remain in balance; and which will presumably, therefore, no longer be suitable for overcoming the indicated challenges.
Nevertheless, adaptation remains the strategy of choice. Hardly any company that does not rely on “promoting women”. Mentoring at all levels: reverse, cross or classic. This includes seminars and workshops on presentation techniques, communication or body language. The focus is always the woman – and never the system.
This is based on a basic attitude that is discriminatory: Women are deficient and must be made fit for management tasks. A look at the details shows that this means more than just conveying communicative or professional skills.
“She can’t do it, she doesn’t want to”
Male leadership behaviour is still the norm. Those who do not comply with this standard must be adapted according to the logic described above. Not only do the many female* skills and abilities fall by the wayside, there is also little room for individuality with so much adaptation. Yet: there would so much potential in the complementary capabilities of women and men.
If we were to focus less on differences than on working together, the focus would automatically be on creating the optimal framework conditions for collaboration. But even when women get involved: Today, it is very much a question of who gets engaged and how he or she does it. In the end, men still benefit from status when they bring in new ideas, but women do not.
“The status bump and leader emergence that resulted from speaking up with ideas only happened for men, not for women.”
But it’s even worse: If a woman fails to fulfill her managerial task, then only the woman is to blame: “She can’t do it” is the usual narrative. Thus, the system is self-fulfilling and at the same time ensures that it can continue to rotate around itself.
In order to support the narrative, a second cliché is used. This happens when more and more smart women look behind the system and explicitly refuse to have a classic management career. Then it’s a little patronizingly: “She doesn’t want to.” The withdrawal from the system, in the knowledge of the pressure to adapt, is a sign of far-sightedness much greater than adherence to stupid paradigms.
No female role-models
Incidentally, women should not only give leadership a completely new quality, they are also called upon to pave the way for other women. Empowerment is a kind of new “soft skill” that has to be applied as soon as she has warmed up her executive chair. But for such a willingness to mimic the “role model”, it would require a completely different socialization.
The pressure to adapt is so great that many women who have “made it”, i. e. hold leading positions, are no longer a prime example of “sisterhood”. The way to leaderhip positions is doing something to these women. They do not always become more supportive. And that is not an accusation, but merely a statement.
There is a very exciting research project on the life satisfaction of women and men (Brockmann, Hilke et al.:”Why Managerial Women are Less Happy Than Managerial Men”, Springer Science + Business Media, Dordrecht 2017). In the study based on the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP),”managers” were compared with „non-managers”.
There is a very exciting research project on the life satisfaction of women and men (Brockmann, Hilke et al.:”Why Managerial Women are Less Happy Than Managerial Men”, Springer Science + Business Media, Dordrecht 2017). The study, based on the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), compared “managers” with “non-managers”. The results are jaw-dropping. When a man goes into a leadership position, his life satisfaction increases significantly. In women, this figure is stagnating or even declining slightly. This means nothing more than counteracting the talk of “We need more women in management positions”.
Not only do women tend to be dissatisfied, they also waste considerable resources. After all, what is the point of filling the pipeline with women if you make them utterly unhappy and, because of this very fact, lose a large number of women again before they reach the top of the company? All the more so as management positions have changed considerably and will continue to do so to an even greater extent. Status no longer attracts talent.
Being a boss is no longer a goal in life
In the past, a leading position was the reward for decades of perseverance. Those who only kept still long enough and did not allow themselves too big mistakes, became boss. For many of these managers, all efforts to do well in the new position ended immediately.
This is changing significantly. When hierarchies dissolve, leadership becomes more and more a fluid concept and bottom-up is the new top-down, the challenges for managers are also fundamentally changing. Cognitive diversity is a coping concept for everything we cannot predict.
However, we will not achieve this diversity of perspectives, skills and approaches as long as we adhere to masculine normativity and accept the fixing of women as a legitimate reflex within this construct.
Author: Dominic Knight, musician, film maker and writer from Brighton, UK
First of all I would like to start with a disclaimer; at no point in this article do I seek to detract from the experiences of the women who have experienced such behaviour by men. I disagree with such behaviour wholeheartedly and try to stay as active as possible to call out any actions that I am privy to. What I am trying to do is make objective points and understand the problems and where they arise because as we all know, nothing in life is black and white…apart from Laurel and Hardy films.
Let’s start at the beginning. It was me. I did it.
Throughout my life, I have inadvertently been that guy. Even though since, as young as I can remember, I have called out my friends for cat calling, stopped people I know from pressuring our female friends into sex and various other unacceptable behaviours. Indeed, I am no saint though, far from it.
With the advent of the MeToo hashtag, it has got me thinking about how consistent this behaviour is. Though it is not surprising that many of my friends have used the tag, I am sure that each and every woman I know or have known has experienced these feelings and actions of intimidation and assault that it intends to raise awareness for. Many will not want to engage with this online campaign for various reasons, but it does not mean their voices and opinions are any less important, their experiences are there, whether you trend it on twitter or not.
It crossed my mind to voice my own experiences on social media. As a man, I feel I have the right to use this hashtag as I have experienced sexual abuse and intimidation. What stopped me however is not wanting to do the classic privileged patriarchal action of taking something of importance from someone else and changing it’s point.
Now I am aware that this is not actually the case. I’m sure most people would be behind anyone that stands up and says, “Hey, I have been sexually abused too.” It would defeat the point of equality if we couldn’t, but I am voicing my own very real insecurity about my masculinity; that however is sort of a different conversation. What I want to talk about is why and how we as men fall into this role.
I did it. We did it. I may be a cynic by saying this, but I believe that one would be hard pressed to find a man that has gone through his life without inadvertently or indeed deliberately sexually abusing another person. I say this from my own personal experience and have no statistics or factual evidence to back this up, but I feel I have a good grounding for my thoughts.
Here is where it gets tricky and I would like to refer back to my disclaimer, I am not trying to undermine anyone’s experiences at the hands of predatory men.
I do not think that every interaction a young boy or man has with a woman is conscious or thought about. That is not to say that ignorance is acceptable, but at a young age, how do you know that the way you are interacting is actually unacceptable and you are in fact pressuring a girl or young woman into an intimacy she is perhaps not ready for?
I was brought up open minded, liberal and more often than not, naked. I saw my parents have sex around the age of two (they may or may not know that), I had my first sexual feelings at the age of three and at five I stumbled across a pornographic video that was playing on a television. I sat there and watched, not understanding why the man was ‘weeing’ into the woman’s mouth or why his moustache was so big.
I have had various different interactions with girls around my own age that were explorative from about the age of six, and in my memory, it was all ‘consensual’, if you can have such a thing at a young age.
Herein lies the first problem, even though I knew that I should respect women and that rape was wrong, I did not fully know up until my mid twenties that there was a whole world of subtleties outside of obvious sexual abuse, in fact I am still learning about it today – a year and a bit shy of my thirtieth birthday.
The thought that I may have at some point in my early youth, pressured a girl into kissing me or exposed myself, either out of normality on my part or a proud “look at this weird thing I have that you don’t”, fills me with a zealous guilt. In my defence, I did not know any better at the time but that does not take away from the experience of the person on the other end.
The other side of this is that a girl in school once kicked me in the testicles because I wouldn’t kiss her…what reaction does this give you dear reader? Should she look back on her actions in the same way I am now?
As I got older, my confidence with women decreased rapidly and I didn’t really have any interactions until my late teens, eighteen to be precise -I wasn’t as interested in sex as my peers, but maybe I was just lying to myself and hid it behind a love for skateboarding and A&E, but that could have been the morphine and plaster casts.
Throughout the loss of my proverbial cherry and my long term relationship with my girlfriend at the time, I can remember pressuring her, not forcibly or violently but verbally into having sex when we both weren’t feeling the same way. I was not aware that by asking her again after she had said she wasn’t in the mood was the wrong thing to do. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand no, there were plenty of times where no was said and respected, but if I was feeling exceptionally virile my brain would bypass that respect and understanding; even then it didn’t always amount to anything other than a quiet frustration on my part and a wank in the bathroom. But to this day I feel shame for the times I pressured her into something she wasn’t 100% up for, or made her feel bad for not ‘putting out’, as they say in American high school films.
From the opposite side of the coin there were plenty of occasions where we had sex and I did not want to but felt I was obliged as that’s ‘what men want all the time’, so it would be have been untoward for me to say no. Whether or not that was an insecurity at the time or became one, I simply did not know I had the power to say no.
Possibly the point I am trying to make is that as men we are probably not as innocent as we think we are.
Even though we spend most of our lives being kind to strangers, being courteous to our partners and treating our daughters with love and respect, there is still that element wherein we lack a great degree of knowledge of the subtle things we may do that can cause women to feel degraded.
In a way it is not our fault; I remember feeling terrible about myself due to films, advertising and my lack of sexual experience. We are bombarded with information relating to what it means to ‘be a man’ on an hourly basis, unless we’re in the woods chopping down trees with our manly arms and murdering animals for sport. And it cannot be ignored that we live in a society that promotes sex from every imaginable angle. Even with the privilege of being male, white and liberal I still need to read and listen every day in order to break away from being a patriarchal oppressor, whether I mean to or not.
The fact that these conversations or memes or whatever the hell else you call this new technofaddy age pop up in increasing numbers means that it makes people think about it more. I did not know what I know now about women’s rights when I was a teenager, or even in my early teens because it was rarely spoken about; therefore I rarely thought about it. In my head I never struck, I never abused and I never assaulted a woman, so I thought I was a good guy.
To clarify I do not think that every act of misogyny is accidental or unintended, but there is an element where we need to look past the obvious forces of negativity in men and try and tackle the root cause, stemming the problem in the youth before it affects teenagers going through the hell that is hormones.
I want to apologise to every girl and every woman that I may have ever intimidated, pressured or made to feel bad about themselves without my knowing, understanding or intent. It does not excuse anything I may have done, but I hope my actions of the present and the future may help make up for it.
As men it is our constant and eternal duty to be aware of our actions, our privileges and our peers, we need to educate each other and ourselves and not be afraid to stand up and take responsibility for our feelings and actions, as well as listening to and appreciating those who have been affected by our actions. Only through connectivity can we break down the barriers and create a world in which equality is not spoken about because we have surpassed it.
Within the music industry, various programs, initiatives and public pronouncements are calling for more diversity, female rights and an end to the tradition of male dominance. Meanwhile, hardly a week goes by without shocking reports of sexual assaults against women at festivals and other events. Digital & Diversity Consultant and self-declared feminist Robert Franken has something to say about this – and he doesn’t mince his words.
It seems we can no longer just look to the Nordic countries to find shining examples of equality and solidarity in society and business. At least not when it comes to the music industry. And most definitely not when it comes to festivals.
After multiple rapes and sexual assaults at this year’s Bråvalla Festival in Sweden, the organizers called the festival off for 2018 (some people are planning to make it into an all-female event instead). Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven told the Swedish daily Expressen: “This must stop.” And yes, it must.
But obviously it doesn’t just stop. Festival season is bringing out the most disgusting display of the often quoted phenomenon of toxic masculinity. And toxic it is, if female festivalgoers have to fear for their lives and their safety when all they want to do is enjoy a couple of days with their favorite bands and their friends.
Some festival organizers are trying to make a difference. When 27-year-old Laura Whitehurst from Manchester was assaulted by two male friends, she wanted to cancel her visit to the Glastonbury festival. But the festival makers made sure she could enjoy her stay by implementing a whole variety of safety measures, including a security letter and special access tickets.
But how can events like music festivals become safer spaces for everyone? Certainly one key part of the answer is: awareness. Everybody, and especially men, need to realize that they have to become part of the solution – otherwise they will forever remain part of the problem. The United Nations campaign #HeForShe could be a leading example of how to involve men in the quest for gender equality. Making festivals into safer spaces for everyone would be one essential and common goal.
The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) offers three key messages to festivalgoers in order to support the idea of #saferspacesatfestivals:
1. Zero Tolerance to Sexual Assault
2. Hands Off Unless Consent
3. Don’t Be a Bystander
This is most definitely a good start, but we cannot close our eyes to the fact that there is a pattern. From New Year’s Eve in Cologne to Glastonbury 2017, from Roskilde to Bråvalla, it sounds all too familiar: Large groups of men, alcohol and other drugs, and a weekend away from the drudgery of everyday life seem to form a very dangerous combination.
So let’s start talking about cause and effect. Horrible crimes like rape and sexual assault are symptoms of a society that hasn’t come to terms with what masculinity is about – or should be about. This is why those men who have taken the right step in the right direction should become catalysts for change. They can influence a new norm: a norm of tolerance, respect and equality. We must start today. And we must embrace new concepts to trigger change. The whole music industry thus needs to reboot its parameters of success. Let’s replace toughness with empathy, for example. Instead of incredibly long working hours, we should consider job sharing models as an alternative. It’s also high time to support gender equality on and off stage. And finally: diversity is key. The more we bring different backgrounds and perspectives together, the better the outcomes will be.