Can Men Be Feminists?  A Male Point of View

Author: “Herrmann Mann” (meaning no harm)

As a man, which I most definitely am, feminism is a tricky topic. Of course in the overall societal sense my opinion is valued statistically higher than the opinion of women (which truly is a shame, because I know many smart women). By being male (which happens to be my gender), I benefit from various mechanisms that make it easier for me to speak out; mechanisms that also create an atmosphere in which women feel like they have to find other outlets and platforms for themselves to do their own thing. A lot of women have made the experience of being widely discouraged from joining certain groups, clubs or even take certain jobs – and they really don’t like it. It makes them angry.

That’s why feminism a tricky topic: I know my opinion has a higher “market value” in society but very often I am told that it is not welcome. How can I, as a well-meaning man, deal with this conundrum (for those who do not know what this is, google provides a good explanation)?

There may be some feminists who would argue that providing a platform that specifically excludes women, as well-meaning as it is, is a step in the wrong direction because what we need is more dialogue, more openness, more exchange to ultimately normalize the fact that women have voices and opinions. But to those feminists I say: What about all the men who are afraid of them? Men can be shy and some feel intimidated by women who think they might know a little more about the struggles that they face in everyday life.

Men, however, face struggles, too. This has nothing to do with mansplaining, because I do not believe that it does. This is a real problem: As the man that I am, I want to take a stand but when I speak about the issues that women face, it always comes out like I am explaining it to them (even though I’m trying to explain it to other men). And when I try to explain that it is hard for me, as a man, to speak about issues of gender equality, it sounds like I am making it about myself, but saying that I don’t intend to make it about me makes it all about me again. It’s a bummer. Some may argue that the issue lies in the fact that I am not talking to them, but about them, but I don’t believe that’s it.

I’m a man. Really. I have a penis and everything.

On #noah16 and #EscortGate – time for new conference setups

Author: Robert Franken (blogger and digital consultant)

Ever since Watergate, people are adding the syllable „-gate“ to whatever incident they would like to sound more scandalously. And this is exactly what happened with the hashtag #EscortGate. Only that it is a true scandal. What had happened?

The famous NOAH Conference had come to Berlin, hosted by German Media powerhouse Axel Springer and supported by illustrious sponsors such as Credit Suisse, Hellman & Friedman and Deutsche Börse Cash Market. Prior to the event, there had been significant criticism concerning the overwhelming abundance of male protagonists at #noah16. In the end, according to fortune.com, 108 speakers were part of the conference, only eleven of those were women.

I cannot give account of the conference itself, for I haven’t been present. The organizers, however, had offered me a ten minute slot on stage „to do a fire side chat with a female Internet entrepreneur at NOAH“. I refused that, and I had my reasons, which you can read here.

What I can do and what I will do, is talk about the above-mentioned #EscortGate. Apparently, someone had brought about 100 escort ladies to the conference party. Pia Poppenreiter, founder of ohlala.com, has taken the blame for doing so. But it is common knowledge among insiders that this has a tradition at NOAH – and that Axel Springer also wanted a better ratio at the party, there had been at least one e-mail to female employees to attend the party „dressed-up“ accordingly.

Pia Poppenreiter is a professional entrepreneur, so you can assume that she knew what she was doing. Her apology for this „PR stunt“ therefore sounds like shedding crocodile tears, especially on the background of the organizers’ intentions. But does the end justify the means? Not at all.

The incidents around #noah16 are a culmination of boys’ club rituals, deeply rooted misogyny, Valley capitalism and probably some sort of simplemindedness – as in „It’s been a great party, though.“ Otherwise, it’s very hard to explain the reaction of NOAH founder Marco Rodcynek on Venture TV. He considers NOAH to be the victim of PR gone wrong and he thinks it’s been a great party. This is not what I would call leadership and responsibility.

And unfortunately, a lot of participants (not just male ones) are keeping quiet – who would want to blame them, they are all dependent on the current VC ecosystem and they want to be invited to NOAH again.

I consider events like NOAH (which in itself is a great achievement and success) to be at the forefront of change. They are powerful players. But with power, there comes a lot of responsibility. NOAH et al. need to accept that they are part of the disease and not only a depiction of the symptoms of an industry. They should be engaging in changing the male paradigm by using their various channels and their strong voice among startups and investors alike.

NOAH could show that they care:

  • by changing their parameters in order to attract female speakers to the stages and panels.
  • by promoting women rather than making them just a requisite for successful male entrepreneurs.
  • by organizing their events along inclusiveness and diversity.
  • by collaborating with people and organizations which stand for gender parity and diversity.
  • by living up to a standard of mutual respect.
  • by looking into their values and bringing their responsibility to the game.

The next NOAH will be in London (in November). And I would love to see what has changed when NOAH hits Berlin again. Looking forward to #noah17 and to starting the debate towards change.

Women in tech: launch event of ABI.local in Amsterdam

On Tuesday night, April 26th, I attended the launch event of #ABIdotlocal in Amsterdam. It was hosted by Google Netherlands and Rose Robinson, Senior Manager from the Anita Borg Institute, was guest of honour, having come all the way from Atlanta, GA.

Rose gave a very motivating keynote on the role of local communities in empowering women in tech. She stated that „being the only woman all the time“ can be a massive problem, which is why events like the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists with more than 12,000 women attending, are so important.

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Rose Robinson and Iffat Gill

The evening had been opened by Iffat Gill. She’s the CEO and founder of ChunriChoupaal/The Code To Change. Her talk was called “Digital inclusion: the importance of e-skills training for economic empowerment”. Iffat will be heading ABI.Amsterdam together with Diana Eggleston and Mine Ogura.

After another Keynote by Maya Tudor, Tech Scholarships Program Manager, EMEA, Google on “The role of the tech industry to address inclusion and retention of women”, the „Empoweress“ Mine Ogura, Head of Delivery of Marktplaats (eBay Classifieds Group NL), gave a very energetic workshop on „Cracking the Code“.

The official programme was closed by Coach, Trainer and Speaker Amber Rahim. Her workshop “Overcoming Imposter Syndrome” was full of insights and provided a lot of great takeaways for the audience.

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Workshops and networking

It’s been a fantastic event with a very diverse network. All of the attendants were utterly devoted to their professions as well as to the cause of women in tech. It has been an enormously supportive atmosphere and I’m very proud to be an ambassador for those projects.

If you are a woman and you are interested in coding and the technological side of the digital transformation, get in contact with organizations and initiatives like The Code To Change or ABI.local. It is more than worth it. I am looking forward to seeing those networks flourish and I’ll be doing my best to support this development.

The feminist debate is still relevant – and a law against internet hatred and harassment has become a necessity

Author: Henrik Marstal (author and musician) 

In the often heated debate about feminism, it has become customary for debaters to promote their great difficulties with the very word. Some have even argued that this is the movement’s greatest challenge.

Others argue that we should talk about “equality” instead of feminism, for this is what feminism is actually about. Or that feminism simply means “reverse discrimination of women”. These are relevant objections because feminism may appear a bit restricted at the very definition of the word.

Let’s begin with the latter: No. There are very few feminists who want women to dominate the world by establishing a matriarchal system – i.e. the equivalent of the current patriarchy which seems to be the actual cause of the problems of equality which all people might be subjected to. Continue reading “The feminist debate is still relevant – and a law against internet hatred and harassment has become a necessity”

More Feminists

Author: Vincent-Immanuel Herr (Berlin based activist, writer, and feminist) 

Women’s equality is directly linked to Europe’s overall well-being. Only by overcoming gender inequality can we truly lay the foundations for the continent’s future.

The list of European problems is long: the Greek debt crisis, refugees in the Mediterranean, a war in Ukraine, and the rise of nationalist parties from Paris to Budapest. Before this backdrop, feminists have often found their fight for complete women’s equality – socially, politically, and economically – rejected as a lesser issue. Responses such as “I see your point in reducing the pay gap, but we have bigger problems to worry about, don’t you think?” are common, and likely all too familiar to those advocating for women’s improved standing in society. In these instances, gender activists often back down or even silently agree, postponing their ideas and plans for a later date when no other problems will seem to loom as prominently.

But what if we got things mixed up here? What if gender inequality is truly at the core of European problems? What if addressing gender equality is the first step to overcoming a myriad of other issues? There is actually some evidence indicating this to be true – gender inequality may in fact be the core problem in Europe, holding societies back from unfolding their fullest and truest potential. (This being a global issue, similar arguments will likely also apply to other parts of the world, but this article will focus on a European context.)  Continue reading “More Feminists”

Feminism is for all of us

Author: Henrik Marstal (writer and musician) 

Some time ago, the international initiative #WomenAgainstFeminism flourished on various social media. Within a remarkably short period of time, thousands of women united because they felt repelled by feminism.

In Denmark, a 23-year-old female educationalist caused a stir in the national media by stating that because feminists hate men, they make her feel ashamed of her own sex. A Danish female blogger even opposed to any kind of feminist thought and compared feminism to religious fanaticism – and me, an outspoken feminist and a blogger myself, being her only example.

Thus, for many people, feminism is simply a word they do not bother to learn (more) about. Moreover, it is a word that apparently is connected with something negative and annoying because feminism is perceived as sincerely superfluous and irrelevant. But I am pretty sure that this resistance is primarily an expression of a universal truth: pressure causes counter-pressure. While a feminist approach as being a solution to many of the world’s problems has shown growing attention among people all over the Western world, the resistance to this approach has been on the rise, too.

This resistance comes not only from men, who regard the movement as a serious threat to inherited patriarchal privileges. It also comes from privileged women, who do not want to be reminded of the fact that they still find themselves in a highly unequal position compared to men concerning economic matters, power, justice etc.

Many people subscribe to the notion of feminism as being a totalitarian ideology with its  primary purpose being to spread misandry (male hatred), to claim womanhood as a victim, to promote a matriarchal world order and to offend patriarchal matters, even in places where women feel quite satisfied with the state of affairs.

But if these people asked feminists what they want to focus on, most of them will come up with an answer that doesn’t quite fit all the resentment. I bet that most feminists would answer that they are working to fully realize equality matters between the sexes in terms of politics, social issues, sexuality, economy and notions of power. And while they answer, they will refer to statistics, reports, studies and empirical observations rather than to their own emotions.

The Swedish author and feminist Nina Björk has said it like this:

“Feminism is a political movement with its goal being to make gender an uninteresting category in everyones’ social lives.”

Ulla Tornemand, a chairwoman from Danish Women’s Society (founded in 1871) , puts it this way:

“Being a feminist means working to end oppression, discrimination and exploitation of people just because of their gender, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation and/or other issues. The correspondence of the movement’s name with the female gender is historically conditioned. So today, to be a feminist is to believe in and work for equality.”

So, with a few radical exceptions, feminists are neither male-haters or religious fanatics. For the same reason, a rapidly growing number of men have declared themselves feminists. These men, I believe, know that true equality between the sexes will help putting an end to patriarchal norms which are of no benefit for them, either.

In the aforementioned #WomenAgainstFeminism movement, there were several women with a handwritten sign which rejected feminism, including a woman with a sign that said: “I do not need feminism because I enjoy being a stay-at-home housewife and do not feel less valuable for that reason.”

Unfortunately, this woman did not know what feminism is all about. Had she known, she would have been aware that feminists do not look down on housewives, and that the movement works for equal rights between the genders in connection with childbirths, divorces and parental rights.

One of my friends paraphrased the woman’s statement like this:

“I do not need feminism because I am totally indifferent to all the women who do not thrive in the traditional roles which men often expect us to join. I therefore give up everything that feminists before my time fought for so fiercely and sometimes paid a high price for: my voice and vote, my education right, my right to be respected for who I am, my right to not constantly be viewed as a sex object by all men (until I get about the age of 45-50 years), my right to abortion and my right not to be beaten, raped or murdered by my partner. These are all factors which, even in the 21st century, are still not taken for granted outside the Western World – and only to a certain extent within this area.”

The woman might also be devoid of empathy for other women; devoid of empathy for the 29,000 women who each year are subject to domestic violence in Denmark alone (10,000 of them are exposed to repeated, serious abuse). Moreover, she might be devoid of empathy for women who suffer from having less favourable terms in economic, social or legal matters.

Finally, she might be devoid of empathy with women for whom gender stereotyping in the media, in advertising, in fashion and in porn hampers their self-expression and drains their self-esteem. This applies not less to the many women who have repeatedly been experiencing serious problems with sexism, threats of rape as well as rape without being taken seriously by the authorities as well as their friends and families.

It seems that we could draw a parallel line between the women’s liberation movement and the labor movement: Both made enormous progress for a very large social group, and both will continue to be necessary. If not, the world as we know it runs the risk of being pulled back in time. To all of us, it is indeed true that equality never happened automatically – it has to be fought for every inch.

Not many people would have missed the trade union movement. I am sure that many people admit that something similar is true for the women’s liberation movement. So put down the reservations, all you people out there: Feminism is for all of us.

Tony Porter: A Call to Men (TEDWomen Talk)

At TEDWomen 2010, educator, activist and lecturer Tony Porter has made call to men everywhere: “Don’t act like a man.” He asks all men to break free of the “man box.” Although this talk is already more than five years old, it hasn’t lost any of its power.