#iphiGENIA 2018 Award Ceremony Keynote Speech by Robert Franken

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.

(Photo by Florian Yeh)

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.“

Well, good luck for all of us!

Being a male feminist as a matter of survival

 

Author: Jo von Beust (writer, translator, activist) from Munich, Germany

Becoming a male feminist is the latest facet I have been adding to the many ideas, concepts, analogies I have embedded over the time of my life into my expanding view of what it means to be human. Becoming a feminist is also a tribute to my daughter, born 2013, who I would like to see grow up in a world where she can travel to any place on earth and dive into any culture humans have created on the planet and not be subject to discrimination, sexism but rather be recognised, respected, treated as equal, as a full human being.

Apart from this “personal” motivation – why should we be or become male supporters of the “new” empathic feminist movement we witness today? Good question.

First thing for me was to realise the new quality, dimension and tone of today’s local and global women’s initiatives.

During the 1980s and 1990s, I had been a sympathizing bystander, but regarded women’s emancipation and participation as one issue of the many political and social topics we were dealing with at the time. And, somehow this women’s issue had nothing to do with my own private life, with the woman I was married to at the time or the son we were raising. However, I had a brief encounter with men taking first steps to liberate themselves from what they vaguely felt was cutting them off from what life might mean, embarking, inspired by Robert Bly’s Iron John, on a journey that led to, as I see it today, … nowhere. Because, the search for “real” manhood failed to ask that one essential question: what about the women?

Ironically, in the many initiatives, groups and seminars I visited in the last decade, dealing with “new” concepts about life, forms of communication, spirituality, music, healing, personal growth and such things, I noticed a strange absence of men, and the women there, outnumbering us few men by far, did ask me the counter question: what about the men?

It seemed that men and women were living in different worlds, in different timelines, with women searching, longing and men rejecting, persisting.

At one point, I was driven or drawn deeper into the women’s issue.

First, I was particularly impressed by the feminine movements that expand the theme of women’s or gender equality, or gender issues in general, to evolve to “real transgender” topics or social/political action, as it were. Here, Liberian peace activist, social worker, women’s rights advocate and 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee set the pace with leading a nonviolent movement that brought together Christian and Muslim women to play a pivotal role in ending Liberia’s devastating, fourteen-year civil war in 2003.

Inspiringly, the main Gandhian-like form of action of these women was a strike calling up for “no sex, no cooking” 🙂 ! That really made men start thinking and reach out to each other beyond religious dogmatism – a favourite geegaw of men all over the planet, apart from football, of course! At one point, these women surrounded the Liberian parliament by the thousands and made it clear that they wouldn’t go away, until the men inside would have signed the peace treaty.

More recently, in October 2016 Israeli singer and activist Yael Deckelbaum co-organized a march called “Women Wage Peace” across the holy land, culminating in a common prayer of peace of 4,000 Palestinian and Israeli women on the shores of the Red Sea.

With the heading “Prayer of the Mothers”, this women’s march infused another dimension to the Liberian prototype: the mother archetype, the symbol of life giving, of creation, of life unfolding. To this already powerful mix Yael then went on to “add some music” – do you remember that old Beach Boys’ song? – to create a wonderful, moving and inspiring four-fold formula, where music or the community created by singing together brought to life the promise Yehudi Menuhin once made: “One person singing, can heal her/himself, people singing together can heal the world.” Deckelbaum’s musical video “Prayer of the Mothers” about this 2016 march passed 3.5 million views on Youtube by mid July 2017, a monthly plus of some 100,000, and it doesn’t stop there. A new, larger, more powerful Women Wage Peace march is coming up end of September 2017 in Israel/Palestine. The women there are hanging in.

Co-organising together with five women a similar Prayer of the Mother – Wo/men’s March in June 2017 in Munich, with Yael Deckelbaum joining in from Israel, not only proved to be very demanding on my male self, but opened a new perspective on our (gender) issue. Public Bavarian Broadcasting BR aired a feature on this event which can be watched here.

In Munich, we as organizers, added a slash to make it a “Wo/men’s March” and to emphasize that the state of womanhood on our planet is an issue that is intrinsically of concern for men, too.

Because, I believe now, it is not just a question of women’s “emancipation” or “rights” or “opportunities” anymore, rather fundamentally now, women’s participation or even leadership has become a matter of survival for the human species itself. It may be worth pointing out, that the term “women” in this context is used as a term of inclusion – as a placeholder for all those who are – more or less – excluded from shaping our economic and political processes. It is not as an expression of (another) separation. Of course, discussing more in depth the issue of gender – which is inseparable from our male feminist discourse –would need to include LGBT or gender fluidity aspects, however this would lead me away from the – quite radical – point I wish to make here.

By suppressing and cutting away the female element in our cultures, human civilisation on this planet has evolved to become a self-destructive monster. Male domination over the past 10,000 years or so has produced cultures, civilisations and religious belief systems based and thriving on oppression, exclusion, separation, and, to put it blantly, hate.

Our world civilisation today is deeply rooted in materialism and has developed a weird mechanistic and rationalistic approach to what it means to be human and to what life may be about. So is the set-up of our social and political systems leavened by patriarchal concepts.

Nature is perceived to be some kind of machine that doesn’t run properly, is essentially faulty and has to be improved wherever humans can’t face the fact that they themselves are products of nature. In the search for the meaning of the whole, Western, and now world civilisation has been on the search for the smallest of items to give the answers about the whole, deconstructing the whole to reconstruct it with reasoning and scientific methods to create a ramshackle inhumane construction under the control of economic interest.

The latest advancements of technology, algorithms and AI are assuming the nightmarish dimension of an extinction of humankind – a notion that not only shared by fringe thinkers and scientists but also, of all people, by technology gurus like Elon Musk who is voicing serious concerns in this respect.

Our patriarchal religious and political systems, led by ridiculous psychopaths like Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Netanyahu, Abbas, Kim Jong-Un, Orban – to name just a few – hold the world in ransom with their queer and crude concepts of “first”, “territory”, “borders”, “order”, “security”, “nation” or whatever. And, they are willing to make suffer and kill millions of humans to satisfy the ego that is whispering and rattles on about “the others” in their head when they’re alone – or not – in their bed at night.

It is not without reason why one of the main demands the peace women in Israel are putting forth, is to include women into the Israel-Palestine peace process.

So, what has that to do with becoming a male supporter of feminism?

Because the new empathic feminism is about ending the separation, is about connecting, is about love, is about joy, music, passion, good living, is about life itself, because it is about realizing that we are living beings that are rooted in culture and nature. Wonderful Tunesian born Kaouthar Darmoni hits the nail on its head when she states that to be fully human, women need to be able to be fully woman.

And, if women can return to be fully female, this return of freed femininity into our world – which is a return of half of humanity to take part in all aspects of our civilization – would liberate also us men from the slavery of the self-destructive, economistic, mechanistic and egotistic patriarchal paradigm we have caged ourselves in. We would be freed from self-inflicted musts and don’ts, rediscover playfulness, rediscover how it feels like to be deeply connected, flushed with love (and not just sex).

Together with women we could build a world where our ingenuity, thinking and savoir-faire would, while making life easier, be directed towards preserving and protecting the whole. And last not least: under the veils and encasements, whether made from cloth or social and cultural fabric, we have hidden women for so long, we may discover a wonderful enrichment of our lives, of all life, we never ever thought possible.

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”

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on feminism

“Men and women should use that [word] to describe themselves any time they want.”

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, sends out a strong message supporting feminism. He did so at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, back in January 2016.

(via Dirk von Gehlen’s blogpost on MFE)