WE CAN’T TAKE ANY MORE OF THIS! How to Make the Music Scene into One Big Safe(r) Space

This article by Robert Franken has initially been published in issue #3 of the Reeperbahn Festival Conference Mag.

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.

ARE WE READY FOR THIS?

(This article by Robert Franken has initially been published in issue #3 of the Reeperbahn Festival Conference Mag.)

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.

What men can do to understand what women experience in everyday life

Author: David Müller, peacebuilding practitioner and writer from Freiburg, Germany, focusing on mediation and dialogue support as well as gender and conflict; currently working at Yangon, Myanmar.

The realities of women and men are fundamentally different. Women regularly face discrimination and violence of which men are often ignorant. Our author David seeks to understand why many men are often not aware of what women experience and what can be done to overcome this gap.

The gulf between two worlds

“If I were alone now, I would not dare walk down this alley” says my girlfriend and squeezes my hand a bit tighter. We continue onwards in the dark. To our right, a group of men occupy a bench, smoking and drinking. The men eye up my girlfriend as we pass by. Around the corner and out of reach, we enter the staircase and take the first few steps inside. Visibly relieved, my girlfriend goes ahead.

For me, this was a normal way home. There was nothing strange about it and certainly no cause for fear. For my girlfriend, however, this was yet another situation in which she could have faced male aggression – a fear rooted deeply in previous experiences. This event exemplifies a simple fact which I unfortunately became aware of only recently: women live in a substantially different reality than men. They are almost never treated as respectfully as we are accustomed to. This gulf between our two worlds manifests itself only sporadically, and rarely do we men acknowledge the existence of it, or make a commitment to overcome it.

Violence has a gender

Worldwide, women are victims and survivors of oppression, sexism and violence. This holds true in the private and public space, in relationships, in the digital world, at work, and while traveling – in virtually all areas of their lives. Globally, the vast majority of these violent acts are committed by men. Just to clarify: This does not mean that all men are violent and culprits or that all women are peaceful and victims – this gendered idea in itself is often enough problematic. Men also suffer from violence; women, too, inflict violence upon others. It is, however, important to highlight certain structures and patterns, because as Rebecca Solnit writes in her book Men Explain Things to Me: “Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, religion or a nationality, but it does have a gender.” This gender-based violence is manifold in nature. It ranges from verbal abuse in the digital world to worst forms of physical and sexual violence, inflicted by partners or complete strangers.

A lack of awareness

Violence against women, which is so deeply embedded in our societies, silences women and girls and restricts their freedom of movement and development. As a result, in many circumstances, women experience a more constricted reality than men. When I travel, I care little about how I dress or at what time of the day I am on the move. In the digital world, I move freely and untroubled, without the fear of bullying or harassment. At work, I do not have to put up with unsolicited sexist commentary or physical assault. In a partnership, I will most likely not be hit or abused. Generally, I am perceived and appreciated as a person rather than an object.

Although women are frequently restricted in their self-determination, men too often lack awareness of this reality. Rarely do we talk about male privilege or think about what we can do to address our own wrongdoings and to express solidarity, or understand that the discrimination and the violent repression of half of the world’s population promotes and underpins our own lack of freedom.

Why is that?

A few thoughts come to mind when thinking about this question: A first piece of explanation may be that we have never made comparable experiences. It is often difficult for me to understand a reality that I have never experienced. Having said that, this explanation can never serve as an excuse or justification because: as members of the male sex we do bear responsibility for action, even if we do not actively discriminate against or inflict violence upon others. In a way, if we remain silent, we take sides with an unjust cause.

In addition, it is still the exception rather than the rule that the suppression of women is actively taken up as part of broader social discourses. Despite broader awareness and acceptance of feminist thought, gender equality and violence against women are topics that are still barely discussed at the kitchen table, or mainstreamed into teaching curricula at schools, vocational training institutes or university studies.

Moreover, although violence against women is a daily occurrence, this pattern is barely acknowledged or pinpointed. There is still a strong tendency to explain violence against women on a case-by-case basis without taking into account the bigger picture. Often the victim herself is blamed – she should not have dressed so “provocatively” or gone down that dark street all on her own. Using the words of Solnit: “The pandemic of violence against women gets explained as anything but gender.”

At the end of the day, it is perhaps simply a question of men getting real: if we were to truly acknowledge that violence against women is first and foremost our problem, we would need to take a closer look at where this this is actually coming from. As a consequence, we would have to question the very system that provides us with many privileges – but this would be extremely uncomfortable, wouldn’t it?

So what can we, as men, do?

When I think about this question, three thoughts come to my mind:

1) Educate ourselves, ask and listen: It is not for women to explain to us what is problematic about a patriarchal society. We have the responsibility to educate ourselves and to unpack the dynamics of power and dominance between the sexes – particularly from an intersectional point of view. This also includes asking questions and to really listen when women tell us about the world they live.

2) Acknowledge: This may sound trivial, but I don’t think it is. I truly believe that if we recognize more often, more openly and more publicly that oppression and violence against women is first and foremost a male problem, much would be gained already. Acknowledgement and insight are a basic prerequisite for behavioural change.

3) Develop new ideals of what it means to be a man: Some part of how we understand masculinity nourishes an often aggressive and violent behaviour towards other people, particularly women. I think that we must develop and spread new ideals of what it means to be a man – ideals which are characterized by, for example, respect, empathy or non-violence. Only a new understanding of what we consider to be masculine can change our behaviour in the long term.

Someday…

Then, someday, a woman walks alone in the dark in the backyard. To her right is a group of men who, smoking and drinking, occupy a bench. Indifferently, the men look at the women as she passes by. Around the corner, she enters the staircase and takes the first steps. Just a normal way home. Nothing about it and nothing to fear.

(This article has originally been published in German at EditionF on July 5th 2017.)

#men4equality – Warum wir nicht mehr auf reinen Männer-Events sprechen wollen

Veranstaltungen und Podien, auf denen lediglich Männer mit Männern sprechen, sind einseitig, unvollständig und nicht repräsentativ – und daher langweilig und irrelevant. Es ist für Zuhörer*innen, Teilnehmer*innen und Veranstalter*innen stets besser, dass solch einseitig besetzte Events gar nicht erst stattfinden, als dass auf qualitativ niedrigem Niveau gesprochen wird. Deshalb haben die Unterzeichner sich entschieden künftig nicht mehr an reinen Männerpodien (all-male panels) teilzunehmen.

Mit der Aktion #men4equality wollen wir Bewusstsein für die Tatsache schaffen, dass die Besetzung von Podien entscheidenden Einfluss auf die Qualität der Debatte hat, die dort geführt wird. Wir verstehen #men4equality als Einladung an Veranstalter*innen schon in der Programmplanung auf diesen Aspekt einzugehen. Wenn sie ein all-male panel planen, müssen wir unsere Teilnahme leider absagen. Solche Veranstaltungen genügen unseren qualitativen Ansprüchen einfach nicht.

Liste der Erstunterzeichner:

  • Rowan Barnett, Senior Director Market Development & Media, Twitter 
  • Torsten Bittlingmeier, Founder TalentManagers
  • Leonhard Dobusch, Professor Universität Innsbruck
  • Thomas Feinen, Geschäftsführer Hoffmann und Campe Verlag
  • Robert Franken, Digitaler Potenzialentfalter
  • Stephan Grabmeier, Chief Innovation Evangelist Haufe-umantis AG
  • Joachim Graf, Zukunftsforscher & Publizist
  • Hendrik Haase aka wurstsack, Aktivist
  • Ralf Heimann, Journalist & Autor 
  • Vincent-Immanuel Herr, Autor & Aktivist HERR & SPEER
  • Tom Hillenbrand, Journalist & Autor       
  • Mark Hoffmann, Co-Founder & CEO Vertical Media GmbH
  • Simon Hurtz, Journalist      
  • Christoph Kappes, Geschäftsführer Fructus & Sobooks.de
  • Friedemann Karig, Journalist & Autor     
  • Dr. Ralf Kleindiek, Staatssekretär im BMFSFJ   
  • Johannes Kleske, Co-Founder Third Wave
  • Wolfgang Lünenbürger-Reidenbach, Geschäftsführer Cohn & Wolfe PR
  • Stephan Noller, Founder ubirch
  • Christian Schiffer, Journalist
  • Igor Schwartzmann, Co-Founder Third Wave
  • Michael Seemann, Autor    
  • Martin Speer, Autor & Aktivist HERR & SPEER
  • Hakan Tanriverdi, Journalist
  • Tarik Tesfu, Netzkolumnist, YouTuber und Macher von “Tariks Genderkrise”
  • Dirk von Gehlen, Journalist & Autor 
  • Leander Wattig, Veranstalter & Publisher          
  • Felix Wegener, Veranstalter & Blogger    

Hier sind drei kurze Impulse für Veranstalter*innen, wie ein Event aus unserer Sicht relevant wird:

  • Wenn Sie Veranstalter*in sind, dann sorgen Sie für ausgewogene Podien. Es gibt genügend Organisationen, die ihnen dabei helfen exzellente Speakerinnen zu jedem Thema zu finden, wie z.B. speakerinnen.org oder die Women Speaker Foundation.
  • Wenn Sie eine Veranstaltung konzipieren, dann machen Sie ausgeglichene Podien zu einem unverrückbaren Projektziel. Nur wenn eine solche Balance integraler Bestandteil Ihrer Planung ist, kann Ausgeglichenheit gelingen.
  • Beziehen Sie bereits in der Planungsphase Frauen mit ein. So stellen Sie sicher, dass die männliche Perspektive ein Gegengewicht erhält.

Und hier noch vier Tipps, wie man als Mann zu einem Teil der Lösung wird, statt Teil des Problems zu bleiben:

  • Wenn man Sie einlädt auf einer Veranstaltung zu sprechen oder an einer Podiumsdiskussion teilzunehmen, stellen Sie sicher, dass die Balance bzw. Vielfalt gegeben ist.
  • Bevor Sie Ihre Teilnahme zusagen: Fragen Sie, ob die Teilnehmenden nur Männer oder Männer* und Frauen* sind – die Moderation nicht mit eingerechnet. In einigen, wenigen Industrien (uns fällt gerade maximal Bergbau ein) ist ein starker Männerüberschuss vielleicht akzeptabel, viel mehr als 70% deutet hingegen auf mangelnden Willen auf Veranstalter*innen-Seite hin.
  • Sprechen Sie darüber, aus welchen Gründen Sie Ihre Teilnahme abgesagt haben. Sie können nur Aufmerksamkeit für das Thema schaffen indem Sie sich zu Wort melden.
  • Machen Sie Ihr Umfeld auf die Problematik aufmerksam. Fragen Sie ggf. nach, warum jemand kein Problem darin sieht an rein männlich besetzten Diskussionsrunden teilzunehmen. Helfen Sie mit, dass sich mehr Männer ihrer Verantwortung bewusst werden.

Und denken Sie immer daran:

Veranstaltungen, auf denen ausschließlich Männer sprechen, sind uninteressant.

Ausgeglichene Podien müssen unser aller Ziel sein.

Helfen Sie mit dies zu erreichen. Erzählen Sie es weiter! #men4equality

#men4equality – Why we won’t speak at all-male panels any longer

Events and panels, where only men are talking to men, are unrepresentative, one-dimensional and incomplete – and therefore boring and irrelevant. It is better, for audiences, participants and organizers, to call off such one-dimensional events rather than allowing a conversation on a low-quality level. This is why the signatories to this declaration have decided not to take part in all-male panels any more.

With #men4equality we are creating awareness for the fact that the very casting of panel lineups has a massive influence on the quality of the debate itself. We understand men#4equality as an invitation to event organizers to take this important matter into account when preparing their programs. If you’re still planning to have an all-male event, we will have to cancel our participation. Events of such kind simply do not live up to our expectations concerning quality.

List of initial signatories:

  • Rowan Barnett, Senior Director Market Development & Media, Twitter 
  • Torsten Bittlingmeier, Founder TalentManagers
  • Leonhard Dobusch, Professor Universität Innsbruck
  • Thomas Feinen, Geschäftsführer Hoffmann und Campe Verlag
  • Robert Franken, Digitaler Potenzialentfalter
  • Stephan Grabmeier, Chief Innovation Evangelist Haufe-umantis AG
  • Joachim Graf, Zukunftsforscher & Publizist
  • Hendrik Haase aka wurstsack, Aktivist
  • Ralf Heimann, Journalist & Autor 
  • Vincent-Immanuel Herr, Autor & Aktivist HERR & SPEER
  • Tom Hillenbrand, Journalist & Autor       
  • Mark Hoffmann, Co-Founder & CEO Vertical Media GmbH
  • Simon Hurtz, Journalist      
  • Christoph Kappes, Geschäftsführer Fructus & Sobooks.de
  • Friedemann Karig, Journalist & Autor 
  • Dr. Ralf Kleindiek, State Secretary Federal Ministry for Family Affairs BMFSFJ 
  • Johannes Kleske, Co-Founder Third Wave
  • Wolfgang Lünenbürger-Reidenbach, Geschäftsführer Cohn & Wolfe PR
  • Stephan Noller, Founder ubirch
  • Christian Schiffer, Journalist
  • Igor Schwartzmann, Co-Founder Third Wave
  • Michael Seemann, Autor    
  • Martin Speer, Autor & Aktivist HERR & SPEER
  • Hakan Tanriverdi, Journalist
  • Tarik Tesfu, YouTuber und mastermind behind “Tariks Genderkrise”
  • Dirk von Gehlen, Journalist & Autor     
  • Leander Wattig, Veranstalter & Publisher          
  • Felix Wegener, Veranstalter & Blogger    

Here’s a short list of things you as an event organizer should take into account when trying to make your panel relevant and successful:

  • If you are an event host, get the balance right. Reach out to organizations like e.g. the Women Speaker Foundation or speakerinnen.org in Germany, they can help you find excellent female speakers on virtually any topic.
  • When you are preparing for an event, make sure that you make gender balance your objective and not just some goal. It needs to be an integral part of your conference or panel setup.
  • Think about involving women in your planning process.

And here are just three ideas how you as a man can be(come) part of the solution rather than remain part of the problem:

  • If you’re invited to speak at a conference: Make sure that there’s a balance in diversity among the speakers.
  • Before you take part in a panel discussion: Ask the question whether there are just men on stage or men* and women* in a balanced diversity setup – hostess not included. 70% men may be o.k. in some industries, but more would only mean a lack of effort.
  • Speak out about the reasons for not attending male-only events. If you remain silent, you miss the chance of creating awareness for this problem.
  • Create awareness among your peers. Ask them why they wouldn’t bother reflecting on this issue. Help them make up their minds, too.

Always Remember:

All-male setups are simply boring.

Balanced lineups must become the norm.

Help us change the ratio. Spread the word: #men4equality

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.

Why I don’t want to be a threat to women

Author: Robert Franken (blogger and digital consultant)

I live in Cologne, Germany. After the incidents around the central station on New Year’s Eve, which have been widely commented on under the hashtag #koelnhbf, I’m still trying to come to terms with what has happened and how the debate has unfolded. The newly elected mayor’s concept of #armlaenge („at arm’s length“) can’t be the solution to a problem that had long been ignored and that has s got nothing to to with refugees and migrants in the first place: I’m talking about every-day sexism and sexual violence against women. My perspective is a male one and I would like to describe what’s making me so uneasy.

railway-station-1029215_1920I’m heading home from, let’s say, from a night out with friends, strolling through a quiet part of town, and I’m walking behind a woman. She’s a bit slower than I am and I’m slowly catching up. And all of a sudden, I realize how uncomfortable she might be feeling. So I’m beginning to walk a bit slower, adding some distance between me and her. But yet again, since this is a deliberate decision, I’m getting the feeling of being somehow manipulative. It’s a dilemma.

Respecting inter-human boundaries has always been very important to me. A flirt turned into something more intimate only if I could be absolutely sure that I hadn’t misinterpreted anything. Thus, I definitely missed a few opportunities for having been a bit… slow. But it was because I didn’t want to take chances.

It’s a quote by Margaret Atwood that, in my opinion, sums up the whole problem:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

It was only recently that I fully realized what it could mean for a girl or a woman to go home with a guy. It had never occurred to me that it would be a problem the other way round. Of course it didn’t, for I wasn’t exposed to any risk of being forced into something against my will. That’s a male privilege. And it’s utter discrimination against women.

Is there any rule of thumb? Probably not. But there has to be something men could use as orientation. „No means no“ (#neinheisstnein) is the slogan behind a movement for a stricter law against sexual violence. It should definitely be supported. But to me, it’s not strict enough for a respectful interaction of human beings for it is too abstract for every-day human encounter.

Being a heterosexual man, as a matter-of-fact, I just don’t expect any woman to wish for me getting any closer to her. It’s a precondition, a rule. If she does, however, I’d need pretty damn obvious signals from her. And in order to interpret them correctly, I’m gonna need a whole lot of sensitivity and empathy. Even more so, if these signals are non-verbal.

Respect while flirting also means that you just don’t seize every single opportunity for an erotic adventure. What’s wrong about a decent flirtation? It’s not about finishing a task all the time.

Back to my nightly way home. I was often close to speaking out to the women in order to signal them that I wasn’t being a threat. But that could have turned out as an all-too obvious attempt to chat up, so I kept quiet.

Meanwhile, in situations like the one mentioned above, I’m trying to keep a distance. If necessary, I’m switching to the other side of the street. Why? Because it’s not a big deal for me, but it might make a difference for the other person involved. I’ve even started whistling or humming a song once – and I can’t really sing. I just don’t want to scare anybody by any means.

Am I being paranoid? Maybe a little. But do you get what I’m trying to say?

The fact that there are services like a telephone hotline where they literally walk you home at night is proof that there is a constant potential threat (to women) out there. And no: I don’t think I’m not victimizing women when I say this.

It means that my uneasiness of being recognized as a potential threat, is by far the least important problem here. It’s the women who face the threat; who permanently have to feel their freedom and their physical and psychological integrity being at stake.

I hate that. And I want to help changing this. I’d like to be part of the solution rather than being part of the problem by being a man. This may sound a bit over-sensitive, but we can’t take a chance here. In times of every-day sexism and massive violence against women, it is strictly necessary to become an asset in this particular issue. Will you help making that change?

I am a supporter of #HeForShe, and so is Male Feminists Europe. We need to join forces and make sure that every man is carrying this kind of sensitivity into his personal and professional life. Is more necessary than ever.