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.

Diversity vs Patriarchy – Let’s catch the next Wave!

Author: Karsten Jahn (coach & consultant) 

Recently I attended a conference, dealing with organizational change. One of the sessions there was about human resources (HR). This is the department of an organization that is supposed to support individuals within the organization. Here people were talking about how to evaluate the skills of employees, how to train them and the role of leadership in all this. At one point during this session a young woman from the audience got up and confronted a high-ranked HR manager from a large German energy provider, also female, with an interesting subject.

The young woman said that she was at the very beginning of her career. She recently read that a study, which shows that the careers of women are often hindered by other women, not so much by men. This sounded counter intuitive to her, as she thought women would support each other.

The HR lady responded that she has never been hindered by other women or experienced a lack of support for that matter. She continued pointing out this would not happen in her company. All that in a tone, close to scolding. Which in my opinion shows a major lack of sympathy and basically already proves the point of the study. But she continued talking, and not without pride in her voice (paraphrased):

“At our company we do not have a lot of female managers, especially in HR, even though a majority of the people in this division are women. But it’s not that they wouldn’t be able to, they do not want to go for a management career. Many young, skilled, intelligent women tell me that they rather not aim for higher management, the personal investment is way too high. So it’s a matter of choice, not of sexism.”

Instead of thinking critically about what the young woman said and discussing the very serious matter, she basically responds with disrespect and rejects the topic. That made me really mad. And I’m a white male, much further in my career. I can only imagine how the women that asked the question must have felt. Probably not encouraged, inspired or taken seriously, which is a shame, because exactly that is what HR should do. Encourage people, inspire them and take them seriously.

The question behind all this is, why do women not want to go for higher management and why do we want them to do that though. The answer is simple. Because we lack diversity. That’s also the reason why this question is not obvious to all of us. And sadly enough not even to the female HR manager…

Diversity is Valuable

We all want to learn, we all want to develop, it’s in our nature. And nothing supports this more than embracing the huge potential in the differences between and around us. People with different backgrounds add different perspectives, which help us reflect on what we do and what we think we know. That’s how we learn. Your sense of taste won’t develop if you always eat the same things, no successful musician only listens to the same type of music, no athlete just keeps repeating the same exercise. Variety is important.

When it comes to people, diversity relates to everything we can be different in: Gender, culture, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. Even mixing cat and dog people is valuable.

comfortzoneBut instead of mixing we often group with those that are similar. Psychologists explain this by the way our brain is set up. We feel more secure with those that are similar to ourselves, trust them easier. That’s why expats always stick to one another. And within each expat community you’ll find subgroups sorted by nationality. Or maybe by religion or language. And of course all of which are gossiping against each the other groups and all together against the host nation. It’s easier, it’s our comfort zone.

We say that birds of a feather flock together. And it’s true, it’s deeply rooted in our brains. That’s probably how we ended up with racism and sexism to begin with. But humans became very smart. And we found out that those who dare to leave their comfort zone, can achieve higher results. Our history books are full of examples for this. Embrace differences is leaving the personal comfort zone. Which is never easy. For no one. But it might be worth it.

Research shows that teams of knowledge workers, who have to operate creatively, are better equipped when they are staffed heterogeneously. Diverse teams achieve more. Designers collaborating with engineers, technicians with business people, senior with junior. Major synergies spark, when the mix works. But everyone has an experience, where it did not. It was probably build to fail and then served as a reasoning for people to not try again. So now we usually have homogeneous teams, everyone is similar.

Adding new perspectives would be hugely beneficial, though. But we have to want it ourselves, else it will just fail again. So we need to support minorities (i.e. underrepresented genders, age groups, cultures, whatever). And it’s not the minority as such, but it’s about looking at every person’s individual skills and needs, which emerge from their culture, their gender and so on.

If we just give them a desk and tell them our schedules, it will fail again. If we don’t adapt our styles so it comforts others, we will only get those that “convert” to our style. That is not really what we want. No one should have to change who they are in order to be successful. Only if we’re free to be ourselves, we can be truly creative. It’s time to fire the next stage…

Waves of Feminism

Feminism, as in the fight for women’s rights, is being classified in different waves. The first one was about acknowledgment and ended around 100 years ago in the western world (whatever that is). In focus were basic legal issues and to understand that women are people, too, who deserve the right to vote, to drive a car and such.

The second wave of feminism was then about extending the legal equality and had its peak in the 1960s and 1970s in large parts of the western world. Women are able do the same things as men and they have to be allowed to do that, too. Families, education, jobs… we had to adjust our laws so that women had the same options as men and that domestic violence became illegal. It was forbidden for women in Germany to play football until 1970, by the German football association.

Both waves of feminist activity were a revolution mostly dedicated to white middleclass women. According to the norms of the white male. The result, our current reality in large parts of the western world, is that we actually get to meet women in higher management positions. Very few ones, though. And most of those are “masculinized”. They appear in a business look, which is a merely female version of the men’s suit. They have to follow the lifestyle of business men. They have to play according to the rules of patriarchy. Again, not exactly what we have in mind, when we’re thinking about equality. Patriarchy is still up and running.

The third wave of feminism is addressing exactly that, taking care of the individual and their needs. It’s not just about women anymore, it’s about individuals. No privileges due to gender, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, etc. We don’t really know how true equality would look like, but let’s go for it, because more people will be able to live and work the way they want. And happy people are more efficient workers, resulting in products and organizations of higher quality.

What we need to do…

This brings us back to the HR lady from the conference, who said that many women at her company don’t want to go for higher management career, as the demand does not fit their lifestyle. Those are intelligent women that deny being squeezed into a structure that was created for someone else. And so they should!

We have to understand that it’s not their loss, if they don’t want to aim for a career like this, but ours. We need diversity in our societies and organizations. But we are not prepared for that. Expecting others to adopt to our system, which does not work for and barely accepts minorities, is obviously ridiculous. Yet, that is what we keep doing. We’re still stuck in wave 2.

I would expect that HR managers are aware of this. And I would expect that women in management are aware of this. A higher ranked female HR manager that is proud that their management level lacks women, because they use their freedom of choice, is mind-boggling and makes me really mad.

Our business world has been created by white men, to suit their own lives. That is a fact. We might not necessarily see it straight away, but that’s the problem with privileges. They are invisible to those, who have them (Michael Kimmel). We have to find solutions so that people can have a management career and a family at the same time. We have to find solutions so that people of different cultures can collaborate without having to abandon their own background.

Diversity is not necessarily comfortable. But it’s worth it. Let’s get out of our comfort zones. Let’s get rid of patriarchy. Let’s get rid of privileges for majorities, so that we can get rid of majorities. All that hinders diversity, which we need to be better, smarter, more creative and flexible. As a society as well as an organization.

Let’s empower minorities and listen to their needs.

Hi, my name is Karsten and I’m a feminist.

 

(This blogpost has originally been published here.)