#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!

#MeToo – Me, too

Author: Dominic Knight, musician, film maker and writer from Brighton, UK

First of all I would like to start with a disclaimer; at no point in this article do I seek to detract from the experiences of the women who have experienced such behaviour by men. I disagree with such behaviour wholeheartedly and try to stay as active as possible to call out any actions that I am privy to. What I am trying to do is make objective points and understand the problems and where they arise because as we all know, nothing in life is black and white…apart from Laurel and Hardy films.

Let’s start at the beginning. It was me. I did it.

Throughout my life, I have inadvertently been that guy. Even though since, as young as I can remember, I have called out my friends for cat calling, stopped people I know from pressuring our female friends into sex and various other unacceptable behaviours. Indeed, I am no saint though, far from it.

With the advent of the MeToo hashtag, it has got me thinking about how consistent this behaviour is. Though it is not surprising that many of my friends have used the tag, I am sure that each and every woman I know or have known has experienced these feelings and actions of intimidation and assault that it intends to raise awareness for. Many will not want to engage with this online campaign for various reasons, but it does not mean their voices and opinions are any less important, their experiences are there, whether you trend it on twitter or not.

It crossed my mind to voice my own experiences on social media. As a man, I feel I have the right to use this hashtag as I have experienced sexual abuse and intimidation. What stopped me however is not wanting to do the classic privileged patriarchal action of taking something of importance from someone else and changing it’s point.

Now I am aware that this is not actually the case. I’m sure most people would be behind anyone that stands up and says, “Hey, I have been sexually abused too.” It would defeat the point of equality if we couldn’t, but I am voicing my own very real insecurity about my masculinity; that however is sort of a different conversation. What I want to talk about is why and how we as men fall into this role.

I did it. We did it. I may be a cynic by saying this, but I believe that one would be hard pressed to find a man that has gone through his life without inadvertently or indeed deliberately sexually abusing another person. I say this from my own personal experience and have no statistics or factual evidence to back this up, but I feel I have a good grounding for my thoughts.

Here is where it gets tricky and I would like to refer back to my disclaimer, I am not trying to undermine anyone’s experiences at the hands of predatory men.

I do not think that every interaction a young boy or man has with a woman is conscious or thought about. That is not to say that ignorance is acceptable, but at a young age, how do you know that the way you are interacting is actually unacceptable and you are in fact pressuring a girl or young woman into an intimacy she is perhaps not ready for?

I was brought up open minded, liberal and more often than not, naked. I saw my parents have sex around the age of two (they may or may not know that), I had my first sexual feelings at the age of three and at five I stumbled across a pornographic video that was playing on a television. I sat there and watched, not understanding why the man was ‘weeing’ into the woman’s mouth or why his moustache was so big.

I have had various different interactions with girls around my own age that were explorative from about the age of six, and in my memory, it was all ‘consensual’, if you can have such a thing at a young age.

Herein lies the first problem, even though I knew that I should respect women and that rape was wrong, I did not fully know up until my mid twenties that there was a whole world of subtleties outside of obvious sexual abuse, in fact I am still learning about it today – a year and a bit shy of my thirtieth birthday.

The thought that I may have at some point in my early youth, pressured a girl into kissing me or exposed myself, either out of normality on my part or a proud “look at this weird thing I have that you don’t”, fills me with a zealous guilt. In my defence, I did not know any better at the time but that does not take away from the experience of the person on the other end.

The other side of this is that a girl in school once kicked me in the testicles because I wouldn’t kiss her…what reaction does this give you dear reader? Should she look back on her actions in the same way I am now?

As I got older, my confidence with women decreased rapidly and I didn’t really have any interactions until my late teens, eighteen to be precise -I wasn’t as interested in sex as my peers, but maybe I was just lying to myself and hid it behind a love for skateboarding and A&E, but that could have been the morphine and plaster casts.

Throughout the loss of my proverbial cherry and my long term relationship with my girlfriend at the time, I can remember pressuring her, not forcibly or violently but verbally into having sex when we both weren’t feeling the same way. I was not aware that by asking her again after she had said she wasn’t in the mood was the wrong thing to do. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand no, there were plenty of times where no was said and respected, but if I was feeling exceptionally virile my brain would bypass that respect and understanding; even then it didn’t always amount to anything other than a quiet frustration on my part and a wank in the bathroom. But to this day I feel shame for the times I pressured her into something she wasn’t 100% up for, or made her feel bad for not ‘putting out’, as they say in American high school films.

From the opposite side of the coin there were plenty of occasions where we had sex and I did not want to but felt I was obliged as that’s ‘what men want all the time’, so it would be have been untoward for me to say no. Whether or not that was an insecurity at the time or became one, I simply did not know I had the power to say no.

Possibly the point I am trying to make is that as men we are probably not as innocent as we think we are.

Even though we spend most of our lives being kind to strangers, being courteous to our partners and treating our daughters with love and respect, there is still that element wherein we lack a great degree of knowledge of the subtle things we may do that can cause women to feel degraded.

In a way it is not our fault; I remember feeling terrible about myself due to films, advertising and my lack of sexual experience. We are bombarded with information relating to what it means to ‘be a man’ on an hourly basis, unless we’re in the woods chopping down trees with our manly arms and murdering animals for sport. And it cannot be ignored that we live in a society that promotes sex from every imaginable angle. Even with the privilege of being male, white and liberal I still need to read and listen every day in order to break away from being a patriarchal oppressor, whether I mean to or not.

The fact that these conversations or memes or whatever the hell else you call this new technofaddy age pop up in increasing numbers means that it makes people think about it more. I did not know what I know now about women’s rights when I was a teenager, or even in my early teens because it was rarely spoken about; therefore I rarely thought about it. In my head I never struck, I never abused and I never assaulted a woman, so I thought I was a good guy.

To clarify I do not think that every act of misogyny is accidental or unintended, but there is an element where we need to look past the obvious forces of negativity in men and try and tackle the root cause, stemming the problem in the youth before it affects teenagers going through the hell that is hormones.

I want to apologise to every girl and every woman that I may have ever intimidated, pressured or made to feel bad about themselves without my knowing, understanding or intent. It does not excuse anything I may have done, but I hope my actions of the present and the future may help make up for it.

As men it is our constant and eternal duty to be aware of our actions, our privileges and our peers, we need to educate each other and ourselves and not be afraid to stand up and take responsibility for our feelings and actions, as well as listening to and appreciating those who have been affected by our actions. Only through connectivity can we break down the barriers and create a world in which equality is not spoken about because we have surpassed it.

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.