Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Modern Feminism

From my point of view we're currently going through the third wave of Feminism. And in this post I'll explain why I think so.

The first wave for me were the Suffragettes during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century. They fought for basic rights for women: the right to vote, the right to work, the right to get paid equally (we're still a bit behind there, aren't we?) and the right to get an education. Those women, both the workers and the citizens of higher status, risked a lot to get what they felt they deserved. They changed the world a lot this way.

The second wave for me were the women fighting during the late 60ies and early 70ies. They wanted to overthrow unfair laws and to enforce the liberties they already had on the paper. They succeeded mostly in the end (even though we still get paid less).

The third wave is running at the moment. Our problem is that by now 'Feminism' has been turned into a dirty word by those who don't want women to become too independent. They can't take away what we've already got, but they try to make us reject in on our own. Why I think like this? Check out what young women think about being a feminist. But more on this later on.

I'll look on what the second wave got for us (in Germany, as I can't speak for other countries as easily). It's quite well known what the first wave achieved, after all. In the late 60ies the civil laws in Germany were still mainly based on those we had before World War II (maybe even before World War I). In our own charter (what we call "Grundgesetz") it is clearly stated that men and women are equal. But in the reality of everyday life, this was just a nice sentence, nothing more. Three points in the civil laws were what the feminists wanted gone most: the control of the patriarch about his own wife, the principle of 'guilt' in the divorce law and the laws against abortion (mainly law no. 218, but more about that later).

The first point can be easily described like this: As long as a woman was above 21 (the official age of adulthood at that time, later on it was lowered to 18) and not married, she was allowed to work as much as she wanted (she could start working even long before then, of course, but her parents had something to say about what job she learned and worked in). After a woman got married, it was her husband's decision whether she was allowed to work. If she wanted to take on a job, even if the family did really, really need the money, and her husband said "no", she was not allowed to take it. In essence, she couldn't even decide about whether to buy a couple of tomatoes or not, but most men never questioned how their wives managed the daily household problems. Once she got married, a woman was theoretically totally under her husband's thumb. Of course, most husbands never exercised their powers, but they could have.

The second point can be described like this: The divorce laws at this time included the principle of 'guilt', meaning that one of the two people in a marriage had to be the reason why they got divorced. There was no such thing as simple 'not being compatible any longer'. During the court appeal the husband and wife who wanted to get divorced needed to prove that the other one was the reason why they could not be expected to continue the marriage under any circumstances. Unfortunately most judges at that time were men - or women with very conservative views - and most arguments the women had (like the husband having one or more other women on the side) often were not taken seriously. Often the woman more or less got told that "it was your fault he was forced to find someone else to give him what you could or would not give him". What a fucked-up idea... The only real argument a woman could have not to end up as the 'guilty one' in a divorce (meaning her husband didn't have to pay for her support even if she couldn't work because she had a young kid to care for) was getting beaten by a man. And even then it was sometimes questioned whether the beating had been 'justified' - as if anything could justify the weaker side of a couple getting beaten.

The third point maybe is easiest to explain, even though it's still sometimes fought over today: There was already a law declaring abortion legal, but only if either the mother could suffer serious health problems or the child had been conceived during an act of rape. Apart from than no woman in Germany was allowed to have an abortion and every doctor performing one would go to jail (at least in theory). This law put a lot of pressure on women (especially before the pill was released in Germany). Those who were rich and got pregnant without wanting it, simply went to either the Netherlands or Switzerland, both countries in which an abortion was legal. Those who couldn't afford this either tried to get rid of their children themselves, killed them after birth, gave them over for adoption or went to women usually called "Engelmacherinnen" ('angel makers') who performed illegal abortions with very primitive means (often killing or seriously injuring the mother in the process as well).

A great feature of a prominent magazine in that time was titled "We've all had an abortion" and featured the pictures and full names of hundreds of women, both famous and not, who admitted they had had an abortion at least once in their lives. As this was illegal (even if the abortion had been performed in a country where it was legal), some of them got sued - and loads of women came to the trials to support them. Imagine the picture the judges faced: three, four, five benches full of women carrying transparents saying "legalize abortion", "my belly belongs to me" or other slogans. This was no longer just judging one woman, this was trying to follow the old laws while a big chunk of the populace was telling you "you're doing something wrong" and "this law should be outlawed".

Of course, the laws were carried out, but the media, especially the new-founded "Emma", a magazine from women for women not featuring fashion and home-stories, but feminist issues, was against them. This pressure was what changed law no. 218. In addition to the medical indication (the woman in danger of dying or risking her health) and rape, any woman was now granted the right to have an abortion throughout the first three month of pregnancy, provided she saw a councillor first who questioned her reasons for abortions and pointed out some other ways to solve this (without killing a child). It became legal for a doctor to perform an abortion, provided the woman could prove, through some kind of voucher, that she had seen a councillor and still wanted to abort her child.

The other two points the feminists had about laws were changed as well, today it is merely a woman's choice whether or not to work (and where to work) and the principle of 'guilt' has been written out of the lawbooks.

I think that we - the women of the third wave - have gotten one big problem: Throughout their fight against the system, some of the women of the second wave became rather scary (at least for men). A strong woman like Alice Schwarzer (whom I really respect) can easily scare a man.

So the words 'Feminism' and 'feminist' became dirty words - and not the kind you can shout in your bedroom at night. Calling yourself a feminist today makes people think "shit, she's not shaving her armpits, legs or down there and will eat every man alive who tries to hold the door open for her". That's nonsense of course, but it's what some people think. Young women today want to be 'hip' and 'cool' (and by using these words I've probably proven already that I'm not young any more) - feminism isn't either of it. The picture those women painted of the feminist woman didn't feature a man - because women don't need men to survive. But hey, I don't need a TV or a central heating unit to survive, a newspaper and a little campfire will do the trick as well, nevertheless I like having them. In fact, I think men should be grateful they're no longer just "the guy who brings in the meat and thereby gets the right to fuck me" to us. Because we are able to choose whom to be with, our choice means a lot more. Think about it, all you men out there...

The fight for equality is far from over yet - and there's more to fight for than just the right words. We have to find a way to make young women realize it's their own future they'll be fighting for ... and that you can be a feminist and have a cute boyfriend at the same time.

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