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Faces of Feminism

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By Gesa Musiol

What is equality?

As an international student from Germany studying at Willamette for a little over eight months now, I now know that this question has to be considered not in only one cultural context, but rather two – and both of them consist of a million different fragments, experiences, and statements that I have read or heard somewhere, and a whole lot of confusion. I will absolutely not be able to define the term “equality” in this article, and I will not evaluate the state of equality in the United States or Germany. Rather, I will shed some light on an aspect that is, in my eyes, crucial to the promotion of equality everywhere.

The United States has a unique approach to the concepts of equality and equity. In a country in which African Americans are constantly targeted by police brutality, and where this is more the norm, rather than an exception, and where universities such as Willamette University provide their students with a bubble of social justice conversations at Goudy dinner tables, classrooms, and numerous student clubs for issues pertaining to groups targeted by discrimination; in this country, the term equality is not one that can be assigned one simple definition. Clearly, the term means something entirely different to Trump supporters and Sanders supporters. Clearly, “equality” as it is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary – “in persons: fairness, impartiality, equity” – is not a reality that every American lives with.

In comparison with this image of equality in the United States – which is in itself a very contradictory one – the German image of equality and equity is equally complicated. The more or less recent immigration wave that entered Europe generally and Germany specifically will definitely lead to a whole new array of complications and problems regarding equality in Germany since the country is, in my opinion, in the process of drastic change. The lack of infrastructure that is capable of providing refugees and immigrants with the resources they need to be able to integrate themselves is a symptom of a society that still has to acknowledge the existence of many inequalities and difficulties.

When talking about the very broad, complex, and often confusing topic of equality and equity and how they are lived and understood in different places around the globe, my mind naturally turns to feminism.

Thinking about the faces of feminism in the United States, I cannot stop fangirling about prominent personas such as Bell Hooks, Ellen Page, and Roxane Gay, but my enthusiasm is significantly sobered when turning my attention to German faces of feminism: We have Alice Schwarzer.

Although Alice Schwarzer is, just like many well-known matrons of American feminism, a polarizing character that is criticized and ridiculed by many, she definitely has worked for and achieved many positive goals. During the 1970s, for example, she fought for the legalization of abortion in Germany and in France in order to ensure a safer process and to reduce the negative stigma attached to it. She also founded the feminist magazine EMMA which is modeled after the American Ms. magazine. But while Alice Schwarzer’s past and Germany’s history of feminism are definitely very interesting topics worth looking into further, it is her current position in politics that does not paint a positive image of feminism in and for Germany.

One of Schwarzer’s current main topics is the, what she calls it, the “Islamization of Germany.” She has spoken out against women wearing the Hijab, especially in schools, since it allegedly symbolizes the subjugation of women and stands for a religion that actively oppresses women in all areas of life. Obviously, this approach and understanding of Islam is highly problematic. By vocally spreading the opinion that Islam is a misogynistic religion and the hijab symbolizes solely oppression, Schwarzer clearly positions herself in an entirely negative space – which is in itself bad enough. But in addition to this, Schwarzer is the most prominent and well-known feminist in Germany. Whenever she publishes an article or open letter, her words are taken as the consensus of what “all feminists” would say. Although she is definitely not the only reason, she remains a major factor for why feminism is mostly tainted with false prejudices.

Ultimately, the faces of feminism a country is shown and shows play a very significant role regarding equality. How can people work toward equality if they are not willing to acknowledge the umbrella movement due to false representations and connotations evoked by public personas? In my opinion, the United States with their numerous, so very different faces of feminism are many steps ahead of Germany where “intersectional feminism” is a term only known by inhabitants of the ivory tower of academia. Obviously, not everyone who labels themselves as an American feminist does good for the movements and their reputation, but at least there are enough positive figures to outbalance the negativity. In Germany, we really need faces that do not promote xenophobia and irreconcilable radicalism, but rather enthusiasm towards change for the better and, very important, respect for cultures and religions that are not one’s own.

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