Category Archives: Feminism

Frauke Petry after President-Elect Donald Trump

“It’s telling that establishment politicians and journalists are selling a democratic election as the apocalypse”

Two days after the election, many in the United States and across the world feel like this is the apocalypse. The only reason Petry isn’t proclaiming the apocalypse is because the party she agrees with won. If Hilary had won, Petry surely would be declaring the end of the world.

I understand the apocalyptic sentiment, although I disagree that the world is about to end. I also disagree that the far-right is an American phenomenon: the rise of extreme right populism globally shows that nativism and racism are prevalent.

Whiteness and patriarchy are clutching to privilege , and let’s hope this is it’s last chance to maintain hegemonic power. About that, I am less hopeful: privilege reproduces privilege, and if there’s anything 500 years of imperial conquest has shown, it’s that whiteness and patriarchy are incredibly protean and adaptive. But the protest culture in US society is healthy – and must get healthier. BlackLivesMatter, NoDAPL, trans* agitation, and the access to quality, alternative journalism are just some of the signs that resistance is possible, probable and holds political potential.

One of the gaps in coverage about the far-right in both countries has been the occasional lack of inclusion of LGBTQI identities as a targeted identity by the far-right. While – rightly so – racial, immigrant and religious identities are frequently identified as the targets of Trump’s wrath, Vice President-elect Mike Pence has made gay conversion therapy part of his platform. Trump just appointed a staunchly anti-gay politician, Ken Blackwell, to head his domestic transition team. The attacks on so-called “Gender Mainstreaming” in the AfD party have also received remarkably little media attention, but are starting to emerge as an issue given more press time from the AfD.

On November 6, two days before the US election, Frauke Petry gave a speech in Pforzheim that queer.de called a “taste of the coming national parliamentary campaign.” In this speech, Petry declared that “normal” families needed to be protected from educational programs which are covered in “gender sauce.” She sowed factually inaccurate information, saying that parents of school children would be required to pay for gender courses (whatever that is). She denied that homophobia was a problem, and asked parents to stand up for their (cis, hetero) children. She also declared the “classical family” to be a valuable institution, because it provides the country with children. Earlier this summer, Petry declared that there were too many gays on television.

This kind of homophobic politicking is common for those of us who grew up in the US. I’ve seen versions of these arguments in German spaces before, especially in arguments about two-parent adoption and gay marriage. Beyond discussions of sexism directed against female candidates, we need to pay strict attention to the ways in which family structure and kinship networks are used to reflect images of the nation. This moves beyond discussion of homonationalism, where minorities are painted as homophobic and whites are painted as homophilic. Nationalistic groups in the US and Germany are hardly homophilic.

Call a spade a spade.

Feminist Refugee Politics – II

The most recent news developments in Germany – including the kidnapping and murder of a refugee child, the spray-painting of slurs on a Holocaust memorial to the Rroma victims, and a rather creepy demonstration of the AfD in Erfurt – make it clear that violence will accompany refugee politics into the winter. If there’s anything that feminist and anti-racist research has consistently engaged with, it’s issues of violence. For this reason, in the context of the European migration crisis, I have been pondering (admittedly in a vacuum) what would constitute a feminist, anti-racist response to those seeking asylum in Germany and those protesting with racist paroles. As of yet, I am not connected with activists on the ground who have more experience and information than I do and welcome suggestions for improvement or links or twitter handles.

In a dossier compiled to highlight anti-racist approaches to right-wing demonstrations in Saxony, the Heinrich Böll Foundation offered a checklist for those who might be trying to develop anti-racist events in their location.  Their suggestions are recognizable to anyone engaged in ethical activist struggle: do not assume that you know what is best for those for whom you are attempting to advocate; sometimes the police are the best source of support, sometimes not; make sure to have an action plan for all possible outcomes; and be willing to deny neo-nazis access access to a protected space.  What I mean by “recognizable” is that the HBF’s suggestions are widely accepted as best practices for organizing (at the very least, these suggestions are commonly articulated in the US).

“Sichere Herkunftsländer”

One of the primary methods for the conferral of refugee status in Germany relies on the notion of “secure countries of origin.” In the talks between Merkel and Erdoğan, for instance, Turkey – in return for agreeing to secure its borders and keep more refugees from fleeing Turkish camps experiencing deteriorating conditions – was supposed to be declared a “secure country of origin.”  The Balkan states currently are seen as secure countries of origin. Die Zeit had an article a while back about the complications of declaring certain locations “safe”: due to the prevalence of common law known as kanun, Albania might no longer considered a safe country of origin for women. Similar concerns have been voiced for Rroma from Balkan states. Deutschlandfunk’s Europa Heute program recently aired a segment on the way that the Kurdish party in Turkey is the only electoral party positioning itself against homophobia.  This alliance between two oppressed groups – given Erdoğan’s tactics to persecute Kurds and LGBTs in Turkey – is important: not all identity groups experience insecurity in the same way. What is safe for majority cisgender men does not translate to safety for all people; those experiencing insecurity may sometimes be able to share strategies for survival through alliances. The moniker “secure country of origin” is thus reductive and can be disastrous for “women and other minorities,” including handicapped refugees. Feminist refugee politics would make use of a nuanced understanding of hierarchies of power based on an understanding of place.

Masculinity

As I mentioned here, a great deal of refugees daring to cross the Mediterranean or undertake the journey across the dangerous Balkan land route are male. It is unclear from the statistics I’ve seen how many men between the age of 14-34 are fleeing with partners or children. What has been garnering a lot of press attention – to the delight of the right-wingers, including “colonial” feminists – are reports of male violence within homes for asylum seekers, whether this consists of rape, knife fights or assault.  There is a large body of sociological research about gendered differences and group dynamics.  Given the contrast between a predominance of young, male refugees and mostly female volunteers attempting to support them, combined with cultural differences in problem-solving, gender roles and conflict resolution, a feminist refugee politics would require an informed approach to masculinity. This could include, but does not require, more male volunteers. More important than the gender of volunteers is an understanding of gender dynamics amongst volunteers. What conditions feed violence, especially gendered violence, within housing and registration centers? What kind of code-switching, cultural and linguistic, is required for German women to engage most effectively with men seeking refuge, and vice-versa? It is encouraging that we already have large amounts of research which engages with these questions. The challenge is to facilitate the application of this theoretical work to those providing services.

Trauma-informed model of care

Building on this understanding of gendered dynamics is an understanding of trauma, an area to which feminist critics have made important contributions (see Caruth, Scarry and Hartman, among others). What seems important is to move away from the racist association of (Muslim) male refugees as perpetrators (and a danger to white German women, as PinkStinks has articulated) and to include other kinds of trauma beyond sexualized violence. It has become widely accepted that trauma encompasses more varied experiences than was previously understood: how each person experiences an event – and this research on subjectivity has been a cornerstone of feminist research – starkly influences whether a specific experience will be felt as trauma.  War, chaos, culture shock and prolonged periods of instability can all be experienced as trauma.  Madeline Hron’s book, Translating Pain, explores how these migratory traumas are communicated in French and Czech literature; Gloria Anzaldua’s seminal work Borderlands offers vivid analysis of subjectivity for Chican@s in the US who are American citizens but consistently perceived as foreign or misplaced.  The prevalence of long-term mental health concerns caused by the rupture of migration will require a nation-wide impetus to develop trauma-informed models of care appropriate to the cultural needs of Muslim men and women. (See a moving articulation of one kind of pain in the documentary film Neukölln Unlimited.)

A Return to Multiculturalism

Finally, feminism must return to engaging theories of multiculturalism, no matter what politicians declare has happened to Multikulti.  Theoretical engagement with multiculturalism is quite different from its superficial engagement in politics.  As a system of population management, multiculturalism requires an articulation of group versus individual rights, as well as an understanding of gender as it travels between cultural spaces and legal expectations for cultural assimilation (see Susan Moller Okin). Journalistic scandals that only a few years ago had seemed somewhat dated, such as concerns about polygamy and child brides, are resurfacing.  By taking young girls into custody and separating them from kinship structures, the state may be perceived as causing further trauma or as delivering women and girls exploitation, as well as many other reactions in between.  Our attention must be directed to the cases for which there are no obvious solutions, and we should be prepared to negotiate pragmatically for solutions which attempt to minimize trauma without sacrificing attention to justice.  This work is tricky, because policy is rarely flexible and often requires on quantifying benefits for the most people. Making these kinds of decisions thus threatens to disrupt coalitions and alliances among groups with shared interests. It will cause conflict. At the same time, we must distinguish between journalistic scandals and public health concerns. The latter often feeds misplaced attention to populations stigmatized by the polemic attention of the former.

Feminist Refugee Politics – Points of Entry

What constitutes a feminist refugee politics?

This question is not new. But there are some particularities about the current crisis which demand that discussions of gender take a larger part in conversations than it has so far. Gender matters – it always matters. There are a couple of tropes that have been circulating which are specifically about gendered trends. One, which I have blogged about for the feministische studien, reflects the relationship between Kanzlerin Merkel and the CDU. To set up a binary: Merkel = female. The CDU (if we look at the photoshopped image from Die Welt below) = male.  (The caption reads: #MoreWomen Campaign. Without men Angela Merkel stands almost alone up there.)

The ideological conflict between moderate CDU members and the far-right CSU is influenced in some way by this discrepancy in proportional representation between female head of state and male party members. There are masculine expectations for hard power which Merkel supposedly inadequately exercises, especially in the eyes of her sister party. And now to deconstruct said binary: It is more likely for the press or party members to discredit Merkel as a “monarch” or “Mama Merkel” than to acknowledge that Merkel’s experiences growing up under dictatorship in the GDR (East Germany) are historically legitimate reasons for reacting to this kind of humanitarian crisis with open arms. Merkel, in a beautiful moment of living standpoint theory, insists that she knows what it is like to live behind a closed border and that she is very well aware of the violence a sealed border requires. Thus her emphasis on sentences like “Fences don’t help.

Another trope that has been given a lot of airtime is assertion that the refugees/forced migrants are 70% (or more) male. Given recent discrepancies brought to light by Nando Sigona on The Conversation, in an article which recounts his Twitter communications with Frontex that reveal that a large number of migrants might be counted twice, it seems increasingly urgent to use rigor in the ways that we quantify. While the majority may be young men, the racist associations of criminality, rape, assault and possible infiltration by religious terrorists rest on gendered fears of masculinity. The anonymous blog called The Syrian Boy has an interesting collection of images (the sources are unclear) which aim to disrupt that generalization.

According to this article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, this is how the gender totals break down across age groups:

  • 70% of asylum-seekers who were in the EU in 2014 were male
  • the gender split amongst children was nearly equal
  • 54% of the refugees are between the ages of 14-34 years; 75% of this group are men
  • refugees above 65 years of age were more likely to be women

They list their source as raw data from eurostat.

According to statistics from the Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees in Germany cited in the SZ, in 2014:

  • 2/3 of all asylum applications were from men
  • 28% of all applications were submitted for children under 16 (the largest group; slightly more boys than girls
  • among 16-34 year olds, the proportion was 70-77% men

The German feminist blog PinkStinks.de has published a recent post frustrated with the way these numbers are being interpreted as representing a threat to (White German) women. As they write on PinkStinks:

And while they [the editors of the magazine EMMA] raise important demands in order to protect women, they also swear on the image of a constantly assaultive Muslim man. “Our equality is in danger, too, when hundreds of thousands of mostly young men pour into our country.”

These political moves are unacceptable, PinkStinks writes:

The line was crossed a long time ago. And not just at the point where demands for equality and more protection for women are used in the service of nationalistic interests, but also at the point where people who are fleeing are being instrumentalized in order to push through their own images of equality and more protection for women.

It is nothing new to cover up racism with assertions of needing to protect women. Laura Bush was used effectively by her husband’s presidency to argue for protections for women under the Taliban and to justify war after 9/11. Blue burkas pervaded the national imagery alongside the image of vicious terrorists. These are tropes with which the Right is all too familiar – not just in Germany, the EU or in the United States. Canada just had a presidential campaign in which the niqab was a potent political symbol. The HuffPost has an entire page devoted to niqab articles. Düsseldorf just banned the piece of clothing for elementary school mothers.

While women’s equality is being evoked by (male?) politicians in the service of nationalism, what do we make of this info graphic from a study conducted by the Humbolt University in Berlin about volunteers in serving this population? This tweet from the WDR (Westdeutsche Rundfunk) describes the exact opposite proportions of volunteers compared to refugees: 70% are female; 30% male. (The tweet comment reads: There’s room for improvement, boys!)

 

The very acts of fleeing and helping are gendered; for forced migrants, the physical obstacles they encounter are great. It seems, however, as if the obstacles impeding men from assisting these people in effective ways are just as great within European society, if not as evident as the physical obstacles along the flight path.

For right now, this is simply about gathering evidence that shows some of the points at which gender is functioning as political capital in the European crisis. Part II (to be posted later) will explore how these tropes and images can inform feminist refugee politics.