Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy 100th Women's Day!

Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg, 1910.Image via Wikipedia
Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg
International Women's Day is a German invention that goes back to Clara Zetkin. In a previous life, I studied German history and culture and remember being blown away by her life story. At one point, I wanted to write a biography about her; her unwavering bravery inspired me. (I should admit that I have practically forgotten everything I learned for my Masters, so I couldn't tell you anything about her today.)

It is with all the more dismay that I read the comments about Women's Day in Germany, for instance here at Die Zeit. A weekly newspaper, Die Zeit is arguably the most intellectual in Germany, so it is perhaps all the more surprising to read what some men are willing to post. In a nutshell: women are not further along because they don't deserve to be.

I have the impression that German men are, by and large, less macho than Americans, but the openness with which so many German men express their bigotry never fails to surprise me. Any self-respecting American racist/sexist knows how to preface a real whopper: "now, I'm not racist/sexist, but…" No such false modesty in Germany.

During lunch, there was a report about female circumcision on German television. There isn't much, if anything, that makes me cringe more -- but, of course, that's a barbaric practice from underdeveloped countries, and we are far more enlightened...

Rather than bore you with my opinion on what needs to be done, etc., I'd just like to say that, in my experience, the most likable people I have met did not really see themselves primarily as men or women.

But two things do come to mind that I think everyone should know. First, contrary to the lyrics sung by the Neville Brothers, Rosa Parks was not tired (except "of giving in") when she refused to stand up. And second, the Solidarnosc movement that eventually indirectly led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union would not have been possible without Anna Walentynowicz. Both of those movements really only took off when a man took over at the helm; we were not ready yet for a woman leader.
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