Frankly ... Berlin Pop feminism: greetings from the other side of self-empowerment​

Do Beyoncé and Netflix feminism really liberate us? And if so, who is this “we”? Our Berlin columnist Margarita Tsomou has written a feminist manifesto in the seclusion of the lockdown. Because everything is closed outside, she takes us into her world of thoughts today

By Margarita Tsomou

Beyoncé in a scene from her visual album “Black is King” Beyoncé in a scene from her visual album “Black is King” | Photo (detail): Travis Matthews © picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Recently I was asked how I thought women’s emancipation had progressed as compared with the way it was in the 1970s. My thoughts on this alternate between great jubilation and cautious restraint.

On the one hand, women – or the types of human being that are known as women – are more emancipated than ever before in 2021: women are to be promoted by law to corporate board level, they are encouraged to go into politics or technical professions, and are literally flooding the employment market. They are permitted to use contraceptives and can even complain about sexualized violence using the hashtag #metoo. 

A glance at pop culture speaks volumes: stars like Janelle Monáe and Beyoncé compete for the next feminist pop anthem, Netflix shows are teeming with strong female protagonists, and German TV presenters Joko and Klaas criticize on primetime men who send dick pics.
 
And the way people think about concept of what is understood as a “female subject” has also evolved: finally, it is no longer the case that anyone born with a vagina is automatically deemed female, while those born with a penis can also be women. Germany has introduced “diverse” as a gender category by law, queer couples made it from the closet to the wedding altar, and the coolest kids identify as non-binary.

Tough realities

Despite all these celebrations of feminist achievements, however, certain synchronicities need to be conceded: in today’s neoliberalism, the repertoire of the gender category “woman” still entails a whole host of seriously tough everyday realities.

The gender pay gap is proving persistently difficult to close, partly because women work for the most part in low-pay sectors such as education, child-raising or nursing care. In Germany two thirds of unpaid childcare and housework still continuesto be done by women – a situation that has worsened dramatically by the need for home schooling during the coronavirus crisis.

The risk of lifestyle feminism

Violence in families and relationships has also increased in corona times – in fact, violence against women has become more visible and finally provokes a good amount of public indignation. But although a woman is murdered by her partner every third day in Germany, the numbers of victims are not recorded in the official statistics and the term “femicide” has not yet become part of the legal system’s vocabulary. Furthermore, significant rights of reproductive and sexual self-determination have yet to be granted – though abortion under certain conditions is not punishable by law in Germany, it is still illegal.
 
The risk of these widespread versions of lifestyle feminism is that they serve to conceal unequal and violent relationships by celebrating the individual emancipation successes that are being achieved.
 
This also conceals the fact that most women in the world are not to be found sitting in the top-floor executive offices but are more likely to be seen cleaning them at dawn, hours before the bosses arrive to attend their high-level meetings. The great majority of women spend their time wiping floors or the backsides of babies and old men. And the great majority of these women are not white. They are migrants or live in the Global South, and research still needs to be conducted to determine whether Zalando’s recent decision to feature large numbers of black women in its adverts will actually contribute to their emancipation.

Different levers to emancipation

Within the group designated as “women” we not only have various gender identities and backstories, but must also remember that different women need different levers by which to achieve emancipation. Feminism therefore means a lot more than simply highlighting discrimination against women. It is a politically wide-ranging project that needs to focus our attention on structural inequalities: on structures that affect women of different ethnic or social backgrounds in different ways, though in sum total they cement the situation of women as a disadvantaged group in society.
 
From the viewpoint of radical queer and feminist movements, the capitalist allocation of resources, the destruction of the environment and nature, racism and the colonial dividing up of the world are not only involved in the suppression of women, but explicitly bring it about. Historically, all of these asymmetrical power relationships have not only been created by men, occurring simultaneously and together, but today constitute THE matrix that makes women in already precarious circumstances even more vulnerable.
 
Activists claim that violence against women, violence against nature, capitalist and racist violence can all be traced back to the same toxic DNA in our societies.

So, I consequently think: until women invent not only new gender images, but a new image of humanity and nature – indeed a new world – they will not be able to fully emancipate themselves.
 
From 08.03.2021 Margarita Tsomou's whole manifesto can be seen on Arte in the program “Kurzschluss”!
 

“FRANKLY …”

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly ...” column series is written by Magrita Tsomou, Maximilian Buddenbohm and Dominic Otiang’a. In “Frankly ... Berlin”, our columnists throw themselves into the hustle and bustle of the big city on our behalf, reports on life in Berlin and gathers together some everyday observations: on the underground, in the supermarket Frankly … Berlin, in a nightclub.