No More Bras Left To Burn? The Spectre Of Feminism Burnout

Modern feminism is too focused on the image of feminists themselves, rather than renewing debate of the movement's core principles. What can be done about feminism fatigue.

No More Bras Left To Burn? The Spectre Of Feminism Burnout
Violetta Simon

MUNICH — Should we have known? Were there signs of an impending implosion of tragic proportions? To be more precise, feminism has been struck with a classic case of burnout. Its advocates feel exhausted, depleted, particularly those meant to lead the way and shape opinion.

If we are to believe Katrin Gottschalk, editor-in-chief of the German feminist magazine Missy, it is less their dogged commitment and more a permanent reflection on feminism itself that has brought the movement's activists to this state of fatigue. They circle around each other in debates, having lost sight of the real objective.

It's not that feminists feel they can spare themselves the trouble because it's no use anyway. And it's not that they think society has already achieved equality of the sexes. They've been toiling without pause — unfortunately, not just at the substantive level. They have to deal constantly with their own image and their image in the eyes of others.

In Missy magazine, editor Gottschalk complains that writers and the media continue to process the image of feminism rather than getting down to the real issues. She references German feminist author Meredith Haaf, among others, who blames a "feminism improvement industry" for the paralysis. The question of how society can be improved has long been supplanted by the question of why this movement can be "uncomfortable, scary or complicated."

Just for example, when asked why so few people are committed to feminism, Malu Dreyer, state governor of Rheinland-Pfalz, said it was perhaps because people still associate it with "women wearing purple and some sort of bizarre shoes."

So something about the feminism debate is skewed. Meredith Haaf thinks so too. She says discourse about the equality of the sexes vascillates between euphoria and condemnation. One of the references the author uses to support her view is the German-language book Tussikratie by Theresa Bäuerlein and Friederike Knüpling, which is critical of feminism.

Can we get past clichés?

The authors castigate feminism for supposedly scary associations such as unshaved armpits and critique feminism from the standpoint of understanding towards men. In their introduction, they say they are "neither hostile to women nor anti-feminist." But they then proceed, in Haaf's opinion, to incorporate everything they regard as negative into a type of woman from hell that doesn't actually exist.

Haaf doesn't exclude herself from criticism. In fact, she blames herself as co-author of the 2008 book Wir Alphamädchen (Us Alpha Girls) for having played a significant role in the developments leading to the current feminism burnout. She says she has since realized she was not "part of the solution but part of the problem."

Teresa Bücker, editor of the German-language Internet portal, describes the phenomenon in the online edition of the weekly magazine Der Freitag under the hashtag "#müde" (#tired). She believes that "feminist burnout" is more than just a passing sluggishness. "It is a depression of the activists — a disappointment and exhaustion that has put many activists off."

The (self-)criticism that feminism is going in circles, getting itself entangled in academic debates, and is way too elitist in its discourse, isn't really new. What's new is the pace, undoubtedly one of the reasons for the exhaustion known internationally as "activist burnout."

The speed at which feminist generations supersede each other is huge. Since the 1970s, when controversial German feminist Alice Schwarzer came on the scene, quite a few things have happened. And in the past 10 years, the pace has picked up significantly. In 2006, German writer Thea Dorn's F-Klasse stirred up those who were part of the 1970s women's movement, and in 2008 the "Alpha Girls" blogged in favor of a pleasure-oriented, self-aware feminism.

Now the heartbeat of the movement is determined by the frequency of social network bulletins — so-called "Twitter feminism" embodied by #aufschrei (#outcry) initiator Anne Wizorek.

Like every other form of activism today, feminism can be an energy-sapping business. The Internet has become a tireless political space that can be intellectually and spiritually challenging, says Bücker. It can only work if the community in which activists move give it the necessary protection. That the opposite often happens was demonstrated by the case of British feminist Caroline Criado-Perez, whose activism led to plans in the UK to issue 10-pound notes with the image of Jane Austen but who subsequently was the victim of online harassment. Furthermore, Bücker writes, the community needs to grow and develop strategies to reach its goals.

Developing a strategy

But strategizing isn't that simple. The last time feminism pursued a community goal in Germany was in 2013, when the effort reached people who had not yet committed consciously to equality of the sexes. But since then, there have been no actions with an equivalent symbolic power.

Bücker says feminism lacks a catalyst, concrete subjects that would attract the media. In addition, right now it's difficult to discern a community with a real profile that could give the movement a comparable boost.

Anne Wizorek doesn't believe that's the real issue. She has collected her insights in a book entitled Because an #Outcry is not Enough — For a Feminism of Today. The desire alone for broader social debate about the equality of the sexes, however, is probably just as unsatisfactory. Yet how do we break the vicious circle of frustration because of a lack of ideas, and a lack of ideas that leads to frustration? Lament? Give up? Fight?

In a recent online edition of Die Zeit, Author Hannah Lühmann presented a new aesthetic for the feminist movement. Is this just one more desperate attempt at a portrayal of the movement that actually hinders its advance? Just one more senseless hate rant to add to the grouchy, humorless image of feminists?

By no means. Lühmann writes about the soul of feminism and encourages activists to approach the issue with more humor. She categorizes the 2013 #aufschrei movement as insufficient and unproductive, and wishes the feminist discourse took place on a higher intellectual plane. This earned her both harsh criticism and high praise, and she certainly hit a nerve.

Who knows, perhaps it would do feminism good if the debates about its image were to stop so that it could do what every movement should: move forward. But for this image debate to stop or at least pipe down, those leading it would have to shut up and leave room for those who have something to contribute.

Why not adopt an if-you-can't-say-something-constructive-then-keep-your-mouth-shut motto? It would be worth a try. And it would be a blessing for all those exhausted readers and listeners following the debate.

All the other exhausted net-feminists and feminists in general should stop jumping through every hoop that the "feminism improvement industry" produces.

In the meantime, they may do what every sensible burnout patient does: relax, log off, tune out. They're going to need their strength for days to come.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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