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Germany

Don't Ask If I'm A Feminist, Ask Why Women Earn 22% Less

A German journalist suggests that the conversation around feminism has taken a terribly wrong turn. First you must ask the right questions.

A 1942 photo of a worker at North American Aviation plant in California.
A 1942 photo of a worker at North American Aviation plant in California.
Mara Delius*

-OpEd-

BERLINYes, I am a feminist. Please forgive my yawn as I say so, but I really can’t listen to it anymore. The question of whether or not I'm a feminist is breaking my balls that I don't even have.

What, you don't like my answer? You want me to make a clearer statement, even though I've made my opinions known over the years in these pages on topics such as plastic surgery, transgender lectureships, power structures, Susan Sontag, Margaret Thatcher, Alice Schwarzer, Dirndls and the trouser suit? OK, OK: I'm a feminist and proud of it!

Although it would be rather more hip, as they say, to philosophize about Angelina Jolie’s vagina, or simply conclude that feminism has finally become obsolete. But determined radical mindsets are easiest to defend. So, here it goes: I say Yes to feminism. Is that clear enough?

Three types of feminist

But let’s approach this subject in a calm and collected manner. Those who have followed the German feminism debate over the last five years will have singled out three types of women. Those who don’t wear make-up, are hairy, and are as crumpled, in every sense of the word, as their potato-sack corduroy dresses. That's the 1970s feminist. Then there are those who are ambitious, egotistical, often childless, dressed in slim-fitting suits and busy zipping from one highly ambitious career goal to the next. That's the so-called career woman. And then there are those who are progressive, completely hairless, post-ideological, for whom hard-and-fast political demands are suspect. That's the contemporary young woman of today.

These different flavors of feminism are a mixture of theory coupled with realistic experiences, questions of the past mixing with questions for today, a specific demand for equality versus territorial cries of rage, socioeconomic conditions and ideological wishful thinking. This continues on and on until the cacophony leads to the inevitable demand that feminism be scrapped altogether, because it's just plain annoying.

Feminism these days is a mere ghost. It doesn’t actually exist anymore, neither as a movement, a moral compass, nor a shining beacon in the darkness. Perhaps this is why so many still cling to it, longing for a structure to guide them. I, for one, am not searching for such a structure, which may explain my determination to remain silent on the subject for a while.

The theory of the ‘me’

Coco Chanel, Hannah Arendt, Julie Burchill, Clarice Lispector, Ayn Rand, Diana Vreeland, Sylvia Plath, Carine Roitfeld, Joan Didion, Margarete Mitscherlich. Each and every one of these women with whom I have associated myself intellectually has tackled their femininity thoughtfully, though they probably wouldn't have considered themselves feminists. But let’s return to the original question, a question I am supposed to answer in a radical and personal fashion because I am a woman of these times.

Well, I'm lucky to find myself in such a state of enlightenment and independence where I need nothing more than to surround myself with certain things, including ideas, men, children and cars. So, what precisely are my feminist moments?

Well, let me begin with how I feel when I see the wage differential in the workforce and the absence of women in positions they deserve to hold.

When I first started in this editorial department, a long-serving editor welcomed me by calling me "blondie" (I thought that was amusing). Later on, a globally renowned philosopher grabbed my breast after I interviewed him (I thought that was disgusting). Nowadays, there's not a single female editor in a position of responsibility (which I find old-fashioned and very surprising).

The most recent survey of wages in Germany found that women earn on average 22% less than men for the exact same jobs. Why is that the case? I would like a clear and objective answer, please. Perhaps more people should be asking that question rather than prodding me incessantly about whether I'm a feminist.

Feminism to me is just another word for keeping an eye out for my own interests. Those who don’t get that are trapped in an old-fashioned attitude disguised as ultra-liberal, a state of mind that leaves no space for women who can think critically about themselves and their world.

*Mara Delius is a writer and culture editor at Die Welt.

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