Sunday, 4 May 2008

Neo-Housewives and Neo-Feminists

This was going to be a full-on rant. But then I realised every cloud has a silver lining. How twee.

What sparked it all off was the news that Eva Herman has got a new book out. She used to read the news but they sacked her for defending the Nazis' family policy - à la: it wasn't all bad, think of the autobahns...

In fact, what she said was:

"And above all we have to learn to value the image of the mother again in Germany, which was unfortunately abolished by National Socialism and the subsequent 1968 movement. The 68ers [abolished] practically everything, all the values we had - it was a terrible time, it was a completely crazed, highly dangerous politician who led the whole of the German people to their destruction, we all know that - but back then the things that were good, and that's values, that's children, that's mothers, that's families, that's sticking together – it was abolished. Nothing was allowed to be left standing."

She lost an appeal against her former employer last week.

Before she was sacked, she had taken a sabbatical to publish her book The Eva Principle. I didn't read it. It's about how women should be more feminine and shouldn't work if they have children, how they should fetch hubby his slippers when he comes in from work, devote themselves entirely to family life, etc. etc. There was some discussion among translators here in Berlin as to whether to take on a translation job for the book, which you can read about here. In the end, the publishers only got a sample translated (by a man) and it has not been published in English.

Her next book was called The Noah's Ark Principle. I didn't read that either.It's about how German women should have more babies to stop the Germans dying out. I think.

And now she's given the world The Survival Principle. It appears to be about surviving as Eva Herman, why she doesn't approve of early-years childcare, why she doesn't approve of 1968 and how she prays for her enemies, including Alice Schwarzer. I won't be reading it.

Anyway, all that made me realise that it all has a good side. Because the whole brouhaha seems to have prompted women in Germany to think about how they see themselves. The first reaction in book form was Desirée Nick's satirical polemic Eva Go Home. It was obviously written very quickly, but I thought it was the perfect reaction - why take someone like Eva Herman too seriously?

And now there are a handful of new books by young "neo-feminists" - perhaps kicking off Germany's third wave? Of course there's Wetlands, but also two non-fiction titles - Wir Alphamädchen and Neue deutsche Mädchen. What they seem to have in common is that they are written by confident young women in their mid-30s, embracing feminism but rejecting certain aspects such as the anti-pornography standpoint.

At the moment, it all seems to be about feminism making women's lives "more beautiful", as the Alpha-Girls put it. It's about sexual self-determination and powerful and fulfilling careers, all things I'm certainly in favour of. But I don't feel like I'm in their target group - in Germany as elsewhere, having a child puts women into a group apart where we experience genuine disadvantages on a daily basis - whether in work or on benefits. And as these young feminists are still referring to themselves as "girls", they haven't yet been through that. I'd say they're offering young middle-class women and girls of their age - and, crucially, younger - a model for modern feminist living. A lot more to my taste than Ms Herman, if still rather naive.

Which brings us back to Alice Schwarzer. The media have portrayed the young garde as anti-Alice. And if you ask me, there's nothing wrong with kicking over a few statues. I suspect the authors in question aren't quite as black-and-white in their iconoclasm as many people think, as this "peer review" would suggest.

But Alice was awarded the Ludwig Börne Prize yesterday for her combative spirit. And she sent a message out to the "post-girlies", as she calls them: "I am not, with all due respect, dear late girls, going to be toppled." Almost a "This lady's not for turning" from the iron lady of German feminism?

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