When men talk about no woman’s land


Dear men,

You will find numerous letters from feminists addressed to men out there, but this was never supposed to be one of them. First, I want to apologize to those of you who want to fight for gender equality but do not know how. Who do not identify with the definition of masculinity that has been forced upon them; a role they were assigned to in a play they never wanted to be part of. Whose outcries of support feel like unnoticed sentences put in brackets, placed in the middle of a never-ending book written by men centuries ago.

You have been taught that tough, successful, non-emotional, sporty and the colors dark grey and black are masculine, just as I was taught that pink, sweet, thin, tanned, hairless and hungry are feminine. We were both exposed to a culture claiming that girls just wanna have fun rather than fundamental rights. A culture that misses out on sharing with men the right words to support feminism. “I see the unfair treatment at the cost of women, but I have never felt it myself. I have always been a man. Can I call myself a feminist, or am I more of an ally?”, I was asked lately, and I did not have an answer. Dear men, I want to apologize but I do not feel sorry. Because honestly, patriarchy might be carried on the shoulders of all genders but is fostered by men.

Instead, I am writing this letter to you. A letter attempting to hand over a megaphone to those men, who raise their voices for women and their rights.

Initially, I did not significantly care about these male voices. Inspired by International Women’s Day, I found myself on the search for empowering female role models whose stories I wanted to hear and share. You see, when little girls dare to open their eyes and look outside the windows of their safe and loving home, it soon dawns on them that the public sphere is a no-woman’s land. I could find no female CEOs, no scientists, no innovators presented in the media for example; only models, singers and actors. Women whose job is to either look sexually attractive, or entertain, or pretend to be someone they are not. Who try to  “hold up with this insane, new measure of beauty in this world which is porn and fashion and photoshop mixed up in one”, as Eva DeVirgilis at TEDxRVAWomen puts it.

So, after decades of being socialized to starve myself in order to be like those “role models”, I was hungry for real sources of female inspiration. That was the plan: to find strong women and interview them. Surprisingly, most of the recommendations that echoed back to my call came from you. From men admiring women. Curious about their female role models, I reached out to those men and found them at places where change happens: in film, politics and education. What follows is our conversation about no woman’s land, feminism and female sources of inspiration.


Gernot

Gernot BöhmGernot Böhm is a cinematographer and filmmaker. Together with his business partner Anna Zemann they founded Arrow Films and specialize in conceptual films branded documentaries and content based web-series.

The female role models in his life

There are a lot of women in my environment that I consider to be role models, and as different as they may be, they have one personality trait in common: they do not allow anyone to dictate them what to do or not to do. My mum, for example, was always told to not become a nurse- but she did. My business partner was never deterred by the fact that the film industry is mainly man dominated, she simply wanted to produce film and that’s exactly what she did. The same applies to my wife, who disregards social conventions and goes for the things she is passionate about. I find this very inspiring, because I see how women have to face and overcome obstacles in life just in order to reach the starting point that man are given freely. The emotional cost this brings, it must be wearing! It impresses me every time when I see women brushing it off.

Female role models in the public sphere and ways to support feminism

As a film creator I can clearly see the role of the media industry in this issue. Men make media, and by this they communicate messages that are not representing the female perspective. Hence, stereotypes at the cost of women are produced and spread to younger generations. We should attempt to build more diverse teams by including people from different genders and backgrounds in the decision making process. Moreover, women should be presented in film just as they are in real life: having a saying, independent and following their passion. At our company, it is Anna who writes the stories and her input makes them unique and complex. I also recommend to animation movie Ralph breaks the internet. It tackles the claim of male ownership over women. It depicts a boy who struggles with the idea of losing his best female friend because she wants to leave him and follow her dream.

What else can we do to support feminism? We can start saying women around us: „Do your thing.” Such a small reminder can make a huge difference.


John

The female role models in his life

John Cox is a British Political consultant and Campaign strategist, who has worked at all levels of UK politics for over ten years in over 3 general elections and 2 referendum and numerous other campaigns. As a pro-European John left the UK to live in Austria and start a cross-continent campaigns consultancy and has thus far worked in the Balkans at national level, bolstering peaceful pro-democratic campaigns in cultures that have previously experienced conflict.

I have never known any politician that had to take more harassment and abuse than British politician Rupa Huq, MP for Ealing Central and Acton. I see many men complaining about their behavior towards women being called sexist and hurtful. “Why was she offended by this, it is only words“, they claim. In Rupa’s case, she is a single British secular Muslim mother of Bangladeshi descent and a woman; all of which she has been abused for. She receives numerous hate messages including threats, to her and her family, but she just brushes them off. At the same time, she has to face veiled and clear racist comments coming from the political opponents. You know, during the last election campaign two terrorist attacks happened, and she stood there, trying to be sensitive about the topic but also keep things going and working hard, relentlessly. And the worst thing? Her mother died during the election. I was there helping to arrange the funeral, and watched how she accepted her sadness, packed it away and kept functioning, knowing that she will have to prioritize and find a better moment to deal with it later. I have no words for how I admire that Tenacity. In that moment I thought, i she can get past this, so can I with issues I face.

The second one is one of my best friends Emily Collins-Ellis. She is a brilliant and outspoken person, and the reason I began engaging with feminism at the first place. She taught me to listen to the subjective boundaries each and everyone has. Because the world is a subjective place, we cannot handle it as an objective one; that your intentions don’t excuse your outputs by definition. Emily is the ultimate social and moral compass; if you have emotional baggage or problems, after talking to her you will have a plan or feel better or have a clearer mindset.

Female role models in the public sphere and ways to support feminism

We need to acknowledge and encourage feminism, especially all women who raise above the system and try to improve it. For them it is like taking part at a race, while being forced to carry weights. But at the same time I find myself still struggling with a lot of questions. Especially when engaging with the matter of toxic masculinity, it is hard to open up and talk about it without offending other men. What are men afraid to lose?


Christoph

Christoph is an elementary school teacher. Passionate about music as he is, he also performs regularly as a DJ side by side with his colleague and friend Hanna.

The female role models in his life

My elementary teacher. She was kind and attentive and she liked me- I guess this was enough for me to like her back. Guess what I became? An elementary teacher (laughs). And of course, my mother. My mum is such a sunshine! She is so delightful and laughs often and always finds a way to comfort people. She is a very helpful person, too. Back in the 80ies during the war in Yugoslavia, refugees weren’t very welcome unfortunately. Still, I remember my mum inviting the refugees living in our neighborhood over for coffee, and I would play with their children outside. I barely understood a word of what they were saying- but playing kids don’t care about language. She also always supports other women around her that go through tough times like sickness or divorce. And one day, she was waiting at her doctor’s office when a refugee woman holding a baby and a little boy weren’t accepted, instead sent away without a word. Of course, my mum noticed and started arguing with the receptionist, eventually being so loud that the doctor himself got out asking what is happening. So it turned out that the office didn’t have the appropriate instruments for the kids, they had to get to the hospital. The receptionist just did not bother to send them elsewhere and just wanted them to leave. Well, my mum took the little family first to our place for some drinks and then accompanied them to the hospital. And I remember telling her, Mum you are such a hero!

Female role models in the public sphere and ways to support feminism

Frida Kahlo, Ute Bock, Nina Simone who embedded political messages into her entire career, Rendi Wagner, my 86 year old neighbor (she is not exactly a public figure, but whenever I ask her how she is doing she replies “Great, thank you! Few small complaints here and there, but this I can’t change“, this always makes my day), my DJ colleague Hanna who is so full of energy and positivity) and Greta Thunberg.

As a teacher there are various ways of making an impact: during class president election, we have two positions open, one for a girl and one for a boy. Moreover, pupils can get closer to the matter of feminism and female role models by writing essays or holding presentations. Last but not least, fathers should demonstrate feminism but beyond the private sphere; it is male public figures that can create a greater discourse. Both components are necessary.

To the men I had the pleasure to meet and interview: thank you for being part of our battle against a system that oppresses us on the grounds of our biological sex. Thank you for listening, for trying to find the right words, for spreading feminism to your colleagues, friends and sons. You have understood that fighting for feminism is a major step towards building a more equal society; generation by generation, Women’s Day by Women’s Day.

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About Alina Nikolaou

Raised in Greece and now residing in Vienna, Alina is passionate about humancentric technologies, social change and poetry.

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