Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gratuitous Amounts of Cute

First thing on my Christmas List this year:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Feminist on the Road

I'm part of a panel discussion tomorrow on Feminism at home and abroad, and I'm a little stumped as to what I am going to talk about.

Last year, as awesome as it was in so many ways, was a distinctly unfeminist time in my life.

I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out just why this was, and I've suffered quite a bit of guilt about it, both as it was going on and now that I'm back in my
ueber-feminist sphere here at the College. To be clear, I did not cease to be a feminist or to comport myself in a feminist manner, but very little of my experience there was felt with the same feminist passion that I have always had.The most obvious answer is that, particularly while I was in England, I was going through too much personal turmoil to really dedicate the same amount of energy to feminism as I usually do. Ironically, most of the specifically feminist things that I did abroad were done in England: Reclaim the Night, the Nottingham Women's Network, a class on women's history in Russia (at least that's what I did both my presentation and my essay on), and just simply the act of traveling alone on so many occasions. These things did not mean a whole lot to me. What stands out about my time at Nottingham now is a feeling of quiet and solitude, of introspection. I didn't spend my days staring meditatively out a window, not by a long shot. But I never did connect with much there, and given what I was going through - losing my grandmother, the death of my best friend's mother, worrying about my little brother - maybe that's not surprising. I wasn't myself. I had a good time, and without a doubt I felt better in England that I would have in Charleston, but I was too wrapped up in grief to feel the same excitement that I always thought I would when studying abroad, or indeed about much at all. Susanne is the exception, most likely because she was going through much the same thing. We helped each other heal, and we also made sure we were having as much fun as we were ready for, but a lot of that fun was sitting on her bed watching Friends or The Tudors and eating gummy bears and not the typical exchange student pursuits.

By the time I got to Germany, and also because of my experience there, I felt a lot better. I was excited. I got a chance to do it over again, in a new place with new people (and best of all, I got to keep Susanne). I was already connected to Germany in very personal ways, and I knew from the beginning how big a difference that would make. Time had passed, a
nd while it certainly doesn't heal all wounds, they get a little easier to handle. I've talked at length about the amazing friends I made in Tuebingen, and everyone who meets me can be in no doubt as to how much I loved the place itself - a visit to my room will reveal not only photos, a German flag, and beer glasses, but also a rather large poster of the city itself. Yet Germany was an even less feminist experience than England. I didn't even travel a whole lot, and even when I did, I was never alone. I was a sponge, more concerned with just soaking up everything I came across than processing it. I don't think this is a bad way to approach a new culture, but it does admittedly represent a departure from my usual approach to nearly everything. The reasons for my lack of feminism in England don't totally apply in the case of Germany, though, so I've had to think even harder to figure it out. I realized that my friends were feminists. The classes I took talked about men AND women. I was almost never objectified in the everyday ways we are used to in this country. The fact is, my time in Germany wasn't really less feminist, but I didn't have to work as hard. I had the same conversations, but they were generally short because we all agreed - of course women should be paid equal, abortion should be legal, women shouldn't have to shave if they don't want to, und so weiter. I lived my life the same way, but it didn't bother anybody. Feminism wasn't a fight. Today, this fact was highlighted by this chart:According the the World Economic Forum, the US lags in all areas of gender equality (except higher education, which is something to think about), and many of the countries ahead of us are ones we have often labeled Third World. Germany's not at the top of the list, but it's a lot higher than we are. The honest truth is that a lot of what feminists in this country have been fighting tooth and nail for is old news in Germany. I could go into the history behind that fact, but this post is already running so long. I'll just give the most obvious evidence: Angela Merkel. However I feel about her politics, her presence on the world stage is a big deal, and it says a lot about where women stand in Deutschland.

I've written to much to close elegantly, but, as difficult as it has been to work through my experience objectively, I think I've hit the nail on the head. And I was honestly glad for a break. I don't like being angry all the time, and giving feminism some space was ultimately a great way to recharge emotionally, academically, and politically.

Monday, November 9, 2009

20 Jahre Mauerfall

I haven't written in months, clearly, but I felt that even the course of my uneventful non-studying-abroad life, I would be remiss if I didn't note today -- 20 years after the day when East met West for the the first time in 40 years.

Brezhnev and Honecker share a moment.

The Fall of the Wall back in '89 was one of the most important events of the 20th century, and not just for Germany. Within a year, Germany was once again united, and by 1990, the Soviet Union had collapsed. What I find astonishing is that, after 40 years of separation and Cold War, this revolution was peaceful. It began quietly, but by the end of the night, the world was changed and at least this one particular form of oppression was shattered. That it happened without bloodshed is an all-to-rare testament of the capacity of humanity for peace.

There are still problems. One of the debates going on when I was there this summer had to do with Social Security being paid to East Germans who had not contributed their own money to the system, and this is just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the challenges of turning two countries into one. "Ostalgie," or nostalgia for the East, persists, and despite our Western/Capitalist bias over here, I can understand it. Worldwide, the question remains: who is responsible for Wiedervereinigung? The answers continue to reflect the hostilities of the Cold War, as they generally look to Reagan or Gorbachev (that "or" is important, because of course it couldn't have been both). Despite these, the vast majority of the population agrees that Reunification was a good thing, and Germans and the rest of the world have worked hard in the intervening two decades to reshape Europe and learn from their Cold War histories.

I'm by no means an expert, but I am trying to understand the impact both of separation and reunification in Germany. It's complicated. But I think we should use this anniversary as an opportunity to take stock of the state of the world and reevaluate our progress. In twenty years, the world has become a drastically different place, but the old wounds haven't healed. In order to move forward, we have to look back.

I'll close with a quote from the German newspaper Die Welt today:

"Die Mauer sei jedoch 'nicht gefallen.' 'Sie wurde eingedrueckt. Von Menschen, und zwar von Osten nach Westen. Sie wurde umgestuerzt, abgetragen niedergerissen, in einer friedlichen Revolution.'" (Guido Westerwelle, Die Welt)

If we take nothing else from today, I hope it will at least be a reminder that change isn't passive. People are responsible for the evil in the world, but they are also responsible for overthrowing it. As Westerwelle said, the wall didn't fall.