VARIETIES OF FEMINISM
German Gender Politics in Global Perspective
By Myra Marx Ferree
Stanford University Press
Copyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.
PRACTICAL THEORY AND THE POLITICS OF GENDER
ON JANUARY 21, 2005, the German parliament (the Bundestag) began discussing a bill to outlaw discrimination in employment, housing, and forms of private contracts. The law would cover discrimination based on gender, skin color, ethnic origin, disability, age, and religion, and it set up a national office to receive complaints and manage statistical information.
But what does it mean to target discrimination in 2005? One might compare the bill to the 1964 civil rights Act in the United states and wonder why it took more than forty years for Germany to get to this point. Another might see it as a response to the European Union (EU), for without Europe-level guidelines prohibiting discrimination and demanding member-state action, would Germany even then be considering such a bill? Yet another might observe that, although lacking antidiscrimination laws, German policy long included a strong constitutional mandate for gender equality. The constitution not only asserts that women and men have equal rights (something the US constitution still lacks) but also mandates the state take steps to realize this equality in practice.
German women are certainly visible as political actors. The government in 2005 was headed by Angela Merkel, the first female chancellor. The proportion of women in the Bundestag has steadily risen since the 1970s; in 2005, before Merkel became chancellor, it stood at 32 percent (twice the Us figures: 16 percent in the House and 14 percent in the senate). German federal states, counties, and municipalities have more than a thousand women's affairs offices charged with advancing women's rights. Gender mainstreaming—scrutiny of public policies for disparate effects on women and men—is institutionalized by federal law.
Among European countries, however, Germany's commitment to gender equality hardly stands out. West Germany had been especially slow in taking measures to enable women to enter the paid labor force, combat stereotypes of women and men or reform family law and social services to be gender neutral. When Sweden and Finland joined the European Union, they succeeded in shifting this more conservative transnational body toward affirming gender equality, mandating "women-friendly" state actions. The EU's resulting directives, along with the incorporation of the different political culture of east Germany, challenged the state to change its approach to women's welfare.
So is Germany a reluctant latecomer to combating discrimination against women, an exemplary case of feminist political leadership, or a middle-of-the-pack European welfare state? I argue that it is all three, and the variation reflects the different ways women understand and pursue their political interests. The diversity of feminist aims and strategies is easiest to recognize when countries face different problems because of the considerable gap in their standard of living, as between the United states and china. Although highly industrialized countries like Germany, other members of the EU, and the United states face similar challenges and have comparable resources to meet them, their gender arrangements and women's movement mobilizations are also quite various—not simply more or less good for women, but good for different women and in different ways. Like the varieties of capitalism that Hall and soskice identified, the varieties of ways that feminism works in different countries matter.
As this book will show, Germany's feminism is premised on political assumptions that stress social justice, family values, and state responsibility for the common good. over generations, compromises between conservatives and social democrats have institutionalized a different set of premises from those of the Us and UK women's movements. The latter privilege liberal individualism and equal rights, and they are often presented as if their politics exemplified feminism overall. comparing German feminism to this more familiar equal rights model, this book explores how the politics of gender and intersections among social justice movements take distinctive forms that reflect core assumptions about the state, gendered citizenship, and individual rights.
Although the archetypical Us case forms a sometimes explicit point of theoretical comparison, the empirical basis of this study is the nonliberal German case. Because most states are not liberal, the frequent equation of feminism with the distinctive shape liberalism gives it may limit appreciation of the challenges and opportunities women's rights struggles face around the world. in other nonliberal contexts, feminists dealing with their own national priorities and institutional opportunities may find parallels to the story of how the German women's movement has developed and changed in interaction with its society and state. The German case is also interesting in itself. following one case over time offers unparalleled opportunities to see historical legacies, path- dependencies, and strategic choices interacting and transforming movement results.
Like the United states and many other countries, Germany had a highly active and visible feminist movement in the 1970s. Yet when I said I was writing a book that would carry the movement's story to the present, many Germans asked, "But is there any women's movement today?" This is a question many Americans might also ask. Where have these women's movements gone, what have they accomplished, and where might we look for them in the present and future? Have different paths really led to the same outcomes?
The changes I trace will help, I hope, to answer these questions and also broader conceptual ones. first, how are material resources and discursive opportunities connected? do shifts in political discourse effect material social change? showing how the class-gender-race intersection works differently in Europe and the United states may help shed light on the consequences the institutionalization of class politics has for gender mobilizations and for equality-difference debates among feminists. second, what happens to movements when some demands are so mainstreamed into politics that they hardly appear as change, but other demands remain too radical to consider? comparing how in Germany a strong antidiscrimination policy still seems radical and in the United states paid leaves for mothers are deemed utopian and out of touch with real-world politics invites the question of what makes any political claim radical.
This book reconsiders the conventional notion of radicalism in politics—which associates it with violence and physical disruption—and in feminism—which associates it with hostility (often to men), anger (rather than hope), and (exclusively) unconventional forms of politics. I argue that radicalism is relational, a specific type of challenge to the politics of a particular time and place. That which is radical stands at the margins, conflicts with institutionalized patterns of power, and in the long or short term undermines the pattern itself. When radical change happens, underlying political relationships change: women become citizens, states take responsibility for popular welfare, and family formation becomes a matter of individual choice rather than kin advantage. Whether abruptly or incrementally, a fundamental transformation occurs—and becomes invisible. The new world that seemed alien and disturbing now appears to be the ordinary, natural arrangement of things.
Because systems of power differ, so do these transformative challenges. This book looks at how arrangements of political power are naturalized, exploring the close connection between feminist movements and national politics. Material legacies of movement mobilizations in the form of institutional resources matter, but so do the discursive legacies that define the questions politics should answer, making some seem common sense and others absurdly radical. To the extent Germany has a less-told story of feminist change, it provides fewer taken-for-granted expectations and more opportunities to see alternative paths, taken or not.
Although focused on the development of the women's movement in Germany, this book offers moments of comparative reflection on alternatives in other contexts to highlight the effects of strategic choice and institutional embedding. The division of Germany into east and West after World War ii offers one such contrast. The selective appropriation of ideas and strategies that flow transnationally among movements is another indication of how feminisms respond to their contexts. contrasts with the United states provide American readers with an opportunity to reflect on their own assumptions, while offering Germans and others skeptical of liberalism a different lens on how its claims may be radically transformative.
The book focuses on what is and is not recognizable, achievable, and actually won by and for feminist politics in Germany, but my aim is to illuminate more general processes of feminist transformation. The differences among systems as to which claims are radical and realizable emphasize politics as a struggle rooted in historically developed material and cultural conditions.
The German case is distinctive in several ways. Most importantly for my argument, Germany is not a liberal state. Many of the ideas Americans find obvious, such as the central role of individual rights and equal economic opportunity in allowing women full participation in all the goods society offers, owe their prominence to the dominance of liberal political philosophy. Liberalism has not played as important a role in Germany as in the United states or even Britain. German politics has drawn on both conservative views of patriarchal authority and social democratic ideals of justice to forge a social welfare state that prioritizes family support and the social reproduction of the nation. This difference in the material and cultural meanings of the nation-state shapes the work cut out for feminists. Thinking about a nonliberal political context offers a way to theorize the differences in the struggles faced by women's movements around the world.
Germany is not a dominantly social democratic state like Sweden, nor an insistently secular one like France. After World War ii, West Germany called itself a "social market economy," but the principles guiding its development owed more to Christian conservatism than to social democracy, and east Germany was created as a communist state. German social democrats have been more organized and influential than classical free-market liberals, but they have more often than not been in the political opposition; explicitly Christian parties led the government in the West, and authoritarian socialism dominated in the east. Policies that encouraged women's paid work and reduced the gender wage gap were much more difficult to realize in West Germany than in its Nordic neighbors, and east German policies that embraced gender-equality goals were discredited by their association with repressive government. The German struggle over a balance between religiously based conservatism and social democracy provides a model for thinking about feminism in many parts of the world. Where social democrats are presumed to be an ally, many of the priorities and struggles in women's movement politics will be affected in ways that are unfamiliar, and hence neglected, in American theorizing about political mobilizations.
Germany is also a federal state. its central government is limited in many ways, and its states have different traditions. in particular the states that were part of the formerly communist German democratic republic (GDR) are more secular and ambivalent about socialist legacies. They are now subordinate to a larger, more prosperous, powerful Western section that kept the name, nearly all the laws, and the self-concept of the federal republic (FRG). The West invested massively in transforming the east, but the eastern states are still facing more poverty, losing population, and struggling over political identity more than two decades after unification in 1991. Unification has been a vast natural experiment in the effects of political culture and institutions over time.
No less important is the religious difference between north and south. Germany, like the Netherlands, has not committed itself to being a secular state, so both catholic and Protestant churches have institutional influence. Catholics dominate in the south and the Rhineland, and Protestants in the center and north, but most people, especially in the East, rarely darken church doors. Germany, like many other European countries, struggles with assimilation of immigrants and accommodation of religious and cultural differences. Rethinking what it means to be a full citizen of the German state is complicated by its regional and immigrant diversity, interpreted through the lens of its history of dictatorships, division, and war.
Like twenty-six other European states, Germany also is part of the European Union, indeed its largest and richest member. The EU is less than a state but more than an international organization. As a transnational body, it has been steadily widening and deepening membership since its origins in the postwar economic recovery of the 1950s. its rules about gender equality and interpretations of what its members can and must do to be gender-fair have a large and growing impact. Both member-states like Germany and the global networks in which German and European feminists participate are ever more influenced by EU-level gender politics. German variation among its federal states and its membership in a "female-friendly" EU gender regime provide important resources for thinking about the interaction among the many levels of political choice, from local to transnational, that define feminist agendas.
Thus no one would call Germany typical, but its policy paths and feminist struggles are also familiar. equality and difference, autonomy and exclusion, participation and representation challenge women's movements around the world. Liberal political pressures at the transnational level, social democratic parties with influence in government, and cross-cutting interests by religion, ethnicity, and regional and individual economic position are hardly unique to Germany. readers familiar with women's movements in other countries will surely see conditions and choices in this story that echo those found elsewhere. Although this book does not claim to be a comparative study, each chapter explicitly engages with examples of such parallels and differences.
Moreover, Germany is certainly not isolated from the rest of the world, and transnational flows of ideas and individuals are highly relevant, as later chapters will discuss. But looking closely at one specific case offers opportunities to see how the prism of local history bends nonlocal influences into particular patterns that vary over place and time. American influences may loom large at times, but their Americanness is more visible to Germans than to Americans, whether as part of their appeal or as a reason for rejection. The shifting global balance of power, in which liberal institutions are growing but American-style feminism is no longer the trendsetter, is both cause and consequence of changes in what German and other national women's movements embrace.
Because this is a story of change, it is not a finished story. The struggles depicted here produce institutional and discursive outcomes that will be used again as tools for later struggles. The chapters approach the story semichronologically, with thematic stresses showing how developments influence those that follow. I argue that social justice movements are forms of politics best understood as emergent—tipped and turned by choices and strategies that continue to interact—and intersectional—drawing gender, race, class, ethno-national, and other justice struggles into relationship.
RELATIONAL REALISM AS A PRACTICAL THEORY OF FEMINISM
I detour here to present the concepts that inform this analysis. This overview also locates the emergence and intersectionality of social movements in a broader perspective on gender that I call relational realism, a way of approaching gender relations as part of a complex, multilevel system.
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