Female State Leaders: Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Finland recently made headlines for inaugurating a government consisting of five female party leaders. Female state leaders are however still relatively uncommon despite growing evidence that female leadership improves political decision-making processes.1 The following is a brief look into the world’s female heads of state and government and an outline of some central aspects affecting women’s rise to leadership.   By: Sunniva Mowatt Storm, Internasjonale studier Illustration: Victoria Hamre  Female leadership and gender … Les mer

“Hey fellow males, be critical of your gender!”

We are still all affected by gender inequality and the negative behavior that is a result of it. Even if you claim to be in favor of gender equality and women*1 liberation in a pro feminist sphere, you are still affected. Therefore, it is important to recognize the images of genders constructed by society! You just can’t ignore the effects of the social construction and norms of gender, the images connected to them and the resulting internalization of sexism.  

By: Joel Hankiewicz, Political Science  

You’re not safe from sexist behavior 

Strg_F (a journalistic team from Germany) found out that a man had installed cameras in the toilets of a festival called “Monis Rache” and uploaded the videos of women* on a porn page, so they published an article on that topic. A scandal arose as he was also part of the team organizing the event, which explicitly calls itself left-wing and pro feminist. But how did they react and how should they have reacted? The identity of the person was known even before the report, and they reacted months later, after it was published. They didn’t go to the police and didn’t ask the victims if they needed support. Some say they protected the sexual predator and thus reproduced the sexist behavior of the patriarchy. A male person (in a left-wing, feminist context) can film women* without the organizing team taking any action or being self-critical. 

There was also another similar scandal, but with a different behavior from the organizing team. Last year at the Fusion festival (the biggest left-wing and pro feminist festival in Germany), a camera was installed in the showers and the videos where uploaded to a porn page. The Fusion festival’s organizing committee only found out due to an anonymous e-mail. They went directly to the police to file a lawsuit and created an e-mail domain to which affected people and victims could write to. Furthermore, they deleted all the videos and want to create a support meeting where they try to help the victims. Also, they tried everything to stop this toxic behavior and the sexual assaults. It is not yet known if the offender of both incidents is the same person.  

But it shows that sexual assault and toxic masculinity take place everywhere and can be perpetrated by anyone, and that is why we should support the feminist movement and be critical of our own masculinity and behavior! 

Still a male dominated world 

We live in a male dominated society, also known as patriarchy. In a world where hegemonic power is based on masculinity and the representation of it. There are many examples to prove it, like women* often still earning less money than their male coworkers (gender pay gap) or the dominance of males working in executive positions. But it is not just about the public sphere: it starts with men not taking women* seriously in discussion, because they think they’re “hysterical”. Furthermore, men often feel entitled to judge a woman* by her* looks. What about a night out? I have never been harassed in a club and I party a lot, but if I go out with female* friends, there is always at least one creep trying to approach them in an uncomfortable way, either by touching her or with sexist remarks. And what happens after a woman* has been sexually assaulted? Many voices in society blame her and not the predator! “The personal is political” is a common phrase from second-wave feminist groups to differentiate themselves from a liberal understanding of feminism, where equality is achieved only in the public sphere. If you understand gender as a social construct, it is important to understand the interdependence between the public sphere, the private sphere and the impact on your daily life. We are all socialized in our gender roles and thus internalize some attributes connected to them. However, these attributes are not natural or unchangeable! The term “doing gender” by Candace West and Don Zimmermann describes gender not as an attribute you have, but as an act you do daily. The dichotomous differentiation between male and female* is everywhere and influences every aspect of life. 

Why you shouldn’t claim feminism while being male 

One big paradox that should not be underestimated is the feminist discourse for itself. Male domination is seen by society as something “neutral” and “objective” that doesn’t need any explanation. Therefore, we subconsciously connote gender with certain attributes. Those “male attributes” are for example to be strong, powerful and justified. On the other hand, “female* attributes” are submissive. When I’m talking about masculinity and “male attributes” I’m not talking about the accumulation of all men, I’m talking about the idealization and an image of what it means to be a man and what you need to be seen as “manly”. The power shift constructs itself in the social relation between the genders. These relations have led to the fact that society values the opinion of the male over the female*, even in feminist discourse. 

There is a big need to support alternative perceptions on masculinity and to reduce sexist behavior. 

If a male considers himself as a “feminist” or “pro feminist” he is most likely more accepted or even applauded by society, than if a woman* does it, thus a sexist way of thinking is reproduced. Even though it isn’t their fault, this is the reason why males shouldn’t claim feminism for themselves. Also, males tend to talk themselves out of their toxic behavior by claiming to be feminists. There are other ways to be supportive: help women* articulate their interests, support their needs, but don’t try to speak for them or be in the frontline if not asked to do so. Equality in history meant seeing the man as a norm, but I think this is unfair. So, we should all be critical about our own gender and about our own behavior and the privileges that come with being male. 

Critical masculinity to support Feminism 

To start off, we must understand what it “means to be a man”. There is a strict definition of this and the images of it as described in the previous paragraph. Of course, these “attributes” differ from context to context, but they share one important similarity: the “guidelines” on how to be a man. Therefore, they naturalize these ways of behaving, which in turn harm men as well as other genders! Masculinity creates a form of hierarchy to differentiate itself from other genders, but also within a group of men. This structure creates the phenomenon called toxic masculinity. Because of this, men are not allowed to share their weaknesses and they must compensate with violence against themselves, or towards other men and women*.  

Therefore, we need a critical approach to this topic which is called “critical masculinity”. First, it is important to make those images of masculinity, those instructions and the resulting toxic behavior visible. There is a big need to support alternative perceptions on masculinity and to reduce sexist behavior. To achieve that, we have to be critical of ourselves, our friends and of male behavior in general, because every male has toxic aspects. But this isn’t about guilt! It is about recognition, and the learning process reduces sexist behavior. As I already said, there is no power free space in our society, because we’re all socialized by social norms and thus it is even more important to start in one’s own environment. This could mean calling out a friend if he is doing something wrong, criticizing your group of friends or another association if you have the feeling it is toxic or just talking to a person if you see they have a problematic behavior. But the most important part is to protect the victim and not the predator of a sexual assault! It can happen everywhere at any time – we’re all affected by toxic masculinity. 

Further readings: 

Bourdieu, Pierre (2005): Die männliche Herrschaft. Suhrkamp. Frankfurt am Main. 

Moser, A. (2010). Kampfzone Geschlechterwissen: Kritische Analyse populärwissenschaftlicher Konzepte von Männlichkeit und Weiblichkeit. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften / GWV Fachverlage GmbH, Wiesbaden. 

Lindahl, Björn (2019): Norway: Gender pay gap remains, but influence is slightly up, 12.04.2019. in Nordic Labour Journal. Verfügbar unter: http://www.nordiclabourjournal.org/nyheter/news-2019/article.2019-04-11.3066164563 [14.02.2020].  

o.V.: Was ist kritische Männlichkeit? Verfügbar unter:https://kritische-maennlichkeit.de/was-ist-kritische-maennlichkeit/ [14.02.2020]. 

Schwarz, Carolina (2020): (K)ein Ort für sexualisierte Gewalt, 04.02.2020. in TAZ. Verfügbar unter: https://taz.de/Spannervideos-bei-Fusion-Festival/!5658019/ [14.02.2020]. 

Samfunnsviter’n er en politisk uavhengig avis, og er derfor ikke ansvarlig for innhold i meningsartikler. Eventuelle henvendelser tas direkte med skribenten.

The Overkilling of Feminism

Hollywood is flooding the world’s cinemas with blockbusters featuring all-powerful female replicas of iconic, male characters. While the industry seems to have run out of interesting stories to tell, this trend does little to make popular cinema a valuable contribution to gender equality or society in general. Rather, it is rendering itself irrelevant as a field of social commentary and tool of social evolution. 

By: Cecilie Lilleaas, Master in Peace and Conflict Studies 

Can you think of someone who did not enjoy Ocean’s 1112 and 13? Probably not, unless they really do not like heist movies at all. Most of us have, however conflicted it may be, a relationship to James Bond. If someone mentions Terminator, we know they are talking about a monstrously large bodybuilder turned governor by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Batman and SupermanGhostbusters and Karate Kid amaze new and old generations still. What are their common denominators? They are films that have impacted on the popular definitions of ‘hero’ and ‘genius’ – traditionally meaning men with above average muscle power and/or ingenious skills, who sooner or later employ that skillset to do something cool, admirable and/or brave. 

Obvious Recycling 

Eventually, an awareness that the women in these movies played the parts of more or less attractive and cumbersome accessories must have registered with someone behind the wheel. This realization has over time led to an increased attention, even in male-dominated Hollywood, to how one presents female characters on screen. For some, this may have presented itself as an opportunity to explore a whole new set of themes and for others, provided newfound inspiration to produce new movies for cinema. But alas, some clever clogs figured it would be much more profitable to remake all those male-led classics with women instead. Add on the label of finally aiming for long sought-after equality in a film industry overrun by white, balding men in all their departments, and it could even be advertised as ‘female empowerment’.  

There has been surprisingly little critical evaluation of what it entails to force women into male roles and label it ‘gender equality’.

Thus, the audience were offered Ocean’s 8, another Ghostbusters, the tv-series Supergirl

Terminator: Dark Fate, and so on. And we can look forward to a female James Bond and Band of Brothers. Many have applauded this evolution of events. Post-#metoo, few are left with any illusions about this industry’s relationship to its female workforce, and any improvement can be seen as positive. On the other hand, there has been surprisingly little critical evaluation of what it entails to force women into male roles and label it ‘gender equality’. 

An Imitation Game 

The values and behaviour so prized in the traditional, gritty action movies are usually a reflection of a particular form of strength; the no-nonsense (read: feelings and such uncomfortable, feminine stuff), physical, aggressive, controlled and rational kind.  The fact that women were being offered these roles was a true change. It showed that just the idea of women being capable of violence and aggression was not ridiculous anymore. However, this was about all that changed. Those who expected a deeper change, maybe even blockbusters that showed other kinds of strength in both male and female characters, must remain disappointed.  

Somehow, the only change that took place was the sex of the character, and any portrayal of how both men and women may be more multidimensional than the classic strong-man-who-struggles-with-feelings-but-is-a-cool-killing-machine stayed conspicuously absent. Women were allowed to adopt a range of characteristics usually reserved for the male gender, and state that: ‘finally, we’re strong too – finally we’re equal’. However, feminism is the belief in equal rights and opportunities for men and women, not in equal results. Hollywood seem to be under the impression that feminism is about replacing the patriarchy with a matriarchy – or, perhaps more simply they have reached the creative limits of white, male Hollywood-directors pushing 70, and found that recycling was a better option than innovation. 

Elusive Complexity 

These female characters who shoot, punch and kill their way to the end of the plot can be entertaining enough to watch, and the point is not that women cannot or should not have roles like these – there are just so many of them, and so few of those stories tell something different. Not to mention countless examples of how the complexity and strength of female characters from books are butchered in the movie adaptations. Cinema will probably never go back to a time in which the quality and originality of the film decides whether it makes it to the big screen. The primary motivations behind what movies are made, where they are distributed and how they are advertised are concerned most with dollars, and least with creativity, art and social enlightenment. In other words, there are obvious and legitimate grounds to question whether the sudden enthusiasm among Hollywood-producers for women with big guns and jiujitsu moves represents any substantial form of female empowerment. 

There is at least a general agreement among those who care that feminism, equality and female empowerment is about creating space for more diversity. A creative industry with a wish to improve on these dimensions would then do well to come up with a more broad set of cultural products reflecting a range of different experiences, feelings and predicaments, with a range of different women and men – regarding gender, class and race, but also with a variety of values, behaviours, thoughts, dreams and needs. Is the old boys’ club of filmmaking open to recruitment only to those women who agree with their take on equality, feminism and what constitutes an exciting movie? 

Clearly struggling to make independent movies about women, movies that do not have to place women on the shoulders of or in the shadow of male icons, the film industry signals that a story about women independent of men is unsellable, uninteresting and unworthy of cinema screens.

All in all, the goal of improving gender equality by the film industry’s leaders and power holders should indicate a substantial effort to give their audience complex, multidimensional characters – male and female alike. Contrary to present efforts, it should entail a halt to the recycling of old formulas and instead embrace the creation of new ones to a larger extent. Cringy, all-too-obvious powerpuff scenes (ref. Avengers: Endgame) where women fight the way men have traditionally been thought to fight, or creating female copies of a male character who carries an even bigger gun than the original – of course, to save another damsel in distress – is not going to cut it.  

The Missing Link 

Equality could mean re-defining strength and developing a more reflected view of heroism and courage. History does not lack sources of inspiration when it comes to stories of strong, heroic or ingenious women, even if they do not fit into the limited ‘male’ blueprint. And as for that blueprint, it leaves much to desire when it comes to presenting men as beings with more than three feelings and two hard-hitting fists.  

Clearly struggling to make independent movies about women, movies that do not have to place women on the shoulders of or in the shadow of male icons, the film industry signals that a story about women independent of men is unsellable, uninteresting and unworthy of cinema screens. This devaluation of ‘feminine’ experiences comes at the expense of both genders, as it limits presentations of men with broader physical, emotional and mental skillsets. Arguably, it deprives the audience of valuable learning too, as many defining moments in history have involved ‘invisible’ women – especially in violent conflicts.  

Without portraits with more depth, this ‘revolution’ will be little more than a shallow, artificial form of political correctness. Quite contrary to the stated aim of empowering women, it disempowers all. Popular cinema’s potential is reduced to reinforcing outdated stereotypes about male and female abilities and qualities. The overkilling of feminism alienates both the female audience, who are offered distant ideals, and a male audience, who are offered the same characters as always – just with the rather minor difference of an alternative set of reproductive organs.