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Feminism in Germany

Jennifer AbramsohnJanuary 25, 2007

Germany's feminist flagship magazine, Emma, will turn 30 this weekend. Over the years, both the magazine and its mediagenic founder, Alice Schwarzer, have spent a fair share of time in the spotlight.

Schwarzer: master of publicity, fighter for a causeImage: AP

The first issue of Emma went on sale at newsstands on Jan. 26, 1977. The magazine, written "by women, for women," is inextricably tied to the name and image of Alice Schwarzer, Germany's best-known feminist.

By founding Emma -- to German ears, the name unmistakably evokes the word of "emancipation" -- the well-known journalist provided a nation in the throes of feminist activism with a popular forum for discussing staple women's issues. Abortion, equal rights, pornography and prostitution were all early fodder for the monthly.

Titelseite EMMA Nr. 5 2005
The magazine supported Angela Merkel in her run for office

"Emma was born in the classic political agitation of the 1970s," Schwarzer said, "… and it has managed to develop in a lively and open fashion over the past 30 years."

Key to success: Schwarzer

"Lively and open" may be putting it mildly. Exploiting an uncanny knack for publicity, Schwarzer -- the magazine's publisher, editor and driving force -- has seen to it that the magazine and its topics have never strayed far from the German media spotlight.

"Alice Schwarzer was already Germany's best-known women's rights activists before she began publishing Emma," said Dr. Alexandra Kühte, who published her dissertation on the image of women in Emma two years ago.

"The magazine allowed her to take these topics from the women's movement to a broad public. But the importance of Emma is completely tied to its founder. If she wasn't so prominent, the magazine wouldn't be so successful," Kühte said.

High impact

But despite -- or perhaps because of -- its being so fully tied to one prominent person, Emma's influence on German society has been widely felt over the years. Some of the hotter topics of the late 1970s -- women's rights, women's status in the Catholic Church -- have cooled down, to be replaced by issues like eating disorders, genital mutilation and Islam's treatment of women.

Titelseite EMMA 1977
The first issue of Emma, in 1977

Others issues, like prostitution and pornography (the magazine led a famed "porNO" campaign for years,) remain "constant topics" according to Kühte.

Anyone seeking objective journalism would do well to stay away from Emma. The magazine avoids dry, theoretical discussion and instead infuses its articles with an opinionated, and decidedly activist, stance.

Of sex abuse, "porNO" and equal pay

Emma has kept women's issues at the center of debate because it "was always provocative, it didn't try to fit in with social norms," Kühte said. "It took on emotionally important and polarizing themes and was very dogmatic about it."

Indeed, both Schwarzer and her magazine have made headlines over the years. In 1978, she and nine other women sued the weekly magazine Stern for its sexist cover shots (she lost). In 1978, the magazine also broke a taboo by reporting on sexual abuse, and in the early 1980s it was the first to push the topic of eating disorders out of the home and into the headlines.

Porn Filmfestival in Berlin
Images of women in the media have long been a topic for EmmaImage: rapid eye movies

In 2000, the magazine, which had long agitated for equal rights in the military, celebrated the first woman Bundeswehr soldier.

In the last election cycle, Emma threw its weight behind conservative candidate Angela Merkel -- not for her politics, but for her gender. Germany now has its first Madam Chancellor.

"From the very beginning, we promoted the notion of role models," Schwarzer said.

After 30 years of publishing, what does the future hold for Emma? Schwarzer aims to continue, and there has been joking talk of finding a replacement editor. But many people in Germany share the opinion of Kühte, who says: "Emma without Alice Schwarzer is unimaginable."