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Opinion: Why 2018 is the year of the woman

Susanne Lenz-Gleissner
January 10, 2018

#MeToo has sparked a heated debate that runs the gamut: from Oprah Winfrey's appeal for women's rights to Catherine Deneuve's admonition to moderation. Finally, a debate about sexism, says DW's Susanne Lenz-Gleissner.

USA  #MeToo Protest in Hollywood
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Ralston

Two unrestrained male chauvinists shook me awake. Donald Trump with his "locker room talk": "Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything," and Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who, as the unscrupulous king of the casting couch, set the #MeToo debate aflame.

Suddenly, it was once again impossible to overlook: Open sexism and malicious contempt for women are still common patterns of behavior even in the Western world.

I had repressed this, for many years, like many other women. We arranged ourselves accordingly. We used to be so encouraged by the women's movement, so angry at the macho guys who blatantly harassed us, so clearly against the stereotypes that kept us small.

A new image of women, courtesy of Patti Smith and Nina Hagen

"Why should I fulfill my duty as a woman? For whom? For them? For you? For me? I have no desire to fulfill my duty. Not for you. Not for me. I have no duty." Nina Hagen captured my attitude in 1978 with her song "Indescribably Female," which brought my feelings towards life to a head. I was 16 and felt electrified.

I'll never forget the legendary live performance of Patti Smith on the German TV program "Rockpalast" a year later: a casual bandleader in a suit and boots, confidently reciting her rebellious songs, shouting into the microphone, whispering, murmuring: A woman exposed herself for who she was — rough, real, wild.

Hagen and Smith — two women who, at the end of the 1970s, radically changed the image of women in the Federal Republic of Germany. A Germany where, until 1977, women still needed their husbands' permission to work.

Susanne Lenz-Gleißner
Susanne Lenz-Gleissner is deputy director of DW's culture departmentImage: John London

"Sisters are doing it for themselves, standing on their own two feet, and ringing on their own bells." This powerful hymn by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin was our credo in the 1980s.

We had fought for the advancement of women, for day care spots, for parental benefits and much more. We felt emancipated and we checked that box off.

We didn't notice for a long time how old patterns crept in again. Pink Barbie worlds conquered girls' bedrooms again. And more recently, with the enormous success of Heidi Klum's casting show "Germany's Next Top Model" that started in 2006, a critical questioning of female beauty ideals was clearly out. The digital revolution promoted the viral undermining of the supposedly enlightened consciousness.

A more radical feminism in the new century

Since 2013, there's been a video on YouTube that's been clicked nearly a billion times. In the music video clip for "Wrecking Ball," a nearly-naked and gaunt Miley Cyrus rides atop a swinging wrecking ball.

Although the singer regrets that performance today, young women are starving themselves with greater frequency, suffering from eating disorders more today than they had a decade ago. Even the writer Laurie Penny, who refreshed feminism with radical turns-of-phrase such as "meat market," suffered from anorexia as a 17-year-old. Today the British feminist lays the patriarchal mechanisms underpinning the pretty façades in the Western world bare.

Equality? Not exactly!

It's no wonder; for thousands of years the division of gender roles in every aspect of our lives have been passed down among generations, ingrained into our consciousness and subconscious.

A century ago, women in Germany won the right to vote. But today women still earn less and have to pay more for similar products.

We are in the clear minority in politics, business and culture. We are not equal in the Western world either. Not really. Not yet. Trump, Weinstein and others have startled us.

The "Time's Up" campaign by women in the film industry is also an important signal. It shows: The time of repression is over. We woke up, we are looking closely — and we continue to fight. 2018 is the year of the woman!

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