“I saw some young girls on TV the other day,” Brigitte tells me. I take out my Italian textbook, turn the pages until I find the homework. Then I nod encouragingly at Brigitte. “Well,” she continues, “I was surprised that they were all convinced they no longer need feminism.” I don’t get the idea yet and so I mumble “Mmh, right, a lot of young women think that way.” Brigitte runs her hands through her hair, which makes her look like a kind, small angel.
“For me, it was different back then. At university, I even had to give presentations on feminism and the women’s movement – that’s how important it was. And today?” Brigitte shakes her head. “A lot of young women think they have all possibilities in the world, that they can achieve everything.” “To them, feminism has become dispensable,” I offer, feeling slightly uncomfortable to be speaking so distantly about the “young women” when I am one myself. Brigitte looks unconvinced. “How is it possible to think we have achieved gender equality when women in Germany still earn 22 percent less than men?” I shrug.
Still the same struggles
Brigitte doesn’t seem to be expecting an answer, for she continues talking: “I did technical studies and worked in male environments all my life.” And, as if needing to defend herself, she continues: “That really wasn’t a problem! All nice colleagues. The guys from the outside were the problem. When I was on business trips with my colleagues, I was often asked if I was the secretary or responsible for the catering.” Brigitte laughs; that is how absurd the situation feels to her even today. “A man would never have been asked that question. I had to earn their respect.” And about the compatibility of career and family? Brigitte’s expression becomes stern: “It was absolutely clear that as a mother you had to cut back in career terms. Nobody was willing to do the family work for you.”
At that moment our Italian teacher enters the room – “Ciao ciao!” Brigitte returns to her place and I’m letting my eyes wander across the room, at the course participants who are all much older than I am. Feminism and weeknight Italian classes at an adult education center obviously have something in common: young people do not care much about them.
While rummaging for my vocabulary book, my head buzzes with questions. Brigitte is over 60 – how come we still have to struggle with the same problems today that she did back then, still have difficulties balancing children and job? And why doesn’t it bother the “young girls” on TV?
And it’s not only about children and career or the pay gap between men and women. It’s about so much more. About sexism. About the fight against gender stereotypes. About equal opportunities. About the potential to be the person you want to be. How can feminism not matter, when it is the key to more equality and freedom?
The Italian word for “key” is chiave, by the way.
_If this text needed a soundtrack, this would be it: “The Indelicates – Our Daughters Will Never Be Free”:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJUk07468v0_