Courage to Power:
Women in the Political Process

1. All stocktaking and analyses ( not only ) from the women's movement (and not only ) those stemming from the past twenty years arrive - with a few differences on specific questions - at the conclusion that our world, as it looks today, is the result of the political activities of men. Even the growing number of outstanding women in prominent positions - on whom we can and should be proud! - cannot obscure the fact that existential decisions - from Maastricht to the Economic Summit, from the Environmental Summit in Rio to the Conference on Yugoslavia in Geneva (to name but a few international examples) are taken by male politicians. This has consequences not only for the role, but also for the status of women.

It means, above all, that in all matters under consideration, planning and decisions for the further development of the world, the experiences and knowledge of half of humanity are not taken into account and are not used. If we follow the effects of mismanagement and war in the world - and here we have daily such a sad opportunity - we become conversant with a facet of world affairs shaped by men: women and children are, in the overwhelming majority, the victims.

And also German internal statistics, as, for example,in the CARITAS documentation on poverty in Germany published at the beginning of September this year, or the data collected regularly by the Federal Agency for Labour Affairs show: women are affected on an above-average basis; unemployment in Germany is also unemployment of women; poverty in Germany is also above-average poverty of women with children.

2. Whoever wants to refer us, in view of these facts, to the principle of hope, according to the well-known motto, we should wait patiently until the well-educated women, existing today, "grow through" into decision-making positions and then it will become evident if we are doing things differently and better,-these people are to be answered:

No! We cannot wait! Because we feel responsible, we must take action, we must take on responsibility.

Women sceptics question, as a rule at this point, who then guarantees that decisions taken by women will be more judicious, better for humanity. No-one can or wants to guarantee that; but above all: no-one can refute it, for until now we have had no opportunity to try it out.

I do not belong to those who believe that women are the better people, the better politicians. It appears to me, however, to be first of all simply "normal" if the abilities of the world are at least determined equally by those "affected", in other words by women and men. This observation is neither new nor presumptuous. We all know social fields from our own experience (or observation) in which proportional representation is already a long-standing,normal practice. So, for example the composition of committees of representatives of "socially relevant groups", or the nomination of candidates for election.

This approach is, as a rule, justified on the basis that different interests and experiences must be taken into consideration in order to reflect the social spectrum as realistically as possible - in fact it concerns, above all the question of power.

3. If we want to have the interests and abilities of women taken into account, we must pose the question of power; we must clarify our relationship to the concept of power. Here, too, there is a standard objection which I would like to examine now, namely: "Then, of course, everyone could come!"

I believe on the other hand: women are not just any population group or lobby. Women are young or old, married or unmarried, mothers or childless, lesbians or not lesbians, handicapped or not handicapped, workers, housewives, unemployed and - even if more seldom - employers. They are, however, in any event, those who are responsible for the family, children, for those in need of care. They are the ones who have concrete experience with living conditions,with town planning, with road traffic and with the cost of living; they are the ones who know and experience,in the most intensive way, every day life in its entirety from household, profession, social work and "big politics".

4. In the many discussions which I have experienced over the past twenty years on the topic "Women and their Relationship to Power", I have learnt that women have a more negative conception of power than men. They associate power with violence, conjure up an apparently insolvable relationship between power and misuse of power; place power with hegemony over others and oppression on the same level. This attitude of repulsion can certainly be explained from past historical experience and finds its parallel also as a central theme in the women's movement: the fight for the self-determination of pregnancy (in Germany §218), the problem of violence within the family, structural violence within our society, which is violence of the rulers against women and children.

The negation of power is,however, also an expression of the avoidance of responsibility, is fear of incrimination which is linked with the assumption of "positions of power" and appears to me to be also the result of unrealistic and exaggerated power phantasies which are projected on male and female politicians and on superiors.

Grimm's dictionary devotes almost nine columns to the concept of the German word "Macht" (which means power in English). It derives from the German verb "mögen" (to like), whose "real meaning is strength" (in German "Kraft"), particularly virile power - so it means first of all biological - and of course male! - and physical power;in the wider sense,however, also "strength, wealth, including the mental or the resources which one has at one's disposal." Hereto a quotation from Kant: " Power is the ability which is superior to major obstacles". For a female understanding of power - who can wonder - not much is to be found in the dictionary which appeared at the end of the last century, apart from the reference to the concept of "motherly power".

5. We must, therefore, clarify our relationship to power in so far as we must define for ourselves what we understand under the term power, what expectations we attach to it for ourselves and for female politicians.

I would like to warn us against falling into the trap of groping with "motherly power" which is raised by politicians (and not infrequently also women) ostensibly positively disposed to women's issues. Whoever wants to condition women to the "gentle violence of the family", to natural motherhood, they want to put them on a pedestal of the honourable mother and keep them away from public events!

According to Article 21 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, parties contribute to the formulation of the objectives of the people. We can, therefore, exert our influence within a party or over the parties. For example, in that we can put pressure on party representatives and members of parliament, we can confront them with our demands and expectations and publicly ask them what they have done; or we can commit ourselves to action, take on political responsibility ourselves.

This proposal may sound absurd at a time in which chiding of politicians has become a favourite hobby of many. At a time in which the one who describes in the most colourful way, the failure of the "political class" can reckon the best with approval, who is best able to powerfully implore "those up there" should finally think of something to solve the problem, should develop a "vision", should counter a little the "decline in values".

Exactly at this time of general "political listlessness", should we women join those who are so relentlessly made responsible for everything which makes us fearful, anxious, displeased?

There is no question about it - it is more pleasant to sit in the dim loge amongst the audience and to boo if the performance does not please us; it is simpler to sit back comfortably with folded arms and wait for things to happen which one can with every right expect from those in the limelight. But is it also democratic? And: can we really afford to do so?

6. Whoever gets involved in power, gains influence, expands his or her own creative possibilities. But: he - or in our case: she - relies also on the apparently unassailable position of those who, without consequences for their own credibility, can make demands on others. Whoever takes on a political task must know that their demands and promises are measured in terms of action. And this also means as a rule that she can no longer stand "at the head of the movement", but must be satisfied with, in the first instance, modest progress and compromises on many questions, in order then - continuously and steadfastly - to prepare the next steps.

"Who as a woman has power", says Margarete Mitscherlich, "must reckon with a loss of affection. Such a woman is often not only subjected to the hatred of men, but also of women who feel themselves powerless." And further: " Who as a woman decides to use her abilities openly, to take independent decisions, to fight for changes in behaviour for herself and others, to overcome her fear of necessary aggression, must give up masochistic innocence and reproach. I know how difficult that is, but without critical and self-critical protest women, in particular, can and will not change anything in this society".

Is this step worth taking? What will it achieve? Are female politicians threatened with what Hans-Magnus Enzensberger (in his essay: "Pity on the Politicians", FAZ 5 Sept. 1992) describes as "lack of experience" and "deficit in terms of reality" or are women politicians different?

Hans-Magnus Enzensberger decribes in his (excellently researched and brilliantly written) essay "Penitential Exercises" which are imposed on professional politicians, like for example, the discipline which he must have and the continual social control which he is subject to, the "subjugation gestures (...) which the milieu demands from him". He asks, "How and why does one become a politician?" and sketches the typical background of a professional politician in the following way:

"Already during adolescence he spends his day in a school organisation or in a university union. Only the one who neglects his studies, in other words learns as little as possible, manages to become a spokesman, delegate, chairman (...). Only when the winding road has been completed through the local club, district committee, parish council and the jump into the regional federations has succeeded, can he save himself from looking for a job..."

A truly repellent satire of real life!

But: have a look around the well-known women politicians! You will only rarely find such a curriculum vitae. What women's research has documented in professional biographies of women in general, can also be applied to the careers of women politicians. They are, namely, not as Enzensberger characterises professional politicians as "A man without profession" but are women with typically female socialisation, with professional experience and experience of life itself.

From my experience and observations, many women come into politics over the "second educational channel" - after a time with the family and/or working life or after increasing politicization in the profession or through voluntary work. Such women politicians enrich the office with experiences and leave it also richer through experience which they would not otherwise have been able to have attained.

Women are also more aware than their male colleagues of the fact that political office is an office limited by time and many of them commit themselves to a concrete case in the hope that it will only be required for a limited amount of time. When I stress this way of thinking so positively, I do not want to speak in a short-winded way about the rotation principle.

Social processes require time, political success must be achieved in a tenacious and hard way, it must be gained by working. From my own experience it takes on average one-and-a-half to two years before the first results become apparent. But: the awareness of a limited amount of time strengthens the obligation to continual self-critical reflection, strengthens one's own independence, opens prospects for a fulfilling time "afterwards".

This encourages me, also, in this circle to sketch a few personal experiences. In June, this year, I retired from active political life after almost 25 years of public service. They were very fulfilling, very intensive, also very strenuous but - on reflection- above all happy years. Years of shaping which have left their mark, about which I am proud. I made a career, but I did not plan a career - how did it then come about?

I took up challenges three times, used the chances offered to me to help to form, to change important social fields: reform of the prison system, women's politics, minister in Schleswig-Holstein (after 38 years in which the SPD was in opposition in this federal state). I have never regarded myself as being exceptionally courageous and self-confident, but certainly as a woman who knows very well her own limitations (and also her abilities). And I have never given way to temptations and enticements if I believed myself to be overtaxed and have learnt to be watchful when disinclination, overexertion and frustration began to build up, that I must stop or change. Or, slightly more exactly formulated: my courage to change increased over the decades.

7. With the women of my generation, who like me came "first" into higher or political offices, I share the same experiences linked to male colleagues: astonishment, uncertainty, exaggerated politeness and boyish workmate reactions. And - with the strengthening of the women's movement and particularly during the heated debate about quotas - the entreaty: "You do not need it! You are completely different!" But each time scepsis whether the woman could succeed.

I can very well remember my first working day as head of a detention centre for juveniles (for particularly difficult young men serving long sentences of imprisonment): The doorkeeper, a colleague due to retire shortly, welcomed me thoughtfully with the remark that this is really no job for a young woman (I was then, nevertheless, 36 years of age) and with the announcement that "Miss N." (a social worker) also left after six months. Well, I stayed five years and saw him retire.

Alongside these women of my generation I had a double difficulty, for one's own orientation one has to look with great effort for exemplary women, and with the knowledge that I must and wanted to be a model for younger women (and, moreover, also for male superiors who had risked the "experiment" with this woman. My "examples" were alongside the early female socialists - Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan.

For the women from the women's movement and in the positions of equality, the formation of networks was, as a result, a central strategy. We need them not only to secure and expand success in women's politics, we also need them for our own strength.

I do not want to idealise women's networks too much, for, of course, there is competition also between women; and the more we are and the more widespread, I think is also good. But from my experience there is a basic difference between these networks and the traditional "Männerseilschaften", informal connections, or literally from the German men's roped parties in the sense of mountain climbers:nets are thrown out to catch, if a rope breaks then everyone only thinks of saving himself from falling.

Women in politics and in positions of responsibility are still far from being a matter of course, but: we are no longer individual exceptions, we are becoming more. We can contribute through women's political personnel decisions to increasing the numbers and many women are doing just that. In this way, too, women shape democratic change.

Eva-Maria Bruchhaus

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