Activism: To the Blogosphere and Beyond!

By Lila Schmitz

Grrrls Team ILast night, I was up late. As the drizzle pitter-pattered on our window, Amelia and I joined the chorus around the globe of the vocal chords forming the sounds of tragedy. The feeling of pain and fear in our guts was enough to keep eyes open and minds muddled. As Amelia spoke on their feelings of hurt and powerlessness, I recalled Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück’s message about the necessity of activist self-care. In musing about my latest musical obsession, Akala, I had to share his words with Amelia: “The only way to ever change anything is to look in the mirror and find no enemy,” adding, “But I think it’s more than that, it’s more than ‘no enemy.’ It’s about being good and healthy first.”

We woke without the springing bounce that seemed to guide us out of bed over the past week. In my grogginess, I made it at least a block from the apartment before realizing my shorts may not have been the most appropriate choice on this chilly, damp morning. On the train, I pieced together, with the aid of good ol’ Google Translate (complete with a downloadable offline feature!), a headline about the massacre that read, “[Donald] Trump Calls for Obama’s Resignation.” I wish the permeation of the former’s overused name into this German headline had been a jolting surprise, but alas, since arriving in Europe three weeks ago, I’ve noticed it more than ever. While in London, I read an opinion piece in The Evening Standard, which claimed, “The Trump phenomenon would be a little less alarming were it confined to America. But it is merely the most dramatic instance of what looks increasingly like a pan-Western pathology.” The extensive transnational effect of the United States makes me worry tenfold about the aftermath of the events of this election season and this Sunday morning could have around the world.

In “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution,” Erik N. Jensen explores transnational collective memory, as it bridges between Germany and the United States. Jensen finds, “Films, plays, historical studies, and commemorative strategies produced in one country have often found a receptive audience in the other” (339). Yet, he also explores the dichotomy that exists as the gay community in the United States finds the Jewish Holocaust “a template for understanding the persecution of homosexuals, [while] the German gay community has avoided this comparison” and looks to the history of the United States (342). By appropriating the story of the Holocaust in association with German gay movements, the United States is able to elevate itself above the level of that sort of inhumane oppression by “othering” the terrors of the foreign. Meanwhile, Jensen notes the German commemoration of the Stonewall Riots in the United States, an act of not only solidarity, but also adopted history, leaving me to wonder what could happen if our histories begin to cross again in the current political climate.

This is where my mind is as we sit, again in Each One Teach One, to hear from Magda Albrecht and acclamie, writers for the largest German feminist blog: “Mädchenmannschaft” (“Grrrls Team” in English). Magda and acclamie sit at the front of the room in cushioned chairs in a laid back, talk-show style, next to Heidi, who “feels like Oprah.” Today, the show is a continuation of the special series: “How to Live as an Activist,” Episode: “Blogging.” acclamie and Magda introduce the history of “Grrrls Team” and its development over its nine year lifespan. Coming to fruition in 2007 at the hands of three young white women, this blog family is now composed of fourteen writers, and has resulted in 4,500 posts that have received 51,000 comments.

The “Grrrls Team” writers, like most activists, work for a gain that exists outside the realm of capitalism ($0 per hour, after taxes). Magda is a self-proclaimed musician and political educator, doing events management to “pay the rent.” Her dress has smiling hot air balloons of different pastel colors, and she refers to herself as the “Grrrls Team granny,” as she is currently the longest standing writer, having joined the blog in 2009. She works specifically in queer feminism and fat activism. acclamie chooses to use a pseudonym for job safety reasons, but it also allows her freedom of voice that Magda writes without. “I’m still scared to hit the publish button!” Magda tells us. “Wow, really?” acclamie exclaimed, as she hasn’t fully realized the power of her own pseudonym until today. Both women found feminism in returning to Germany from studying abroad in “anglophile” countries, the U.S. and the U.K. They laugh, remembering the feminism they were reading at the time and reflecting on their constantly developing activism. acclamie finds that social change “takes for fucking ever.” “Things reconfigure, but do they really change?” she wants to know.

The writers tell us about the slow introduction of intersectional feminist theory throughout the years at “Grrrls Team.” For instance, for their fifth anniversary, they celebrated with panelists and other invited activists, but as happens in the world of activism and Oprah, some of the guests who came to speak about SlutWalks spouted some “racist bullshit” and set off a divide in the “Grrrls Team.” Five members of the team left, while the rest stayed on with an even clearer notion that antiracism and feminism must coexist. Four years later the blog is still thriving and inspiring readers every day. In looking back at this timeline, Magda was wary of the potentially teleological narrative that could arise, saying, “This idea that development is so linear, I have a problem with that.”

The conversation turns toward the possibility of “eradication” of oppressive systems. Heidi finds this a place of impossibility, but acclamie counters, “Racism is not transcendental. [It has a historical emergence.] It takes for freakin’ ever, but it is possible. It is man-made. It has a starting point, so it could have an ending point.” Along these lines, one of the early proponents of women’s rights in Germany, Clara Zetkin, found, “Only with the destruction of capitalism and the victory of socialism would the full emancipation of the female sex be possible” (Honeycutt 133). As capitalism is an essential part of sexism, the idea that anything man-made could be man-destroyed, or better yet woman and/or trans-destroyed, allows for a train of thought I had long ago believed was out of commission. What does it mean that capitalism and sexism are man-made? What does it mean that that which is created can also be eliminated? How do I even begin to imagine a world in which eradication is a possibility?

On “Grrrls Team,” not all comments are published. The authors monitor them, and about 10% do not make it through the screening process. While that is often an easy decision, it comes down to the author of the piece because, as Magda shares, “We have to feel comfortable with it. In German, we say, ‘This is our neighborhood, our little garden.’” “Our turf,” acclamie adds. Contrary to popular belief, this is not censorship, because it is not executed by the state. It is in their self-cultivated garden, and there are only so many bacteria along with which their flora can survive.

Grrrls Team IIIn addition to their (free, volunteer, activist) work on the blogosphere, they organize and host Lady*Fest, which happens two weeks from now in Heidelberg. The poster promotes workshops, parties, lecture/performance, self-defense, film, café, Do It Yourself, and art. Magda noted today that although the blog’s internet capital is soaring, social and financial capital is only a fraction of the size, which for a primarily internet activist must be a constant frustration. With this festival, the opportunity to merge the physical and virtual activist bodies becomes an imperative. The festival is creating a space to find comfort, learn, and create. This reminded me of the introduction to Winter Shorts, a collection of short stories illuminating oppressive systems in contemporary Germany, Sharon Dodua Otoo recalls, “Recently, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion called ‘Can art save the world?’ And when I think about how Black people are being dehumanized, my honest answer is: it is the only thing left that can” (18).

Grrrls Team IIISo here I am, sitting in Café Berio in Schöneberg staring at the art on the walls. Naked bodies in their own distinct coloring sit, thinking. A green woman kisses a blue one contrasting the bright red background. They exist as connected bodies, particles of paint, colors dancing with each other. I find the other works (all by the same artist, who signs “Sarah”) more subtly solemn and pensive, yet coexisting with the tender, passionate embracing couple. As activists, we will inhabit the single portraits of pensive philosophers, but we cannot thrive in the work without a laugh or a kiss. I’m still going to worry about the state of political affairs, queer safety, racism, and the many other pains that compose the world as I know it, but for now, I think I’m going to take a walk through Berlin and listen to Doublethink for the thirtieth time this week, as I’d like something to give me a little hope, and I think Otoo might be right: Art is “the only thing left that can” (18).


Lila IILila Schmitz is majoring in Film and Media Studies and minoring in Feminist and Gender Studies at Colorado College. She’s going to be starting her second year at CC and third year of college in the fall. She’s enjoyed getting involved with CC theater and a capella (Ellement!), as well as tripping and sweating her way through intramural sports. This summer she’s lucky enough to get to do some gallivanting on the European continent, where you can often find her in a park (photographed in Tiergarten) with that very notebook. Important note: She does not usually look so serious, but rather was trying to figure out how to draw a chin and ended up with this photographic chin display.

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What the Berliners Said!

Per the suggestion of Vicky Jones, I sometimes ask my comrades if they’d be willing to share their thoughts about the course! Click their names below to read what they wrote:

Noah Sow
Jared Pool
Noah Hofmann
Carolyn Gammon
Jasmin Eding
Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz
T. Vicky Jones
Dr. Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück
Katrin Julien
Iris Rajanayagam
Dr. Celine Barry
Magda Albrecht
Olayinka Elizabeth Adekunle
Kester Audu
Nadine Saeed
Sharon Dodua Otoo
Dr. Rebecca Brückmann
Heike Radvan
Josephine Apraku
Biplab Basu

To read and hear what students have written and said about the course, click here.


Noah Noah Sow

I wish such a class and course and curriculum existed in Germany. I had a great time presenting to these students who don’t have an ‘abstract’ approach on intersectional womanism, but know from living and breathing what it’s all about. This is the foundation for our theory and studies to be applicable and fruitful. I am especially delighted that matters of pan- and intra-Diasporic power and hierarchy have been brought to the table, as Afrodeutsche lately seem to be considered rather a ‘field of study’ than an autonomous culture (with our own research) by many American and British academics. The entire exchange was so positive and respectful that I wish more universities could learn from this class and prof. I’m sure Professor Heidi R. Lewis makes a huge difference to her students, institution and field, and I can’t wait until this generation of students makes many differences in their respective ways of life and professions. Peace.
Noah Sow


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Jared Pool with the Winter 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I’ve gotten to know many of Heidi’s university groups on my queer tours of Berlin. These tours focus on the solidarity of the city’s peoples, but also on past contexts in which groups like the Nazis or the provisional allied governments after WWII persecuted individuals. We move from contexts of persecution to investigations of queer club culture and activism. My tours are intersectional and inclusive. I try to leave no stone unturned, no point of contact unexplored. In this way, Heidi’s groups always feel like a perfect match. Her groups are the tours I most look forward to in any year. Her students are woke, engaged, critical, compassionate, and yet show each other a comraderie more common among family. Heidi’s herself is also a meaningfully charismatic person and absolute pleasure to be around. I only wish I could attend all her lectures.
Jared Pool


Noah Hofmann

Noah Hofmann with the 2015 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

It was a wonderful and refreshing experience to see young people studying the often overlooked experiences of Black people in Europe! I felt really honoured that Heidi has chosen me as one of the people who should share their experiences and their knowledge! It was a new and very enriching experience to exchange thoughts and knowledge this time not on social media, but in real life and to get in dialogue with such wonderful, reflected, and highly-educated students and teachers! I’d be ready to repeat this at any time!
Noah Hofmann (author, activist on social media)


Mendelssohn (Calvi) Carolyn with the 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin [Photo Credit: Olivia Calvi]

I met the FemGeniuses for a tour of Jewish Berlin at the rather early hour of 9 a.m. on June 3rd in front of the main building of the Humboldt University on Unter den Linden. Only half of them were on time (it was quite early in their stay, and they were still figuring out the public transport system) but what totally impressed me is that those who were late came literally running down Unter den Linden with full cups of coffee to try and make it on time! The 2nd positive impression was how big the group was this year and how multi-cultural. No other exchange program I have worked with has achieved this level of involvement of students from ethnically diverse backgrounds like this group. Huge kudos to Heidi and the program!

We began the tour by going into the lobby of the Humboldt University where we saw an exhibit on the upcoming “Humboldt Forum,” a big project to rebuild the German royal palace and put the Ethnological Museum of Berlin into it. Activists had placed posters on the floor in front of the exhibit commenting on the stolen art (Beutekunst) contained in this museum. The FemGeniuses showed a lot of interest and background knowledge of what it means that so much of what is in our museums is presented in a racist way, yanked out of context, stolen, etc. Despite the language barrier of activist action, the group really engaged and asked questions and commented. We also “visited” with Lise Meitner, a Jewish scientist who discovered nuclear fission. Meitner has gone down in history as the clearest example of a person who should have received a Nobel prize and did not. And why not? She was a woman and a Jew and driven out of Germany and away from her work by the Nazis. So we discussed the knowledge we do not have because the Nazis were successful in suppressing that knowledge. Finally after many decades there is a statue of Lise Meitner in front of the Humboldt University so we “met” her and had photos taken. Unfortunately, we cannot yet take a photo of a proposed memorial for the Black victims of German colonialization, the Holocaust and racism in general. We looked at a picture of a proposed memorial by the Black British artist Satch Hoyt called “Shrine of the Forgotten Souls.” This memorial is being promoted by Katharina Oguntoye, the Black German author and head of the Berlin multi-cultural project Joliba.

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The ducks visiting the 2015 #FemGeniusesinBerlin!

And that was just the start of the tour! What is rewarding about touring with the FemGeniuses (this is my 2nd year) is their understanding of political contexts and the fact that they are absolutely prepared and open to hearing and understanding the complex issues that come up on a tour. It feels like you don’t have to start at ABC but somewhere far along in the alphabet! So, as a guide, I can unpack all my knowledge and passion for Jewish history and current day life in Berlin. There was a funny moment on Groß Hamburger str. As we were looking at a memorial, an entire family of ducks walked across the city street! I’ll include this photo as it is symbolic for me of how Heidi leads, protects and challenges her group like this mother duck.

Thanks for coming to Berlin FemGeniuses. And thanks to DeAira Cooper who wrote a great entry on my tour for the blog. You really got it!
—Greetings from Berlin, Carolyn Gammon


IMG_8950 Jasmin Eding with the 2015 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

When Professor Lewis asked my if I would be willing to speak in her class about the History of ADEFRA e.V. (Organization for Black Women and Women of Color in Germany), I was highly surprised how interested the students have been in our 30-year History and Herstory. The lives and struggles of Black people in Germany is not well-known in the U.S., so i was thankful to share some of our experiences in Germany, knowing that  our stories will be shared in the U.S. This will strengthen solidarity, which is very important among activists and organizations here and there, specially to fight racism and to share experience  of resistance. We need to spread the word throughout the Diaspora and build  alliances. So hopefully, Professor Lewis will return with more students and meet many activists again next year. I thank Heidi for her commitment and passion to teach young people the real important things in life. 🙂
Jasmin Eding


Group Photo (Asbury) Mutlu with Ryan Garcia of the 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin, Noah Hofmann, and Musa Okwonga

I had  a very good time at the class. I rarely come across such a group of good listeners. They were very curious without crossing any boundaries, very open and attentive to the very complex story and information I shared with them. I was also very glad to right some of the wrongs the class experienced during their so called Turkish German Berlin-Tour. I think their white German tour guide had very little understanding about the migration history from Turkey to Germany and even less understanding about Turkish/Kurdish German culture and lived experiences. I had a great time sharing my perspective.
Mutlu Ergün-Hamaz


Frauenkreise Talk Helen, Professor Lewis, Cassandra, Marca, Gabi, and Vicky in 2014

I had a great time at your lectures and was really honored to go through and anaylze the advertising materials created here from a Black perspective. It’s rare to have this opportunity to speak about racial depictions in a European setting and to do this with young international and local scholars was a real treat. Thank you for energy and work!
—T. Vicky Jones, Founder of Krik TV and Rock It


IMG_0231 (2) Ika Hügel Marshall, Dagmar Schultz, and Dr. Ellerbe-Dück with the 2016 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I was very impressed about the openness, thirst for knowledge and capacity for critical enquiry that these 9 young women – or better said-  the  FemGenuiuses group displayed during our interaction at the Clara Zetkin Museum in Birkenwerder.  And the term interaction best describes, I think, our encounter. The lecture was indeed an equal exchange of information, ideas and wisdom in both directions. The encounter with these young feminist pioneers embodied my concept of teaching and lecturing, and also demonstrated that creating a space that fosters interactive participation regarding the transfer of knowledge is not only possible, but vital.
—Dr. Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück


photo 4 Nadine Saeed and Katrin Julien (6th and 7th from left) with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

 

Nadine  [Saeed] and I, both activists of the Initiative in Memory of Oury Jalloh, a refugee in Germany who was burnt alive in a police cell, met Heidi and her students to talk about our fight for justice. Since Oury Jalloh was murdered by the police in 2005, we keep on saying, “Break the silence, Oury Jalloh, this was murder!” Despite clear evidence that Oury was murdered, the system followed the most unlikely assumption that he killed himself by covering up and by manipulating evidence. We do not expect justice from the German political system, which is why we are doing our own investigations supported by experts who work independently. Oury Jalloh is not an individual case, and his murder was not “unfortune” as some people put it, but part of a system of discriminating, banning, criminalising and even eradicating people that are not wanted here. We do not want to accept that—that’s why we are member of the initiative. We spent a very intense afternoon together with Heidi and her students and could have shared our thoughts for many more hours.
—Katrin Julien, Inititiave in Memory of Oury Jalloh


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Mona El Omari and Iris with the 2016 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I think what stayed in my mind most of all from our time together, was the evening when Daima was presented. When we were talking about the ‘privilege’ of being the one asking the questions…I was very grateful for [Heidi’s] comment about how important it is that experiences that are regarded as racist by Black Women and Women of Color (be it silly questions or comments or inappropriate and disrespectful touching of hair or body) be taken seriously and  accepted as such and not put into question. This is something that happens so very often in ‘mixed’ spaces. Being the ones asking the questions, demanding answers information and knowledge, taking up spaces is a ‘privilege’ that Black Women and Women of Color have  been denied for much too long and which they are starting to take on more and more. When [Heidi] said that [she] enjoyed the company of Black Women most because they knew what [she was] talking about, I had a very good idea of what [she] meant. [Smiles.] That does not mean that dialogue is not impossible (although it is hard work!) but that it can only be possible under certain preconditions. I don’t want to write too much; although, there are other things that come to my mind. For example, what [Heidi] said about the social status of [many] students at [her] university and how some students couldn’t take part because of lack of money.  This made it clear to me again how important it is to always think in terms of intersectionality: racism, classism, sexism….!
—Iris Rajanayagam, Xart Splitta


TBB II (Nora) Celine with the Fall 2017 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

What a beautiful encounter of sharing biographies of our lives within contemporary postcoloniality. I especially enjoyed our critical tourism journey through Berlin when we visited the prominent spaces that define the German narrative as well as the spaces that are not so known, that are created at the margins and that make a difference for those excluded by official Germany. I am glad we started our project of researching the multiple narratives of the city, of confronting them, and of locating ourselves within these dividing hierarchies (with the appropriate share of humor). A work in progress.
—Dr. Celine Barry, Each One Teach One


photo 1 Kristina Kuličová and Magda (second and first from right) with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I was thrilled to become part of this extraordinary feminist lecture series by facilitating a discussion about Emerging Fat Activism in Germany with my fellow FAT UP activist Kristina. I was truly amazed by this bright and engaging group of students as well as Professor Heidi Renée Lewis who created a wonderful atmosphere for honest and critical discussion – a perfect space where academia and activism could meet and stimulate each other.
—Magda Albrecht, Author and Political Officer


AWYO II

Elizabeth (second from left) with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I want to thank Heidi for picking our organization as one of the NGOs or projects her group of students from Colorado will like to see, know and probably network with for future projects when they visit Berlin. It all started with an email and the interest was established to get to know each other and to transfer experience and knowledge between the two organizations when the group visits. Little did I know that the students are from different backgrounds but with a passion to make a difference in their society after their study program. I was moved by the openness and readiness to learn from each other and to want to do something together in the future.
—Olayinka Elizabeth Adekunle, African Women & Youth Organization


African Women & Youth Organization Kester with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

“Heidi R. Lewis will be visiting the AWYO organization with some of her students from Colorado College in June,” was the announcement of Elizabeth Adekunle to me as I stepped into the office that morning. Reading through Heidi’s CV gave me some exciting impression of our guest to come and the thought that she will be coming with some of her students made it more exciting. June 6, 2014 will always be a memorable day for AWYO as the day we hosted the FemGeniuses.

I had excitedly come early to the office, since our guests were expected. At exactly 9 am, the bell rang and there we had the FemGeniuses matching confidently on the stair case leading to the office. Their faces looked very bright to me and had a few of them with brimming smiles as I welcomed them into the conference room. A quick glance at their areas of discipline and individual interests was very insightful, as I discovered that these are world change agents as they have stakes in almost every field of study. It was then clear to me that in tandem with the AWYO’s vision of being recognized as the premier resource centre for excellent development of African change agents, world change agents were meeting in that conference room that morning. Social issues such as women and youth empowerment, racism, poverty, career trends and development, challenges and opportunities in Africa among others were discussed. The insightful comments and questions from the FemGeniuses sustained the passion in our talks and it was almost as if the meeting should not end. AWYO looks forward to coming to Colorado next summer with African kids as part of the organization’s cultural educational programme held once every year. We trust AWYO’s partnership with the FemGeniuses will grow leaps and bounds. Miss you all, dear FemGeniuses.
—Kester Audu, African Women & Youth Organization


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Nadine and Mouctar Bah with the 2015 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

To meet you and your students was very inspiring. It was like meeting someone for the first time and coming directly to the point. It was less time, so we ran through different aspects of racism in big steps. The face of institutional racism in Germany and the U.S. has the same shape and same roots. To exchange our political and daily life experiences and analyses of that system means realizing that we fight against same big problem just in different places. Coming to this point, it is necessary to learn about different ways of resistance and combine them. I will keep you informed about case of Oury Jalloh and the uprising refugee movement in Germany and Europe. We should know about ongoing peoples movements around the world to catch the fire!
—Nadine Saeed, Inititiave in Memory of Oury Jalloh


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Sharon with the 2016 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

I am really honoured to have been asked to contribute to the FemGeniuses in Berlin programme. The morning we spent together was lively and engaging and I was very impressed by the way the students engaged with the material I was presenting. The Witnessed Series is dedicated to documenting stories of Black experiences in Germany, written in English. My dream is that these stories – written by us and for us – can be shared in the Diaspora. I am especially grateful, therefore, that Witnessed could be included in the programme as a step towards achieving this dream! Most of all, however, I am grateful that this is not a one-off but the simply the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Looking forward to FemGeniuses in Berlin 2015!
—Sharon Dodua Otoo, Mother, Activist, & 2016 Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis Winner


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Drs. Brückmann and Lewis during a convergence class with the 2018 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

Working with Professor Lewis was a wonderful, rewarding experience. My students and I tremendously enjoyed our convergence class with the Femgeniuses. It was a unique, intercultural learning environment, which provided the opportunity for direct debate and exchange of knowledge and ideas between groups of students who rarely meet each other despite their courses of study: students of US history and Women’s Studies in Germany and students of German history and Women’s Studies in the US. Not only was the convergence class very interesting and instructive for students by creating a transnational academic exchange, the socially interactive convergence class enabled everyone to form professional ties and personal friendships across the Atlantic.
—Dr. Rebecca Brückmann, Free University


Kadesha

Dr. Radvan with the 2014 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

What impressed Carmen and me most about your visit was that we did have so very much intensive discussions about topics that are not so easy to explain mostly. Our research about right wing women and their influence within Neonazi-groups in history and present brought up very interesting questions and discussions. For me, it was very impressive that for the students the topic of overlooking the victims of Neonazis in general played a very important role; we did have good talks about this as well! So I look forward meeting you again next year and I hope your application is going to be succesful!
—Dr. Heike Radvan, Antonio Amadeu Foundation


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Josephine with the 2018 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

Meeting Heidi and her group of students has been very important to me. Our fields of interest are very much alike but obviously differ strongly as the national contexts of both the U.S. and Germany have a huge influence on how race an gender operate. To me, it was a very empowering experience to be able to exchange thoughts and ideas on feminism and everyday racism with not only a diverse group of women but with a group of women that seemed highly educated on the topics. Thank you for giving me even more inspiration!
—Josephine Apraku, Africa in Wedding Expert and Tour Guide


ReachOut

Biplab with the 2018 #FemGeniusesinBerlin

Thank you very much for a very interesting afternoon with all your lovely students. I consider myself lucky to have met and spoken to so many excellent and intelligent young people. Please convey my best wishes to them and especially to Casey for the blog entry.
—Biplab Basu, ReachOut

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(Emerging) Fat Activism in Germany with Fat Up!

By Nicole Tan

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Fat Up! at Frauenkreise

This past Friday was the very last classroom session at Frauenkreise. After our 3 weeks here, I was excited to see how everything would wrap up with our final activist group, Fat Up!  If you ask Kristina Kuličová and Magda Albrecht how they define themselves as a group, they will say they are a “fat positive, queer feminist riot group in Berlin.” Additionally, “emerging” is placed in parentheses in my title and the title of their discussion, because this group exists in what might be called a vacuum. There is an absence of a fat activist history here in Germany, so this marks the beginning of a new struggle. Still, Fat Up currently has a nucleus of 7 dedicated, passionate members who met during a Fat Empowerment Workshop.

During class, we began with our final round of introductions, a ritual that happens as many as three times a day. In exchange, Kristina and Magda told us their own personal stories and reasons for starting Fat Up. Magda is an activist and feminist blogger who attended her very first diet camp at the age of 5. Kristina recounted her experience growing up in the Czech Republic, where fat politics are almost entirely non-existent. Despite the absence of positive, fat role models around her, Kristina was able to discover this from within. In her own words, she “learnt to stop looking at [herself] through the eyes of men”and began to realise that “maybe it is not [her] that is wrong, but the structure of society.”

L to R: Kristina and Magda

L to R: Kristina and Magda

You may be wondering, what makes this relevant to our class on Afro-German women and feminisms? As our 3 weeks here have progressed, I’m beginning to realise that this topic was a platform that enabled us to engage with a much bigger discussion on what racism looks like today. If you look closely, you can see similar parallels in fat politics. In many societies, a thin body is perceived to be healthy, which is ideal and acceptable. Contrarily, fat people are often attached with stigmas like lazy, slow, and ugly. These negative connotations are similar to those that have been attached to Blacks in Germany, as we learned from Ika Hügel-Marshall, defining an altered perception of what is “normal” in order for those in power to exclude certain individuals as “others.”

L to R: Kadesha, Kaimara, Gabi Wurmitzer, Kristina, and Magda

L to R: Kadesha, Kaimara, Gabi Wurmitzer, Kristina, and Magda

Next, Kristina and Magda introduced the idea of being fat as a discriminating factor in the workplace. This narrative is similar to those we’ve heard from individuals and organizations committed to refugees and migrants. Along these lines, Kristina and Magda recounted an incident just recently in the U.S. when someone filed a lawsuit on the basis of fat discrimination after discovering an interviewer’s notes scribbled with comments like, “Too fat.” However, in most cases, discrimination is difficult to identify and prove. If someone does not hire you, how can you prove that this is on the basis of race or size? This quickly triggered discussion on the floor, as Beril recounted the weight requirements for women wanting to work as air airline stewardesses in Turkey. Why exactly is weight a pre-requisite that qualifies a candidate for this job?

The next question that evolved from this was, “Who exactly benefits from fat discrimination?” Immediately, we began to discuss how the fashion industry can exploit women’s insecurities about their weight for profit. I’m sure we’ve all seen the diet books, the fitness magazines, the gym equipment, etc.—all promising immediate and instant weight loss. This illustrates a mentality that suggests skinny is the only acceptable way to look, something we should all desire. In conjunction with the unrealistic body images presented in the media, the fashion industry is able to breed insecurity in women, the basis upon which they feel the need to purchase these items.

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L to R (unfortunately excluding those hidden): Celine, Jenni, Gabi Zekina (Frauenkreise), Marca, Beril, Melissa, Casey, and Stefani

A classic case and point of this is Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, who once said, “We go after the cool kids […] A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong.” He also said, “Abercrombie is only interested in people with washboard stomachs who look like they’re about to jump on a surfboard.” This is why it is no surprise that fat activism has played an active role in counteracting these images.

photo 4

L to R (clockwise): Heidi, Beril, Celine, Nicole, Ximena, Blaise, Kadesha, Stefani, Casey, Kaimara, Melissa, Magda, and Kristina

In closing, Kristina and Magda provided several links to fat activist fashion bloggers like Fettcast and Fatty Fashion Fun Challenge. Today was a fantastic, engaging final conversation that I can’t wait to bring back with me to the Colorado College community, as with everything else we have studied over the last 3 weeks.

 

 

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NicoleNicole is an international student from Penang, Malaysia at Colorado College entering her second year this fall. She is interested in pursuing an International Political Economy major.