Anne Wizorek is a German feminist activist and media consultant. She is the author of Weil ein #Aufschrei nicht reicht (Because an #Outcry is Not Enough, 2014), a book she wrote after her anti-sexism twitter campaign #aufschrei went viral in 2013. I first interviewed Anne in January 2016, shortly after the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, while she was in the process of collaborating on the #ausnahmslos campaign against sexism and racism. That interview can be accessed on my blog. We then met in Berlin in June 2016 and recorded a podcast (in German) about feminism in Germany and Canada for her feminist online magazine Kleinerdrei. Finally, we met again in July 2016 and recorded a follow-up interview (this time in English) for the online contribution of the Women in German Yearbook about her current work. What follows below is a transcription of this interview:
KAT SARK: Has feminism in Germany become mainstream in the last few years?
ANNE WIZOREK: Well, that’s a good question that I ask myself because I think in some ways it has become more mainstream-ish, especially in the last few years since 2013 we’ve had more of a public discourse on what kind of structural inequalities there still are in Germany—especially with having a female Chancellor, a lot of the sexist struggles that women still face in Germany get somewhat blurred. People think that if you can become a chancellor like Angela Merkel, what kind of problems can you still have? The sexist or misogynist attacks have in some cases become subtler, so it’s harder to pinpoint them. There are also a lot of micro aggressions— and those are always harder to explain to people why they are problematic. We still have a society in Germany, even with all the progress that we have, that is justifying sexual violence with rape culture and slut shaming, etc. That is still deeply rooted here. So, I think in some ways with the hashtag campaigns likeAufschrei we actually achieved a larger discourse on this.
K.S.: Just to clarify, you mentioned 2013—that was when #Aufschrei came into the twitter world, and so, you noticed the change from 2013 to now.
A.W.: Yeah, also through my work I talk a lot with feminists from older generations and they were really surprised. They say, “we’ve been trying to address this issue for such a long time and no media would pick it up, and now with this hashtag suddenly we’re talking about this on such a big scale!” So, it’s definitely meant a change in how we talk about things and that hashtag campaigns can have this bigger impact on what we actually talk about as a society.
K.S.: So that means, with the help of technology and social media, you and your generation of feminist activists managed to do something that was basically on the feminist agenda for a very long time, but has never been mainstream, and you managed to make it mainstream.
A.W.: I think that’s something we achieved without knowing it in the moment because it was an ad hoc campaign, so we didn’t even plan it for that long, and then of course there were different kinds of factors why mainstream media picked up what was happening on twitter, so of course, these are things that you can’t always control, but luckily we had them in this case, and they showed the power of these discussions that started on social media, and you can eventually use them for agenda-setting as well.
K.S.: Is feminism still a “difficult” word, or are more people identifying as feminists now in Germany?
A.W.: That’s also tough to answer because I think in some ways it’s still considered something that a lot of people don’t identify with. If you ask them, they would say “yeah, gender equity, gender equality, that’s a good thing, I’m totally for it, but feminism—that’s just too radical!” So I think a lot of people still have that distorted view of what feminism actually means. But when I look at younger generations, I think we have some kind of a shift going on, especially now with having big pop stars and actresses basically coming out as feminists, and showing their young audience that it’s ok to be a feminist, and it’s actually a good thing, and that we still need this in this world, and they help them to identify with feminism more than the generations before. So I think it’s maybe not just a generational thing but also when I talk to younger girls, I realize that they are just as great Beyoncé fans as I am, and are totally into her feminist statements, so I think there is some kind of empowerment going on that is more affecting younger generations here.
K.S.: But as you mentioned, it still takes a little bit of courage to “come out,” and stand up, and say “I am a feminist”?
A.W.: Yeah, the stereotypes are still strong! The stereotypes that “you are ugly” and “you hate men” and “your armpits are bushy” or whatever—everything about that is painted as negative, and of course it’s only focusing on looks and just superficial stuff, instead of actually talking about political views and how we need to change this society. So it’s totally derailing this discussion, and of course attacking women with this patriarchal view of how women should be, which is still effective. It is objectification and being still socialized as just wanting to be the “nice girl” and not being too mean.
K.S.: And not be the troublemaker.
A.W.: Yeah. Whereas when you are a feminist and you realize that you are being a trouble-maker, it’s actually so much fun! So it’s still very effective. On the other hand, if everyone would identify as a feminist without any problems, we wouldn’t have any work left to do. I think there is some change there.
K.S.: But it might take another generation of people being brave and empowered and standing up as feminists for the stigma, the superficial, objectifying, patriarchal connotation of the word to completely disappear.
A.W.: Yeah, and we also need more role models here. In Germany we have very few outspoken public figures who clearly say that they are feminists. So I’m not surprised that a lot of people identify with Beyoncé or Emma Watson, but they’re not German. I think it’s a shame, if we had more celebrities or role models and public figures, even politicians who would be outspoken about this, I think the discussion would be different. But we’re still lacking that.
K.S.: You need someone like Justin Trudeau who stands up and says he is a feminist.
A.W.: I think we do!
K.S.: For other people to think that it’s cool [to be a feminist].
A.W.: Well, I think it’s going to be a while until we have someone like him in such a place of power to be outspoken about feminism.
K.S.: You and your digitally-savvy feminist colleagues of your generation have started a new wave of feminism in Germany—how does it feel to be at the forefront of this wave of social change?
A.W.: It’s funny, but I would never define myself in such a way, but it’s interesting to realize that people see me that way because I just do what I think is right, and since I want to make this a better place, a better world for everyone, I’m just doing what I feel needs to be done. But of course I also realize that when I put my face out there in the media, with all the positive feedback that I’m getting especially from women, it makes me realize that a lot of women don’t have either the time or the strength or whatever to speak up about this. So it’s still necessary to have people who do that, and that’s of course a huge responsibility.
K.S.: Maybe talk a little bit about your role as a media consultant in all of the political campaigns that are happening, the sexual assault and harassment law that just passed [the amendment to the criminal code]and also the current project on equal pay. Maybe explain your role in these campaigns.
A.W.: I don’t consult them on the specific laws because for that I would have to be a lawyer, but as an activist I can help them and also use my platform to make these issues visible and talk about them in a way we need to talk about them. Regarding the laws against sexual violence, for a long time Germany had this law that rape would only be considered rape if the attacked person had proof that they defended themselves. Instead of having a law that respects everyone’s bodily autonomy in the first place. So a lot of feminist organizations and activists got together because a new reform was coming up, but it was still not enough of a change, so we came together to make sure that the notion of “no means no” is finally implemented by law. And we did it. So it’s a huge step for Germany, and it’s also very important. Of course it would not solve everything, and it will still be hard to have these cases in court and to have to prove that you have been attacked, but it’s also a very symbolic step for the public discourse about sexual violence, where we still have this attitude that “she’s been asking for it because she’s been wearing sexy dresses, or was drunk, or they had flirted before, etc.” and these are still arguments that are going on. It’s so frustrating to see that in 2016, that especially men still argue that way to justify their harassment, and not even realizing that they are harassing and sexually attacking people. So that was a huge step, but I have to say it was really disappointing that because of what happened with the attacks in Cologne on New Years’ Eve at the beginning of the year we also had to find out on a very short notice that the government included a clause that states “if the perpetrators are seeking asylum and are attacking someone that they will be deported.” So it’s problematic to connect these two issues.
K.S.: That law was just passed in July, it was very recent.
A.W.: Yes, but it was also fascinating to realize that this finally happened [to have a “no means no” law] because we’ve been pushing for this for so long and so hard, and finally this year we saw the opportunity to make it happen, and then it happened. Even when the government voted, it was unanimous and that is rarely something that happens. That was really a huge step.
K.S.: After the New Years’ attacks happened, you guys got together and created the #ausnahmslos campaign and you have been campaigning for a long time and giving talks and speaking publically in the media and on television to raise awareness of sexual violence and racism that happened as a result of these events in Cologne (and other cities, by the way) and that was your primary focus—making this campaign mainstream and contributing to making this law happen.
A.W.: Yes, that was one part of it, because we issued a statement with ten points addressing the media, society in general, but also politics with what each can do against sexual violence and about creating a society in which everyone is protected, and everyone can feel safe. We looked at how people were discussing what happened in Cologne with very racist arguments because the perpetrators in this case were men of colour, some of them asylum seekers or people who escaped to Germany for various kinds of reasons—for most of them we still don’t really know who they are because they never got caught. So a lot of people who before New Year’s Eve claimed that “sexism or sexual violence is no longer a problem” and “don’t show your cleavage if you don’t want to be attacked”—that kind of argument, all these people now suddenly were like “of course we need to do something against sexual violence, and where are these feminists now that these perpetrators are men of colour?” And we had to explain that we are against sexual violence no matter who the perpetrators are. Of course we condemn what happened, but we shouldn’t use this case to imply that only foreigners have a problem with sexual violence because that is not true. With ausnahmslos we also wanted to make clear that we didn’t want feminism to be exploited for a racist agenda.
K.S.: The ausnamslos campaign was the first to align sexism and racism as a common problem in German society?
A.W.: I’m not sure if it’s the first one, but if I think about it I can’t think of anything similar happening before, especially because a lot of feminist activism used to focus on sexism before that.
K.S.: And so the next step that the Family Minister [Manuela Schwesig, Federal Minist of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth] is proposing is equal pay and you are working on a new campaign in relation to that, do you want to tell us more about it?
A.W.: That’s definitely the next bigger thing we need to talk about and especially because she has already proposed a bill and it’s still being blocked by the conservative part of our government because they don’t see any problem with equal pay, and claim that the gender pay gap is way smaller than she suggests because they only look at the wages compared directly, but of course when we talk about the gender pay gap we also have to talk about how care-work is usually seen as women’s work and is either paid badly or not at all, and that adds to the whole problem of women earning less money and have fewer opportunities because of the care-work they provide for their dependents. All these issues are related to the gender pay gap.
K.S.: And your role is to prepare a new social media campaign?
A.W.: Yes, I’m part of a group developing these new ideas on how to talk about this topic and we’ll see how that goes.
K.S.: Do you see yourself and your colleagues as members of a new feminist wave of activists or do you see yourself as beyond the waves rhetoric?
A. W.:That’s really interesting because the whole model of waves doesn’t really apply to feminism in Germany, and it’s also not something we use as a model when talking about feminism when we talk about it here, especially since the third wave never really reached us in that way as it did in the U.S. The whole Riot Grrrl thing never really took off in the same way. So for me it’s hard to apply this model here. So, maybe I’m more of a fan of this “beyond the waves” rhetoric. Apart from that, I think there is something more going on finally, and it’s been picking up speed for a couple of years now and also something that got a lot more push from the outside when we had the Slut Walks here in Germany, which came from Canada.
K.S.: When did they start?
K.S.: So there is definitely something happening in terms of feminist activism that wasn’t here before that started around 2010-2011…
A.W.: I wouldn’t say that it wasn’t here before. I think we didn’t have the platform for it. I think a lot of people wanted to do more but didn’t have a way of expressing it. And now with social media and other forms of protest, not just the classic form. For a lot of people the Slut Walks were really appealing because it also had a playful aspect, a performance aspect, while still being allowed to be angry about what’s going on with rape culture and sexual violence. I think we just found different ways to express that and make people aware what is still going on with all the issues that we have but also giving more people a voice in this conversation.
K.S.: And maybe also mobilizing a whole movement, right?
K.S.: So, if the last mobilized “wave” (I call it wave) or mobilized efforts were in the 1970s, and then there was some kind of a backlash in the later years, technology now enabled a mode of expression, like you said, to mobilize more people and unite the different individuals who were fighting for certain rights.
A.W.:We touched upon this when we talked about ausnahmslos, but a lot more feminists from my generation see intersectionality as a very important part of feminism. So the ways that we work together are more diverse, or at least we try to be as diverse as possible. So, when we talk about sexual violence, it’s not just sexual violence against white women, it’s also the violence that women with head scarfs, for example, experience on a daily basis, or transwomen, or men too. So that’s a very important development that we see here.
K.S.: Have you noticed any impact of your feminist media work outside of Germany, in Austria or Switzerland, or in the rest of Europe?
A.W.: When the #Aufschrei campaign was still going strong we had this discussion about everyday sexism in Germany. Austria was definitely quicker to pick up on this and also talk about it. And that was great to see. Switzerland was still a bit behind schedule, so to speak. But I went there after my book came out in 2015 and had a few readings and people were very interested in that. And I’m also in touch with feminist activists there, and I help them to form an activist group in Zurich, and I give them input on what to keep in mind when working together and that kind of thing. So, I can see that there is definitely something going on there as well and it’s picking up speed. And it’s great to see that my work was part of this, that like-minded individuals are finding ways to form groups.
K.S.: Feminists without borders!
A.W.: Yeah, basically!
K.S.: But so far, is it German-speaking countries, is it the German part of Switzerland? Is there any indication that in the French part of Switzerland or France there is interest to be included in this movement?
A.W.: Well, when the hashtag was going strong, it was also picked up by the Everyday Sexism project in the U.K. and they made their own version in English with #outcry, which then inspired other languages to create their own, and I remember that there was also a French one and maybe an Italian one. So for a short period of time we actually had different kinds of European language versions of Aufschrei, which was great. But it didn’t last as long as it did for the German-speaking regions, which makes sense because here we had a bigger mainstream media campaign. But you also see in France, especially with the recent scandal when one politician of the Green Party took a picture with some of his buddies stating that he is against violence against women, while it was widely known that behind the scenes he was sexually harassing women, and then so many women came forward and the country had finally a discussion about this. What I see with events like this, but also with what happened in the U.S. with the case of Bill Cosby is that so many women are being brave and come forward to make themselves visible, and social media plays a big role in that. It allows us to say, we’re here, we’re not going anywhere and we will confront you with this again and again.
K.S.: And unfortunately it is a reaction, it is an outcry against injustice, violence, harassment, so these campaigns and these mobilized movements spring up in reaction to the attacks that happen, and that also dies down once you’ve had it in the media for a while and it’s no longer news.
A.W.: Yes, but you have to accept that, it’s not something bad necessarily. When we have a hashtag campaign that is widely discussed and then at some point the discussion dies down, it doesn’t mean that it has been unsuccessful, but rather it’s just another step in this whole discussion that we need to have, especially about sexual violence, for example. But Aufschrei had the effect of becoming a label for the whole issue of sexual violence and everyday sexism, which allows more people to use the word and have some kind of context immediately. That’s of course a huge success as well.
K.S.: It seems that the media often likes to portray women from the different feminist waves as in some kind of competition with each other, or as opposing each other on certain issues, yet very few focus on the common goals of social justice. How do you see your relationship with feminists like Alice Schwarzer and others? Do you have more things in common than the media makes it out to be?
A.W.: The thing with Alice Schwarzer is that since I grew up in East Germany and she was mainly influential for the West German Women’s Rights Movement, she never had such an impact on me and my development as a feminist. That was more about seeing my mother in everyday relationships and her being able to go to work and having a family, whereas in West Germany that was still something very exotic. Her influence was mainly that for a long time I thought she was the only one because the media painted her as the “only feminist in Germany,” which is ridiculous. But on the other hand, she didn’t really do anything against that image, which of course is a problem too. So when I didn’t align with what she had to say, I felt that if I don’t like what she is saying then I can’t be a feminist. I felt like there had to be an Alice Schwarzer seal of approval for everything, and for a long time I thought I couldn’t be one. But with the American blogs on feminism that I discovered, I realized, well no, there are actually more people like me out there. The media portrayal of feminists from different generations in Germany is frustrating in a way that, as you said, it’s presented as a competition, rather than a dialogue where feminists can have opposing views. Even within the movement we need to discuss things, we need to debate things and even argue about things. That’s totally fine. And even if we get to the point of disagreement, that’s fine, it’s not something exotic. It doesn’t mean that everything is falling apart. Our discussions and arguments only further the ways how we get to social justice eventually. Where would we be if today it was still normal to exclude transwomen? That would be horrible! We needed all these discussions to see that the contributions that especially women of colour, transwomen, and transwomen of colour, the LGBTQ community brought to the whole discussion of feminism, and to see them as feminists themselves and not someone we invite to be in the movement, but rather people who were part of the movement before that. It’s very important to make that clear. But it’s not happening in mainstream media yet, which still presents feminist conversation as some sort of a cat fight. Although I have to say the discussions with Alice Schwarzer are not very fruitful for me because she had very opposing views on a lot of issues and I’m ok with that, but it’s not something I need to spend my whole day on, and I don’t see it as productive. I could spend all day talking about how I think she is wrong on a lot of issues, but I’d rather put my strength and positivity out there in more productive projects.
K.S.: And I think we also should clarify that when we talk about mainstream media we really should say that most of it is really controlled by men, a lot of it is still a money-making machine, and a lot of media magnates just buy up news channels, newspapers, and really control the content, so when you talk about mainstream media it’s a very conservative, capitalist, one-sided point of view. And so the role of social media, and you mentioned blogs and things like that, really opened up the way you can form and craft identities not based on the distorted images that media feeds you and feeds all of us world-wide all the time, and try to create alternative conversations, alternative portrayals of identity, and start movements like you guys did, using these new tools that give voice to people who didn’t have access to media representation before.
A.W.: Yeah, definitely.
K.S.: What connotations does the term “pop feminism” have in the German context? Does it have any negative connotations of “diluted” or less political or serious kind of feminism (as it may have in North America)? Or is it more affirmative and positive? How do you see it?
A.W.: I think it really depends on the context. Here we are currently talking about the so-called net feminism (Netzfeminismus), which basically means there are feminists on the internet, or using the internet for their activism, but also paints this picture which is of course problematic that we are this homogenized group of people, which of course is never the case. Feminists are just as diverse as feminists off-line. Sometimes people use that label in mainstream media and it can have this undertone of “not serious feminism” and “those girlie-girls with their cat memes,” and “how is a hashtag supposed to crash patriarchy?” It’s also used to imply that we don’t know enough about academic feminist discussions, so it’s also a classist undertone, so sometimes it can be used against us, but of course it’s also used in a positive way to show that we have found different tools with our activism to connect amongst ourselves and to have more playful and humorous ways of addressing issues. Some of the best hashtag campaigns, I think, are where we’re just ironically addressing a problem. Of course, we also need the rage and anger about the violence and structural inequalities, but sometimes it’s helpful to vent about an issue in an ironic and sarcastic way. I think it really depends on the contexts in which it’s used, but for me, it’s definitely something positive and shows how feminist activism has evolved.
K.S.: In the German context, pop feminism is often associated with magazines like MISSY Magazine, and there have been a couple of publications in the last couple of years that embrace the term pop feminism in the sense of popular, and like you said, connecting it to the net and spreading it widely, as opposed to some kind of prescribed mainstream or academic type of feminism that is more elitist or secluded or inaccessible, so this tendency to celebrate pop feminism as an accessible or maybe even intersectional type of feminism, is this something that you’ve noticed happening in the last few years as well?
A.W.: Yeah, I would say so, especially with more celebrities like Emma Watson speaking about feminism and defining themselves as feminist. Of course, internet culture is a huge part of how people perceive what’s going on in society. They may not watch the news every day, but they are going to watch their twitter or Facebook feed every day. The visual level of internet culture helps break down very complex problems that we address as feminists. If you look at Tumblr, for example, there are so many great pictures on feminism, and breakdowns of current TV shows that have feminist moments, so this definitely helps people to make it more accessible. The problem that I have with people who think pop feminism or net feminism is not serious enough is that they don’t realize that there is no one way to feminism. There are so many ways, and so many ways that people can be part of the conversation. Some of them already know a bit of stuff, some of them don’t, some of them have more personal experience, some have read about it in a book before, so we all need to find our own ways to get on this path, I think. One thing that I learned about feminism and that feminism taught me is that if there is someone telling you that there is only a binary approach to things, you always have to question it. There is no either or. You have to see the spectrum. For me, just because I love feminist memes, it doesn’t mean I won’t read the next issue of an academic gender studies journal. It’s not exclusive, and we have to keep that in mind when we talk about it as well.
K.S.: Who are you still hoping to work or collaborate with (in Germany and beyond)?
A.W.: Ha! So my wish list: I’m really a great admirer of Janet Mock, I loved her book Redefining Realness, and I can’t wait to read more by her, and also really admire how capable she is, and how she is breaking down problems and has very smart commentary on what’s going on in the world and has a very inclusive way of addressing issues, but at the same time is very radical. That’s something I really admire. That would be someone I would love to work with in one way or another. Or maybe somebody like Amy Poehler, and we don’t have an equivalent of her here in Germany, which is so sad. So, I always have to look to other countries. But to have someone like her, who is so cheerful and optimistic and humorous about feminism that would be great! Or even someone like Robyn, the Swedish singer, who is also a feminist and has said so because in Sweden it’s not a problem to come out as a feminist, and who is putting all this into her music, which I think is really wonderful. See, I’m not even saying Beyoncé here because I know that’s never gonna happen, but of course in some alternate reality, I will work with Beyoncé as well. In general, I want to work and collaborate with people with whom it’s possible to have some mutual empowerment, that’s usually my main goal because activism is hard and it uses up a lot of your strength, so it’s really important to work with people where you feel that even when you’re very tired and angry at the world that working with them gives you so much strength that you can get through this.
K.S.: Berlin has reinvented itself as a city of freedom and openness. Many activists came to Berlin to escape other more restrictive or conservative places. What do you think it is about the New Berlin that attracts people who want to change the world?
A.W.: You already touched on that, it’s a place where you can basically be yourself, and you will be rarely questioned about it. Of course, not in all areas (have to say that as a disclosure), but usually you can just walk around and wear whatever you want and it won’t be a problem. You have certain kinds of freedoms and of course all the possibilities of where you want to go out and who you want to meet, and the types of activities are going on, that’s all very attractive.
K.S.: Diversity maybe as well?
A.W.: Yes, but I have to address this here when we talk about it—since Berlin has become so popular in the last year, of course we also have this problem of gentrification going on and communities are disappearing and not being as diverse as they used to be. For a long time I lived in a neighbourhood that was very poor when Berlin was unified, and mainly artists lived there, and now it’s very white with heterosexual families, and I was so sad when I realized that all the old people in my neighbourhood are disappearing and there is no real sense of community left. So, I think that’s a huge problem that the city as a whole needs to address in terms of affordable rents and who gets affordable housing. So, I think we are somewhere in between there—we still have a lot of freedom and possibilities going on, but of course since the city is so attractive to a lot of people, we also need to figure out how to actually keep this and not just throw ourselves into this capitalist way of exploiting our own city.
K.S.: And so just to recap all the things we mentioned and that came up: the current issues that Germany is now reconsidering from a feminist point of view are basically equal pay and you’re also working on different projects that have to do with internet harassment—so these are your two big fronts at the moment, do you want to address them briefly to sum up?
A.W.: Yes, like I said, equal pay is going to be the next big discussion we will have, but not merely in terms of equal pay for equal work, but also that we actually have a care-work-crisis in this society. There is actually one group of feminists who’ve been trying to address this for a long time under the label “care revolution” which I really like.
K.S.: What do they propose?
A.W.: They propose that the question of how we as a society treat care work and the people who perform it is crucial to the ways we need to create social change. So this should be the focus. And they have many ways of addressing this and protesting in creative ways, and I always admire that.
K.S.: They bring attention to the fact that it’s still mostly women who take care of children and housework and that it needs to change in order to have any kind of social equality and equity. And it has to start in the home.
A.W.: Exactly. And to find ways as a society to take responsibility for the people we don’t want to take responsibility for, without being punished for it and without having any disadvantages because of it. The gender pay gap is one thing, but the gender pension gap is way bigger (around 60%).
K.S.: So women get 60% smaller pensions than men in Germany?
A.W.: Yes, on average. So, as a woman you are much more at risk of being poor when you retire. So that’s a huge problem and we don’t talk about it in the ways we should be talking about it. So that’s one issue, and as you mentioned, the whole issue of online harassment and how we still treat this as a problem of the internet, seeing it as something that is excluded from what is happening in the outside world, instead of seeing how it is linked.
K.S.: And also as an individual problem—that individuals who choose to post certain things and then get harassed, “it’s your fault,” or the solution is “stop posting” as opposed to let’s think of an actual solution of persecuting the perpetrators.
A.W.: Exactly, so not having the laws that we need, or not having updated version of the laws that we actually should have, and to take this issue seriously enough, especially when it comes to sexist-misogynist comments. Currently, the public is discussing the hateful comments about the refugees, which is very important and necessary, because we see that it’s part of the whole radicalization when people end up setting refugee homes on fire and attacking them in the streets, but this is still just one part of the problem, and I think we also need a more intersectional approach here. So, that’s one of the bigger issues that I will be addressing throughout the year and the years to come. But I think we should appreciate the baby steps as well, and hopefully we will get to a point where we talk about this problem in the way that we should be.
K.S.: But basically we need to educate people that violence that is manifested in the off-line world begins with hate rhetoric that is often posted online, and that these things are not disconnected from each other, and that they are both part of a violent culture. That doesn’t only apply to certain minorities, that it’s actually intersectional and that as a society we respond to crisis situations like Cologne or the refugee attacks, but really the core of the problem starts much earlier.
A.W.: Yeah, we only talk about it when it’s too late, and that’s not how this should be.
K.S.: So there must be ways of educating the public and starting campaigns to reverse this, making clear and mapping out the problems and tracing them to their sources and then addressing them legally and in terms of law-enforcement at the very core before it gets to actual violence.
A.W.: Yes, this is an issue of freedom of speech, and that’s not the way most people see this. They see an issue with the freedom of speech when their hate comment gets deleted. But the problem is when marginalized people are being pushed out of this public space (which is the internet) and we are losing these voices. Jessica Valenti is just one of the recent cases, when she decided to not be on twitter anymore.
K.S.: So these scare-tactics and these threats actually are effective in the sense that important voices in the feminist movement do get shut down in certain ways in order to self-protect.
A.W.: That’s the thing, I can understand anyone who would say “I’m done with this. Bye, I’m out of here!” And you have to realize that when people do this, they have already been enduring it and putting up with it for a very long time. Of course, it takes a toll on your mental health and everything else and how you interact with people, especially online when you always need to suspect something. And so, when someone as popular as Jessica Valenti leaves twitter that leads us to a conversation about how people are being pushed out here. For example, women of color who have not had the same opportunities as white women of creating a platform in other media, and who rely on social media to have this platform and put so much work into it, and they get attacked at such a scale that is just horrifying, and they have been saying this for years, and now companies like twitter are finally admitting to not doing enough. I think we have to be very demanding. It’s their responsibility as a company, too. It’s not just about changing the laws for the countries, but also the companies that are running these platforms to make sure that their users are safe and feel that they are being protected. So, I think we as users need to constantly demand these changes.
K.S.: Thank you very much for your time and for this fascinating conversation, and I hope we will continue this conversation in the future!
A.W.: Oh, I’m sure we will!
Photos by Dominik Butzmann