Three women in their late twenties, in a Berlin Café, in January 2003.
Let’s not fool ourselves – we’re just too old.
Let’s be honest. We will never understand why on the freshers’ inauguration day, some Eastern European universities look like catwalks, nor why German women usually present themselves in a less eroticised way. We observe different cultural codes and we can’t read these codes objectively.
Right, we’re off.
Three women in their late twenties in a Café. The discussion is heated; their cheeks are red from wine and excitement, their thoughts bubbling. They are talking about an ad they saw in the street.
Hetero with Lithuanian husband, sipping her wine: “Sex sells” is a truism. The fact that the body, especially the female one, is an advertising medium is nothing new either. You’re making too much of all this.
Butch lesbian, excitedly: I find it aggressive and degrading. From every single poster a blonde silicon-busted wonder-woman is jumping on me with her oversized tits and crushing a can of some super-power caffeine drink between them. Every step along the street turns into a sexist attack, and an especially violent one at that.
Mousie, eyes thrown up to Heaven: Well, you are just a butch weirdo.
B.L.: But it’s true! You’ll never understand it, Mousie. (sighs) We are just that blunted and cauterized that we don’t take any notice of it anymore. (slips out of her role) By the way, I don’t think I want to reinforce the butch lesbian cliché.
Mousie: OK, then just stop being a butch lesbian, who cares.
Hetero: To take up the poster issue again, maybe this lady is commissioned by the ministry for the environment to open up new utilizations for refund cans in the beauty sector? Since the can refund tax has been introduced, nobody wants them. Where should they put them?
Mousie: Is that meant to be a joke?
No longer B.L.: Mousie, I think we should re-name you, too. You are talking too much. What do you think about “rat”? Biting, scrapping, gets what she wants, just like the brave new woman we’re talking about.
Hetero: That’s it! Sexy rat. A revolver-woman, sado-maso outfit or, at least, a self-confident pin-up girl. We’re getting closer to the problem. The troubling thing is that women, especially those who work in the pop business, make use of a body language that is borrowed from pornography. These porno-aesthetics are everywhere: in advertising, in fashion, in music videos, in movies, in computer games! MTV is packed with them! All the characters play roles that stem from the underworld milieu. Women are always self-confident whores and men yob-mafiosi.
No longer B.L.: And even women who consider themselves to be emancipated love to present themselves in the role of a bitch.
Rat: For instance?
Hetero with Lithuanian husband: Veronika Feldbusch, I suppose. [ed’s note: Veronika Pooth (maiden-name Feldbusch) is considered a sex bomb in German pop business. She became famous as a model, singer, TV-actress, and moderator of an erotic TV-programme called “Peep”, which she quitted harum-scarum because of its supposedly pornographic format. The weekly Der Spiegel named her “the first woman who dares to show and underline her beauty, but who at the same time is intelligent, funny/shrewd and quick at repartee without being snappy”.]
Rat: I think it’s just a label which every female person engaged in the pop cultural sector tries to fill in some way. Because it attracts attention and because it makes money. It’s in the calculated interests of the managers who design their products according to the market. The label stipulates that women are allowed to be strong and brutal, but at the same time they have to be good-looking. The aesthetics of the ugly would be something else. What we’re talking about is just the aesthetics of eroticized violence.
Hetero: Like I said: porn.
No longer B.L.: That would be image number one: Beauty and Beast, all in one. The woman as a violent erotic figure is becoming a pop-star. Coming to you right now, on every magazine cover, on every poster on every street.
Rat: Well, actually, this is nothing new. I am reading Klaus Mann at the moment, Mephisto, 1939: a red whip, green bootlegs, a dark mistress. She stimulates the protagonist’s excitement by maltreating him, the rough skin of this woman, her playful brutality and all the fascination of that kind of behaviour. This is the domina-figure, pure sado-maso, in 1939. Today it’s the same thing. The contemporary sado-maso is becoming part of pop-culture, that’s all.
No longer B.L.: Well, first of all a point of information: Klaus Mann was gay!
Hetero: So what?
No longer B.L.: It just makes things more complicated. Secondly: How do you understand the fact that not only Klaus Mann, but also female pop-stars make use of the domina-figure? Is it the male view which women now project on themselves? I mean, are they thinking “this is how women see themselves” while they are only reproducing traditional roles? Like Oswald Kolle who considered sexual emancipation to have been achieved once women, allegedly following their natural instinct, do everything that men get fun from? [ed’s note: Oswald Kolle is an important figure of the German sexual education movement of the 1960/70es. He produced a lot of sex documentaries.]
Rat: The “male view” is always considered to be authentic: i.e. this is how men are, how they are biologically and socially determined, and women are only mirrored and mirroring themselves in this view. But this is complete bullshit because otherwise our brave new women would be just blind victims. But these girls aren’t victims, least of all girls like Christina Aguilera.
No longer B.L.: Are they just archetypes then, the domina-figure on the one hand, the untouched young girl on the other, that appear so often in popular culture and advertising because they are so extremely catchy?
A hush falls. All three sip the last drop of wine, and, somewhat at a loss, fidget with their glasses. The noisy discussion has driven away the other guests. Just one has remained. He and the waitress are playing chess.
Hetero with Lithuanian husband suddenly jumps up: I’ve got it!
Girl-power instead of women-power!
I’d put it in the following way: Both female movements are keen to demonstrate their strength. While the one tries to change social structures by entering political institutions, the other one uses “male” models of perception for… for what actually? Maybe these girls show, with the help of “the weaponry of femininity” that they are not only able to get off with a guy, but that they are also capable of beating him up – Shakira for instance. Body and violence. Lara Croft, Madonna und other bad girls are supposed to look as if they were for sale and always willing, but just in order to signal in the next moment that the whole thing is more complicated. Female fighters are “in”, though they do not fight for their sisters, but for freedom in choosing their sex partners.
Rat: I think, we’ll need another jug of wine.
Hetero, exhausted, takes her seat again. The waitress notices the pause, plays her move, serves another jug of wine.
Hetero speaking rather to herself: Man, this is all lot of additional calories. I was planning not to drink alcohol for three weeks!
No longer B.L.: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head! It might really be about the fight for the free choice of sex partners and the fight for one’s own rules to get them. This would also explain why queer and trans-, bi- and homosexual labels sell so well. I was just thinking about the Russian girls’ band t.a.t.u; they presented themselves partly as lesbians.
Hetero: They are Russians? That’s impossible! They seem about as Russian as the Queen of England, although, now that I consider it, she is actually a great niece of Tsar Alexander. Anyway, t.a.t.u look like Westerners, from Manchester, or Sunderland or somewhere. They don’t fit in the usual Eastern bimbo-image of the high class hooker: extra-rouge, expensive clothes, sexy and inscrutable. No, I can’t believe it! The t.a.t.u.-girls definitely grew up in the UK. …Well, but on the other hand their video looks like a remake of the sex documentary “Schulmädchenreporte” from the 70’s. Did they have stuff like that in Soviet Union?
No longer B.L.: That is just what I was trying to say. This chicky and would-be lesbian sucking of faces makes them more attractive – for men. They’re erotic and attractive because they are unattainable, or at least, not that easy to attain. It’d be interesting to know if they’re as popular in Russia as in Germany, and who they attract.
Rat: Who actually invented t.a.t.u.? There are rumours that one of them got pregnant. Are they then just fake-lesbians or do they have an extremely progressive concept of the family unit?
No longer B.L.: Fake-lesbians. It was just their producer’s marketing idea. A female identity from the pop test-tube.
Hetero: well… you shouldn’t shrug it off like that. I think, what is important is the fact that such a female identity is obviously going down well and is somewhat chic, even in Eastern Europe where traditional gender roles are maintained so strictly, where I can be sure that men will open the door for me!
Coming around again to being B.L.: Yeah! In post-communist everyday life, too, the last foundation of society – man here, women there – is about to fall! But I guess the t.a.t.u.-girls live very ordinary hetero relationships.
Rat-mousie yawns. Hetero’s mobile rings. Hetero talks for a long time, conciliating. The other two don’t know what to talk about.
Hetero, taking her mobile down from her reddened ear: OK, I ought to go home. My husband is waiting.
They pay the bill, dodder towards their bikes and head back into their everyday lives.
Cooperative writing by Anja Hennig, Eva Pluharova-Grigiene and Amelie Kutter. Dramaturgy and translation from German into English: Amelie Kutter. Thanks to Bartholomew Begley for his advice and proof-reading.
I will be the quiet, mousie one.
I will be a moderate feminist hetero with a Lithuanian husband.
OK. I will make the ultimate sacrifice and play the typical anti-sexist German butch lesbian.
Onward ho! …
That is a sizeable topic.
Well, I think we could discuss how women sell themselves. How they exploit their sexuality deliberately in order to make money. What is their understanding of themselves? And we should also do a comparison of how this works in Eastern and Western European pop-culture.
So what do we actually want to talk about if we are not able to judge anything anyway?
We also do have heftier calf-muscles! At least that’s what my Russian host-mum used to say.
Too old? Well, for Lara-Croft-types and girly pin-up singers like Christina Ag-whatever-her-name-is, yes. We grew up in the strictly moralist spirit of West Germany in the 1980s. We always think as feminists and ecologically correct feminists at that. And, naturally, we don’t understand how women can take their clothes off in public, eroticise violence, and make money doing it, and then go and celebrate their sexual emancipation. The woman is finally doing what the man has always wanted her to do. We get the supposedly female perspective on soft porn, and some girl sighs from her gable-end hoarding: “I like a man to be gentle, afterwards”. Is this what our mothers fought for when they took the pill and won control of their own bodies?