As a city councilor, Maren was not only ridiculed by her parliamentary group colleagues, she also experienced sexual assaults and threats. She retired from politics after seven years.
Protocol: Susanne Arndt
As part of the BRIGITTE #wasmachtmacht campaign, we encouraged our readers to tell us about their experiences with power. We have had numerous experiences – from the following areas politics, Studies, job, Love and Family. This story is one of them.
At 32, I was elected city councilor in my city. Most of my group colleagues were older gentlemen who were already retired. One day it was said: We need another woman to stand for election. They deported me to a part of town where they thought she had no chance anyway. But then I was chosen completely unexpectedly. I was so optimistic and thought, now I can finally make a difference for the families who are not doing so well! But they didn’t share my joy, instead I was immediately brought down to earth: I was accused of having done special advertising for myself, when in fact, like everyone else, I was just handing out flyers.
I always thought federal politics was bad, but it starts in local politics. My plan was to install a children and youth representative in the city. But I realized that this was not politically desirable at all. I was accused of just wanting to do this for myself, to gain the position for myself. I was not taken seriously, but rather judged and laughed at. The men in the group were in the majority and many of them had been there for a long time. They held on to their power and refused to be talked into it. When I didn’t stop asking unpleasant questions and didn’t want to dance to the tune of my group leader, after four years I was faced with the decision: keep my mouth shut or resign.
I didn’t do that. But in my five years in politics I had to put up with a lot, and not just politically. I also had to put up with sexual assault by a colleague in my group. He repeatedly tried to kiss me in public and groped and touched me at events, including from behind. As part of a city festival, he finally stood in my apartment and pulled down his pants. I was absolutely shocked and didn’t know how to react. I just said, any moment my husband or my children can come home, please pull up your pants!
Later I told him if you don’t stop, I’ll expose you. I initially spoke to a few women about his behavior, but they dismissed it. “Oh, you know what he’s like,” was the apology. I then told a colleague in my group about it, but he was a good friend of his and everything was swept under the carpet. I was even threatened: “Think about it “Whether you go to the police and what that would mean for you and your family.” These people are untouchable because of their position and I had no support. On the contrary: every time I made a suggestion, I was put down even more and taken even less seriously.
All of this shook me to my core. I lacked the support of the party and my group. I expected protection, but there was no reaction even from the other female members. That’s why I withdrew from politics.
Today I am a coach and do family counseling independently. I’m happy to now be able to fight at the grassroots level and go directly to the families who really need it. But I have also learned a lot over the years. Today I would no longer be intimidated. After an incident like that at home, I would go to the police immediately. And I want to tell all women that they don’t have to put up with anything!
That’s what Prof. Dr. says Fatma Çelik on the case
Prof. Dr. Fatma Çelik is a psychologist and, among other things, researches violence across the lifespan. It helps us to classify the experiences – to make power structures visible. Here she addresses a foreword to the readers.
BRIGITTE: Where do power structures come into play here?
Prof. Dr. Fatma Celik: The situations described by those affected point to taboo structures as well as patriarchal power structures and structural discrimination against women. Patriarchal power structures take effect here through stereotyping of the female role; these can be active and conscious, but also unconscious. The sentence “We need another woman to take up the position” already points to a fundamental problem. There has been talk about the “women’s quota” in the work context for a long time. The case study, as described by the author of the text, shows that even with such a quota, barriers still exist and can be actively maintained. On the one hand, this is due to a lack of collegial support in the professional context and the supposed disagreement about competencies based on gender or, if necessary, age, since the age difference is also mentioned in the case study.
On the other hand, the power structures also take effect in the form of sexual border crossings. Sexual assault can be understood, among other things, as a particularly degrading demonstration of power. This connection becomes most fatal in the context of systematic rape in the context of war crimes.
The lack of support from female colleagues could be partly explained by the concept of “introjected patriarchy”. What is meant is that through their socialization in patriarchal structures, women incorporate and normalize precisely these structures into their identity development. Accordingly, women view themselves from the stereotypical gender role constructed as male – which then normalizes invasive, discriminatory behavior. The social influence of power is expressed here through pressure to conform, i.e. the tendency to agree with the social norms of a reference group.
How can the person affected deal with the experience?
The person affected sought allies and asked various people for help, but unfortunately they were not taken seriously. The extent to which the partner was also included as a resource is not clear from the description. Taking this with you and informing it would have been helpful on a personal level and could also be helpful today for further processing. Furthermore, the question would be to what extent there was knowledge and paths to other possible allies such as clubs, equal opportunities officers, anti-discrimination bodies, etc. at the times described. The #Me-too debate has shown how many people are affected and how high the barriers are to seeking help. It is important to go beyond this debate to talk about highly taboo topics such as sexual assault or other forms of discrimination and to establish contact points anonymously and free of charge.
What would have to change in our society so that something like this no longer happens?
A first important step is to stop allowing abusive behavior to be normalized – “Oh, you know what he is like,” was the apology, writes the person affected. Perhaps a change of perspective would help here: If we were to talk about theft or bodily harm in this case, we would quickly agree in society that “that’s just the way that person is” is not an excuse. The really exciting question that we should all ask ourselves and others is: Where do I accept an apology like this and to whom? You may come across discrimination structures in your own system of values and norms that you are welcome to question. For example, what is a rich person “allowed” to do that a “poor” person is not allowed to do? What is a person who belongs to the majority “allowed” to do and what a person who belongs to the minority is “allowed” to do? What is a person labeled as stereotypically male “allowed” to do and what a person labeled as stereotypically female is “allowed” to do?
There needs to be a change in social thinking and a recognition of discrimination structures in order to be able to intervene adequately. This can only happen through education and the installation of non-partisan contact points that support and advise those affected.