The Berlin writer and journalist Mirna Funk has written a polemic. In “Who Cares!” she challenges women in the six dimensions of career, love, sex, money and body to take care of their own happiness. In fact, the framework conditions for leading a self-determined life give many women in this country reason to celebrate in a historical and global comparison. Funk’s concern to “encourage all women to really live their long-existing freedom” is also an important position in the current feminist debate. Unfortunately, she disavows this through analytical fuzziness and a lack of empathy.
The core argument of the book is the lack of financial independence of women. Two thirds of German women are dependent on their husbands, whereby dependency means everything that is not paid full-time employment. The chicken-and-egg question has been answered: the willingness of these women to make themselves financially dependent on men explains why they remain underrepresented in management positions, why they are dissatisfied in romantic relationships, why they cannot live out their lust and why they do not have equal rights Participation in household and child care experienced.
Contrary to this clear, but nevertheless quite simple and unproven thesis, the book irritates with an ambiguity regarding the relationship between actor and structure. A woman who “washes her husband’s socks” or “begs her husband for pocket money” is personally attacked for this decision – in stylistic monotony eight times in one of these two formulations.
Even childless women don’t work full-time after marriage, Funk complains, because it’s “not appropriate”. Not a word about the fact that economists have long since calculated what role the German tax model of spouse splitting plays at this point. Instead, Funk refers back to the GDR, in which 91 percent of women were employed in 1989, in contrast to 51 percent in the Federal Republic.
The GDR appears as a promised land because of its actual superiority in women’s emancipation in a German-German comparison. At the same time, parents who are unable to find a kindergarten with sufficient opening hours are advised to “just open it” themselves, just as if East German women had set up day-care centers on their own before becoming self-employed full-time.
Funk claims that her own East German socialization meant that financial independence came naturally to her; her Jewish family history to a skeptical attitude towards the German state and, through surviving the Holocaust, to a life-affirming attitude towards her child. It remains unclear how one arrives at this attitude to life if one is neither East German nor Jewish. Well, what then, one might ask, does consciousness determine being – or is it the other way around? Or perhaps: do they even determine each other?
This finding would be nothing new. The women’s rights activist and sex reformer Helene Stöcker admired the most important woman of German Romanticism, Caroline Schelling, née Michaelis, widowed Böhmer and divorced Schlegel, for how much she “learned to love her fate” and precisely because of this everything turned out for the best. At the same time, she founded the Federation for Maternity Protection in 1905 to improve the situation of unmarried mothers and their children.
Stöcker wrote in her memoirs 30 years later that striving for social justice and the urge for maximum personal development were inextricably linked. “Nietzsche and socialism” was her motto in life. It would be unfortunate if, a century later, the feminist debate fell behind this point of discussion. It must always be about both individual empowerment and the improvement of structures. Yes, the framework conditions for women to lead an independent life are good today and in this country. However, this finding does not apply equally to all women and, of course, to men as well.
Not a word is said about the role of wealth, education, social network, taste and lifestyle (classic: Pierre Bourdieu) and more recently sexual capital (Eva Illouz), all of which determine our position in society.
To use one’s own life as an argument that all this is nonsense shows ignorance and also an idiosyncratic understanding of motivation. Because in this respect, too, Funk’s loud little book falls short of its claim. The consistently empathetic and reproachful tone prevents her path from being as encouraging as it could be. No empowerment arises from attack and condemnation.
The encouragement to take hold of one’s own life falls flat between all the reproaches of an allegedly insufficient performance of most women in salary negotiations, relationship issues and in bed. Yet Funk’s accomplishment would not be an iota less impressive if she showed more empathy to people who were less clear about their needs or felt less confident.
“Who Cares!” does not offer a translation of how Mirna Funk’s freedom and self-efficacy could be felt if one is not Mirna Funk. It turns out to be unfortunate to build structural theories based on one’s own perception of life. However, it is precisely the inconsistencies that arise as a result that encourage discussion about how more people can be inspired to act independently.