by Katrin Trüstedt
"Next time Feminism will not be a tragedy, but a comedy"
Kottbusser Tor, Berlin. On the second floor of one of the large buildings surrounding this place you can currently find yourself in an exhibition by Ariane Müller and Verena Kathrein on comedy and feminism, entitled "Then I would like to make a happy end for once." This seems like an apt title for the end of this year. It has been a particularly intense year in many respects. Among other things, it has been particularly intense in terms of gender relations. There has been wide-spread outing of sexual harassment and sexual violence of all kinds and degrees. There have been various forms of criticism of this outing. There has been backlash. And there have been discussions about the nature and the future of gender relations.
The danger at this point, it seems to me, is that of reaffirming and hypostatizing the very gender categories that have been at the heart of the problem in the first place. The suggestion, for instance, that men, per se, are predators, that it is the very nature of male behavior to be sexually transgressive and aggressive; and that woman are, per se, victims, and dependent – such suggestions are in danger of reproducing the very problem they are addressing.
Acts of sexual harassment including many of those that have been outed in the past couple of months seem to show, on the contrary, that something like masculinity is not a given, but in need of constant performative reestablishment. To come back to something like a "primal scene" of the current developments – the Weinstein case, and in particular one piece of "evidence" that is out there, namely the audio from a wire tap – it seems like the masculinity in question here is in rather desperate need of violent performance with elaborate arrangements. Trying to bully Ambra Battilana Gutierrez into joining him in his hotel room by repeating what a powerful man he is, appears on tape as a pathetic attempt to performatively produce manliness as power. Not only does the repeated claim suggest the lack of what this performance is intent to prove ("I am a powerful man"). It also exposes the very need of this position to be performed, enacted, and reaffirmed by its other. Needing the woman to feed back to him what a powerful, powerful man he really is, he also needs to emphasize how powerless she is by contrast in this situation ("you don't want to ruin your friendship with me for five minutes").