Legendarily Feisty German Women and Circumcision

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be a woman and all that entails. More specifically, what it means to be a woman in Germany vs. in the US. Because there are differences, of this I am certain. What those differences are, though, are as individual as the people in those cultures. In any case, while trying to pin down some sort of scientific research on what those differences might be, I stumbled across an article in the Guardian that professed to be a thorough at-a-glance guide to Germany. Given the number of corrections to the piece, I’d guess there wasn’t much fact-checking done here, but as a follow-up to Getting Past Hello (still working on it), thought I’d share why this whole “Love and sex” element of Germany worries me:

Love and sex

To understand why Germans are so confident about sex, just look at the top-selling teenage magazine, Bravo. Each week, two young readers (one girl, one boy) are photographed in the buff and interviewed about their love lives, depilatory regime, etc. There is also a legendary agony uncle, Dr Sommer, who answers letters with headlines such as “I’m circumcised and ashamed!” and “My mum caught me masturbating”. As a result, sex is not taboo, and the TV presenter Charlotte Roche – who last year offered to sleep with the German president if he didn’t sign a law extending nuclear power stations’ life – was able to bring out a bestselling novel, Wet Lands, about a teenage girl preoccupied with masturbating with an avocado stone. Brits are often surprised to discover that Germans do not appear to require alcohol to sleep with each other for the first time. German women are legendarily feisty and tend to call the shots in the bedroom. Think the title character in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun, who, the morning after sleeping with her boss, tells him: “I don’t care what people think. I do care what you think. And you’re not having an affair with me. I’m having an affair with you.” This anything-goes attitude has consequences: apparently Aids/HIV has doubled in the last 10 years.

Reading this, I’m struck by two things. 1.) That’s a horrible transition, that last sentence, leaving the implication that women-in-charge has doubled the Aids/HIV rate here (which is, in fact, not true, as the rate has declined, but whatevs. Facts don’t matter here) and 2.) There’s an epidemic of single-over-30s in my group of friends and the singles are always single-by-choice-not-desire. What’s this say about German men, then?

Well, as one astute friend pointed out, the character in Fassbinder’s film is, of course, a character, a woman created by a man, so it’s likely that this example is showing that German men want women to be in charge but this is a domination fantasy not necessarily specific to Germany. That interpretation was naysayed by my friend at lunch last week, but I suppose it doesn’t matter now, does it? Whoever’s in charge is in charge.

What’s more worth a second look is the statement “I’m circumcised and I’m ashamed!” Now THAT is a cultural difference if ever I saw one. More than half of US males (56%) were circumcised, but only 11% of Germans!?! But that’s a whole ‘nother story for a whole ‘nother blog post.

Until then, I’m curious: what are your stereotypes of German (and/or American) women? What would you put in your How-To-Understand guide to the opposite sex in your country?


3 thoughts on “Legendarily Feisty German Women and Circumcision

  1. Damon August 5, 2012 / 1:05 pm

    Excellent post! Thanks for bringing this up!

    Coincidentally, my wife and I were discussing this topic yesterday, but our conversation was focused more on gender equality (or lack thereof). I am equally convinced that there are subtle, but significant, differences between American women (or women from anglo-saxon cultures?) and German women.

    I am a scientist, and until recently, I didn’t think that there was much of a gender bias–at least in my field–because the gender ratio in the training stages (bachelor’s, master’s, PhD, postdoc) is overwhelmingly female-biased. Thus, I had always assumed that the notorious gender bias in the upper echelons of the German academy was something of a relic that would be phased out as these bright young female researchers made their way up the academic ladder. There are all sorts of intiatives from the federal government down to the university to encourage women in science, and I have presented this as evidence to my occasionally frustrated female colleagues as evidence that gender equality is on its way and that they shouldn’t yet give up their aspirations–whatever those might be.

    However, it was recently brought to my attention that, despite these initiatives, the granting process in Germany is overwhelmingly male-dominated–both in terms of applications and in terms of grants awarded. Of course, the granting process itself is likely somewhat discriminatory. Applications are rarely completely blind, and applicants frequently have to present their work in front of a committee, which tends to favor males in traditionally male-dominated fields (you know the anecdote about what happened to gender ratios in orchestras when auditions were blinded, right?). Although part of this is the relic of a traditionally patriarchal society, part of this bias could be attributed to differences in the way males and females present themselves in interviews. For example, everyone hates talking and writing about themselves academically (any form of which is usually characterized as “advertising” oneself by my German colleagues) when they first have to start doing it because it feels like bragging. This is a very important thing to learn for academics, and I gather it’s probably even more so in industry. However, it’s been my experience that German women are much less comfortable getting over their hang-ups with self advertising than their male counterparts. Part of this inability could be attributed to mentoring, but I think it’s also cultural.

    The more disturbing statistic was the one that suggests that few women are actually applying for grants. An anecdote: ~60% of the non-faculty researchers in our institute are female and ~40-50% of the postdocs (the highest level of non-faculty researcher) are female. However, the ratio of females candidates applying for a recent grant coming was well less than 20%. Where are they going? It’s as if female postdocs just decide that they don’t want to pursue an academic career. Why are they dropping out? The genders are slowly approaching equity in the US. Why does it appear that Germany can’t close this gender gap? I can’t only think there must be something different about German women and by extension, German culture. However, it’s difficult to pin down this difference. I have noticed that both sexes, but especially women, are likely to give up or to simply write things off as they way they are (compare the way the US and German national soccer teams play at the end of a game). There is also a habit in Germany to create stark distinctions between the sexes. Men tend to hang out with men, and women tend to hang out with women. I haven’t done a scientific study, but mixed-gender groups seem to occur less frequently than in the US. In addition, there are a large number of “ach, Maenner”/”ach Frauen” jokes. In fact, this is sort of a standard joke form–much like “your mom” or “that’s what she said” jokes in the US only requiring less cleverness. This catagorization makes mentoring difficult for the predominantly male supervisors. Finally, I’ve noticed that although they are perfectly confident in carrying out techniques, German women, while in every aspect equal to their male counterparts in intelligence, are much less confident in expressing and asserting their own ideas.

    Again, that’s not to say that there aren’t real gender-bias problems in the system, but culture shapes this gender bias and also shapes the way that German women behave so they serve to reinforce one another.

    I also don’t want to say that American women don’t display some of these traits, but they seem slightly more pronounced in German women. In fact, it is a little disorienting as an American since these traits seem to run counter to the more confident way with which German women present themselves publicly compared to American women.

    Two more comments in an already long comment:
    1. I love your response to the possible reason for the (inaccurate) HIV/AIDS statitics.
    2. In my experience Germans dislike generalizations, especially of themselves (yes, I see the irony in that statement), and will usually contradict them as a knee-jerk reaction, so I wouldn’t place too much weight on the fact that your friend contradicted you. It took me years of feeling like I was crazy to realize that this was the case.

  2. mike60 September 11, 2012 / 9:25 pm

    Beeing german, I agree completly to your observation. In my opinion, women are lacking self confidence to ask for a leading position and try to avoid responsability. Perhaps I am wrong. On the other side, women get babies and there are not enough day-care facilities.
    About feisty Helga: think about our history. First, we belong to northern tribes with traditional matriarchal female dominance (think sweden), second, all enthusiasm for violence and strong leadership has been left behind in the war (or to be precise, in 68 when students rebbelled against the still existing nazism and changed our society fundamentally). And about sex, they told me that all that comes from america (together with drugs and rock n roll) 😉
    Btw. Where is the circumcision post?

  3. Eifelginster January 5, 2014 / 4:50 pm

    Activists File Complaint Against § 1631d BGB

    December 2013 – German intactivist movement tries to tackle circumcision law

    Since december 2012 a circumcision law (§ 1631d BGB) principally allows parents to circumcize their son as desired. Now activists against HGM or any ritual mutilation (i. e. FGM and MGM) have written a petition to The German Supreme Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) demanding that the § 1631d BGB is declared as not being in accordance with the German constitution. Instead they call for an end of all circumcisions done without medical necessity.

    27. Dezember 2013
    an das

    Beschwerde gegen das Bundesgesetz über den Umfang der Personensorge bei einer Beschneidung des männlichen Kindes

    Die Beschwerdeführer legen daher gegen dieses Gesetz Beschwerde ein und beantragen durch eine einstweilige Anordnung nach § 32 Abs. 1 BVerfGG diese Vorschrift sofort außer Kraft zu setzen, um alle medizinisch nicht erforderlichen Beschneidungen, insbesondere Rituale wie Metzitzah B’Peh, pria und Praktiken wie im folgenden Link beschrieben, die sicherlich mit einer Zirkumzision lege artis nicht zu vereinbaren sind, trotzdem aber durchgeführt werden, zu verbieten bis das hohe Gericht über die Verfassungsbeschwerde entschieden hat.

    Die Beschwerdeführer beantragen zudem, die nicht medizinisch indizierte MGM an nicht einwilligungs- und urteilsfähigen Jungen auf die Liste der Auslandsstraftaten zu setzen, um sowohl Beschneidungstourismus zu verhindern als auch die gegebenenfalls erforderliche Strafverfolgung ortsunabhängig zu gewährleisten.

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