New Chauvinism?

A problematic account of violence against women and macho behaviour in the squatting movement of West Berlin in the early 1980s.

The original article is followed by some letters in response, some of which seem to excuse violence against women and other sexist behaviour.

A difficult read, which is presented here as an insight into the downsides of subcultural political scenes and not because we agree with it.

"SHUT UP, YOU OLD CUNT!" one male squatter screamed at another male squatter whose opinion he didn't approve of. The three hundred people attending the Besetzerrat (squatter's council] listened to this angry outburst without criticising him for what, up until now, at least in left-wing circles, was an unheard of choice of words. It seems that the discussion initiated by the women's movement during the 70s on 'a new sensitivity' has disappeared under the cobblestones of the squatting movement. Five women, who have lived or are still living in squatted houses, are now saying: ''We are fed up with the euphoric self-intoxication of the squatters and the squatting movement". They, speak of a 'new chauvinism'. The following article, written by them, describes the problems women in the houses are having.

"They can take the houses away from us but not our experiences!" We want to say something about the experiences women have had in the squatted houses.

An example: Two squatters. a man and a woman, meet in the hall of a squatted house. They have an argument about who should go on holiday first which immediately escalates into one shut which of the other should move out, For the woman it ended with a broken nose, a black eye, a split scalp and bruises. (The kind of injuries people injured on demonstrations get!) That she wasn't beaten to death is thanks only to the incidental presence of another squatter. Otherwise. the support she got from the people in the house was non-existent. If the guy hadn't voluntarily moved out four days later—to his girlfriend's (sic) —nothing further than a discussion of his state of mind would probably have occurred. But now that he is gone, the woman is being accused because she made an official complaint to the police. "We don't want to have anything to do with the State against which we are struggling," they say "we want to solve our own problems ourselves." But what other option did this woman have except to fall back on complaining to the police, when there was no response from the community in the house?

This case is not unique, not the well-known exception that proves the rule. Women are threatened and beaten up in other houses too, and not only by neurotics but also by 'totally normal' men. There are three ways of reacting to this: one. accept it and adapt; two, try and behave 'dominantly' and try and 'counter balance' the aggressive and violent atmosphere which exists in many houses; or three, move out. It is women who suffer most under the male defined structures, and it is they who are put under pressure to keep the place 'supportive and homely'.

It's not for nothing that a lot less women than men live in the houses. Responsibility for the work of emotional maintenance — sharing out cuddle units among the 'hard men' to prepare them for the next 'street fight' —and the organisation of the household and hygiene is left to the women. And on top of that, they have to fight against the monopoly of knowledge that men have. The women carry out the rubble and do the washing up, while the men install their electric cables. And when women actually assert their right to be involved in electrical work, the guys find it too much bother to respond, and even if they do, they do so in a totally arrogant way.

Is this the way of life for which we are struggling!

What about the following suggestions:

(1) Open up an account into which every house makes a contribution and out of which every woman squatter who is beaten up will be compensated. The less women there are in a house, the higher the conributoin by that house should be!

(2) Apply to Netzwerk (alternative bank which funds alternative projects) for money to be paid to women squatters for the social work they do.

(3) Hold seminars for women squatters on 'How do I organise a 30 person household!' or 'First aid for the aftermath of arguments in the household!' or 'How do feel good despite It all?'

Juliane, Heike, Renate, Jutta and Claudia.
From Die Tageszeltung (7 August 1987)

WE HAVE OTHER have had other experiences than those described in the article 'New Chauvinism' by the women from Varein fur Frauenkommunication. (Women's Communication Union) and from squatted houses. We want to give an account of what happened in our house —Jagowstrasse 12 - which is supposed to be exemplary of the ruthless and violent macho behavior of the everyday life of squatters.

We believe that, as people living in the house concerned, we are in a better position to know about the development of our group than the writers, who through the women's centre on the ground floor, can't know everything that goes on here.

It is simply wrong to put this incident in the category of 'macho man heats up woman'. The problems which 'macho' W has been unable to come to terms with for a long time, and the fact that we as a group and house community has been unable to get on with him, has been discussed to death a number of times in the house. This is the first time that a woman is on the receiving end of it, and to a far more serious extent than has been the case previously. He could have chosen anyone of us to unload his frustrations on! We cannot agree that out of this single incident that one can come to the conclusion that there is a problem of macho brutality among us.

It is incorrect to say that it was because of the lack of response by is in the house that M made an official complaint to the police. She made the complaint directly after the incident as she was being brought to hospital. She did go for other reasons— reasons which we rejected then and still reject. But that's enough about this particular case.

Sexist behavior, men's monopoly of knowledge and so on is also a problem in our house, and we do try and do something about it, though perhaps too little And we find it is right that this should be spoken about openly. The fact that the established press will use it against us is no reason to keep quiet about it.

However, we really can't start anything with the rest of the article, which uses one example of brutality against a woman to argue the arrival of a new chauvinism. That conflict and aggression is expressed violently in men more than in women is for us a meaningful starting point for a discussion, but we find the conclusion of the article, even if it has validity in certain cases, exaggerated and a hinderance to an understanding of the problem of male/female role playing and we also find it to be a cramped form of feminism.

From the women and men squatters of Hausfriedensbruch
A letter in Die Tageszeitung

“OLD CUNT!" These words, acording to the Tageszeitung, came our of the words of a man and a squatter. If that is male chauvinism, then what is the expression "stupid prick", when it comes out of the mouth of a women?

With these insults one doesn't get very far in a discussion, and a discussion which goes around in circles leads to nothing new. It is true, and it is is pity, that the day to day language among squatters is not the friendliest, but it's hard to find the friendliest words where you're in a situation of continuous stress, in which drastic means must be used again and again against an ever present threat. In this kind of situation being friendly and polite gets mislaid and becomes something which does not come about naturally, but rather something to be learned anew in a new social environment.

No one can be expected all the time to express his/her tender self, which doubtless lies hidden behind the hard armour without having a miraculous ability to change. Everyone can see for themselves how much time it taken to restore an emotional balance after a series of heavy street fights or searches.

It is inevitable, given the island-like existence which the houses experience—and even the even greater demands placed by the uncertain legal position—that there will be outbreaks of aggression, also against people, also with whom one lives, regardless or whether they are men or women. It is not the most sensitive people who live in the houses. So-called macho types, male and female, are able to put up with life in the houses better than more sensitive souls, who are in any case more likely to be found with Bhagwan in Poona or in therapeutic communes.

Arguments do develop into fights in the houses, but such fights are not the order of the day, as your article would have us believe. Black eves and cuts are the exception, and you can be certain, that no comparison can be made with the number of women who are beaten up in normal society, where out of fear of further beatings, women don't dare to go public about it.

Violence which does occur, occurs mainly between equals as in other Wohngemeinschaften (commune: any more than three people up), and are is often as much initiated by women as by men. However, we don't want to trivialise such cases, and certainty not the one documented in your article. But we do find it wrong to sensationalise how it happened, turn the inexcusable example into a rule, and then use this rule to announce the arrival of a new chauvinism.

Vera, Gabi, Annelle, Helmut Hack (squatters from Lausitzerstrasse) and Norbert (Kuckuck)
A letter in Die Tagezeitung

THE FIVE WOMEN who wrote the article on new chauvinism have said something which should have been said a lot earlier. My experienc with this sort of thing has not been so much in our house as in the 'meetings' of the movement—regional and central. I can confirm exactly what they've described—big mouthed 'men' who think they are 'it' and who talk, such unbelievable arrogant shit that I am reminded of the Marlborough ads in the cinema, Express any doubt about their statements and they go for you!

What particularly worries me is those squatters who are playing the role for all its worth, basically warming themselves by the fire that someone else has lit. Earlier they were barely active except perhaps in left-wing pubs, but since then after every happening on the street have a new adventure story to tell.

What kind of an idea these guys have of a humane work, or of human relationships based on decency, is beyond me. The idea that they are in a majority fills me with horror, as does the idea that the long and conscientious efforts of the women's movement in 70s only opened the eyes of those men who were involved in it, but meant nothing to the others. No Future is right—for guys like this!

Ute
A letter in Die Tageszeitung