adrift on a cosmic ocean

Writings on various topics (mostly technical) from Oliver Hookins and Angela Collins. We have lived in Berlin since 2009, have two kids, and have far too little time to really justify having a blog.

the women of Berlin....

Posted by Angela on the 12th of September, 2010 in category Thoughts
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Daily I have German women of all a ages coming up to me or stopping me on the street to comment about Kai. I carry Kai in a sling wherever I go, so he can face out as we explore Berlin. some days I have woman coming up to look at Kai, exclaiming he is "Sehr Suß" (very sweet),  oh, kleines Fuß! ( little foot), or asking questions  - Wie alt? ( how old?), Jungen oder Mädchen? ( girl or boy), is it my first baby etc?

Most of the time I have no problem being approached. Kai seems to love the attention of women gushing over him, and he smiles and laughs in response to their baby talk. I also get to practice my German.

However I have also had quite negative experiences when being approached. I have had women coming up to me and telling me that Kai is too cold, that I have not dressed him warmly enough, that he shouldn't be in a sling. That I should have him in a Kinder-wagon (buggy/pram), a few weeks back I even had a woman approach me a shopping centre claiming to be a "children's doctor". Kai was asleep in the sling and she accused me of being a "cruel and horrible mother" for carrying Kai in a sling -  that I was damaging his spine for life. That he should be seated upright.

I explained that the sling was safe and that he was fine, to which she told me that I "clearly had no idea what I was talking about, and had no idea about being a mother. How could I be so cruel? how could I do this to my baby!?"

I was devastated. not only had she attacked and humiliated me in public, she also woke Kai up, so he was screaming. Everyone in the store who had heard this woman scold me,  was staring with disdainful looks. I could feel my cheeks burning, and I managed to not break down there and then, but I raced home and cried, and cried.

I was in such shock that someone had the audacity to approach me and attack me. I would never try and tell another mother how to carry her child, or tell her she was being a cruel mother. Motherhood is tough enough without having a stranger telling you that you are incompetent.

I regret not telling her to mind her own business, that she had no right to approach me or my child.  I am a capable mother  I am the only one who will make choices about Kai's well being.

Of course, you think of all the things you wish you had said, AFTER the person has left. I was too dumbfounded to say anything at the time and in hindsight, she probably would not have listened to my retaliation regardless of how articualte my German was.

A close friend of mine here in Berlin  has a theory as to why this happens to me.

It came as a shock for her to hear my stories -  as Berlin is known for its liberties; you can walk down the street dressed however you want, behaving however you want, and you can have an opinion about whatever you want and people do not care.

Her theory is that women in Berlin are not taken seriously if they are attractive. If you are "good-looking", dress well and take pride in your appearance, then you must not be intelligent. If you have  the time to dress well, shop for nice clothing and apply makeup daily -  then you couldn't possibly be capable of attending university, you dont have time to be reading War and Peace,  debating climate change, working on your doctorate thesis, or raising a child.

It seems that other people my friend has spoken to confirm her theory - people who have not be taken seriously at university by their professors  until they stopped wearing any makeup,  stopped caring about their hair or clothing. Suddenly their professors noticed them- once they looked like they belonged.

This idea makes me furious. why should It be one or the other?!

I decide to dress well, wash and condition my hair, put some foundation or some lip gloss on and suddenly I am too stupid to raise my own baby?! the logic escapes me. shouldn't feminism be about women having the freedoms to do what they want?! you can be a feminist whilst wearing a supportive bra underneath a nice top, you dont need to be burning your clothing to be a woman who cares about the rights of women.

I considered that perhaps this idea about beauty vs. intelligence is isolated specifically to Berlin. Perhaps I  am treated this way because dressing well makes me seem like a woman from the West who has money?! ( I live in the Former East Berlin). Could it be cultural divides that I am not sensitive too?!

Cultures seem to have their own ideas about what is beautiful, and even after  having modelled before, I have struggled with what beauty is, as ive discussed in other blogs.

I do not find conventional magazine or runway models beautiful. Of all the models I have worked with, interviewed for shows, or stood next to on the runway, none of them seemed comfortable in their own skin. they seemed unhappy and hungry.

A film shot in Berlin recently dealt with women striving to be thin at any cost. Basic plot line = The lead character wants desperately to the thin, so she orders a tape worm from overseas which she ingests to lose weight. ( this is based on reality - as women do actually do this.)

The film will be released for Berlinale 2011. Funnily enough, I was cast as a model in this film. I am only in a few party scenes in which the lead character is jealous of me, and this drives her to order the worm off the Internet.

It seems this theme comes back to me like a boomerang.  It seems to be a recurring theme, all woman get told that being thin =beauty = fulfillment = happiness.

At a wedding I was at recently in Dublin I overheard the five year old flower girls getting scolded because they wanted to take their shoes off. The mother in charge told them that they had to "suffer for beauty", that beauty = pain  as she suffers daily wearing high heels to look good. She told these five year olds  it was "their job as woman to be pretty; and so they had to keep their heels on, even though it was painful."

Nice.

I had to fight to bite my tongue. Those poor girls! what an impression to leave on them at an age when they are forming their identity.

I felt sick, and the mother in charge, although covered in makeup and wearing a silk gown, looked hideous and ugly to me.

Ironically when I got back to Berlin and was telling another friend about the wedding, her response was, "all those girls will grow up to be models"...

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