Monday, 2 March 2009

Perceived Equality

German is great for big words. Even simple things grow to importance: for example, the post office used to call phone books Fernsprechteilnehmerverzeichnis, i.e. "speaking-at-distance-participants'-directory". Clumsy but accurate.

Thanks to a grammar permitting near-boundless word fudging we can get amazingly precise and poetic. Today, reading up on a 2008 conference on 21st century feminisms, I have come across a beautiful term: Gleichheitswahrnehmung - "perception of equality", or "perceived equality". For those who don't read German, I'll call it GHW. In her summary of the conference, Katrin Bremer raises the issue of GHW among young women in Germany.
Young women, she says, perceive themselves as equal to their male peers. I can corroborate that observation. Many times, I have watched highly skilled young female colleagues feeling perfectly "equal" while less competent men of their age sailed past them in terms of employment conditions. I have observed scenes at which these women full of GHW were publicly ridiculised for their looks by "equal" men. And today I have spotted a headline, spread across the front page of a major Berlin tabloid: One in Four Berlin Women Beaten up by their Men. Yet, GHW is alive and well.

Remember Stockholm syndrome? In August 1973, four bank employees were taken hostage by robbers. During their five days of captivity, they increasingly identified with their aggressors, eventually pleading for clemency and visiting them in jail. In psychology, the term "Stockholm syndrome" refers to such loyalty to a powerful abuser, also called trauma-bonding and bonding-to-the-perpetrator. It is a natural defense mechanism: when we find ourself in a situation of dependency, our survival may hinge on co-operation with the person who dominates our life.
I am tempted to see GHW as a mild form of Stockholm Syndrome...

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