Nowadays how can intelligent and capable women be persuaded to engage in politics? Especially Slovene politics, which has been long run by Janez Janša and Zoran Janković, as well as supporting male characters such as Borut Pahor, Karl Erjavec, Gregor Virant and Igor Lukšič. How can one speak about the inseparability of private life and social concern, political action and ecology, if politics mostly makes us feel powerless and reluctant? Why would anybody (or any woman) even want to enter this world of avoidance, hesitation, short-sightedness, short-term political party goals, bad manners and so on?
Even if we take into account the fact that politics is always about power and the fight for power, that it is a competition to control resources and a conflict of different interests, it seems that in the last two decades its reputation has been in steep decline. Prevailing opinion perceives politics as a problematic business venture: those who enter politics get corrupted and sooner or later lose their integrity, self-respect, contact with reality and basic human decency. Although politicians like to boast about their undergraduate and doctoral theses (that usually come from obscure universities), it seems that they mostly cherish stupidity, anti-intellectualism and frequently even vulgarity.
The public no longer trusts politicians and is tired of their pointless and dishonest behaviour, which is also evident from drastically declining voter turnouts, like the last election for the European Parliament that was attended by only 24% of registered voters. It is obvious that Slovene as well as foreign politics needs radical transformation, new ideas, different approaches, practices and people. And more women, many more women, a view that is shared by our Meta Girls initiative. That does not mean only formally meeting female quotas, which are in today’s political culture certainly necessary. We disagree with instant solutions, for example when due to these quotas, just before the election, political parties rush to recruit female candidates among relatives, acquaintances, managers from the circle of their interest group or random media personalities.
For politics to have quality, women (and men) must strengthen their character. That is also why in the last few years, awareness of active citizenship has been raised, notably the necessity to accept and fulfil the role of active citizen. Putting aside Aristotle’s statement that human beings are by nature political animals, we are being forced to become such creatures by the deep political, economic, financial, ecological and, not least, ethical crisis which Slovenia, as well as a large part of the world, is facing, and which we know that we will not overcome it with the current leaders and governing political structures. Active citizenship can be understood in different ways: it means a socially engaged posture, volunteerism and activism, work in local communities and the non-governmental sector, as well as various non-institutionalised educational initiatives and much more. All this can serve as good field practice to make a gradual or quick entrance into the world of hard core politics.
Even if today women are active in all spheres, especially in the non-governmental sector, where they represent the majority, few end up in politics. The reasons are mostly familiar: the phenomena of sticky floor and glass ceiling, negative stereotypes regarding female politicians, women’s shyness, their feeling that they are not competent enough for politics and their passive wait for an invitation, etc. The Meta Girls Project is conducting new research trying to understand current reservations, prejudices and possibly some new, unknown obstacles stopping women from choosing a political path. The findings will serve as guidelines on how to start, bypass or tackle established practices, legal or prejudicial obstacles, how to convince women that their active presence is needed in politics, how to encourage and support them. (Note: the findings will soon be published on the Meta Girls website.)
The major objective is thus to see many more women at all political levels. Not because we necessarily think that women being women automatically make better politicians But certainly they cannot be worse. What politics would really be like we cannot know, as we have never before experienced it in this form. Undoubtedly, a gender balance in politics would indicate important changes in society, and show – for starters – more openness, democratisation, fairness and curiosity.
Generally, women are thought to be more cooperative, ready to compromise, realistic and emotional. Feelings are feared by politicians, left-wing ones perhaps even more than right-wing, as they are associated with irrationality. Here we might immediately ask ourselves what rationality means with regard to men – should we look again at the top Slovene politicians Zoran Janković, Janez Janša and Borut Pahor? Politics has certainly always been connected with psychology. But what would happen if the position was reversed? Instead of the declared neutralisation of emotions, what would politics become with sharpened knowledge (substituting half-thought-out political ideas and blind obligations) – the necessary condition for complex political decisions? In addition to ability, diligence, understanding of political issues relevant to today’s social reality, and knowledge of political economy, society and the media, is it not necessary to take some steps back from politics to acknowledge solidarity, sensibility and empathy towards children, the elderly, the weak, the impoverished, the outcast, or in brief, the majority of the population (the 99%)? These tendencies are not attributed to female politicians automatically. For instance, even before she became Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was ready to abolish the free daily bottle of milk for British school children, and during her period in office she also declared and tried to realise a devastating idea: “There is no such thing as society.” Alenka Bratušek also did not really show sympathy or political grace when promptly accepting various EU demands that we deconstruct the welfare state.
In spite of all this, it is reasonable to suppose that new generations of female politicians, not following the example of their male colleagues, yielding to them or blindly imitating them, would eventually also implement “female principles”, even though they are conceptually ambiguous, but certainly not relevant only to women. In their historical store room, women keep more special, and for today’s critical time, appropriate knowledge and power. As vividly stated by Dubravka Ugrešić: “You know, women are masters of disguise, they learned from living underground for long centuries and became masters of survival skills…” In these critical times is it not, we ask ourselves, essential for these experiences and skills to be translated into political language and subversive political action?
Author: Maja Hawlina, psychologist, involved for twenty years in communication of social issues in the public sphere. Particularly interested in everyday matters, the deconstruction of ideologies and the power of imagination. In recent years she has been making artivist interventions that promote creative opposition, participation, active citizenship and a gift economy. Can be found on Twitter at @majahawlina.
Translated by: Sarah Humar.