An Actress's Thoughts

If I had the German “Order of Merit”….

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If I had the German “Order of Merit”….

… this would be the moment to return it.

On Friday, 6 March 2020, fourteen women and five men were awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the highest distinction of this country, by Monika Grütters, Minister of State for Culture and Media. The press release 77 of the Federal Government states:

“Shortly before International Women’s Day, many women will be honoured for their outstanding artistic intermediary work and women and men for their commitment to greater gender equality. Minister of State for Culture Grütters praised the 14 women and five men as “courageous fighters for fair opportunities and successful role models in helping women in culture and the media to achieve equality. With their commitment, they are all helping to ensure that great women in culture and media receive the appreciation they deserve.”

Grütters continues: Women are still underrepresented at the top of cultural institutions and media companies, in committees and on juries. Since the beginning of my term of office, I have therefore been committed to improving gender parity at all levels in culture and the media”

Bundesverdienstorden / Order of Merit, Germany

This news reached me even in far away in Hessen (I was a jury member at the German TV crime dramas festival, more about that next week), several colleagues, friends and acquaintances from the film industry texted and e-mailed me. The most frequently used words were, however:

Joke, Farce, Outrageousness, Fiddling, Punch in the Face

Basically it is true of course that awarding women and men for “exemplary commitment to fair opportunities” is a good thing. However, a glance at the list of awardees is doubly sobering. For one, important personalities were passed over, and on the other hand, because some men received the order who had not really stood up for gender equality and women‘s rights in their area.

So why these 19? That‘s not all that understandable as there is little information available. Stefan Mertsch, BKM employee, explained:

Beyond the press release, there are no individual texts on the order recipients available unfortunately. At the ceremony last Friday, Ms. Grütters paid tribute to all individually with very personal words, which she phrased as she spoke. Please understand that there are no transcripts available. The reasons for the distinctions, on the basis of which the Federal President decided to award the Order of Merit, are subject to confidentiality.

I find this secrecy and confidentiality business a bit strange, even problematic. If there are good reasons to honour these 19 people, then Frau Grütters should share them with us, to make the decision transparent and as additional informative for all (who may not know all the people on the list). It also prevents any possible suspicion that the awarding of awards is something like the awarding of supervisory board positions, with possibly a bit of fiddling taking place behind closed doors.

The award ceremony was for invited guests only. It was open to the press however, i.e. members of the press with a press card. Unfortunately there are no longer video recordings. You can find a short video summary on our Twitter account.
(Stefan Mertsch via mail)

I don’t know whether any of the media present asked or even questioned the list, I found nothing about this in the reports on 6.3. In fact in most cases they only quoted above mentioned press release, without any comment.

Who are the 19?

Here‘s the alphabetical list. I did a bit of research to supplement the sparse information from the press release:

  • Dr. Ingrid Bodsch, Austrian historian, director of the Stadtmuseum Bonn
  • Michael Brandner, actor, BFFS acting union‘s founding member
  • Prof. emerita Dr. Ewa Sabine Chojecka, Polish art historian, co-founder of the working group of German and Polish art historians and monument conservators
  • Dr. Maria Gazzetti, publicist and translator, director of the Casa die Goethe in Rome (Germany’s only museum abroad)
  • Sylke Gottlebe, Film Curator / Cultural Manager, Director Filmfest Dresden / Short Films
  • Prof. Ulrich Khuon, Dramaturg, Director of the German Theatre Berlin, President of the German Stage Association
  • Dr. Ursula Krechel, writer, lyricist, playwright
  • Prof. Jeanine Meerapfel, film director and scriptwriter, President of the German Academy of Arts
  • Prof. emerita Dr. Irmgard Merkt, music educator, initiator of Network Culture and Inclusion
  • Regine Möbius, Writer, Vice President German Cultural Council
  • Heinrich Schafmeister, actor, BFFS acting union‘s founding member
  • Dr. Ralf Schenk, film critic, journalist, film historian. 2004-19 Member of the selection committee for the Berlinale Competition, board of directors of the DEFA Foundation
  • Gabriele Schulz, Deputy Managing Director of the German Cultural Council, author of the study “Women in German Culture and Media“
  • Dr. Irmgard Sedler, museum scientist and ethnologist, 2003-18 Director of the Museum in the Kleihues Building, Kornwestheim
  • Dr. Charlotte Seither, composer, GEMA Supervisory Board, Member of the Executive Committee German Cultural Council
  • Franziska Sperr, writer, journalist, translator, vice president German PEN Centre
  • Laurie A. Stein (Chicago, Berlin), art historian / freelance provenance researcher
  • Christel Strobel, film journalist, co-founder of Kinderkino München, co-initiator of the children’s film section at Filmfest München, co-founder/editor of children’s and youth film correspondence
  • Olaf Zimmermann, Managing Director of the German Cultural Council

Who is missing?

There are more women who represent “outstanding artistic mediation work” and more women and men who are committed to greater gender justice. Where, for example, are the representatives of Blickpilotinnen and the Verband der Filmarbeiterinnen? Where are women theatre professionals? The women from Pro Quote Bühne (pro quota stage)? Where are the film historians who campaign for preserving female film heritage? Where journalists like Ellen Wietstock (black box Filmpolitischer Informationsdienst) and Sophie Charlotte Rieger (Filmlöwin – the feminist film magazine), who tirelessly provide facts and open eyes? Where are the representatives of WIFT Germany, Pro Quote Regie (Directing), Pro Quote Film? Where actresses who advocate more visibility and more opportunities for women in front of the camera, fight for equal pay, for more participation and more power of female colleagues in the acting profession? Since people from film associations, are on the list, where are the others? Why not include directors Esther Gronenborn and Verena S. Freytag, who during their time on the board of directors of the film directors’ association initiated the First Diversity Report on Directing (annually updated, the 6th was published in 2018), and who were also involved in the founding of Pro Quote Regie? Why are there so few film departments, are there really no female producers, screenwriters, DoP‘s, commissioners, etc. who can be role models or who campaign for gender equality? Nobody from a film funding body? And what about Silke J. Räbiger, who was director of the International Women’s Film Festival Dortmund|Cologne from 2007 to 2018 (the 37th edition at the end of Mach has unfortunately just been cancelled)?

Of course it cannot be everyone’s turn at once, awarding 100 medals would be a bit unusual. But the fact that, of all people, two actors and co-founders of the Bundesverband Schauspiel BFFS, Michael Brandner and Heinrich Schafmeister, are being honoured on this very occasion and with gender politics reasoning, and at the same time no actress is on the list, is a slap in the face of all the women in the BFFS who wanted to get involved and were thwarted under the rule of Brandner / Schafmeister. A slap in the face of all women who have actually and for years and decades worked for gender justice, behind and in front of the camera.

What kind of signal is Frau Grütters sending out here? Doesn’t she know about the dedicated, politically active film women? Yes, I think she does. Then why is she ignoring so many of them? And if she wants to honour particular men (she may well do so), why on this particular occasion? Couldn’t this be done without claiming an alleged extraordinary commitment to women?

A woman needs to be Twice as Good

There is currently a trend where men are taking up women’s issues in order to distinguish themselves, while women artists continue to be excluded and continue to breathe through their invisible lives, even without veils. Theses orders of merit certainly partly fall into this category. Anyway, it’s quite something when a prize for gender justice goes to men five times! It seems to be enough to be accessible to the Pro Quote stage movement without at the same time hiring more female directors. This is always astonishing and shows how wonderful public life can be without women.
Amina Gusner, director, author, co-founder Pro Quote Bühne / Stage

In the context of job and board positions, it is sometimes said that a woman needs to be be twice as good as a man in order to be recognised as equal. So is the opposite true that a man only has to be half as good? That is polemical, of course. But I was a little surprised at the men selected and the great commitment to women in the industry attested to them in the ceremony. (as I said, unfortunately I do not know the official reasons). A quick online search showed:

Ralf Schenk has published the book “Sie – Regisseurinnen der DEFA und ihre Filme” (She – female directors of the DEFA and their films) together with film scientist Cornelia Klauß in 2019. OK. His many years of involvement in the selection committee for the Berlinale Competition did not really lead to a large involvement of women directors, but perhaps he was a pioneer in the minority (I mean that seriously).

I found two quotes from Ulrich Khuon on the subject. One at a Bühnenverein meeting: “There must be a gender-equitable cast for the committees in the foreseeable future. Not today or tomorrow, but during the next two terms of office“. (N.N., BR Classic 10.6.18). This is not particularly bold, is it. Neither is his statement that “women should dare to follow their desire for children in the theatres too”. (quoted after Christiane Peitz, Tagesspiegel 18.7.17). But again, perhaps he has done much more for gender equality, I just couldn’t find it.

In the above mentioned short video of the BKM from the ceremony, you can find this statement:

Olaf Zimmermann: The fact that the gender paygap, i.e. that women, freelance women in the cultural sector earn so significantly less than men, namely 25% less, was really very frightening for me. I could not imagine that this was the case, and so I said that we must do something about it together.

Once again, I do not know the official reasons for the order, nor do I know what Mr Zimmermann has actually done or achieved in terms of equality for women in the cultural and media sector. The quote from the video, i.e. a new insight for him and a declaration of intent, would be too little.

Not to be misunderstood: I do not presume to be able to judge the cultural and political work of the recipients of the Order of Merit. I just wonder if it is possible that maybe one or two were to have been honoured for something else and for whatever reason ended up in this group and in this context. That would be bad for both (the honoured and the context).

It‘s interesting, by the way, to look at the official response from the acting union BFFS, who usually aren‘t exactly famous for restraint and modesty when it comes to mentioning actual and supposed merits. Several weeks or months ago they mentioned in a newsletter that Michael Brandner would be honored, omitting both Heinrich Schafmeister and ‘the gender context’. Both are also absent from the article “It is an honour for us” on the BFFS website dated 10.3., where the order of merit – only for Brandner – is explained with the founding of the BFFS. Why?

Anyway, here‘s Michael Brandner‘s comment in the BKM video clip:

Michael Brandner: Women must also compete and participate in politics, art and culture, even among the broad masses. And commitment is very important. To do this, you might have to push and pull them a bit, or convince them, or persuade them. As long as we don’t have parity, I don’t think the world will change significantly.

Well well.

I don’t feel like writing any more about the BFFS, about the problems of the male-dominated and male-determining board from the very beginning, the negative experiences of the first three women, who were each alone among men on the board. I have no desire to write about the impossibility of becoming involved in the association as an actress and putting gender issues on the agenda, about the undemocratic structure of the association. Ask other ex-members, and/or read my old articles:

By the way, Mrs. Grütters personal words at the tribute to Michael Brandner began like this:

Michael Brandner is not only here today as a gifted and celebrated actor in film and television, but also as co-founder and long-standing first chairman of the Bundesverband Schauspiel Acting Union. I believe that you have all earned great merits, Herr Schafmeister is also here. Under your leadership, the association has initiated considerable social improvements for actors and actresses, but also for actresses (source: a video recorded with a mobile phone that was sent to me)

what she actually means with „the social improvements for actresses“ in particular remains open, or is it enough to do something for everyone, with women being included, as action for gender equality? I don’t think it does. Frau Grütters continues:

and also as I have just mentioned the foundation of Themis, the Advise Centre against Sexual Harassment and Violence, the acting union really did play a central and, for us, very important role, and that is why I am pleased to be able to thank you here today for this, not least with the Order of Merit.

“Themis” is one of those things. I found, for example, that the installation of it went far too fast and was a bit over the top (there were rumours that funds (from the BKM? I don’t know) were available and had to be acted upon quickly. But this is a different topic and too much for this article. Just this much: there are women’s emergency calls and advice centres throughout Germany, some of which originated in the autonomous women’s movement. Why start something completely new from stratch when there are already very good and highly qualified, decentralised structures? And why did the BFFS from the beginning send only men to the meetings, why were no female colleagues taken along, asked, included? Apparently Heinrich Schafmeister and Bernhard Störkmann (legal consultant of BFFS(went to these meetings from the beginning with an alreadz more or less finished concept, but I that is just from hearsay. Just a reminder: my blog text Weinstein and the Silence of the German Film Industry was published on 16.10.17, which was, as far as I know, even before the first articles in the media about the German situation, so I was already ‘in’ the topic. Other colleagues, at that time also in the BFFS, as well.

In any case: I find men who talk to women, or even better, who let women talk and listen to them, more constructive than men who – unasked – talk for women and leave them behind. That is not something I would file under ,commitment for gender equality‘.

But back to the Order of Merit, because I want to describe the basics on this award and also something particular about the events on 6.3:

So how is this “Order of Merit” Thing usually done?

It’s a side effect of the background research for my blog texts that I’m learning a lot of new things. And I’m happy to share that with you. Did you know that the initiative for such an order can come from all of us? Quoting from the website of the Bundespraesident / Federal President:

Everyone can suggest another person for the Order of Merit.
The proposal should be sent to the administration (Staatskanzlei / Senatskanzlei) of the federal region which the person to be decorated lives.
Proposals are examined by in the federal state or at the Federal Foreign Office. Formal proposals may only be submitted to the Federal President by the heads of the regional government of the 16 Länder / federal states for their citizens and by the Minister for Foreign Affairs for foreigners or for German residents abroad. The President in principle bases his decision on their examination results and only awards medals in consensus with them.

It continues:

Many volunteers in our country have been working for others for many years and for a considerable amount of time. You know such a particularly active volunteer and want to encourage him or her to be awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany? You are welcome to fill out the following form online and then print it out or print it out directly and fill it out by hand.
We would like to point out the following:
– Merely fulfilling professional duties or the flawless fulfilment of official duties of members of the civil service or the undertaking of honorary activities alone is not sufficient for an award. The honorary activity must have been carried out with great personal commitment for a longer period of time, putting aside personal interests. (…)
– Only individuals can be proposed, honouring groups are not possible.

By the way, n the case of the 19 Orders of March 6th, things went differently, as Stefan Mertsch informed me:

Frau Gruetters presented her proposals to the heads of the federal states and the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, respectively, and asked them to cede their rights of proposal. The proposals were sent via Frau Grütters to the Federal President, who made the final decision.

Actually it would be good to publish the reasons for the proposals and choices, so as not to give the impression of possible preferential treatment and to make the decisions comprehensible. Why does this not happen automatically anyway with this ‘highest award of the Federal Government or the whole state’?

A Short Conclusion

It makes sense to give great women in culture and media the formal appreciation they deserve. And also to honour men who work for equal rights. However, a number of names are missing from the list compiled by Frau Grütters, and a few do not quite fit.

If I held the Order of Merit, this would be the moment to return it.

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