Who’s the cats that won’t cop out?

And who’s calling out cops over catcalls?

Augsburg’s kind of a small, quiet city – if you’re going to call it a city at all. Not the place you’d think globally received activism is happening. So when a local Instagram blog somewhere in the 500-like margin suddenly receives over 10,000 upvotes for a single post, is endorsed by a New York-based blog with almost 200,000 followers and reported on by the Süddeutsche, you know things are either going exceptionally well – or shit’s hit the fan.

Sorry, I live behind the moon. Come again?

We’re pretty sure you already have some basic idea of the issues we’re going to address in this article – and if you don’t, you might want to take a closer look at your social media habits. But let’s recap, shall we? Last Wednesday, December 09th 2020, a new post was uploaded to the Augsburg-based Instagram blog @catcallsofsaugsburg. As per usual, the photo showed a catcall, an unwanted sexual statement experienced by a woman. The perpetrator’s exact words had been written on the ground in chalk in the exact place where the catcall had happened – at a very central location, the Rathausplatz – by the activists behind @catcallsofaugsburg to raise awareness. They’ve been doing this for a while now, so what’s new? Well, as followers were informed in the caption, several police officers and fire fighters came up to the scene with a fire truck shortly after the writing had been created and flushed the whole thing away with a fire hose.

So what’s catcalling?

Catcalls entail sexually charged comments, loud whistles, or inappropriate touching, usually performed by men on passing women, (supposedly) gay men or trans people. They may be paired with discrimination of people with disabilities or – as was the case in our example – POC (People of Color), among other groups. The question why far too many men engage in this heavy-handed behavior comes up a lot. Now, there are a range of explanations: on the one hand, toxic masculinity still has a huge impact on our society and seems to lead men to all kinds of inappropriate behavior, even against better knowledge. On the other hand, women are still being sexually objectified to the point where catcalling is received as some sort of twisted compliment by some: “Don’t make such a fuss and be happy about it,” victims are often told. Er, no. Street harassment is everything but a compliment. A compliment is an expression of respect and affection.

Catcalling, on the other hand, is harassment that can instill fear. Some victims suffer long-lasting psychological wounds from it. It is a severe humiliation which imposes male dominance and superiority over women and minorities, often intended to make the victim feel powerless and out of control. Catcalling is a global problem; that’s why @catcallsofxyz blogs were created, a social feminist movement that originated in New York City and has spread from there to many cities around the world. By chalking up all the rude and inappropriate comments and incidents on the street these blogs provide a platform to those who are affected by street harassment – and initiate public debate.

Take this as the trigger warning of the century – it’s getting ugly!

There had been another, earlier post published on @catcallsofaugsburg two days before – i.e. on Monday, December 7th. It showed the fire truck in action and was followed by a few paragraphs of explanatory text in the description. Apparently, passers-by had called the police because the writing was irritating them. Now, it did include some very nasty words, was evidently sexist and even contained a racial slur. However, judging from the actual photo that was uploaded two days later, the purpose should have been more than obvious all along. The writing included an anti-racist hashtag, the name of the blog and a huge trigger warning at a very prominent position. The word fuck and the n-word were both censored, using asterisks. Evidently not the kind of lengths you’d go to if you were just a sexist Neo-Nazi trying to make people feel bad, right?

To some, it wasn’t that evident. According to @catcallsofaugsburg’s Instagram captions, a climate activist camping nearby had to inform the police about the purpose of the writing and the movement behind it. Still, they proceeded to call several colleagues and, since said activist refused to remove the writing (not sure why that should have been his job in the first place), the firefighters. So far, so exaggerated. Since this kind of media attention can be very uncomfortable even to an anonymous victim and create further trauma, @catcallsaugsburg got back to the person that had experienced the catcall and made sure they still wanted it published. Two days later, the actual photo was uploaded. As of now, both posts have been liked several thousand times. Seems fair to say a lot of people don’t agree with the procedure, including, for instance, the slightly more popular @catcallsofnyc. So where’s the problem?

Mistakes were made…

Now, there seem to be several dimensions to this event, and it’s probably safe to say that more than a few people were implicated in one way or another. First off, there’s the passers-by. Let’s take a walk in their shoes, shall we? You’re walking past some writing on the ground, now you’re stopping to read it, oh look! Profanity, sexist language, a racial slur… Irritating for sure, we’ll give you that. But you’d probably read the whole thing, wouldn’t you? At least if you’re going to call the police over it, right? Do that, and you’ll find out: there’s a trigger warning. Words have been censored. An anti-racist hashtag has been added. An Instagram blog has been tagged. There’s zero immediate danger to you, so why not get out your phone for a bare minimum of research first, if you’re still not getting it? Same goes for the involved police officers, who had been informed about the purpose of the whole thing. It’s very clearly feminist activism; that should be easy enough to understand.

Of course, that’s the nice way of reading it, assuming there was zero bad will, only lack of information and poor judgment. But there’s another, more uncomfortable reasoning: maybe some passers-by simply couldn’t stand being confronted with the discrimination that women and POC face daily and felt they couldn’t just ignore the whole thing and move on. Maybe they didn’t like the idea of victims speaking up. Maybe cracks were starting to form in their bubble, but they wouldn’t allow it to burst. Why get informed about discrimination and, crazy suggestion, learn something from it, when you could just shoot the messenger instead? Better call the police and have them remove all traces of the traumatic event you‘ve just had to endure, right? Luckily, they’re ready to help.

… followed by more mistakes…

And then, of course, what’s up with three police cars and a fire truck? If you’re just going to remove chalk – crazy suggestion: use a bucket of water, not a fire truck. Literal kids use these things on asphalt or concrete, and they’re gone with the first drop of rain. So are we talking about a waste of taxpayers’ money? Yeah, but there’s also the attention a fire truck in front of the town hall’s going to create – meaning there’s the danger of attracting additional bystanders, apart from the overly large number of officers and firefighters already involved in the whole affair. All of these people will end up spending an unnecessarily long time huddled together in a mask-only zone, while a pandemic’s going on. All of that, just to show some presence? Totally worth it. A victim goes through all the original trauma of an unwanted encounter, risks bringing it all up again by contacting anti-catcalling activists, tries to make a statement by sharing their story… and then, that statement’s literally going down the gutter, because some bystander who’s probably never had to endure any of this themselves is feeling uneasy. By removing the chalk, the perpetrators are not only protected; the victims are also actively deprived of their voices! What a slap in the face.

…. and they couldn’t leave it at that, either.

And here come slaps no. 2 & 3: a reply by the police and an official statement by Augsburg’s mayor Eva Weber that are visible on @catcallsofaugsburg. Now, it was to be expected a police statement would be supportive of the police, and it’s a fairly polite and informative message overall – which is precisely why the final paragraph sticks out like a sore thumb: “the incident quoted in the writing – should it actually have taken place as described – constitutes a criminal offense that we […] would like to follow up on.” What’s with the relativization? Is that some sort of police language, some (clumsy) way of avoiding a premature assignment of guilt to a suspect who’s not yet been proven guilty? As in calling someone a suspect instead culprit to make sure everybody gets a fair trial? But there’s no suspect anyway, and there’s nothing premature in saying a “quoted incident” constitutes a crime. Calling it a quoted incident already implies you’re working with what you’ve heard, really. Why be so upfront in saying there’s (major) doubts about the truthfulness of a report that was never even filed? Could that be a cover-up for the fact that hardly any catcaller is ever punished or even identified? And by the way, maybe victims would feel safer reporting offenses if you weren’t eliminating their public statements.

It’s also a crying shame that Eva Weber didn’t have in her to dissociate herself decisively and vigorously from the police’s behavior in her official statement. Instead, she only fed the press with a half-baked statement that’ll, ultimately, change nothing. She also didn’t drop a single remark about the racial slur being used, only referring to respect for women in very general terms. Unfortunately, this further proves how too many politicians and government institutions are losing their grip on our reality and the current, modern problems of our communities.

Did we mention mistakes?

What a double standard: We can protect our concrete from chalk but can’t protect victims from catcalling. We pay attention to the sensibilities of bystanders but not to victims when they speak out. What’s up with that? If we want to address this mismatch, we need social movements like catcallsofxyz! We need people to start taking the stories seriously as well as paying attention and listening to them. It goes without saying that the solution of this problem is not reinforcing public police presence or implementing short-sighted laws. The source of the problem is deeply rooted in society: the patriarchy – you knew it had to come up somewhere. We must disintegrate harmful structural and constitutional thinking patterns by developing media and public education initiatives to change attitudes and behaviors. We need to publicly demonstrate intolerance for sexual harassment of all kinds. And we shouldn’t have to waste time justifying our anger and our activism!

A huge thanks to the activists behind @catcallsofaugsburg. You really are the cats that won’t cop down. Keep up the amazing work (that we all wish you didn’t have to do)!

Authors: Niklas Schmidt & Mariana Silva Lindner

Language and Gender

How society changes language

Language plays an important role in our lives. It’s not just about communicating and interacting, but also about sending indirect messages through our chosen words. This can have challenging consequences in society regarding individual attitudes and lifestyles. In recent years there have been linguistic changes intended to make our language more inclusive. But why now?

The classic role allocation

Up to the 20th century there was a clear gender distinction in life. It was common that men provide for their families, go to work and manage the finances. Meanwhile the women stay at home to take care of the home and children. Back then, people didn’t think about changing common gendered expressions in the language they used. The words used just reflected the structure of society at the time. Terms like ‘manpower’ were clearly adequate to describe the workforce in that times, which consisted of male workers. But should we still stick to those expressions nowadays?

Language develops with culture

In modern society we’re more aware of these antiquated prejudices in general. Over the last century, awareness for equal rights of women and minorities has risen. Since our way of expression and communication reflects our mindsets and attitudes, it changes as our habits do. Why should we hold on to terms that exclude minorities, when we aim to include them in our society and fight for their equal rights? It wouldn’t make any sense to hold on to them because we don’t want to harm anybody’s feelings by using exclusive language. If we care about other people, we also have to choose our words wisely.

Cis men are still privileged

Regardless, there are still many situations where cis men are regarded as superior. The question is: does language change our society or does society change our language? We could say they influence each other. If people are not willing to adapt their attitudes towards modern movements, their language won’t either. But if we don’t become aware of the effect our way of speaking has on our habits, we won’t rethink how we’re living.

Make a change

We can see in political debates, that there are still problems and challenges in our efforts to be more inclusive. Raising awareness towards minorities and all the terms that could negatively affect others, seems very demanding and often difficult to realize. However, isn’t it better to try our hardest rather than to simply give up? Obviously, change doesn’t happen overnight, but if we keep trying we can improve our world one word at a time – for all of us.

Author: Leonie Kohl Xiques

Un’intervista con Tommaso Meozzi

To all the italians, italian students and those who are curious about this language: we’ve got a treat for you!

Do you remember eMag #34 with its main topic “language and identity”? If not, go ahead and check out the article “Le parole sono bombe”. This is the videointerview correlating to it.

KARA-UKE IS BACK!!!

Yes, you have read the headline correctly: The following isn´t about the classic karaoke, which in particular takes place in Irish Pubs after everyone had already had two Guinness. This event takes your bog-standard karaoke to the next level by adding Ukuleles into the mix and has already become the new secret tip in Augsburg: Kara-Uke.

What is Kara-Uke?

Replace the karaoke machine by motivated guests with their ukuleles, and you basically have the perfect setup for a fantastic Kara-Uke night. Join this with readable chords and lyrics projected to the wall with a projector as well as the the motivated and guitar-loving Benni, inventor and moderator of the whole, and I can promise you that you will have the perfect Kara-Uke night.

No ukulele? No problem! The more voices, the better.

The great Kara-Uke restart

At the beginning of this year, the crowd favorite Kara-Uke suffered from the Corona-lockdown just like all the other activities requiring the encounter of a group of people and had to take a compulsory break. But now that more people are finally allowed to meet again, it´s back – and it seems to not have lost its popularity at all. July is the month of the great Kara-Uke restart!

And let’s face it:  Now that you were sitting around all day, I´m sure that at least some of you have used their free time  to practice some of those instruments that have been long forgotten in the corners of your room. Put those skills to use in this event!

The number of people has to be kept limited, which is why the normally free-entry event had to “sell” tickets – and sold them out in less than 2 days. Fascinated by the success of this creative event, I got intrigued to know more about it and had to ask Benni about a few things that I was desperate to find out.

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR KARAUKE?

Benni: Actually, KaraUke wasn’t my idea. It’s an event that takes place all over the world in different countries and cities. Michael Dannhauer, Jakob Mader and I are just the guys that brought KaraUke to Augsburg.

When Michael was in Australia 6 months ago, he took part in a similar event in Brisbane, where people met in a cafe with their ukuleles. The organizers had a projector and a linen cloth set up, so people could see the songs with all the lyrics and the chords. Then everybody started to play along and sing together. It sounded so easy to me that I thought: Okay, let’s try this in Augsburg. Maybe the people here will like it as well. And they did.

WHY DO YOU THINK THAT KARAUKE IS SO SUCCESSFUL AND WHAT DO THE PEOPLE VALUE ABOUT IT?

Benni: Everything about KaraUke is simple. The instrument – the ukulele – is tiny and cute, and everybody can learn it really fast. You don’t have to practice it as much as other instruments and very quickly you get a feeling of success. With 3 or 4 chords you can play almost any song throughout pop history. When people visit a KaraUke event for the first time and can’t hold up with the chord changes for example, they can also just sing along. They are happy when the C-Chord is coming over and over again and in between they pause, and have a good time singing with all the others.

It’s really exciting to see, that this little instruments brings so many different people together. No matter where you come from, how old you are, or if you have ever played music before, it doesn’t matter. KaraUke is an event for literally EVERYONE. And because it is for everyone it’s always for free. We collect donations where everybody can give as much as they want, but don’t have to.

WHAT IS PLANNED FOR THE 25.07. AND WHY SHOULD WE ALL TRY TO GET A TICKET? Benni: The next KaraUke on July 25th is the first KaraUke after the Corona-Lockdown. And it’s our first Open Air Event ever, so we are really excited about that. It takes place at the 11er Rosenau Biergarten which has a capacity of 100 people. Everybody had to get a (free) ticket because of the capacity limit. After two days we were sold out. But we are planning a few more Open Air KaraUke events this summer and even in autumn. Nobody knows how indoor events in the colder time of the year will work out, so we’re trying to get outside as much as we can. So follow us on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/KaraUkeAugsburg) , Instagram (@karauke_augsburg) or meetup and you will be updated about our upcoming events.

author: Una Kiesel

How much do we matter? – A midwife’s Coronavirus experience

Over the course of the last three months, a lot has changed in our daily routines. The sudden lockdown and stay-at-home orders have affected everyone in Germany. While many students, myself included, were able to stay at home and rejoice in the comforts of “easier” exams and a two-minute commute from bed to desk, essential workers were not so lucky.

Essential Workers during a pandemic

Undoubtedly, every single essential worker deserves more than just applause and praise for keeping our country going. And surely a million articles could be written about the heroic people that braved the storm and still made sure everyone was safe, healthy and provided with everything they needed. However, I want to focus specifically on a group that has often fallen under the radar in the last months: midwives.
For clarification purposes, midwives are women and men (yes, they exist) that take care of expecting mothers before and after they give birth.

Tanja, a self-employed midwife from Bavaria, recalls the beginnings of what will eventually surely be the prologue of a Steven Spielberg movie. “We were suddenly the only port of call and source of comfort for new mothers, not just professionally but also on a personal level. Most times, their husbands could not be with them in the delivery rooms. On top of that, the entire family is often present in the time after a birth but could not help because of the social distancing rules set in place.” At the same time, they were ordered to only stay with the mothers and babies for as short as possible, which felt like a strange internal dilemma of wanting to be safe and also wanting to give the mothers all the support they were not currently receiving, she explains.

Midwives especially were in a difficult situation because they had to move from family to family despite the no-contact rules which technically forbade anyone from visiting another household. “And on top of that, of course the families had vulnerable newborns that could easily get sick. Plus, we had to be extra careful since they had just left the hospital and were at a higher risk of having contacted Covid-19 already.” Tanja recalls.

The technological side of things

Another area of trouble was the gymnastics courses they offered to mothers after birth. “Fortunately, we were able to do the courses online almost immediately, but that brought with it its own set of challenges. I’m not a very tech-savvy person and of course, when you’re in such a strange new situation, everything that can go wrong usually does.” Laughing, Tanja remembers: “In the first session, we started about 15 minutes later than we wanted to. My colleague’s camera didn’t work and I couldn’t access the video conference at all because my e-mail provider had spontaneously shut down their site. In the end, both our kids held our cellphones for an hour because that was the only way we were able to access the course.” Since then, not only has the technological aspect gotten much smoother, but Tanja also jokes that she’s now an expert at angling the laptop perfectly so that no one sees the chaos in her room.

“All in all, we’ve dealt with the situation as best we could,” is the conclusion Tanja offers. “In the beginning, we really wondered how much us midwives matter. It seemed like every new rule put in place somewhat ignored our existence and focused on everyone but us, but eventually we were able to piece together how we should conduct our work.” When asked what the hardest part was for her personally, the answer is “Probably the huge weight I felt with regard to the comfort I wanted to offer these women but couldn’t. Pregnancy is often already a very scary time for them, and then to suddenly feel like they had to figure everything out on their own with the occasional phone call and the significantly shorter visits we conducted was a source of frustration for all of us.”

The moral of our newfound appreciation

While this pandemic is certainly not an occasion to be thankful for, it’s safe to say that our attention has had to shift to aspects of our society that we didn’t focus on before. Not only are essential workers finally receiving the attention they deserve, but like midwives, many professions have finally started being viewed as irreplaceable. Something we can take away from these months – other than a 1,5 meter distance being ingrained in our heads – might be a newfound awareness for just how difficult and important the work done by nurses, retail workers, midwives (and many more) is in our society. In the months coming, perhaps we can all do our part to make sure that we show this appreciation not only in clapping at a certain time every day, but also make sure they are treated fairly and also finally paid as much as they deserve.

author: Sarah Fiebig

The sound of bees buzzing – Keeping memories alive

It happens in less than a second… a bee flies close to my ear making its typical buzzing sound and (swoosh) I´m back to a past situation in my head. It´s a hot day in late summer, I´m in my grandparents’ garden in the east of Germany for the holidays, my granny has just made her delicious plum pie and maybe in the afternoon we will ride our bikes to the beautiful lake in the forest around the corner.

Wonderful trick of the brain

It happens just like a reflex: you smell, hear or taste something and it reminds you of a situation in the past. It´s like a moment you caught and put into an empty marmalade jar, only to open it up again and get a whiff of the feeling you had at this time. Just to name another few examples: I love the smell of gasoline. Not because it´s a fancy perfume, but because it reminds me of my childhood vacations. Going on a camping trip in Italy by car, being stuck in a traffic jam, excited for the next two weeks just enjoying life. Same goes for the sound of pigeons, which I always heard when I woke up in the tent.

The taste of milk chocolate – for me also an association with being a child. My first advent calendar, a Milka chocolate bar as a present from relatives or a piece of the typical Easter chocolate bunny. I take a bite and I feel like a little girl again. Another amazing thing: the smell of old books… or new books, as well! As for the old ones, their smell takes me back to rummaging in a library or my parents´ bookshelves. The smell of new books always brings excitement to me: like when you got a new book for your birthday and could not wait to start reading, or when the new year of school started and you were still excited about what would happen during the year (motivation was still existent back then).

Bringing childhood back to the present

I could probably go on telling you other examples for eternity… The smoke after you blew out a candle (on your birthday cake), the sound of a cow´s bell, the smell of French fries, the feeling you get when you coincidentally smell the soap your grandma uses as well, the scent of sunscreen or the taste of cotton candy…

All of these things bring some kind of joy to our minds because they remind us of happy moments that are already gone. Maybe in hard times we should remind ourselves of those smells, sounds or tastes and try to get a glimpse of them. Just to get the feeling of being a child again, when the worst thing that could happen was having to take a nap (now the most amazing thing ever!) and the best thing was eating French fries next to the pool.

author: Carolin Joos

Behind the green – Tips on how to spot and avoid Greenwashing

Organic. 100% recycled. Recyclable. Natural. Certified green. When you buy this item, 1$ will be donated to children in need. Think for yourself: Do you feel better when buying an item which is labelled as environmental-friendly or sustainable?

There are many words that could be used to describe something as eco-friendly or sustainable. When reading these, people mostly feel good for supporting a company that cares about sustainability, animals and human rights. However, most of these companies only use these for tricking people into buying their things – while not caring a single bit about problems like environmental pollution, child labour and so on. This problem is called greenwashing.

What is greenwashing?

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines greenwashing as “activities by a company or an organization that are intended to make people think that it is concerned about the environment, even if its real business actually harms the environment”. The term is based on the word “white-wash”, which describes that somebody is trying to hide unpleasant facts about something and trying to make it seem better than it is. As protecting the environment and living a more sustainable life is a current and “trendy” topic in times of climate change and Fridays For Future, many companies try to use this for making profit and selling more of their products. For example, a company sells items packed in plastic but claims that they have a new campaign which reduced the plastic by 15%. So why don’t they ban it entirely and search for a completely different type of packaging which would be a 100% less plastic? Probably because it is cheaper and costumers don’t really think that much into it, as the item is “more” sustainable than others or the older version of the same product.

How do I recognize greenwashing?

There are some possible ways to recognize greenwashed products. Above all, trust your instincts. Also check the whole product, what it’s made of and how it can be disposed of afterwards. When seeing a green label, check why it’s claimed to be green. You could even go to the website and read through it. Do they give a lot of information about their goals and marketing or is it really vague and unspecific? Is there a lot of ambiguity? Research the company on other websites, which are not associated with it and check for hints. If you want to go into it even more, contact the company and directly ask them your questions. If they don’t respond or talk around your questions, it might be greenwashing. Look for certain certifications and seals on the product. Research them and make sure they are from third parties which are not influenced by the company.

How can I avoid greenwashing and take action against it?

You can avoid greenwashing by saying no. Don’t buy the item if you don’t want to support this company. If you have the choice, search for the same thing by another brand and buy it instead (if it isn’t also affected by greenwashing). Also spread the word. Less demand will eventually get the product from the market. If you want to go even further, contact the company and state your concerns. They might have done it unintentionally or are open for suggestions to improve their marketing. There is also the possibility to report it to the consumer advice centre (Verbraucherzentrale). They check the item or advertisement and may even go after it judicially. Now you might think “Why should I do all this if it’s just a marketing strategy?”. The problem about it is that you lose sight of the bigger problem that is hidden behind the “green marketing”. At its worst it isn’t just a marketing trick but rather an attempt to hide the bad effects the companies have on the environment. This is why everybody should take a look behind the green.

author: Veronika Grashey