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Feminist Politics at the Local Level (1986)

This text attests to the broad scope of feminist politics in West Germany. According to the three far-left members of the women’s movement, who also held positions in Frankfurt’s city parliament, feminist politics involved a critique of male language forms, a willingness to move into “male” political terrain, and diverse forms of political action extending well beyond parliamentary work.

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The Project “Autonome Frauen im Römer”: Feminist Politics in the Frankfurt City Parliament

In Frankfurt, as a trio of autonomous women from the women's movement (two of us are elected city councilors from the Green party, one is an assistant to the parliamentary party caucus), we are doing feminist politics at the parliamentary level. We are supported by a group of autonomous women who meet weekly to help develop and aid our work. We do feminist politics when, for example, we oppose the rail-less downtown*, and justify this on the grounds of the sexual division of labor; when we fight the ordinance on prohibited zones and conduct our campaign under the motto: "Women against double standards"; when we start our speech on the budget with a quote from the classic cookbook by Davidis about thrifty housekeeping; or when we propose financial support for women's projects in the city. We also do feminist politics when we repeatedly criticize male forms of speech and, for example, reject the concept of Milchmädchenrechnung,** a favorite expression of male parliamentarians. In our article, we want to report quite concretely about these politics: feminist politics within the traditional political realm of a parliament, as we understand it, should put women and their diverse forms of living and working into the public's field of vision, so that they become a central political theme for the public in Frankfurt. Difficulties arise for our kind of feminist politics, however, when we have to concretize improvements in living conditions for women, as they make their way toward greater autonomy, at the level of measures, city ordinances, and the like, which have to implemented by an administration. What is it all supposed to add up to, or rather, what kind of an urban world and an urban society do we really want? Recently, in our discussions, we've solved this problem by talking about our feminist utopias, whereby it remains largely open as to what exactly this means to us, given that the life plans and the everyday lives of women are as different as the explanations and interpretations that are provided. [ . . . ]

Against this background – as a central critique made by "radical" feminists would have it – feminist politics in patriarchal structures seems to be condemned to failure from the outset. Or – as the critique is also sometimes formulated – everything that feminist politicians work hard to accomplish every day (and perhaps even succeed in doing) within these structures is not feminist enough, because it has been adjusted to the patriarchal system – otherwise it wouldn't have commanded a majority. This critique (which can also be substantiated quantitatively) cannot be so easily dismissed, for ultimately women really are a minority in parliamentary bodies, so that resolutions can only be passed by a male majority – and, ultimately, what man saws off the tree branch on which he's sitting? We maintain, nevertheless, that we are doing feminist politics in the city parliament, since we formulate and realize concrete approaches to feminist politics and assert ourselves and are earning credentials as feminists, embedded as we are within patriarchal structures (out of 93 city councilors, only 22 are female).

* Here, the authors refer to potential plans for the removal of streetcars from Frankfurt's downtown – trans.
**Milchmädchenrechnung: simple-minded reasoning (literally: milkmaid's reasoning) – trans.

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