It is unusual for humanities scholars to write autobiographies.
Talkative self-disclosures do not fit the ethos of the scholar.
Perhaps the recent popularity the autobiographical genre has gained among academics is a symptom of the disintegration of that ethos.
But autobiographical fashion has produced books that are worth reading, such as Karl Heinz Bohrer's “Granatsplitter” (2012) and “Jetzt” (2017) or Helmut Lethen's review published last year “Because man is not smart enough for this life”.
Christina von Braun, founding director of the first gender studies course in Germany at the Humboldt University, with her book “Gender” ties in with such attempts at linking subject and social history.
As early as 2007, she published “Stille Post”, a study on the unknown women in her family, which is dominated by prominent men.
Reshaped by today's beliefs
Christina von Braun is the niece of the rocket researcher Wernher von Braun, who was director of the Peenemünde Army Research Center in the Third Reich; her grandmother Hildegard Margis belonged to the resistance group around the communist Anton Saefkow. “Stille Post”, the attempt to make visible a women's story that has been displaced by family tradition, was published in the same year as her study “Veiled Reality”, which was written with Bettina Mathes. Even if on historically different subjects, the relationship that is established between gender and history in both books is similar: The desire for male domination of women is presented as a culture-independent law of movement of civilization,which makes distinctions between mediation forms of patriarchal rule just as impossible as those between the respective level of civilization in Western and Islamic societies.
Fortunately, the expectation that “gender” will vary this cultural relativism again has been disappointed.
Nevertheless, the view of the Second Women's Movement, which Christina von Braun witnessed without actually being part of it, is strongly reshaped by her views today.
Her book is preceded by an introduction with the title “That about the patriarchy was just such an idea”, in which she cites the author Annie Ernaux, who called herself “ethnographer of herself”, and the anthropologist Karl Polanyi outlines their purpose as a genealogy of the self.
Many conflicts are explained away
The gesture with which the Second Women's Movement, characterized by divisions (between the magazines Emma and Courage, between Courage and the black messenger, ostracized as an elitist), is subsumed as a “we”, smacks of presumption. Not all feminists of the time had learned to "differentiate between biological sex (sex) and social, cultural sex (gender)". This distinction has only prevailed since Judith Butler took it up in her book “Gender Trouble” in 1990 in order to reject it because biological gender is also culturally constructed.
Self-contradictions in the Second Women's Movement hardly appear in “Gender”. The black messenger remains unappreciated, and even Alice Schwarzer, who has always been critical of the gender-political renovation of feminism and judges Islam differently than Christina von Braun, is only mentioned as a Francophile muse who, with her “assertiveness and quick-wittedness”, fights for legalization the abortion brought to the Federal Republic, but had a different "access to the feminist question" than the future gender researcher.
Questions like what separated the author from other protagonists of the women's movement, how everyday life and feminism relate to one another - all of this remains strangely pale. Conflicts between Marxist and bourgeois, academic and proletarian women's groups are explained away in general terms when it says: “There were considerable conflicts between the different wings of the women's movement. Obviously every new movement first has to go through internal struggles for demarcation before it can deal with its own diversity. "The gap between the women's movement and the homosexual movement that shaped the 1980s is dismissed with the sentence:" Since then, homosexuality has been understood as part of sexual diversity and is socially accepted ..., many of these conflicts have lost their explosiveness. "
All of this gives the impression that Christina von Braun has little in common with the women's movement, although it belongs to the prehistory of gender studies and is its subject.
The simultaneity of the experience of privileges (the parents made it possible for her to travel abroad and boarding school) and of gender hierarchies in the family could be a reason for the simultaneity of the enthusiasm for the women's movement and a certain social blindness towards it.
Christina von Braun: "Gender". A personal and a political story.
Christina von Braun: "Gender".
A personal and a political story.
Ullstein Verlag, Berlin 2021. 368 pp., Hardcover, € 24.