FEMFACTS
10 Dec 2018

Far-right politician lashes out against women

AfD member Heiner Merz described women hired because of gender quotas as “stupid, lazy, ugly and obnoxious”.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Malta
Far-right politician lashes out against women - NewsMavens
Heiner Merz, YouTube

After lengthy debates, the conservative CSU party, a sister-party of Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU, reached an agreement on gender quotas in 2010. Initially skeptical about gender quotas herself, Merkel later proclaimed her realization about how “wonderfully” a women’s quorum worked in her party, and invited the sister-party to “embrace the novelty”. Speaking at the debate, Christine Haderthauer, minister for family at the time, said, “I am a quota-woman too. Most lone heroines are quota-women.”

Gender quotas are a mechanism used to strengthen women’s participation in fields traditionally dominated by men, including politics. The idea behind such mechanisms, commonly known as “affirmative action”, is to counter traditional obstacles which women or minorities face in entering such fields -- informal networks which are closed to them, power structures build upon such networks, more or less open prejudice which prevents or slows their career advancement, etc. When Germany adopted the practice, it opted for soft-law quotas without sanctions.

Making it to a top position thanks to a quota can, however, carry the stigma of being “unfairly” promoted. In 2016, Der Spiegel ran an interview with a Norwegian company board member Elin Karfjell, about how she does not fear being associated with the gender quota in her career. Norway has pioneered gender quotas on corporate boards, and numerous countries followed suit. Also, according to The Economist, quotas in Italy have raised the overall qualifications of company boards. If you look at the European Institute for Gender Equality’s timeline, the share of women on Germany’s corporate boards climbed from merely a tenth, a decade ago, to one of the leading positions today.

But criticism of quotas still persists and the latest one in Germany took the form of an open sexist slur. In a personal email to a government official, a far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party member of the Baden-Württemberg federal state parliament, Heiner Merz, had this to say about it:

“Only unqualified, stupid, lazy, ugly and obnoxious women use the quotas; the good, hard-working and sufficiently qualified women found their way by themselves.”

"Previously it had been forbidden to hire women for their gender alone, he said. "Today it will probably be a duty," Merz wrote on October 25.

The correspondence reportedly started from a discussion about nominating an AfD representative to the environmental authority headed by Minister for Environment Franz Untersteller. Minister Untersteller made Merz’s remarks public, adding that he was shocked by them.

AfD often portrays itself as pro-women by promoting family-friendly policies, scaremongering against German Muslims and promising to protect women from Islam. The party has also organized “women’s marches”. However, only 13% of AfD’s members are women. Female AfD politicians told Welt that they are “thick-skinned” against the abuse in the party’s internal debates, and they believed they must be prepared for anything if they wanted to be in politics. A young politician publicized her party colleague’s remark that women like her should rather do pole-dancing. Despite such sexist remarks, reportedly, 17 percent of women in eastern Germany voted for AfD.

After his statement was published, Merz told DPA, a press agency, that he stands by his wording, but his party’s faction chairman told the press he would investigate the case. As reported by the Frankfurter Allgemeine, Merz claims he has worked well with his qualified female colleagues as an IT professional. He merely believes that quotas will advantage “some kind of women” over professionally qualified men, as there are so few women in technical fields.

That explanation, however, hardly even begins to justify his word choice. Among the adjectives he used, one is particularly telling of the real attitudes towards women in politics. Even if we accept quotas being criticized on the risk of allowing unqualified people into important positions -- although Merz provided no evidence to prove this claim -- calling women “ugly” and “obnoxious” in this context implies that their physical appearance should and does play a part in their professional life and political engagement.

We rate this overtly sexist claim as an example of antifeminist backlash and sexual objectification of women.

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