As much as a woman may want to be perceived independently of her gender, she cannot escape it. This is one of the truisms that makes any debate about feminism as provocative as watching a ping-pong match between opponents who have declared the winner before picking up their bats.
In Germany, however, a country that prides itself on being among the most forward-thinking and liberal in Europe, there is no way out of gender trouble — at least not in the workplace. I am irritated with silently, perhaps involuntarily, being framed as a woman. I see it as discrimination, or at least as a way of being viewed that most men don't encounter, which can be negative as well as positive, whether it entails a comment on one's hairstyle or one's intellectual ability.
Writing about it makes it even worse; it feels as if you are voluntarily putting another fence around the frame others have put around you. And yet German officials have just released some statistics that are so outrageous that everybody — male or female — ought to wake up. Only 2 per cent of newspaper editors are women, and elsewhere in the economy things aren't looking much better: less than 2 per cent of leadership positions in the country's top 100 companies were held by women last year.
Instead of launching into a shrill protest, I take this inequality as a matter to be judged by common sense — as would most educated women of my generation, who have been raised to believe that they could do as well as the boys.
No one, one would think, should understand this better than a level-headed female head of state who has fought her way up through a world dominated by powerful, conservative men. Yet Angela Merkel has just signed off on a law that in effect promotes an outdated view of women and their role in society.