zitty Berlin by Lydia Brakebusch
Do you switch into your male role accidentally sometimes – in everyday life?
I have performed male characters for over 25 years, and in the process, I have learned different male behaviours. There has been a certain amount of “leakage” in that I have expanded my role as a woman in everyday life; expanded the limitations of that allotted gender role.
Or do you do it on purpose, to accomplish something?
I want you to consider that the definitions of what it means to be a “man” and what it means to be a “woman” are open to conjecture. Once you assimilate the notion that these constructions are agreed cultural concepts, you become aware of the opportunity to access other behaviours. Behaviours that are perhaps frowned upon as being “unfeminine” might actually save your life – like being able to extend your voice and shout loudly, if attacked or assaulted. The assumed female behaviour in this situation is to cower timidly and hope to be rescued. A woman who fights back is singled out as unusual and perhaps even suspicious. Similarly, if a man expresses emotional pain by crying, he may be accused of “being weak”. Instead of receiving empathy, his behaviour may meet disapproval and he is expected to bottle up his feelings and “be a man”.
Tell us about the biggest success you had during your workshops with women, who want to learn more about male manners. (Did somebody have more success in her job or her relationship, something like that..)
In taking the MAN FOR A DAY workshop, women experience a transformation. They become aware of certain habitual behaviours like constantly smiling, nodding in agreement, apologising, etc. They discover that they can interject these so-called “normal” responses and create new ways to interact. Ideally, this awareness has the effect of influencing their perception of themselves and gives them the possibility to choose other behaviours, for instance the way they respond in an interview situation, or when negotiating for a pay-rise, in dealing with personal confrontations and so on. I have had feedback from many women who have adopted other body language and mannerisms that they learned in the workshop and used for positive gain in their lives.
However, you asked for a specific instance. Here is an entertaining one. In a workshop in Braunschweig, I visited the Shark Bar accompanied by two of the women who looked particularly hip and cool as men. Once inside the bar, I sat at a table (in character) with a beer and the two “newly found men” went to explore. They found a table-top football and were twiddling the rods. All of a sudden, they were approached by two of the men in the bar for a game. Though terrified, they agreed to play. They then played all out - like there was no tomorrow. Much to their surprise, they won the game. Not to be outdone, the two challengers then said “Best of three”. The challengers won the next game and it was a draw. But in the final deciding game, the two workshop participants won. They each received a pint of beer from their opponents, and then came to sit next to me at my table. They were gleaming with triumph and shocked at their newly-found skill.
I mean how many women-winners can you think of who compete with men at table-top football? Sure there are a few. However, in performing as men, both of these women instantly developed the ability to win! One had been too timid to ever play before and the other had played twice and lost both times. They now know they can play table-top football and win. Gender is irrelevant!
Do you believe in the, as we say in Germany, “new men”? The modern men, not afraid of showing emotions, caring for the kids, doing the dishes etc. Do they really already exist or is it still a long way to go?
I don’t know about Germany, but certainly if you look at Iceland, for example, which is considered the best place in the world for women according to a poll taken by American magazine Newsweek,
there seems to be a” mutual appreciation society” happening. Most Icelandic men take on the caring for kids, domestic duties, cooking, and so on in addition to working, just as women do. Perhaps Icelandic women are more demanding or expect equality with men. Is that true of German women? Perhaps Icelandic men respect and value women’s intelligence and participation in Icelandic culture and see their contribution as vital and important to the function and growth of their society. This certainly seems evident in the way Icelandic women are treated, and the women reflect that – they appear to have a strong sense of themselves and of belonging. I would suggest that their 50% representation in Parliament is a good example of that.
Which effects does the evolution of this kind of man have – will emancipation on both sides cover the differences with the decades and will the masculine and feminine behaviour fit to one another one time? Will men absorb feminine behaviour or the other way round?
I obviously cannot predict the future, but we have a situation where gender roles have changed dramatically since the 50s and 60s. Why should this evolution stop? We can point to key social changes over the years – women going out to work; women having access to birth control; women making contributions in all areas of research, politics, business and the economy, etc.; men seriously taking on feminist issues; men allowing themselves the opportunity to be involved in parenting and nurturing their children; men valuing their own capacity for tenderness, and so on. However, I also think that the trans community are intrinsic to this discussion. The 90s saw the emergence of an awareness of gender and trans issues and the burgeoning of a new gender and trans activism. The trans community are at the cutting edge; the borderline of questions on gender roles and gender behaviour. They are living the experience of growing up as one gender and then later in life, becoming another. Is the whole notion of gender an erroneous concept? Where do intersex people fit into the gender binary? And why should they? Those of us who are invested in the binary gender system have much to learn from trans and intersex people.
Do men in Berlin act in a specific kind of way? Is there something special about them, that you discovered during your observations on the streets of Berlin?
In general, I have found men I have met in Berlin to be open-minded and sympathique; socially and politically aware and willing listeners. They are up for a debate and make fine company. Berlin is a cosmopolitan city and there are so many different kinds of men living here. In observations on the streets of Berlin, male behaviour is similar to any western city, e.g. there is an unconscious expectation that women will give way as they are walking down the street. Men take their space. Women accommodate.
Almost every participant of your workshop has had very bad experiences with men – raped as a child, beaten by a boyfriend, left by the husband … Is it typical, that the members are traumatized in a way? Or did you pick these ones for the movie?
It was certainly not the intention of the filmmaker, Katarina Peters, nor mine, to recruit women for the film who had bad experiences with men. This is something that I personally lament. However, we had no idea at the beginning that these women had suffered in this way. We see Susann as the film opens, in a park in Heningsdorf, where she lived, talking about her curiosity about men… wanting to become a man for a day so that she could try to understand them better. Over the course of the shooting of the film, we see her naivety turn to an undesirable knowledge of a man, who kicked her down the stairs, which caused her to have a miscarriage… and so on. Another character, Tal, did not confide in us when she was interviewed for the film that she had been molested as a child. This was something that emerged during the shooting.
Katarina and I thought Theresa’s situation, whose husband left her for another woman, and she brought up three sons on her own, was not particularly unusual. But perhaps if you scratch the surface of any person’s life, there might be traumatic stories of abuse that are kept hidden?
In terms of a regular MAN FOR A DAY workshop, participants have many different reasons for signing up. Here are a few examples: some women are curious and have a fantasy about who they might become as men; some women are opera singers who are playing “trouser roles” and want to learn male behaviours; some women have gender dysphoria and need to find out if they want to change gender; some women participate for reasons of sexual frisson – they go to meet their boyfriend or girlfriend after the workshop for a night of rollicking role play; some women want to learn how men assume a sense of privilege and entitlement in their behaviours and interactions; some women are consultants or life coaches in their daily lives and want to learn some tips; some women just want to have fun.
These dramatic storys of the members experiences, always switched into the movie about the workshop, seem, at large, like a demonization of men..?
The intention is not to mock. I express in the film the need for the workshop participants to respect and honour men, as they are the subjects of our scrutiny. I am interested in each person creating their own character and this requires a sense of acute attentiveness when observing male behaviour. These observations of how a particular man walks, takes up space, smokes a cigarette, and so on, are like exercises for actors. In order to have authenticity,
it is important to not fall into cliché but to use these male mannerisms, nuances of gesture, behaviours as a source in the construction of a male character.
How did men react on Katharina Peters’ movie?
After the screenings at the Berlinale, the movie generated a lot of questions from men, as well as women. It is certainly a contentious film. Some men commented that the film stimulated a new awareness in themselves, and some men were resistant and did not agree with the concept at all. However, I think that most men who would come to see the MAN FOR A DAY film would most likely already be curious about gender issues. They might also be inquisitive about whether we, as women, can actually pull it off.