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24. February 2010

Edit Schlaffer grün c Sabine Hauswirth green scarf and pearls

The New Partnership Paradigm: From the Personal to the Political

Edit Schlaffer interviewed in Die Presse am Sonntag

The following article was published as a full-page spread in Die Presse am Sonntag, the Sunday edition of Die Presse.

The sociologist and feminist Edit Schlaffer describes her views on an ideal partnership between man and woman, why children need orientation and don’t need fearful parents, why conflict is a catalyst for change, and how she attacks terror at its roots in Yemen and India--in the families.

You were just selected as one of the leading female figures of the 21st century in New York. You have come a long way for someone who grew up in Stegersbach. Who prompted you to take this route?

My father, a civil servant, and my mother, a teacher, worked in Eisenstadt. I only saw them on the weekends. I spent the first six years of my life with my grandmother on a farm in Stegersbach; my grandfather had already passed away. For me, it was a matter of course that a woman would take charge of her own life and be economically independent. My mother’s sister also played an influential role in my life. She died in her early twenties and left behind many books. I read a whole series of Reclam books before I was old enough to understand most of them. Today, I still get the feeling that literature can open the doors to the world.

When did you come to Vienna?

At age 18, to study.

That was 1968?

’68 did not impress me very much. For me, the early ‘70s were impressive. While at university, I experienced how conservative the revolutionary comrades were in their dealings with women.

The ‘68 men were machos?

That almost disappointed me on a personal level. The women’s movement convinced me. That was about a new world, about equality between men and women. It was new terrain. At that time, domestic violence in a marriage was a taboo topic. I conducted my first big research project in this area.

How did you decide on the topic?

I was teaching at the Academy for Social Work at that time. Social workers told me about what was happening to women in the Rennbahn housing complex. It shook me to the core.

Did you think that women in the 21st century would be farther along?

Over the last half-century, women have been on a stormy ride that has brought them far, but there has also been an unbelievable backlash. Equal opportunities and equal pay do not exist.

Didn’t the men also have to come a long way?

The men’s trip was more dramatic, because it was not voluntary. We packed our bags and left behind old role expectations. We did not want to go back to that old way of life. We were determined to learn everything anew; we were the architects of our own new future. It was very, very exciting. We took it up with everything and everyone: with violent relationships and with the international chauvinist lobby.

So you half-pulled the man, and he half-sank, to where he is today?

In their fantasies, but not in reality, men had more to lose than to win. Men did not expect a great deal from equal opportunities for men and women. Women, of course, were new competition, because their gender is well-read, eager to learn, and innovative. Women are not better people, but they have a lot of panache, because they are on the move. Simultaneously, men experienced personal fears, because women did not just attempt to secure themselves economically. They suddenly tried to become men’s partners in their daily reality and in family life. The revolutionary realization that the personal is political shook everyone.

Do you think that the gender roles have ever changed so much at any other point in time?

I don’t think so, and especially not at this speed.

Does this not lead to any number of insecurities and conflicts?

Absolutely. But I think that conflicts and insecurities are positive. Conflicts are the catalyst for change. When we face conflicts and do not try to suppress them, our only option is victory.

A culture of conflicts is not necessarily an Austrian specialty.

That’s right. But the lack of desire to engage in qualified debate and the inability to grapple with content is a very Austrian phenomenon.

In The Trap of Emotions, you advised women to keep their feelings in the refrigerator if they wanted to move up in life. How exactly does this type of freezer-action work?

Through discipline. I lead a very disciplined life. I don’t always like to, but in the midst of all the chaos and media exposure in which we live, it is important to steer your own course and to ask yourself what you actually want. I travel a lot, which causes disturbances. Islands of discipline and ongoing daily organization are therefore a lifesaver, so that I can move forward.

You have written about women, partnerships, and upbringing. How did you arrive at the topic of terror?

(Laughs:) First, I dealt with personal terrorism. We build societies in a way that always includes interpersonal components. And for this reason, we launched the first anti-terror organization for women. Terrorists do not fall out of the sky. They are created in the family. And this is where women play an unbelievably important role.

You shuttle between Yemen, India, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries. How were you able to create this international project in Vienna?

Having our headquarters in Vienna is unbeatable. I am an enthusiastic Austrian; it has always been beneficial to me my entire life. Imagine what would happen if you tried to introduce the anti-terror idea in Yemen or Saudi Arabia with a British or American passport. It would be difficult. You are welcomed as an Austrian. Although the ‘official’ Austria does not contribute very much to my work.

Back to private dialogue within the family: what does an ideal partnership between a man and a woman look like to you?

A long discussion, a series of free associations, where you can say what you think without immediately facing resistance. The test is daily life. In every relationship—personal or professional—it is all about the division of responsibilities.

I have seen that children can put a relationship to the test. You have two children yourself. How did you manage it all?

The children’s arrival marked the end of our life as we knew it. All our rules were suddenly called into question. We discussed a great deal. At first, we talked about who was going to leave the house first. Who would stay behind to pick up the rest?

In general, the man leaves first.

Exactly. We scrutinized the sequences of action. Everyone should bring in his or her strengths, above and beyond the boundaries imposed by gender roles. I do not believe that fathers are better a priori than mothers at doing something. Except for breastfeeding, which is temporary.

You once described men as ‘hangers-on’ when it comes to raising children. I, of course, immediately felt like I had been caught.

Almost all fathers feel like they have been caught. I do not believe in the myth of quality time, I believe in real time. You have to spend a lot of time with your children, even if it is not filled with quality.

The inability to communicate between fathers and sons, which you highlight in your book Lonely Cowboys, has truly become a classic motif.

I do not know a single father who wants to be on the fringes of the family. Fathers often only realize and regret that they did not build up a relationship with their children after they have left the house. This is why I think that provisions such as the “papa month” are so important.

Why do many parents stop raising their children as soon as they have hit puberty?

Because they are so fearful. The current generation of parents is under a lot of pressure to be different than the post-war generation of parents, who were brought up with very rigid ideas of how to raise a child. We threw everything overboard too quickly and wanted to be friends with our children. That is a misunderstanding. Children need orientation, a solid anchor, and authority.

But for that, parents need to think about themselves first.

Raising children means that one has to deal with one’s self. Otherwise, it is difficult to provide orientation. This leads to uncertainty. It is very bad to make certain topics taboo. New things only come from contradiction. I love contradictions. That is my life dictum.

Important Dates

1968: Edit Schlaffer begins to study sociology and journalism in Vienna.
1978, she publishes The Completely Normal Marital Violence.
1982: Schlaffer takes over the “Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Politics and Interpersonal Relationships.” They publish one successful book after the next.
2002: Schlaffer founds the international organization “Women without Borders.”
2008: She launches the female counter-terrorism platform SAVE.
2010: Women’s eNews selects Schlaffer as one of the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century.

Edit Schlaffer is married and has two children: Laura (23) and Raphael (22).

Mrs. Schlaffer, could we also ask…

(1) …if you also thought about your book projects, when you were busy with your children?

I worked on themes that were part of my life reality. It was only when my daughter went to three different kindergartens that I realized how pink and Barbie-colored the world of girls is. I immediately did a project on it.

(2) …if your daughter also wore pink?

Of course. That upset me twice as much. I have learned a great deal from my daughter. You can discuss things with children at an early age. Partnership makes raising children much easier.

(3) …if one can learn anything from women in Saudi Arabia?

To persevere and not to become desperate. They have now pushed through women’s right to study law and to allow women to work in lawyers’ offices. Today, the female segment of Saudi society is incredibly well-educated.


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