The men’s federal forum is ten years old and fights for gender equality. A conversation with the chairman Thomas Altgeld.
taz: Mr. Altgeld, please answer yes or no. Are you a feminist?
Thomas Altgeld: Yes.
Do we have to abolish the gender pay gap?
is a psychologist and managing director of the State Association for Health and Academy for Social Medicine Lower Saxony. Since 2019 he has been CEO of the Bundesforum Männer.
Is Equality policy also good for men?
Yes, in any case!
Whose interests do you represent: those of men or those of women?
We have to get away from this antagonism. We represent the interests of men. But we don’t represent them against women’s political interests and successes. We look: What are the needs and needs of men in the context of a male-oriented equality policy.
The nationwide interest group with 33 member organizations does lobby work for gender-equitable concerns of boys, men and fathers. It was founded on November 4, 2010 as a counterpart to the older and larger German Women’s Council.
Men would earn significantly less if, for example, the gender pay gap did not exist.
But you would gain a lot elsewhere. In many areas that are patriarchally organized in our society – in the education system, for example, or in the labor market – the importance of gender is hardly reflected. But even if men do better on the corporate ladder, that doesn’t mean that it serves their interests. There are deep-seated stereotypes that make men and women unhappy, that even destroy lives. It’s about a lot more than just money. It’s about chances of realization and ultimately happiness in life.
What does a contemporary idea of masculinity look like?
Men-oriented politics tries to break with the archetypal images of men and to allow new images of masculinity. Men must be allowed to be diverse and not just forced into the imagination of the man who works for 50 hours, who feeds the family and otherwise puts everything away, feelings for example.
Why don’t you just join the German Women’s Council, your counterpart on the women’s side?
The Women’s Council and we have a lot of overlap in terms of content, for example when it comes to a reassessment of wage labor and unpaid care work or an upgrading of health and education professions. But we don’t want to be like the Women’s Council at all. Women need a different form of fighting spirit. They also have a lot of catching up to do with their interests in our system, for example with parity. And there are definitely areas in which men also have their own interests, for example health. Men live in this country 4.8 years shorter than women. There are reasons.
For example, men up to the age of 40 go to the doctor significantly less than women. This is also due to the myth of the tough man who cannot lie in bed and who prevents men from being caring for themselves and their bodies. The Women’s Council tends not to advocate men’s health.
The Women’s Council refused to interview you together. Is your relationship that bad?
We strive for a friendly relationship and we have that at work level too. I would be available for a joint interview at any time.
Wouldn’t a cooperation even make sense if you represent similar positions in many areas?
We are represented on many committees and work closely together on many issues.
There should be some points of contention. For example, they demand shared responsibility in families after separations. This is inconceivable for women affected by domestic violence.
Especially when it comes to the question of violence, our interests are not so different. We don’t have any meaningful figures for Germany – but men are also victims of violence. Only so far there is no representative study for these cases. That would be urgently needed in order to be able to discuss the violence affected by men.
More than 80 percent of people affected by partnership violence in this country are women. Every day a man tries to kill his wife. He makes it every third day.
The support structures for women who are victims of violence are relatively well developed in Germany. There are hardly any support structures for men affected by violence.
Women’s shelters are chronically underfunded. And it is a structural problem that the vast majority of violence against women comes from men.
We need more perpetrator work, yes. But you just gave the numbers for domestic violence. Men are much more likely than women to be victims of violence in public areas.
It’s about violence by men against men, not against women.
Exactly, there is a lot about other types of masculinity: men with disabilities, gay men, men with a migration background. A lot of violence hits men and changes their lives. Violence against women is a really important issue. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to do anything for men. We have to work in the interest of everyone to give men other options than violent ones.
You are calling for men’s politics to be anchored in the coalition agreement. The Ministry of Women supports your association’s projects financially, although it is called the Ministry of Women. This money goes to the women’s projects. Isn’t the competition obvious?
I don’t see any competition there. Public money invested in the men’s sector is marginal. And we try not to formulate the demands for men in such a way that the money is taken from a pot intended for women. We are not men’s rights activists who scrutinize every law to see if too much money is being spent on women.
We mustn’t allow ourselves to be divided! Yes, women’s shelters need better equipment. But we also need a system that offers help to men affected by violence. And when you think about what is being printed for money in Corona times for Lufthansa or other outdated branches of industry, I wonder why we have to fight for every euro in the gender area of all things.
The men of the Bundesforum are considered to be the “good guys”, those who have nothing to do with anti-feminism. The so-called masculinists therefore criticize that they do not adequately represent the interests of men. Are you also fighting against your own sex comrades?
I would rather fight for than against something. I look at what’s happening in this area, the work of MANNdat for example. And we clearly distinguish ourselves from many of their positions in family law, which are currently all too gratefully adopted by right-wing extremist parties such as the AfD, because they are horror in achieving gender equality policy. But as a federal forum we should concentrate on our own demands.
The association “Väteraufbruch für Kinder”, which is a member of the Federal Forum, regards fathers as victims of separation and believes that the courts prefer mothers. These are at least borderline positions.
I have spoken a lot with representatives of the father’s awakening. Many positions have also emerged because of the great biographical suffering behind them, arguments, bad experiences with family courts. So it is legitimate to drill into this wound and to make public experiences.
Isn’t it very far-fetched to say that mothers, especially single parents, are generally preferred?
The majority of couples split up somewhat amicably. At this point, the problem lies with couples with a difficult separation situation, which should not be at the expense of the children, the mothers or the fathers. These are negotiation processes in which, for example, I really appreciate the work of the Association of Single Mothers and Fathers.
And that of the father’s awakening?
I don’t see fathers beating, but fathers who for whatever reason no longer got along with their female partners. I would not take the position that fathers are systematically discriminated against. But I do believe that there are many blind spots in the areas of jurisdiction and youth welfare and that gender mainstreaming is urgently needed in these areas.
Last question: There is a third association at the federal level that is active in gender issues, the Bundesverband Trans *. How is your relationship?
There is still no real cooperation. But I would like to emphasize that the Federal Men’s Forum may at first glance be linked to a binary gender system, but that we do not maintain this in our practical work. We know that gender issues don’t just affect men and women.
If the goal is to break the binary system – how are we supposed to get there when ultimately everyone is cooking their own soup?
Maybe we need to work more on shared visions. The fact that we achieve goals that are eligible for cover. And don’t always just look at the passages where there is no way we can come to a common denominator. We need an overall picture in which diverse life plans and gender identities have their place. If we work on it, a lot will be gained.