The Journalistic Classroom-Blog

During the winter semester 2020/21 students at UCF took part in a journalism class. As part of their creative work they wrote blog entries in their own field of interest. Here you find a selection of their writings that cover different subjects.


1. New Secrets of Saqqara are uncovered following its Netflix Premiere

Selina Ott, 15.11.2020

Saqqara, Egypt. The Egyptian Minister of Antiquity and Tourism reveals major finding at Egypt’s burial site of Saqqara with over a hundred wooden coffins and mummies. This comes just weeks after the Netflix documentary “Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb” was published that explores the 2019 major archeological findings in Saqqara.

On October 28th 2020, Netflix released the documentary “Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb” in which a team of Egyptian archaeologists uncovers Egypt’s most pivotal findings in 50 years – the Tombs in Saqqara. Saqqara is an ancient burial ground in Egypt and is most famous for its pyramids. The Netflix documentary follows the discovery of a tomb with mummified animals, lion cubs and humans in 2019.
On November 14th 2020, a new discovery of over a 100 mostly intact wooden coffins with mummies dating back more than 2,500 years reveal how the ancient burial site still offers the opportunity to uncover new secrets. This discovery comes after 59 sarcophagi in Saqqara were exhumed in the beginning of October this year. According to the Smithsonian, the discoveries of this year were filmed and will appear on the Smithsonian Channel as a docuseries called Tomb Hunters which is scheduled to air in 2021.

Since the Arab Spring in 2011, archeological tourism has not recovered to its previous numbers and also the coronavirus pandemic this year has brough less tourists to Egypt. Egypt has tried to spur archeological tourism in recent years. It will be seen in the future how Saqqara will benefit from international media coverage and the streaming platform Netflix.

2. A black man murdered on the eve of Black Consciousness Day

by Irem Akkoc 21.11.2020

The importance of the Black Lives Matter movement is observed once again as João Alberto Silveira Freitas Is assaulted and murdered by supermarket security guards in Porto Alegre, Brazil. 

A video of the incident, which circulated on the internet sparking anger among the public, shows the Carrefour supermarket security guard holding Freitas down as another guard repeatedly assaults the victim. The video also includes a guard kneeling the victim down restraining his ability to defend himself. 

After the video caught widespread attention on social media, protesters started gathering in front of Carrefour demanding justice for the victim. The protesters chanted “Black lives matter!” as they entered the Carrefour where the incident took place and set fire to the store. Later, Carrefour announced that they will shut down the store out of respect for the victim and fire the security guards who committed the murder. 

The brutal murder of João Alberto Silveira Freitas, which took place on Black Consciousness Day, a holiday that has been celebrated around Brazil since the 1960s demonstrates that there is still a lot of progress to be made around the world in regard to the protection and equality of black lives. The horrible incident has, once again,brought to the world’s attention the cruelty and injustices faced by the black community globally. 

3. In Dublin, a Visit to the Pub Can Support Struggling Airlines

by Lorina Holterhoff, November 22.11.2020

A group from Dublin purchases flight tickets to visit the pub inside the airport
Dublin, Ireland: The country has been in a weeks long strict lockdown for too long now, or so thought four Dublin residents. Part of the lockdown restrictions are that no pubs can open and serve beverages, which apparently was deemed unacceptable. According to a social media post, a group of four found their way into the duty-free zone of the Dublin airport by buying cheap flight tickets. There, restaurants and pubs are still open because the airport and its provision of foods and drinks are deemed essential services. After a hearty meal, plenty of drinks and a missed flight the group found their way back home. Though it is estimated that the costs of the whole endeavor already exceeded 70€ before even a single drink was purchased, for some it seems worth it for a visit to the pub.  

4. Mensa despite Corona

by Caren Sausmikat, 26.11.2020

Under the burden of the first lockdown in 2020, the 14 canteens and cafés of the Freiburg Universtiy have reached a deficit of about 1 million € per month, leaving 180 permanent and approximatively 100 temporary employees without work. Managed by the SWFR, the canteens and cafés usually feed millions of people per year (the Mensa Rempartstraße alone serves roughly 1.1 million people per year). According to the SWFR, each month that the lunchrooms and snack bars remain closed results in a deficit of about 1 mio. €. Starting with the first lockdown in March, all of Freiburg’s university canteens and cafés had to close for the duration of two months. 

It was only on Mai 18th that the SWFR began to tentatively reopen their most frequented locations, resulting in near regular service capacities in their biggest canteen “Mensa Rempartstraße” by June 15th. In accordance with federal and national corona safety regulations, the serving canteens implemented hygiene concepts, limiting the interactions between staff and students to a minimum. The distance requirements of 1,5 meters between persons was enforced in queuing areas and wearing a mask was obligatory except during the time spent eating while seated. Registration became a requirement for service and the seating areas were rearranged to comply with the maximum number of contacts allowed to meet at the same time. With the renewed lockdown beginning November 2nd, the university canteens and cafés had to close their doors yet again. However, a new strategy was developed, allowing students to pick up their lunch at Mensa Rempartstraße to eat at home. This “To-go” option proves to be a relief both for stressed-out students in need of food and the SWFR, who can partly uphold their services despite the renewed public restrictions. This means that at least the permanent employees can gradually return to their work in the canteens after months on short-term allowance. Unfortunately for the temporary employees, there is no sign that they will be able to return to their work anytime soon.

5. What We Should Probably Know About Hanukkah

by Lorina Holterhoff

The Christmas story is well-known, but how much do we know about this much older culture?
First week of December. Advent time has begun, and the second candle is already lit. Shops, houses, schools and endless rows of Christmas trees are decorated with an abundance of twinkling lights and colorful bulbs. Living in our Christian society it is hard to avoid the Christian holiday. But Christmas is not the only holiday celebration taking place in December.

Hanukkah, so the story goes, celebrates the eight-day miracle of light. About 2200 years ago a small band of Jewish insurgents fought against oppressors and managed to liberate the temple in Jerusalem. There it is custom to have a lamp, a menorah, lit through the night. After the fighting the Jewish people only found a small vial of lamp oil, that should have only lasted one night. However, miraculously the lamp stayed lit for eight nights, just until new oil could be procured.

For some it is important that the miracle is in the center of the celebration of the Festival of Lights, as it is also called, because they do not endow the glorification of war. The story of Hanukkah is so significant for many because it describes the perseverance the Jewish people showed when faced with oppression. It is said that the Syrian Greeks under Antiochus tried to assimilate the Jews into their culture. This severe cultural suppression culminated in the slaying of a pig, a non-kosher animal, in the holy temple of Jerusalem. After three years of fighting, the Jews managed to liberate the temple and cleanse it from its desecration. Hanukkah means dedication, alluding to the rededication of the temple.

Celebrations of Hanukkah differ, as differ Christmas traditions within the Christian community, but one integral part is the lighting of the menorah, the lamp. Each night for the eight days of Hanukkah, a new candle is lit to commemorate the miracle. There are rituals and blessings that go with the lighting of the candles. Many celebrate during the days with family and friends, eat, exchange gifts, play games and sing holiday songs.

The significance of the holiday and its celebration is debated within the community. For many it represents the liberation and endurance of Jewish culture and fighting for the homeland of Israel. Therefore, it carries the message of national independence and was especially important for the Zionist movement as well as for the formation of the state of Israel in the post-Holocaust world. However, there are other voices that cry irony. Hanukkah is undebatably the most widely known Jewish holiday in the non-Jewish communities and is even sometimes dubbed the ‘Jewish Christmas’ because of its chronological nearness to Christmas. There are also many instances of adoption of Christian customs, such as extensive gift-giving or elaborate decorations. Since the holiday’s roots lie in a revolution against assimilation and severe oppression of Jewish culture, some consider it to be a sarcastic stroke that this is the holiday that most people have superficial knowledge of and is the most assimilated into the global reaches of Christian culture. And though it may be that some do not look fondly on the Christianization of Hannukah, that should not lead us to exclude Jewish culture from our holiday celebrations. So, from December 10th to December 17th, wish your Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah!

6. Yemen: “Coronavirus is nowhere near our biggest problem” 

Irem Akkoc, 27.11.2020 

Since 2015 Yemen has been under civil war as major powers from both sides of the conflict, Saudi Arabia and Iran, threaten the countries stability. The effects of years of conflict can be seen in the manifestation of the current humanitarian crisis. As the economy keeps worsening, ordinary Yemenis are struggling to cover the costs of living. The food prices have risen leading to widespread famine. Children are at the center of this crisis since they make up most of the deaths that result from malnutrition. Furthermore, the war has led to the destruction of many hospitals and medical personal forced to flee which means a shortage of medical facilities and personal to offer treatment. 

As for the impact of the Coronavirus in Yemen, the hospital director at the Ataq general hospital states that “Coronavirus is nowhere near our biggest problem”. Although the hygiene and distancing measures are poorly implemented in the country, the numbers show that the deaths related to the coronavirus seem to be much less threatening for the population compared to the ongoing humanitarian crises. As the rest of the world struggles with combating the pandemic, Yemenis continue to deal with the tragic aftermath of civil war and years of political instability.

7. Trump’s last days in the White House

by Lorina Holterhoff, 30.11.2020

Trump’s rodeo lasted for four long years, and many have been relieved to see Biden as the president-elect. However, as many domestic and foreign actors have suspected, Trump is far from conceding. The president’s team has filed 36 lawsuits against various states in order to change election results, 35 of those have been adamantly and indefinitely put down. Judge Matthew Brann of the US District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania called Trump’s team’s legal theories as badly stitched together as “Frankenstein’s Monster”. Many of the judges, election officials and governors that are fighting for this election to be recognized by the White House are Republicans that are eager to speak out against their party’s president in this matter. Donald Trump’s own public appearances have been scarce as he spent most of the time during the election week and after golfing in Virginia. His first outing was on November 11th on Veteran’s day and for the ten days following that, he only appeared thrice more, without answering questions.

When he allowed questions again in a press conference of November 26, he was asked whether he will leave the White House should the electoral college vote for Biden in December. He said, he “certainly will” but also that “if they do, they made a mistake”. These ambiguous answers are not a novelty for the president but the outroar surrounding them seems to have ebbed down. With Republicans refusing to go along with Trump’s claims about the election, the votes certified in most states and the 20th of January coming nearer, America is apparently calming down.

Maybe the people are hoping for a return to normalcy when Biden is inaugurated in a few weeks, however, that might not be the reality. The 74 million voters that supported Trump during this election and their belief in the current president that led thousands onto the streets during a pandemic are not going anywhere. The absurdity of the last four years, with an endless string of tweets, some indecipherable, some blatant lies and with a religion-like emergence of Trumpism is bound to continue into the new administration. Trump hardly seems like he will stay away from the White House with a respectful distance as is tradition for former presidents. Already, the idea floats around, as presented on late night shows, to build Trump his own pretend-White House where he can indulge in his lifestyle without formal or administrative duties, so that Biden can lead the country without interference. However it might pan out, Trump and the Republican party are still part of the United States’ governing system and the divide in the country that one man has so skillfully employed in his favor is only growing.

8. Why Female-Led Countries do not Manage the Pandemic Better
The danger of highlighting positive attributes to female leaders

by Selina Ott, Freiburg, 30.11.20

Recently a study about how female-led countries performed better in the response of the COVID-19 pandemic has been published. Some newspapers such as the Guardian or Business Insider have shared this study emphasizing the results of the study that show that female-led countries have managed the Corona situation systematically better than male-led countries. This commentary wants to show why this study actually does not support a feminist approach but reinforces group thinking and existing structures.  

Supriya Garikipati, of the University of Liverpool, and Uma Kambhampati, of the University of Reading, analyzed 194 countries to examine if the different number of COVID-cases and deaths are can be also attributed to the different gender of the national leaders. Only 19 of those countries had a woman holding the executive power in the country. Hence, the study compared these female-led countries with similar neighboring countries based on their socio-democratic and economic performance. They matched the countries that showed similar GDP per capita, population, urban population and populations over 65 years old. Furthermore, they included also other factors such as the number of tourists, health expenditure per capita and gender equality to control what other factors could influence the outcome of COVID-cases and deaths. Their study finds a systematic and significant better performance of countries led by women in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. They explain this result by partly attributing it to the proactive policy response of female-led countries. To explain this proactive policy response, they combine their findings with behavioral and neuro-scientific literature. Based on that literature they suggest the difference between female and male-led countries might be based on different risk attitudes as well as a clear, empathetic and decisive communication style attributed to female leaders.

I am asking myself why there is an emphasis on female-led countries without analyzing the political situation in the country. Maybe all female-led countries were parliamentary countries. To suggest that the success of the COVID response is influenced by the gender of the leader makes me wonder if those countries have no parliaments and are only governed by the president. Germany’s chancellor Merkel, Norway’s Prime Minister Solber or New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern do not make the decisions about the COVID-19 response alone as they are not authoritarian regimes. Furthermore, maybe it was not their leadership skills that led them to act more carefully but existing structures. Female leaders are often being observed more carefully and judged differently compared to male counterparts in power. This shows how female leaders are more often judged by their appearance than men. For example, I still remember how the German newspapers talked lengthy about Angela Merkels dress with the low neckline.

Studies in behavioral economics suggest that women are more risk-averse than men and are more empathetic leaders. I have read this argument a couple of time by some companies that strive to be more “inclusive” as well as some feminists. This is also how I found the articles from the Guardian and other newspapers. The articles were shared on various social media channels by self-claimed feminists. I think this argument is fundamentally flawed as it encourages group thinking and generalization of what a good female leader should be. If we as society would want gender equality, we should avoid this group thinking. To illustrate my point, let’s go back to what feminists tried (and still try) to fight:

Men (in the sense of those in power) have used the argument that they are superior to women with their intellect and rationality. The woman on the other hand is defined by her body – either through motherhood, her sexuality or her emotionality. Hence, some show their male superiority by contrasting them to female-specific characteristics. Everything the man is, the woman is not. The important notion is that women are defined in the relation of another persona and not as autonomous beings.

It might feel like after years of not having more women in power, society has to acknowledge the particular good qualities of women, so they can get into higher positions. For example, Germany’s parliament accompanies 30.9% women and in higher management positions only six of the 185 supervisory boards of the biggest companies are chaired by a woman ( After not moving fast forward (and sometimes even backwards) with who has the power to make the decisions in the country, I can see why some want to find statistical evidence to show that women deserve to be in power positions. However, I do not think women deserve to be leaders because they are more risk averse or empathetic and I will evaluate my argument in the following.

Firstly, I do not think society needs evidence to show why women deserve power. Women deserve to be in power positions not because they have a specific quality that benefits others. The study is following the same logic as arguing why women belong in the household. Women in traditional roles are always seen in the relation to other human beings, be it their husband, their children or their community. Can women not be seen as independent beings without the need to explain themselves what the benefit for the whole society is to have them in power positions? I want to illustrate this point with another example often used in the development discourse. My teacher in my geography class explained to my class that education in Africa is especially important because women who are educated will marry later and have less children. No one in class questioned his statement, and my naïve 16-year-old version thought it was completely logical that this is a good strategy to reduce the overpopulation of the planet and of course empower women. If society would want to empower women, shouldn’t they see education as valuable for the women’s own sake?

Secondly, the finding indirectly suggests that all women who are good leaders should possess this quality. The study supports a static and binary notion of what a man and a woman is.  Feminists normally argue against such defining attributes when woman  are told that they should stay at home because they are better in the kitchen and child caring. Then why should women embrace positive attributes that put them again into a category. Even though it might be nicely packaged, it still remains a category that limits women, men and other people who do not define themselves as woman or man. Hence, if we define new attributes to women, we just support this categorization of what makes a “woman” or “man”. If I become not a risk averse CEO or head of state, am I less of a woman? As I have suggested above, maybe it’s rather the patriarchal structures that make female-leaders adapt a risk-averse behavior. This structure partly defines who you will become. How do I become a woman? I am defined greatly according to what I have seen in the society I live in. And in most societies, there are clear defined notions of femininity or masculinity that will have an influence on my individual behavior. The study might not have intended to question these notions and gives descriptive evidence. However, I want to see from newspapers to not only reproduce what the study suggests but engage with the study, what underlying normative statements there might be or who profits and who is hurt from the study. Publishing articles like that is not called smashing the patriarchy, its called being an ally to discriminatory practices that define a particular group as special in relation to another to ultimately prove their superiority.

I want to be clear: I argue that we need more women in power positions. It should not surprise us that women can have good leadership skills. But it is less about specific womanly qualities but more about representation. Representation of humans from all different lived experiences that all hold and support society. These lived experiences might be a result of sexual, social, economic, cultural, ethnical experiences that in turn are influenced by structural or individual circumstances (Crenshaw). Everyone has the right that their experiences are taken seriously by giving them chances and power positions.

I argue for a more critical reading of articles or studies that suggest the superiority of any group. It always should be questioned what structures underly these studies or claims. I think the study can be published if they clearly lay out their underlying assumptions. The main one being that there exists the binary notion of man and woman and each of them has specific attributes that can be studied. However, these structures often go unnoticed, and the consequence is that studies like these are perceived as new facts and are then reproduced in different discourses without defining what the implications of these studies are. I do not want to replace patriarchal structures with matriarchal structures. I want that everyone starts to question where their behavior comes from and where we want to go together as a society by starting to ask which attributes we should value as an individual and a whole society.


Crenshaw, K. (1990). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stan. L. Rev., 43, 1241.

Garikipati, Supriya and Kambhampati, Uma, Leading the Fight Against the Pandemic: Does Gender ‘Really’ Matter? (June 3, 2020). Available at SSRN: or
(Extracted from:

9. Elliot Page’s Coming Out and UK High Court Ruling: December Starts with an Emotional Rollercoaster for Trans Community

by Lotta Dümeland, 01.12.2020

The trans community was caught in an emotional rollercoaster between excitement and devastation caused by the daily news. In the early afternoon, it was made public that the UK High Court had ruled that children under the age of 16 were unlikely to be able to give informed consent to being medicated with puberty blockers. This led the National Health Service (NHS) to immediately update their guidelines stating that in the future, a court order will be necessary for such medication being prescribed.
Only hours after this devastating development leaving trans children all over the UK unable to medically transition and forced into a dysphoric puberty, trans people all over the world were suddenly filled with excitement after Oscar-nominated actor Elliot Page (known for his roles in Juno and The Umbrella Academy) came out as trans on his social media. Even before his coming out, Elliot Page was seen as a role model by many in the queer community, and many trans people on social media said that his coming out had given them hope and made them feel more seen.

While much of Page’s announcement on social media was joyful, he also pointed towards the difficulties that the trans community still faces: “To be clear, I am not trying to dampen a moment that is joyous and one that I celebrate, but I want to address the full picture. The statistics are staggering. The discrimination towards trans people is rife, insidious and cruel, resulting in horrific consequences.” Further, he explicitly addressed political leaders who “work to criminalize trans health care and deny our right to exist”, telling them “you have blood on your hands”.

Even though Page probably did not mean to call out the UK High Court judges specifically, his words could as well be directed at them. Deriving children and teenagers of an access to puberty blockers before they are 16 means forcing most trans youth into an unwanted puberty, as many children start puberty years before they turn 16. This means that trans youth will have to live through the unwanted, irreversible changes of their body that will strongly increase their gender dysphoria, even though a medication exists that would allow them to avoid this. Statistics show that trans adolescents already have higher rates of suicide attempts and suicide ideation than their cisgender peers, and chances are that restricted access to puberty blockers will only increase these rates.

However, while this court ruling sets a precedent that will be difficult to overcome, not all is lost yet: the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust (England’s only youth gender identity clinic) has announced that they will appeal the ruling and go to the Supreme Court for a final decision. So, while this ruling is devastating for all trans youth under 16 who are currently already receiving puberty blockers or are still on the waiting list, there is still hope that this decision is not finite and will be overruled in the future.

Until then, to say it with the words of Elliot Page: “To all trans people who deal with harassment, self-loathing, abuse and the threat of violence every day: I see you, I love you and I will do everything I can to change this world for the better.”

10. Election in Venezuela: Win for Maduro’s Party

Selina Ott, 08.12.2020

The parliamentary election in Venezuela took place on Sunday, 6th December 2020. Venezuelans chose 277 members for their parliament, the National Assembly. The national electoral council, which is said to be controlled by the regime, announced that the ruling socialist party won 67 per cent of the 277 seats. This percentage is right above the two-thirds majority that is needed to give powers to the parliament. The result was predicted by international observers and media outlets prior to the election as the opposition party boycotted the elections.

Prior to Sunday, the election has been denounced as fraud and the opposition parties called to boycott the elections. From the people eligible to vote 31 per cent of them casted their vote which is seen by the opposition party as an indice of people following the boycott. Turnout for the previous congressional election in 2015 was more than double that percentage. On the other hand, Venezuela is still in the midst of an economic and humanitarian crises, many Venezuelands need to wait long hours for basic services. Why did the opposition parties boycott the vote? They argue that if they take part in the fraud election, they would give the election legitimacy. Both the electoral authority – the national electoral council – as well as the Supreme Court are supporting Maduro.

The National Assembly was the only institution not controlled by Maduros socialist PSUV party since the last parliamentary vote in 2015. This might change with Sunday’s election if there is no opposition in society or the opposition parties. The socialist PSUV party is been in power for more than 20 years with Hugo Chávez as president until his death in 2013 in which his close contact Nicolás Maduro followed as president. Under President Maduro, Venezuela’s economy collapsed which caused a political and humanitarian crisis in the country. According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), there are currently about 4.5 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide. Most Venezuelans have fled to neighbouring countries like Colombia.

The main oppositional leader Juan Guaidó had announced prior to the election that he will hold a “popular consultation”, a kind of referendum, in which Venezuelans have the chance to decide if they accept the results of the election. On Monday, the opposition groups led by Guaidó have launched this referendum. Many other oppositional leaders are in exil such as the Venezuelan opposition-run supreme court in Colombia.

The election is part of the ongoing two-year political feud between President Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó. The winning of Maduro in the presidential re-election in 2018 was dismissed by the National Assembly including the leader of the legislature Guaidó as it was announced an illegitimate voting. Maduro then announced himself as the interim president in January 2019 with the support of the National Assembly. The recognition as “interim president” was based on a passage in the constitution stating that the leader of the legislature can step in if the president seat is vacant. The National Assembly and 50 other nations including Germany and the US recognized Guaidó as an “interim president”. Maduro, on the other hand, is backed by the Venezuelan military and countries such as Russia, Iran, Turkey, Nicaragua, China and Cuba. These split of countries in supporting either Maduro or Guaidó also reflect the countries who recognizes the parliamentary results as legitimate or not.

There are many questions remaining open about how the society will react or if a referendum will be held as promised. However, these will be seen in the coming weeks and months. Clear is that Venezuela’s political instability influences neighbouring countries receiving refugees as well as international relations by dividing countries who favor Maduro versus Guaidó. For example, US-Venezuelan relationships are not likely to change as President-elect Joe Biden has emphasized to continue the course of the Trump administration by viewing the election as illegitimate. However, the question remains open if he will put more pressure on other countries to sanction the country as well and if he will keep the gripping sanctions initiated by the Trump administration.

11. Time’s Up: Charity faces backlash for questionable donation spending

by Ria Lüth, 09.12.2020

Born in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the 2018 founded organization Time’s Up was set to support the legal charges of sexual harassment victims. Upon the recently publication of it’s tax fillings, however, the foundation faces a strong backlash for their questionable money spending. While only a small fragment of donations were used to support harassment victims, the majority was spent on excessive salaries and lobby congresses in luxury resorts. The organization, which was founded by Hollywood celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, raised 3,670,219$ in its first year of operation, yet less than 10% of the money were transferred to the Legal Defense fund. At the same time, $1,407,032 were spent on salaries and more than $157,000 was spent on conferences at luxury resorts.

It is not the first time that the organization faces accusations to primarily be conserned with the support of it’s prominent elite. In it’s 2019 annual celebration video, the organization featured voices of the groups governing body, like Meryl Streep, Natalie Portmann and Cate Blanchet. Meanwhile, actresses, like Annabelle Sciorra and Rosanna Arquette, whose started the moevement in the first place, were missing. Arquette claimed that she was incapable of watching the video as she was too hurt by the exclusion of her and other accusers’ voices. Nevertheless, in it’s two years of operation, the organization claims to have been able to provide help to 5000 women and suceeded in 86% of it’s cases.

12. Arbitrary COVID19 Protocols Makes Life Harder for NHL Players

by Lorina Holterhoff

By trying to ensure safety for players and staff during the pandemic the National Hockey League potentially harms the player’s mental health  
Ice Hockey: The National Hockey League (NHL) has levied the first fine for breaking Covid protocols against the Washington capitals. Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ilya Samsonov and Dimitry Orlov socialized in a hotel room without wearing masks. The club had to pay 100.000$ and harshly condemned the behavior of their players.

“Our training staff has worked extremely hard to create a safe environment for our players and staff to be able to compete this season,” the Capitals said in a statement. “We are disappointed by our players’ choice to interact in their hotel room and outside of team approved areas. We accept the NHL’s decision and once again will reiterate the COVID-19 Protocols in place  to make sure the players are in full compliance moving forward.”

Alexander Ovechkin, the Captain of the team, publicly apologized, reiterated that he “regretted” his choice and that he “will learn from this experience.”

On the surface, this incident looks like a successful execution of the Covid protocols and safeguards. Players break the rules, they are punished. According to the NHL, player safety is one of the league’s main concerns, that is why fines and game bans exist. These penalties are meant to encourage players to refrain from verbal or physical altercations that might hurt others. The Corona protocols presented by the NHL are meant to do the same; establish a safe environment so that the games can continue. However, as with many things concerning the Corona pandemic, these are unprecedented and untested measures and the incident with the Capitals show how arbitrary and even non-sensical some of these rules are.

According to the protocol, players are not to socialize off-ice without appropriate distance and face coverings. Additionally, on the road they are not allowed to have contact to the public, go to restaurants or linger in hotel lobbies. Clubs are asked to organize separate elevator for the team as to “isolate them form other hotel guests to the greatest extent possible”. Lastly, all players must have a separate hotel room and are to always stay in there alone. Only specifically designated common areas are places off-ice where they might socialize, with distance and face masks. And yet, on-ice we all witness players breathing in each other’s faces, sharing water bottles, spitting on the ice, hugging, holding or fighting each other in close contact, all of which is extremely infectious behavior. These ambiguous rules seem to be clear double standards concerning the time on or off the ice.

And here we must consider the players mental well-being. Already in regular seasons the workload of an NHL player is immense, games every couple of days with most of them played on the road away from home and family. This season, of course this is different because the divisions were newly created and for precaution purposes the clubs in a division only play each other which means less travel. Nevertheless, stretches of 4-5 games away from home occur and for that time players are staying in hotels, away from their home and family. Luckily with the teams in the NHL it appears as if the players found friends In each other and can provide plenty of fun and mental support to their teammates. How is this to be realized now with these strict Covid protocols? A player can share water bottles and hug others in celebration on the ice, but they cannot sit together in one room during the long stretches of hotel time?

This does not seem to be a sustainable model, neither for the NHL nor for the players. Especially if we regard the recent Laine – Dubois trade. Pierre Luc Dubois, a 22-year-old star centerman was playing badly, really badly. It cannot be said whether this was due to spite over having asked to be traded and that no move had been made yet or possibly due to a non-supportive work environment or another reason altogether. Nevertheless, it seems that the environment that Coach Tortorella and the Blue Jackets organization have created was not benefitting Dubois, his well-being and ultimately his play. This stands, for example, in stark contrast to the overwhelming praise the players of the Carolina Hurricanes have for their head coach Rod Brind’Amour. And the Canes are playing extraordinarily well this season already, they only recently defeated both finalists of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Team sports and ice hockey in particular are often described as being games played in the head. Every teammate has to be focused and sharp for a successful game and the mental component seems to be a big part of that. Not only for this reason, but also for the general well-being of the players it would make sense to give them more leeway in their private off-ice time. The NHL has set unreachable standards for the Covid protocols and the Clubs are bound to adhere to these, but the burden and the guilt is ultimately placed on the individual. Many of whom are very young and very far away from home.

Unfortunately, the Capitals’ example reinforces the league in their decision since Ilya Samsonov actually tested positive. The questions is whether the other players had quarantined if they hadn’t been in a hotel room with him but only on the ice. It is hard to say whether the virus would have spread much further in the team without the testing caused by the protocol breach. These Covid incidents, of which many have already occurred, repeatedly bring forth the question of why the NHL is even playing at all. Because to play, that was a decision made at the top.

It should be recognized, that with the games as they are, and as the league and the fans wish them to continue, the players are entirely unable to distance from one another in such a way that the risk of infection is minimal. With this in mind, the league should reconsider their rules that may give the impression of providing physical safety, but that have the potential to be seriously harming for players’ mental health.

13. Hongkong Continues to Protest and the International Community Continues to Watch

by Caren Sausmikat, 17.12.2020

On Wednesday, 02.12.2020, Joshua Wong, Agnes Choi and Ivan Lam were sentenced to 13, 10 and 7 months in prison for organising an “illegal assembly” during the mass protests of last year. They looked determined during their last appearance on TV, assuring the world that they will continue to fight against China’s unlawful exertion of power over Hongkong – although, they must have also felt wary. Regardless of their personal hardships that have yet again increased by this verdict, it is not looking good for the democratic movement and the autonomy of the special administrative region of Hongkong.

What began catching momentum as the umbrella movement in 2014 quickly developed into a democratic movement rallying most of Hongkong’s youth. It reached its high point in the summer of 2019 by protesting the “Fugitive Offenders Amendment Bill” proposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This later aborted bill would have allowed the extraction of offenders to the PRC. The pictures about mass-protests and excessive police brutality rattled the world – at least for a little while. Leaders were speaking out against China’s attempt to gain more control over Hongkong as well as against the police brutality used against protesters, condemning both as unlawful and inappropriate. In 2020, the protests continue, and in May the Chinese National Security Law was adopted, adding regulations about “secession, foreign interference, terrorism and subversion against the central government” to Hongkong’s basic law (notably without its consultation). This marks China’s most upfront attempt to take control of Hongkong so far.  Now Joshua Wong, Agnes Choi and Ivan Lam as the most prominent faces of the democratic movement are incarcerated for their activism. 

The global community however seems to value words of criticism over effective action, preferring to stay in China’s good favour. First and foremost, Great Britain simply watches as the PRC continues to violate their bilateral treaty and the rights of Hongkong. A behavior both unacceptable and irresponsible, only fuelling China’s sense of power and openly criminal behavior. Because, one must not forget, the fight about Hongkong’s political autonomy is no internal matter between Hongkong and the PRC – it is a matter between Great Britain and the PRC, resolved in the Sino-British Declaration of 1984. The Declaration affirms Hongkong’s return to the territory of China in 1997 but assures Hongkong political and economic autonomy until 2047. Therein lies the great injustice: regardless of Hongkong’s future after 2047, right now the democratic movement is not protesting to protect their rights from new laws, it is protesting to have their rights from already existing laws enforced in the first place.
The last years have shown that the Hongkong protesters are not likely to successfully brace PRC’s immense power without international help. International leaders however continue to play the dangerous game of valuing economic relations over law and play right into China’s ever-growing power in this world.

14. Erdogan vs. the Gülenist: Who is the lesser evil?

by Irem Akkoc, 27.12. 2020

The coup attempt of 2016 in Turkey fuelled the existing tension between Turkey’s President Erdogan and the followers of the exiled imam Fetullah Gülen. Although the conflict between the two dates back to early 2013, many recognize the coup as the initial start of the nationwide arrests that continue to this day. For most, there is no doubt that the aftermath of the coup attempt has been handled by Erdogan and the AKP government in the most damaging and unjust way possible. Thousands of people, including teachers, academics, journalists, and even low-level government workers have been jailed. Most of them are kept in prison during the trials without credible evidence given for their arrest. The extent of the purge spread beyond the individual to the families of the convicted, leaving many citizens unemployed and marginalized from society. 

The cycle of corrupt behavior that Erdogan and his government have demonstrated can not be excused. However, people foreign to Turkish politics often fail to study and consider the agenda of Gülen and his followers while discussing the issue. It is often assumed by foreign media that if a group is openly opposing Erdogan and individuals are punished unfairly as a result that they must hold the moral high ground in the argument. Bayram Balcı, head of the French Institute of Anatolian Studies explains the fact stating that “in many European countries, people think that because Mr.Erdogan is a dictator, anyone opposed to him must be a democrat”. This line of thinking leads many to believe in a simple but terribly mistaken version of the truth. 

The Gülen movement began in the 1960s in Turkey. The early years of the movement are hard to investigate, and the movement is known to be highly secretive, often refraining from emphasizing or altogether mentioning their name on projects. The popularity of Gülen initially spread with the establishment of hundreds of charter schools and tuition centers all around Turkey that were funded by the movement. Later, the institutions spread rapidly across the globe establishing schools in over 180 countries. From the outside, the movement portrays itself as an advocate of a moderate Islam that aims to raise a peaceful generation worldwide. However, most Turks would tell you that this is not the case. The secrecy of the movement is a widely known and despised characteristic of the Gülen movement. Members are often groomed from lower or middle-class families as children in the hopes of a better future and education opportunities. Later, the smartest and the most talented among them are offered and encouraged to take up important seats in the government, judicial system, military, and many more vital positions in society. However, during this recruitment members are advised to keep their affiliation with the group a secret. A quote from the exiled imam who has been operating the movement from Pennsylvania, USA since 1999 explains the motivation behind such a tactic;

“You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the centers of power. You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey.” – A leaked sermon that aired in 1999 on Turkish television

Furthermore, the movement has been accused of requesting a certain amount from every members’ paycheck as compulsory donations back to the movement. Gülen’s affiliation with the US government and the movements’ long-established roots in the USA has also raised concerns as to their underlying agenda in Turkey. For an allegedly nonpolitical and peaceful religious movement, the Gülen movement appears to have caused a great deal of suspicion and hostility among the Turkish public. With its intense grip of power in the political sphere, the domination of the education system, and lack of transparency, the Gülen movement is far away from being an advocate for freedom and justice in Turkey. Not so long ago in a galaxy fairly close to us…

15. Reputable Israeli scientist Haid Eshed claims aliens exist and are in contact with US government

by Karla Williams, 01.01.2021

The existence of aliens and their interest in contacting humanity has been asserted by a number of people. Such claims are not particularly shocking when they are uttered by slightly eccentric personalities with dubious sources. There are people, however, whose belief in alien beings and their communication with humanity may come as rather more of a surprise. Professor Haim Eshed, retired head of Israel’s space security programme and three-time recipient of the Israel Security Award, can confidently be counted as one of those people. In a recent interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest newspaper, Eshed elaborated his opinion that aliens are out there. According to Eshed, there is an underground base on Mars shared by aliens and US astronauts. The aliens have an agreement with the US government and have asked for their presence not to be reported at the present moment, since “humanity is not ready yet”. The end goal of the alien-human-communication is presented as “researching and trying to understand the whole fabric of the universe” in collaboration with humankind.
Eshed, it must be stressed, is an award-winning professor who worked in national security matters for three decades. I must confess I personally am still skeptical. If, however, 2021 brings us the first ever alien invasion, or rather the first ever friendly academic collaboration between humankind and alien life, I shall of course humbly eat my words. And after all, according to Eshed the aliens “don’t want to start mass hysteria” but want to “first make us sane and understanding”, and that is surely an admirable object.

16. It`s 2021. Can we now please just get our shit together?

by Noah Mayer, 05.01.2020

I did not want to write this comment. Plenty just like it have already been written. You have probably read a fair share of them.
On New Years Eve, I, like billions of people around the world, was excited to finally put the seemingly never-ending nightmare that 2020 was behind me and had just a slight shimmer of hope that the new year would come and things would turn around. Five days in, and here we both are. Covid numbers around the world are still rising. Fine. That was to be expected. Trump blatantly commits treason and tries, for what feels like the 1000 thousandths, to completely dismantle any form of resemblance to democracy the American political system still has. What else is new? The US won’t get to punish Julian Assange at will, only because the UK’s sustained psychological torture has already driven him to the brink of a suicide. Awful and very scary for sure, but also not that surprising. These are big, but also somewhat distant issues. Issues that people like you and I won’t be able to have an immediate impact on. But around 3000 breaches of Covid restrictions registered by the police in Baden-Württemberg on News Years alone? Roads to skiing resorts being barricaded due to overcrowded slopes, not even a whole year after these exact areas were some of the main hotspots of the first wave? We can and HAVE TO BE better than that.

I get that this whole thing is overwhelming and exhausting. I also get that it sometimes feels like it could only happen to other people and never ourselves. And that even if you might somehow get infected, 0.02% feels like a really, really, really small chance. I am by no means perfect either. I have also done plenty of reckless things that could have gotten me killed. I’m not mad at people who finally wanted to see their whole families again over the holidays. Or at teenagers who just wanted to have some fun after months and months of being locked up inside. Or at people who just needed some sort of break to forget about everything for a while. But what I would ask of them is to think about how right now, this whole thing is not about any one of us. It’s about the health care workers tirelessly working to save as many patients as possible. It’s about the countless people losing more and more of their livelihoods each day this lockdown, in place to keep us safe, continues. It’s about everyone suffering from the endless isolation from their loved ones. It’s about people with preconditions, who keep getting the message that, unfortunately, their lives apparently just don’t matter as much. It’s about the 11 year old kid without any preconditions who is currently dying from Covid in our local hospital, and their family and caregivers. It’s about so many more, much too many to even attempt to list here. Aren’t all these human beings, all loving and all being loved by others, not worth holding out just a little bit longer for?

If you, however, still believe that this whole situation is not real, and merely what must by now be the most successful conspiracy in human history, I am quite mad at you. But if you are still reading at this point, I want you to consider something. What do you have to gain by continuously attempting to ruin everybody’s life. And what do you have to lose by just trying to follow at least some of the lockdown procedures for maybe like a month? Do you really believe that if you hold one more superspreader-protest, the government is going to think “Oh these guys were probably right the whole time and we just wasted the last 9 months, let’s just call this whole thing off”? Wouldn’t you also profit from things going back to normal as soon as possible? If some all-powerful, secretive cabal was trying to actually suppress and mind-control you, wouldn’t you think that they might have tools that are just slightly more potent than mask-mandates and poorly planned vaccination attempts? Is staying in your house for a month really worse than having curfews and shutdowns for the entire foreseeable future?

Time, after all, is a somewhat arbitrary concept, and in the grand scheme of things the turn of the year won’t matter one bit. Aerosol pathogens won’t care, and neither will patients currently struggling for their lives on ventilators. But, arbitrary as it might be, time is also a deeply human concept, and one with incredible symbolic power. 2021 still is a clean slate, a new chance to finally get this mess right, and while it hopefully won’t be the last one it might just be the best we get.

17. Iraq issues an arrest warrant for Donald Trump

by Irem Akkoc, 25.01.2020

In the midst of Donald Trump’s failed appeal to the Supreme Court, another decision came from the investigative higher court of Baghdad asking for Donald Trump’s arrest. 

Iraq’s decision to issue the arrest warrant was based on the assassination of the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani along with the Iraqi paramilitary leader last year in January. 

Soleimani was an Iranian major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from 1998 till 2020 and responsible for extraterritorial military operations. He intensified Iranian presence in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen and provided assistance to militant groups outside Iran. Although he was celebrated in Iran as a national hero, his military presence in other countries was alarming for the West. In 2005 he was named a ‘terrorist’ by the US and was personally sanctioned by the European Union and the United Nations. 

On January 3rd last year with the command of the Former president Donald Trump, the US launched an operation to assassinate Somani. In the process, the Iraqi military leader was also killed. Trump celebrated the operation stating that they had taken out “two for the price of one.” The public backlash was intense as people across the middle east, mainly Iran and Iraq, took to the streets to condemn the killings. 

Now, a year after the assassination, the US former president is wanted by the Iraqi Court on accounts of murder which can be punishable by death in Iraq. Although it is unlikely that the arrest will be followed through, the judicial decision holds symbolic significance. 

18. The Neapolitan Novels – the story of female friendships

by Leandra Rudolph, 25.01.2021

Italy, in the middle of the last century. Women are fighting for emancipation, but their every-day life is still controlled by violent husbands, prejudice and a society that is not yet used to strong women in leadership. Only slowly are women able to build female networks to support each other in the fight against those obstacles. That is the setting for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels and her two main characters, Lila Cerullo und Elena (Lenu) Grecco. Both are born in 1944 in a poor neighbourhood, the Rione, of Napels, that is overshadowed by the presence of a violent patriarchy. Early on both girls want to escape this life and see education as the way to do so. However, the decision of Lila’s parents to stop her from continuing her education after middle school, leads the two girls on different paths. While Lenu is able to escape the Rione through education, Lila’s path leads her to an early unhappy marriage and later to the work in a new field, computers. Both women have substantially different life courses, that both lead them to fight against their violent environment as well as against the limitations for women in their time. Their eventful lives are a rebellion against their social background and a struggle with the role of women in Italie’s society at that time. However, in the end Elena gets to be the one to write down their story, while Lila has disappeared.

The Neapolitan novels show the influence that women can have in each other’s life and the importance of female friendship. In each step of Elena’s life, she builds relationships with women in leadership positions, that help her find her way through a misogynistic society and that support her in her personal development into a strong woman. Elena is able to build her own network, starting in her early childhood with Lila. Without this, her struggle against sexism and suppression would have likely been lost.

Throughout the four novels, Elena tries to prove to herself and everyone else that she has left the poor, uneducated fate, that most of her childhood friends face. She struggles with the balance between what her parents expect from her and what her new social surroundings expect. As a woman, Elena additionally has to find her way through the differences for woman of different social classes. She has trouble to defend her actions with confidence and is easily intimidated by men who think they know better. When taking a closer look at how she is able to slowly build up some self-confidence, it is apparent that her relationships to other women are what builds her up, while the relationships with men are where most of her inner conflict arises.

Only with the help of two female teachers, the Maestra Oliviero and the Professoressa Galiani, Elena is able to finish school with good grades and to get a scholarship to a university in Pisa. After the beginning of her friendship to Lila, these are the most important connections Elena makes in her early life and they set her up for achievement. After starting university, her new environment consists of people from another social class than hers and the consequential tensions will follow her most of her life. However, she forms important relationships with the mother and sister of her husband that help to deal with those problems. Both women show Elena how to act and appear in her new social environment While those relationships are never conflict-free, they introduce Elena to the idea of a more gender equal society.

Lastly, Elena’s longest friend and greatest influence is her brilliant friend Lila. Lila motivates Lenu her whole life to learn and live better and more eagerly, always either through competition or encouragement. She is the first supportive female figure in Elena’s life and their relationship will be formative for Lenu’s whole life. As young girls, Lila introduces Lenu to the book “Little women” and the ideas to become an author to escape poverty and suppression. While Lila’s life makes it impossible for her to reach this goal, Elena follows this idea throughout her life and indeed becomes an author.

All those women and their individual influence make it possible for Elena to develop into a self-determined women. Ferrante skilfully portrays, through the example of two lifes, Lenu and Lila’s, what a difference it makes to be supported by a network of women. Lila, who has spent her lifetime fighting to be in control over her male dominated world, disappears at the end of her life without leaving a trace, whereas Lenu writes down her story that is characterised by traces of other woman’s influence. Ferrante succeeds in showing the complexity of relationships in general and female friendships specifically. In a time where most books about women still focus on building a romantic relationship, it is a welcome surprise to read books about the whole life of two women, where men are actual secondary.

19. How Rihanna proves that companies should support their female employees more

by Leandra Rudoph, 25.01.2021

Rihanna is a music icon and one of the world’s most known celebrity. Recently, the news that have been spread about her have been about her ‘scandalous’ Instagram posts or her relationship status. However, in times of COVID-19 where many studies show that women are pushed back into traditional gender roles and are disregarded by their comapnies, the press should focus more on what Rihanna really stands for. That is having women in leadership positions of big companies,. Women that are pushed to stay at home to take care of the children and the household alone have more difficulties to be promoted at a later point. This is a real problem not only for those women, but also for their companies. Experience has shown that women in leadership positions promote diversity and inclusivity which again attracts more customers. The advantage that women in leadership positions bring, show the businesses of Rihanna.

 “I didn’t do it for the celebration, I did it because that’s how I genuinely feel”. That is Rihanna’s answer when she was asked why she put a focus on inclusivity in her makeup brand “Fenty Beauty”. Additionally, the clothing line “Savage x Fenty” has proven that inclusivity is not a marketing gag to Rihanna but rather a necessity to her and her attempt to include all women.” Rihanna uses her position in leadership at her company to promote these values through her brands. Experience from recent years has shown that inclusivity sells. It actually helps brands to make more profit because representation matters to many people, and costumers are not solely white women. Rihanna is the first black head designer for a major luxury brand, as her label “Fenty Beauty” partnered with LVMH (luxury conglomerate). As a black woman, she can bring her own experience into the work and the presentation.

Rihanna has succeeded in the business world because as a black woman she knows how important it is to celebrate the people that have formerly felt left out. Rihanna’s ventures into business have shown that it is important for women to create their own products, because only we know what we want. That should function as a leading example for other companies that it is absolutely necessary to have women in leadership positions and that also in the corona pandemic, women should not be disadvantaged to reach those positions. Women in leadership positions are necessary to initiate change and promote new values, which actually benefit the companies they work for. Therefore, companies need to support women as well as men with children more, so that childcare can be shared, and women can also focus on advancing in their job.

20. Biden’s Inauguration Sweeps a Breath of Relief and Hope through the Country 

by Lorina Holterhoff

The nation is not surprised by Trump’s absence for the final piece of the transition of power
Washington: The common themes of the day are relief, hope, joy. Without major mishaps Trump leaves the White House and Washington hours before the inauguration. It is the first time in over a century and a half that a leaving president has not attended his successor’s ceremony. Abstaining from following Trump’s example were former Vice president Mike Pence and now-opposition leader Mitch McConnell, who were silent parts of the ceremony. The CNN reporters remarked on the fact that these two avid Trump supporters not only two weeks prior had both endorsed Trump’s claims on the election fraud and therefore hold responsibility in the Capitol Hill insurrection. Even though these happenings feel absurd, there does not seem to be much surprise left in the American people. In the wake of this presidency, the country remains divided and nothing seems impossible.
However, unity has always been Joe Biden’s mission from the very beginning. He has always been a unifier and now he is burdening his biggest challenge yet. 

Biden has made many promises to his voter, some of which he immediately tackled, such as the halt of the Mexican border wall construction, as well as the lifting of the travel ban for largely Muslim countries. He signed the appropriate documents, along with many other on the day of his inauguration. To the reporters in the oval office he said, “There is not time to start like today, I’m going to start by keeping the promises I made to the American people.” And it is not only the American people that can expect change, Germany and the EU are hopeful about the future relationship with the United States and are counting on welcoming the nation back into international agreements such as the Paris climate accords and the World Health Organization.
On her first day in office, vice president Kamala Harris has sworn in the three new Democratic senators, Ossoff and Warnock from Georgia, and Padilla, who is replacing her in the senate. This ushers in a new era for the senate and the Democrats in the United States. From 2014 on until now, the senate’s majority has been Republican. With Democratic majority, it seems possible that Biden has the chance to make meaningful changes in the country.

21. The Notorious R.B.G.- Celebrating a life

by Leandra Rudolph, 29.01.2021

Looking back at the year 2020, there was not much to celebrate. At first, the death of Judge Ginsburg, who was a judge at the U.S. Supreme Court, seemed like another one of the tragic and upsetting events that made 2020 into the year that it was. However, when taking a look at Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s (RBG) life, it becomes clear that there is much reason to celebrate the life she has lived and her influence on the equality of men and women in the US justice system. So, while her death is a great  loss, a recap of RBG’s life shows that her influence will outlast her life.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in 1933 and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She grew up in a lower-middle class family. Her mother was a central figure in her early life. The death of her mother, who was herself an advocate for strong women, died one day before Ruth’s high school graduation. That was one of the events that gave Ruth the determination to change society, the way her mother would have wished it to be. A scholarship to Cornell and one Harvard law school later, Ruth had found her husband, Martin Ginsburg and had given birth to her first daughter. In Harvard, she had been one of nine women in a class of 550 students, another event that motivated RBG to dedicate her work to the equality of man and women. In the 1970s, she was one of the leading lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union. There, she took on many cases that dealt with the inequality of men and women and brought them to the US Supreme Court, therefore creating important precedence cases for gender equality. In 1980, RBG became judge at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and in 1993, she was nominated by President Clinton for the U.S. Supreme Court. During the hearing in front of the Senate, Ginsburg emphasized that she was not a conservatist, nor a liberalist. In the beginning of her work for the Supreme Court, she was indeed rather unobtrusive. Only later, her opinion to some important cases regarding the rights of women or the death penalty showed her deviating from the majority ruling. Thus, she was a part of the liberalist wing in the Supreme Court, that she later also unofficially led. After several severe diseases, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at the age of 87 in Washington, DC.

At the time of her death, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was known to the public as Notorious R.B.G., a nod to the famous rapper Notorious B.I.G., but mainly proof of Ginsburg’s iconicity. Ginsburg has helped to severely change the law to make it more equal for women. Her criticism of Donald Trump during his election campaign in 2016 only added to this fame and icon status. So, 2020 may not have been an easy year and the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been another big loss, especially for the the USA. Still, RGB’s legacy will hopefully outlast us all, as she made the American legal system better and the USA more just. Still, her mission is not yet fully fulfilled and it’s up to the new generations to make sure that it will be at some point. 

22. Inflatable Rubber Ducks, Milk Tea and Mass Protests: The Fight between New and Old Thailand

by Caren Sausmikat, 29.01.2021

Thousands of people armed with raincoats and inflatable rubber ducks, populating the streets of Bangkok while holding their three finger salute up high: those were the pictures that began circulating the world in the middle of last year, bearing witness to the largest civil uprisings in modern Thailand. Often overshadowed in our media by the ongoing democratic movement in Hong Kong, the protesters in Thailand are leading an equally noble fight for a democratic reform of their country. But who are they up against? And how do they demand for peaceful change?
The protests in Thailand began in early 2020 with only a group of students that continued to grow into a diverse mass of mainly university students, high schoolers, activists and labour unions. Initially, the students were rallying to demand for a reform of the inequal and out-dated educational system. Catalysed by the forced disbandment of the leading oppositional party (Future Forward Party) in February, the protests quickly gained momentum and by mid-July had transformed into a nation-wide movement demanding for democratic reforms of the state. The 3 central demands of the protesters are for the current prime minister to resign, the constitution to be rewritten and the monarchy to be reformed. So far, after months of continuous protest, none of the demands have been fulfilled.
Social Instability

To understand the motivation behind the Thai mass protests, one must look at the country’s growing social instability and inequality. Thailand transitioned into a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Regardless, the king retained more power than most other constitutional monarchs and remains the most powerful and influential person of the Thai state. There are sharp laws in place (referred to by protesters only as “112”) that prohibit any deformation of the royal family, effectively suppressing all criticism of the king and the institution he represents. The late king Rama IX (Bhumibol Adulyadej), who reigned until his death in 2016, was known as mediating force and widely appreciated by the population. Not so much his son Rama X (Vajiralongkorn), who took up the role of king in 2019 (after a 3-year mourning period for his father). His questionable behaviour as king has reminded many Thai citizens of the powerful and non-transparent ways of the monarchy and has driven them to publicly speak out against him, regardless of the charges they may face. The protesters are particularly enraged that Rama X has taken full personal control over the palace assets (a sum well in the billions of dollars), holds direct control over several troops of the military and prefers to spend his time in Bavaria, rather than Thailand.

Thailand is also a country that has experienced many coups d’états lead by the military. The latest took place in 2014 and was even supported by the late king. It established a government lead by high-ranking military officials with General Prayut Chan-o-cha as their Prime Minister. During the long awaited 2019 parliamentary elections Prayut Chan-o-cha retired from the military to re-run for the office of Prime Minister. With his win, the Thai government officially returned to civilian hand while the  military rule continued. The 2019 elections already marked a first stir amongst pro-democracy protesters, but they did not rise until 2020.

The stagnating economy and growing poverty also plays a key role in the rise of the Thai protests. For years, social inequality increased, and the economy did not grow enough to accommodate the needs of the people. Many have joined the protests for this reason (especially labourers and small business owners) and demand for the government to create better conditions. The protesters share the sentiment that Thai society has been going around in circles without making any social, political or economic progress. They, as a large part of the population, demand radical change. On the opposite side stand most of the remaining population who want to protect the Thai society as it is. By now, the protests have become the manifestation of the struggle of New Thailand against Old Thailand.
Continuous Protest

For the largest part, the mass protests that started in July have been peaceful, not at last because of skilled self-organisation of the mostly leaderless protest movement. In October however, the situation between protesters and the police heated up, resulting in the use of water canons and tear gas. On October 14th, thousands marched the streets of Bangkok and camped outside the prime minister’s office, demanding for his resignation. In the early hours of the next day, the government released an emergency decree, banning any gatherings of more than 5 people. The official reasoning behind this measure was the containment of COVID-19, yet everyone knew it was an attempt to shut down the protesters. Those payed the ban no heed and organised several days of back to back marches, using inflatable rubber ducks, raincoats and goggles to shield against the water cannons, colour marking and tear gas. The protests spiked again on December 2nd, when charges of ethical misconduct against the prime minister were dropped, allowing him to stay in office. The ruling fuelled on many protesters to continue their fight despite the lack of responses from the king or the government.
Milk Tea Alliance

Considerable credit for the continuous and mostly peaceful mass protests in Thailand must be given to the democratic movement in Hong Kong, with whom the Thai protesters share many similarities in their political struggle. Inspired by the persistence and impact of the Hong Kong protests, the Thai movement adapted many of its strategies and a mutual feeling of  connectedness bloomed between them. For example, the online organisation of protests and the special sign language used to coordinate people masses on site has created many similar scenes between Hong Kong and Thailand. Together with Taiwanese activists (who are facing similar troubles with democratic organisation and the increasing influence of China), they unite in the internet-based Milk Tea Alliance (after the popular beverage). Together, they support each other via social media. This marks a globalisation of the protests, an unprecedented protest swapping that could majorly change the art of protest in the coming years. Not at least because it has also proven to be quite successful to this date. One change-up in protesting strategy, and probably the strongest asset of the Thai protest movement is its lack of clear leadership. Until this day, the movement has intentionally remained student lead and no clear leadership was ever established among the protesters. This has made it quite difficult for the authorities to crack down on the protesters, who have yet to be successful in shutting down the movement. Still, over 20 popular protesters have been arrested by now. They primarily face charges for speaking out against the king, which could translate into prison sentences of up to 15 years.
Success in 2021?

The Thai protesters continue to demand for change, but is there any chance of a peaceful democratic reform in 2021? Since October, the king has been back in Thailand and focuses his energy on reinforcing his appearance and moral authority. He has yet to comment on the protests, apart from assuring that no matter if people are part of the protests or not “he loves them all the same”. The prime minister in turn has shown himself open to dialogue and proposed a reconciliation committee for the government and protesters to come together. So far, the protesters refuse him. Too many times in the past have reconciliation committees failed to bring significant change and the protesters remain wary of the government’s sincerity. Despite being adamant about maintaining the order of Thailand, the pressure on the monarchy increases and the government is more and more backed against the wall. There seems to be no simple resolution of the conflict in sight and despite all efforts, the possibility of an open escalation of the protests remains. The Thai people can only trust in their own compassion for each other to take off the brunt of the damage that is bound to hit them in a new turbulent year.

23. GameStop, Or What Even Is the Stock Market??

by Noah Mayer, 27.01.2021

GameStop is a mildly successful Dallas-based global reseller of used video games. Over the last couple of days, however, the company became one of the protagonists of what might the biggest game of them all: the global stock market.

GameStop was already struggling before the pandemic even began. Pressured by increasingly strong digital competitors like steam and Epic Game Store and constantly under critique for what many customers considered to be unfair upmarking of prices, the company closed over 300 locations worldwide in 2019. Lockdowns and the exponential increase in online-shopping only increased these problems, and so GameStop, according to information published by Reuters, suffered a net loss of over 18 million dollars in the third Quartile of 2020 alone, missed all of its Wall Street estimates, and was widely rumored to go out of business soon. Market analysts noticed, of course. Citron Research, a company that specialises in finding dying businesses included GameStop in a twitter video about stocks buyers should avoid on the 21 of January. However, they failed to consider two things. Firstly: People on the internet love few things more than proving other people wrong. Secondly: By now, the stock market is basically a made-up entertaining system that doesn’t depend on how single companies or even the whole economy are doing (and, funnily enough, still has the power to kill people. Amazing how that works, right?). 

r/wallstreetbets, a reddit forum with over 2.5 million members, referred to on the official forum description as degenerates, that models itself after controversial far-right platform 4chan began to organize an effort that soon turned GameStop stocks into one of the highest risers of this week, with values almost stock values almost tripling in 4 days. Citron Research shut down their social media due to online harassment and many attempts to hack their twitter. On the one side, analysts predict that the GameStop bubble cannot last and will lead to massive losses for investors. On the other side, people just keep buying in, and have so far been able to sustain the trend. Even Elon Musk, newly crowned richest man aliveweighed in today with an uninspired meme. The chaos will therefore continue, as a single word to his masses of cult-like supporters can make or break entire companies.

There is just one tiny detail that got lost in this entire financial frenzy. Nothing actually changed. GameStop will struggle just as much in 2021 and, barring any miracles, eventually go out of business. Just like nothing changed when the stock market reached record highs in the middle of the pandemic.Lockdowns hadn’t ended. Business wasn’t booming. Wages didn’t rise. Unemployment didn`t fall. Working people gained absolutely received absolutely no shares of the spoils of the institution they were sacrificed for. They did, however, pay the price when the system failed in 2008, with lost jobs, decaying houses, and destroyed lives.. Taxpayer bailouts for everyone, in order to keep the system exactly what it is: A fun game for rich investors, very loosely based on reality, and entirely empty of consequences when you screw up; or at least empty of ones that you have to face yourself.

Citron Research: 

24. Coordinated Intimacy: How do we touch?

by Caren Sausmikat, 29.01.2021

Coordinated intimacy rolls off the tongue quite easily for this first time. By the second time the opposition of its meaning becomes irritating – and by the third time it feels like an offence to the sacredness of intimate moments. Maybe it is also understood like a jab towards our withering social skills that have been deeply hit by the distancing regulations of the pandemic. Have we been isolated from each other for so long that we can no longer trust our intuitive touch around each other? Probably. Coordinated intimacy however is less a social phenomenon (yet), but an increasingly important aspect of film and theatre production. The term that feels so counterintuitive to human nature describes exactly what it says: the coordination of intimate moments.

The depiction of intimacy, often in the form of physical touch, is an integral part of any film or theatre production and its performance is crucial to the quality of the entire piece. However, being intimate with other people is a very personal matter that can be difficult for actors to portray and for directors to script. In film, intimacy is often recorded very close to the camera. In theatre, the same forms of intimacy must be staged again and again over several weeks or months. Oftentimes actors must be intimate without clear instruction when they do not really know or trust each other. Oftentimes actors are afraid to lose their jobs when they refuse to engage in intimacy that they are not comfortable with. Too often are actors sexually harassed or feel coerced on production sets. 

Cue, the rise of the intimacy coordinator, whose task it is to realise staged, realistic looking intimacy in a safe environment. Like a stunt coordinator, the intimacy coordinator accompanies the making of intimate scenes from beginning to end. It starts with the consultation of the writers and directors and working out how they envision the scenes. The Intimacy coordinator also consults the actors to build trust between them and learn about their attitudes towards and limits to intimacy. Together with the actors the coordinator works out clear choreographies to stage the desired intimacy and ensures that all necessary props are appropriate and available. During filming and/or rehearsal the coordinator is also present and continuously ensures the physical and mental well-being of the actors. 

This way, the intimacy coordinator creates a safe environment for the crew and thereby becomes an indispensable part of the production. They take over the important responsibility of the well-being of the actors, a task that until then had rested heavily on the shoulders of the director. At the same time, by choreographing intimate scenes they augment the performance of the actors. Contrary to initial assumption, it is exactly the restriction of creative freedom to a certain choreography that increases it. When actors feel safe in their interactions because they know exactly what will happen next or where they will be touched next, they can fully immerse themselves in their roles and their emotional performance. Production companies around the world are slowly becoming aware of the benefits of engaging intimacy coordinators and some, like Netflix, and the CW have already made intimacy coordinators a fixed component of any of their productions that include intimacy.

Coordinated intimacy should therefore neither be viewed as irritating, offensive or even unnecessary. Rather, it must be valued for the mistreatment and personal struggle it works to prevent. And maybe it is not wrong to think about coordinated intimacy with respect to our personal interactions after all. There is no denying that with social distancing all of us are developing fundamental insecurities about touch and physical closeness to others. Whenever we may freely touch and connect with each other again, we should remember coordinated intimacy and let its idea lead us to clear communication about the state of our attitudes towards intimacy.

25. Top 100 most influential people in 2020: New Zealand’s political ‚rockstar’ Jacinda Ardern 

by Ria Lüth, 31.01.2021

It appears almost paradoxical to bring the words ‚rock star’ and ‚politician’ into communion. Since her election in 2017 however, the term has been used repeatedly in media to describe New Zealand’s youngest prime minister Jacinda Ardern – and it is not hard to see why. Year after year, Ardern continues to demonstrate the strength of her leadership, meanwhile challenging sexist stereotypes. Consequentially, she succeeded to get reelected in 2020 with the first absolute majority voting outcome since 1951.

Looking back, the year 2020 appears like a catastrophe to many people. However, from a different angle, the Corona Virus shed light on the female competence to lead a nation in times of crisis. Upon analyzing the Corona strategies of 194 countries (of which women govern only 5%) in August of the year, a research paper published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum concluded that countries led by women had “systematically and significantly better” COVID-19 outcomes. At the frontline: New Zealand’s 40-year old prime minister Jacinda Ardern. Until today, New Zealand has not experienced a second wave of the Virus. However, what makes Ardern an inspiration is not merely that she is an excellent female politician, but how she goes about it.

Redefining Political Leadership

Women do not have it easy in politics. Either they are hold up to traditionally male standards of leadership, like dominance, pragmatism and independence, and slammed for being heartless and rational if they embrace them – or criticized for being overly emotional and impulsive. Ardern is a norm breaker, a visionary and a breath of fresh air to an outdated leadership approach. She is reformative and determined, authentic and cooperative, caring and kind.

Born 1980 to a police officer and a school catering assistant, she became interested in politics early on, as she perceived the social disparities in her surrounding. She entered the Labour party with 17 and started working in the prime minister Helen Clark’s office upon her graduation in 2001. At the age of 28, she became the youngest parliament elect and – only nine years later – the third woman to become prime minister. Right from the start, she challenged the status quo, proclaiming kindness to be her policy’s leading force. She announced her pregnancy only three months into office and has ever since demonstrated the female capacity to balance work and motherhood. Finally, her empathetic response to the horrific Christchurch attack in 2019 earned her worldwide praise as a political leader. 

Managing the Corona Crisis

In an interview on New Zealand’s fast and strict lockdown strategy, Arden shared her struggle to transmit the message to the general public: “Was there a way that we could send that message that wasn’t so alarming?”. Arden’s response stands in total contrast to countries like France and Germany. Instead of creating a climate of fear and anxiety, proclaiming “war ” against an “invisible enemy”, she introduced the measurements via a Facebook Live in a level-headed, critical, and humorous approach followed by regular Q&A sessions. Additionally, she demonstrated solidarity with all impacted workers by introducing a 20% pay cut for her government, including herself. Two months later New Zealand was proclaimed Corona free, and during a press conference on 11th of May she thanked her “team of five million”.

In times of crisis, she understood the importance of clear communication, empathy, team spirit and, further, light-heartedness. Instead of supporting a growing polarization witnessed in many european countries through imputation of blame, her approval rating rose to 59.5%, making her the most popular prime minister in the history of New Zealand and ensuring her reelection. And yet again, she made the unconventional choice to share power: Arden invited the Green Party to cooperate, offered them two ministerial posts, even though, she did not have to. Furthermore, her admiration and support of the indigenous Maori community were manifested by her appointment of Nanaia Mahuta as her foreign secretary.

Challenges and Vision for the future

While Arden’s administration has achieved more in their first term than would fit in her 2-minute viral video, some criticize her for a naive and idealistic approach towards carbon emission reduction and others point out that her government failed to deliver on their promises in regards to social policy. According to the UN, New Zealand’s largest city in population Oackeland is facing a “human rights crisis “. In one of the world’s wealthiest countries, the average earners live in garages, as they cannot afford the rent anymore. Entering her second term, Arden promises to continue building 100.000 new housings, become fully fossil-free by 2030 and introduce a new measurement for international comparison: Wellbeing. One thing is safe to say: Whatever step she will take next, it will be unconventional, inspirational and full of empathy and remind the world that another tomorrow is possible. 

26. The two sides to media coverage of female conductors -An interview (adapted)

Esther Bauer 21.02.2021

Conductors are a prime example of leaders in classical music. Even though they are still often connected with the picture of a tyrannical male maestro there has been an increase in female conductors on the international stage. This development is connected with extensive media coverage of female conductors.
How is this media coverage perceived by those who are directly concerned with this issue? Is it helpful to raise awareness or is it highlighting the wrong aspects? In January 2021, I talked to conductor C.N. about these two sides of media coverage and what she thinks could be improved:
How do you perceive the extensive media coverage of female conductors? 
C.N.: “I think the media coverage can be perceived in a positive and in a negative way. I think the positive sides definitely exist: For example, the whole movement around female conductors got started because the media pointed out the lack of female conductors. It started the public debate and without the media coverage of the problem we would not be where we are right now.”
What are the negative sides to the media coverage?
C.N.: “Reporting on female conductors can have negative effects when they leave out my name in the headlines or when they are solely focusing on my gender instead of my professional achievements. To start with the latter, I often face the problem that articles on my musical achievements turn into reports on me being a female conductor. This is problematic because my professional work is disregarded while focusing on my gender. Moreover, I notice the problem that my name and those of my female colleagues are not mentioned in the headlines of articles. 
What could be possible solutions?
C.N.: “I think there are three possible solutions to this problem. First, journalists should differentiate between reporting on concerts and articles about the social developments of having more women in the conducting profession. Second, I think men should also be interviewed about conducting´s gender problem. Third, the classical music industry should care for actual diversity in its structures and should not tick off their “diversity box” from a checklist as soon as there is an article about a female conductor.”

These excerpts show quite impressively how not all media attention on female conductors has positive effects. The negative side of media reporting as described by Corinna can also be observed in the media coverage of female politicians. Political scientist Blair Williams found in an analysis that articles on Theresa May focus on her appearance and gender instead of her work as a prime minister.
Even though there are no comparable studies for the classical music sector but the results from political reporting and C.N.´s insights suggest that there is need for improvement in how the professional achievements of women are covered in the media.

27. Are Queen Bees really to blame or are they just another victim of the patriarchy?

by Amelie Weiler, 05.03.2021

Regina George, the meanest of the mean girls, Blair Waldorf, the queen of gossip and, Miranda Priestly, the figurative devil wearing Prada – we all know them: The Queen Bees of pop culture.  Dominant women abusing those around them – the queens torturing their subjects. The theme of the mean girl/evil woman turning on the heroic and nice female lead is actually pretty common and maybe not even entirely fictional. The Queen Bee phenomena, as it is known in academia, describes those women that strive for individual success in a male-dominated space by adjusting to their surroundings. To do so, they present themselves more like men, emphasize masculine leadership styles and distance themselves from other women. However, they also legitimize and even reinforce the current gender hierarchy by stereotyping other women negatively.

The rather derogatory term Queen Bee was first coined in 1974 by Graham Staines, Carol Tavris and Toby Jayaratne who identified her as a woman in a senior position being overtly more critical towards female subordinates. Since then, the phenomenon has been studied and discussed heavily in academia. Early studies found that female university faculty members generally underestimate the ambition of female PhD candidates more often than their male peers. Moreover, they describe themselves in more masculine terms and distance themselves from the female gender identity they generally ascribe to junior women. These findings were replicated in other studies including senior policewomen and female leaders from multiple countries. Truly problematic is the fact that Queen Bees have been found to legitimize gender bias in selection procedures, deny gender discrimination and are not willing to mentor other women. Moreover, they have been found to oppose gender equality policies for junior women.

However, rather than blaming senior women for the inequality junior women face, we have to understand the reason for a woman to develop into a Queen Bee. Belle Derks, Colette Van Laar and Naomie Ellemers understand the phenomenon as a response to gender inequality rather than a source. They suggest here that the perceived liability to individual success through the affiliation with a certain marginalized group will lead to women, but also for example gay men or ethnic minorities, distancing themselves from negative stereotypes associated with that group. This happens primarily when a certain group is valued less than the identity of the majority or high-status group.

Sharon Mavin points out that popular media often primarily blames Queen Bees for the inequality women experience in the work force instead of exposing the underlying structures favouring men. Emphasis on Queen Bees as the bullies and active hindrance to other women in their career path, distracts from the fact that gender inequality is often ingrained in the system. Current research on the topic even suggests that the Queen Bee syndrome might be a myth. Paulo Arvate, Gisele Galilea and Isabela Todescat investigated the phenomenon and its effect on gender differences in public and private organizations. Their result question the existence of the Queen Bee syndrome and even suggest a positive effect of female leadership on female representation in public organizations.

Seeing that the Queen Bee phenomenon is actually a response to gender inequality and might not even be prevalent to the extent we believe it is, the notion of the mean girl/evil woman really should not be reinforced the way it is in popular culture. Instead of promoting the fight between women, we should make a call for collective action! Because if we work together, we can expose and dismantle a system built on and maintaining gender inequality.

Female empowerment in Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: “It’s the bras. And the girdles and the corsets. All designed to cut off the circulation to your brain.”
by Julia Reiff

“I don’t mind being alone. I just don’t want to be insignificant. Do you?“, says Susie to Midge. These lines are the beginning of an all-female business in the late 1950s in New York, portrayed in the series “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel“. Midge, a rich, married housewife of the Upper West Side, receives a wake-up call when her husband confesses to having an affair with his secretary. While in the beginning, Midge only performs while drunk on stage to vent her anger, she becomes progressively braver talking about personal issues on stage. She complains about her husband leaving her for his stupid secretary (Midge wishes she was at least smart), her baby girl’s too big forehead, or the role of women in society. She is spotted by “The Gaslight” manager Susie Meyerson, who becomes her friend and agent. The two business-hungry women try to become successful leaders in comedy, struggling in a sexist, male-dominated world.

While off stage she is not courageous enough to disrespect society’s demands on her as a woman, on stage, Midge stands up for her beliefs: joking about being overdressed when wearing underwear downtown or telling her audience that bras, girdles, and corsets are designed to limit the oxygen supply of women’s brains: All her jokes contain a grain of truth about the struggles of being a woman during the 1950s in the US but the audience can smile away any substantial social criticism. Midge has the fortune of being part of the cultural bubble of comedy. People pay money to watch a female comedian being critical of marriage, kids, beauty routines, or men – all considered sensitive topics at the time. She mirrors the audience’s life. However, the audience has a safe space to laugh about topics which they could never laugh about in public, and later escape the room back to their lives in which women would never be allowed utter such criticism.

The real female leader of the duo is Susie Meyerson, Midge’s agent. She gives up womanhood as much as she can, for example by wearing men’s clothes, and still is not allowed that autonomy over her role. Men are allowed to just be themselves. They can forget about their gender and just become agents. But a woman – and Susie cannot stop being a woman – is not granted that privilege. She is still a woman-as-an-agent. So while it’s infuriating that this is often talked about within the show, it’s only realistic. Ignoring her gender would mean ignoring history and ignoring the reality that women still live in and ought to adapt to a men-dominated world.Team Midge and Susie: Sharing and standing up for feminist beliefs welds them together. But, do they achieve not being insignificant? Historically (yes, the story is fictional), every woman standing up for equality, is a step in the right direction. Midge and Susie’s attempt to change the male-dominated world of stand-up comedy was a step along the path of making leadership accessible and conceivable for women. Today, the majority of people still thinks that men have character traits that are more suitable for business leadership – not as much of a change as I would have hoped for. So my appeal is: Let us redefine leadership! So that queer, straight, bi, transgender men, women, non-binary… EVERYONE has equal chances of becoming and being seen as a great leader. Thank you, Midge & Susie, for the reminder.

28. International Women’s Day: A Portrait of Ilwad Elman

by Selina Ott, 8.03.2021

On today’s International Women’s Day, we are honoring all the women that have inspired us, be it our mothers, sisters, friends, mentors, or role models. When I thought about which women are inspiring me one person popped into my mind. It is the Canadian-Somali peace and human rights activist Ilwad Elman who is inspiring young people to fight for social justice and is named as one of the most important young faces in Africa. Through her Instagram account, she shows her 151.000 followers not only her activist work within the NGO Elman Peace and Human Rights Center which was founded by her mother and father. She also shows the other side of Somalia that is not represented in the media where photos and videos of abductions of tourists and NGO workers as well as terrorist attacks by the militant group Al-Shabaab dominate the sphere.

Her extraordinary work might have been predestined with her birth in 1990. She was born into a family of activists. Her father, Elman Ali Ahmed, became nationally recognized fighting against the abduction of child soldiers and kids’ involvement in the military. He tried to bring street children away from the violence and offered them traineeships and work – an alternative out of the violence.  The slogan of the program “Drop the Gun, pick up the pen” became nationally famous. The increasing success of the program also brought enemies, and her father was ultimately shot in 1996. Ilwad and her sister were at this time already in Canada, having fled with their mother, Fartuun Adan. After the death of their father, her mother eventually returned to Somalia to continue the work they have started. Ilwad grew up in Canada but joined her mother in 2010 to work on the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center, an NGO named in the honor of her father. Her sisters also followed. Her sister Iman became the first female commander of the Somali armed forces while her other sister Almas became also an activist. 

The organization grew not only in the program participants and employees but also in the width of the human rights causes. The center hosted more and more women who experienced rape and sexual assault and were fleeing the violence of the ongoing conflict. It founded programs for these women to become entrepreneurs and heal through physical therapy. The center focuses on sport as an empowering and healing tool for vulnerable groups such as the youth or women. There are now surf lessons and a basketball women’s team. If you watch one of Ilwad’s Instagram stories you might see her doing or teaching yoga to the students. 

But you also see a lot of laughter because laughter is sometimes the only tool you have to survive the constant state of unrest and chaos. Her sister, Almas Elman, was shot in Mogadishu in December 2019. Personal trauma – something she and her family are not immune to as much as the participants in their program. Somalia also has faced in the last weeks increased attacks on civilians including suicide bombings and fighting on the street. This is not only due to attacks by various militant groups including the Al-Shabaab but also increased unrest since February, the month when new elections should have taken place. Ilwad showed videos where she and her family increased their already existing bodyguards and veiled themselves more than usual. She also took videos of getting stuck in the middle of the road or thinking about what one can do with the rubbles on the street. My favorite videos are how she jokes around with the youngster of the family, a little mischievous boy – I just recall her and her sister playing along with the invincibility coat of the little boy until he wanted to desperately be visible again as no one could hear or see him. 

It is these very close, real, and intimate videos that make her popular among the youth, including myself. She gives a face to the daily struggle of many but more importantly the everyday perseverance of Somalian people. What I like about her is that she shows the complexity of being a Somalian woman and a human more general – she just cannot be put into one box easily. Yes, she is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Yes, she holds talks with high policymakers and politicians such as receiving a price from the German foreign minister Heiko Maas. But she also likes to pull jokes on her cousin, must sometimes pull some all-nighters with late-night coke, and then rather gets distracted by Instagram filters. Thank you Ilwad for  showing complexity, perseverance, strength, weakness, passion, and patience – You are an inspiration. 

A low-key fangirl (okay, rather high-key)

29. Making Space for Women!

by Amelie Weiler, 09.03.2021

Yesterday was international women’s day – a reason to celebrate women! Women who are still fighting to establish equality in a society which generally favours men. Not only concerning the still existing pay gap, or the heavily discussed data gap between men and women, but especially when it comes to male dominated fields like the sciences. This subsequently leads to stereotypically male professions hindering and complicating the career path of women striving for recognition in those jobs. And this problem is not limited to only one region, or country, or continent – it reaches beyond our planted even! Out of the over 560 astronauts that have been in space only 65 have been female. That is not even 12%. Similarly, only 38 of the 242 people who have visited the international space station (ISS) were women. And out of the 64 expeditions the ISS was on so far, only three have been led by a woman – and two of those by Peggy Whitson. Even more puzzling – Germany has failed so far to send any female to space!

Apparently already from the very beginning space was a place primarily reserved for men. When NASA send the first space travellers, the all-male Mercury 7, on their journey in 1961, they failed to even consider women in the official applicant pool. However, William R. Lovelace who was charged with the development of physical and mental tests ensuring the qualification of the future astronauts saw the potential of female space voyagers. The researcher assumed women, with a smaller average height and weight, might actually be better candidates for spaceflight than their male peers. Thus, while he did screen NASA’s applicants, he decided to test several women as well, however, without it being part of the agency’s official program. After inviting renowned pilot Geraldyn Cobb for testing and receiving great results (she made it to the top 2% of all candidates – male or female), Lovelace extended the program to include a further 25 women. Thirteen of the included candidates met the requirements to pass the incredible thorough physical examination, which included for example the assessment of nerve reflexes through usage of electrical pulses, four-hour eye exams and multiple X-rays. However, when the women prepared to go into the next phase of testing the program faced complications. The advanced aeromedical examinations, such as spaceflight simulations, required the usage of military equipment and jet aircraft. However, without an official request by NASA the Navy did not permit said usage and abruptly cancelled the tests shortly before the applicants were to arrive. Thus, the program was aborted and the Mercury 13, how the group of women are known now, never got their chance to voyage into space as the first female astronauts. The unfairness of the whole situation is especially clear considering the women not only passed the same tests as their male peers but even outperformed them in some aspects.

It took another 22 years for NASA to send Sally Ride as the first American woman to space in 1983. Before, women were simply not able to meet the requirements needed to qualify as an astronaut candidate set into place by NASA. To be considered as an applicant one needed a degree in engineering as well as graduate from a military jet test pilot program – a profession unattainable to women since they had been banned from military flying in 1944. John Glenn, famous space voyager and first American to ever orbit the Earth, stated at a 1962 hearing about gender discrimination pushed by some of the Mercury 13: “It is just a fact. The men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes and come back and help design and build and test them. The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order.” Apparently, Glenn conveniently forgot about the fact that it took several women to even make his spaceflight possible when assessing the social order. Indeed, the feature film Hidden Figures describes the story of three African-American mathematicians, namely Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, mastering the incredible calculations needed to send him on his voyage. Thus, it was the USSR and not America who send Valentina Tereshkova as the first woman to space in 1963. However, while her voyage was used to declare gender equality in the USSR had been achieved, it took the Soviet Union nearly another two decades as well to send the next female cosmonaut to space in 1982. And up until today only eight women in total have flown with the Soviet/Russian program.

Yet, Tereshkova and Ride cleared the way for other women to follow in their footsteps. Especially Ride acted as a role model for many of the future female space travellers, including Peggy Whitson. She made history herself by breaking several records and accomplishing many ‘firsts’ during her time at NASA. In 2007 for instance, she became the first female commander of the ISS and later moved on to become the first nonmilitary, female Chief of the Astronaut Office in 2009. Whitson remembers it was a motivation for her to see “that there were women there – that women could do this job.” Now she holds the record for the American with the most accumulate time in space – an incredible 665 days which is comparable to a roundtrip to Mars! And that holds for both men and women, making her NASA’s most experienced astronaut to date. When asked about being a female in the sciences Whitson remembers often being one of few if not the only woman in many meetings at NASA. However, she states this improved over the years. She explains: “I think the fact that there are more and more women in science to serve as role models […] is improving the field all the time.” And goes on to say that she knows for certain “that having strong women mentors […] let me know that my goals in science were achievable.”

Suzanna Randall feels similar about the importance of positive female role models in the sciences. The astrophysicist was equally inspired by Sally Ride and remembers thinking: “If she can do it, so can I.” Thus, she wants to become the first German woman to travel space. The private foundation “Die Astronautin” aspires to help her achieve said goal. The initiative came to life in 2016 when Claudia Kessler decided it was time not only for more women to voyage into space, but also for one of those women to be German. Out of an applicant pool of 400 women two were chosen: Suzanna Randall and Insa Thiele-Eich. Initially the plan was to send one of the two to the ISS in 2021, however, problems with the funding caused the date to be postponed to 2022. The necessary 50 Million Euro needed to finance the training, flight and short stay at the space  station is usually provided by the government. However, the responsible ministries have not yet agreed to offer the money. The Corona pandemic further slowed the process since consultation of governmental agencies is not possible at the time. Thus, the foundation tries to raise the necessary money through donations and crowdfunding. Primary goals of the initiative are on one hand the collection of data concerning the female body in microgravity that is simply not available in Germany so far, on the other hand the establishment of strong female role models in STEM fields for future generations – both boys and girls as Thiele-Eich points out.

While there has been progress in battling the gender discrimination in space flight it has been slow. Only in 2013 NASA’s astronaut class was made up of equal numbers of men and women for the first time. And only in 2019 Christina Koch and Jessica Meir completed the first all-female spacewalk on the ISS. Moreover, the extra vehicular activity that eventually took place in October was originally planned for March and overshadowed by discussions about gender discrimination. The reason for the postponement and subsequent turmoil in the media was the fact that NASA did not have two medium sized spacesuits available on the station at the time. The fact that the majority of spacesuits are made to fit men sparked outrage about workplace discrimination and the sexism women still face in “manned” spaceflight. Moreover, the data gap concerning women in space needs to be addressed. Insa Thiele-Eich argues this data is of extreme importance when sending space travellers to Mars, a goal set on the horizon of spaceflight. She points out that diverse teams including both men and women have proven to be more efficient and better functioning and are a necessity when considering a voyage to Mars: “When I send people away for so long and into such a dangerous environment, then I need to have the best team possible and that definitely includes women!”

With NASA’s plans to send the first woman to the moon by 2024 and more and more females joining the team of astronauts, it is apparent that space travel has come a long way in terms of gender discrimination since the struggle and rejection of the Mercury 13.  However, we have to recognize that we still have a long way ahead of us considering gender equality when there are still so many first to tackle for women. Not only in space, but also down here on earth.


30. Are Gwyneth Paltrow’s Vagina-Candles really a “punk rock feminist statement”? 

by Amelie Weiler, 15.03.2021

At the beginning of 2020 Gwyneth Paltrow caused an uproar of some sort with a new product of her company goop: a candle that simply read “This smells like my Vagina”. While Paltrow admits in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel that it is in fact “not really supposed to smell like a vagina” she believes it to be a “punk rock feminist statement”. But does feminism really benefit from the smell of Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina? Or is it rather the gain of goop itself?
In her recent book “The Vagina Bible” Dr. Jen Gunter, a now-famous gynaecologist and goop-critique, states, “there’s a lot of money in vaginal shame”. She explains further that she observes an increase in women being “vaginally hyperaware” and constantly afraid there might be something wrong with them since they have been told for years “that their normal bodies are wrong”. Gunter points out that one of the symptoms experienced by women “who have nothing physiologically wrong with them” tends to be “odor”. So, Gwyneth Paltrow is right for sure when she points out that many women experienced “a certain degree of shame or embarrassment” when growing up. And she has a point when wanting to reclaim the female body and its natural odors in a positive manner, free of unhealthy and shameful commentary.

However, if a candle with a “funny, gorgeous, sexy, and beautifully unexpected scent” made with “geranium, citrusy bergamot, and cedar” and some other fun stuff sold for a meagre $75 (74€) is the way to go about it, I really do not know. That the candle already has two follow ups, namely “This smells like my orgasm” and “This smells like my prenup” sold at the same modest prize of course, does not really help against the accusation of it all being nothing but a clever marketing strategy.

Christina Deka examined goop and other companies offering advice on alternative medicine concerning women’s health in her theses in social and behavioural sciences at Syracuse University. She draws the conclusion that the “rhetoric of self-care” employed by these companies “uses the language of feminism to persuade its audiences to partake in regimes of self-care under the guise of ‘empowerment’”. Rather than supporting a feministic cause then, goop and similar wellness companies, use feminism as simply as a means to sell more. They even go further by shaming women into believing there is something wrong with their generally healthy bodies. Arwa Mahdawi summarized this point well in her opinion piece for the guardian: “The amazing thing about Paltrow is that she’s capitalized on both vaginal shame and celebration. She’s built a completely symbiotic vagina economy.”

A wellness company built with the beautiful face of a famous celebrity, like Paltrow, really depends “on no one ever being able to be her” but also “on their ability to think they might” like Taffy Brodness-Akner points out in her piece for the New York Times.  

So, I am really not sure if a candle that smells of Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina really “part of the crumbling patriarchy” like Paltrow likes to publicly proclaim, or if it is not rather part of an ingenious but unfair and narcissistic marketing strategy.

31. Ice Hockey Goaltender Braden Holtby a Role Model for Major League Sports?

by Lorina Holterhoff

With his reaction to being accused of cultural appropriation Braden Holtby shows the players of the major leagues, who are not unfamiliar with various missteps, how to respond respectfully.
After the Swedish artists Dave Gunnersson revealed the mask design for the new Vancouver Canucks’ goaltender Braden Holtby of the National Hockey League, there was considerable backlash. The artist, who has designed masks for almost all big goaltending names of the league, portrayed an indigenous motif and the instagram post that unveiled the mask also included the phrase: “Thunderbird, The Northwest Coast Indigenous Myth.” Jay Soule, an indigenous artist said in an interview with CTV News that the work coming from overseas affects the indigenous economy and the artists trying to make a living and that the right thing to do would be to commission an indigenous artist. Robert Phillips, a political executive for the First Nations Summit seems to agree, since his first question regarding the mask was “Who made it?”, implying that it should have been made by an artist from the community. Braden Holtby responded promptly on CTV News with an elaborate apology, saying that hurting the community was “not his intent” and that he has “learned a valuable lesson”. He goes on by stressing wanting to do “the things that help the community the most.”  

With his reaction, Holtby shows the NHL the appropriate response to a misstep. Listen, apologize, do better. Scandals are nothing new in the world of the major sports leagues. Although it is debatable if the missteps by the players can be called scandals when there is utter silence surrounding them. The occasional drunk driving, sexual assault and drug abuse are censored, blacked out, ignored until they go away. People put their hands over their eyes and only listen to the sound of the goal horn. Ryan O’Reilly, celebrated Stanley Cup champion, drunkenly crashed his car into a Tim Hortons and fled the scene in 2015. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks’ top scorer and three time Stanley Cup champion, sits on misdemeanor convictions after punching a cab driver over 20 cents of change. Auston Matthews, Maple Leaf’s wunderkind, intimidated and mooned a woman with a group of his friends. These are just some of the allegations and charges against hockey players. And the sport is not alone in this. The deceased and celebrated NBA star Kobe Bryant, a big voice in the fight against racial injustice, faced sexual assault charges in 2003. And still, comments are scarce, answers are evasive and the game must go on. The fans celebrate their players instead of holding them accountable, the leagues give fines instead of playing restrictions.

Holtby’s reaction to being called out by the indigenous community shows us that the players can do better. The goaltender is highly celebrated, as a player and a Stanley Cup champion but also as a man. He especially finds a lot of support in groups that tend to be uncomfortable in the fan scene of the NHL, for example the LGBTQ+ community. He is an open and avid supporter of the community and the Human Rights Campaign, one of the biggest groups fighting for LGBTQ+ rights in the US. Multiple times he has made a point of attending the Pride Parade in Washington with his wife. Additionally, he has declined an invitation to the White House in spring 2019 and when asked about why he was not accompanying his teammates he said he “needed to stay true to [his] values”, and “You’re asked to choose what side you’re on. And I hope it is pretty clear what side I’m on.” The last headline to do with Holtby was much less scandalous and more of a feel-good story. It was the story of him turtle-sitting at the US-Canada border. After signing with the Vancouver Canucks after ten seasons with the Washington Capitals, the family, including turtles, needed to move across the border. But because the animals lacked paperwork for proper international transportation, Holtby was dutifully keeping them company until the responsible agency could clear the animals for travel.

Clearly, there is potential for players to use their platform for calling out problems in the league, the nation and the world, for showing their support to important issues and holding each other to a standard. The NHL cannot be counted upon to uphold these standards itself as it was shown when the Hockey Diversity Alliance cut ties with the league in October. The organization committed to end systematic racism in hockey stated that “the support [they] hoped to receive from the NHL was not delivered”. Additionally, organizations such as the Arizona Coyotes as well as the Chicago Blackhawks are examples of bigger structures in ice hockey making decision that do not respect oppressed communities such as the Black population or Native Americans. With the drafting of a young player that had openly conceded to the mistreatment of a disabled black classmate the Arizona Coyotes displayed their lack of concern for these issues. And the logo and mascot of the Chicago Blackhawks have long been an often-discussed controversy. After the Cleveland Indians of the Major Baseball League discontinued their logo in 2019 and the Washington Redskins of the National Football League retired its name in 2020, the Blackhawks have issued a ban on headdresses during games that feels like a small concession rather than a big step in the right direction.

However, with many major teams from multiple leagues postponing games in protest for the Black Lives Matter movement during playoffs and with the increasing amount of social sensitivity that is being displayed in certain fan scenes, there is hope that with fans and players calling each other out, ice hockey and other sports can become better places for all people, even without the extensive support of the leagues’ executives.