Former EUC-student Anne-Sophie Halbertsma: ‘If you realize that feminism is different everywhere, we can understand each other better’
When we celebrate International Women’s Day we celebrate women everywhere. But feminism is not the same everywhere. On International Women’s Day, former EUC-student Anne-Sophie Halbertsma will argue that being aware of our differences can advance feminism. ‘A continuous dialogue on why certain actions do and do not work in certain contexts could help make feminism more effective, accepted, and hopefully more inclusive.’
What are you going to focus on during your talk on International Women’s Day?
‘I’m talking to you from a train station in France now, where I live. And while train stations have similar features and occupy the same function everywhere, the stations I frequent look different and feel different per country or region, and people are different and behave differently. Geographic context is important for the ways in which people behave and think.
‘I want to look at feminism the same way. If you realize that the definition and the experience of feminism is different everywhere, and that an effective feminist action does not look the same everywhere, we can understand each other better. A continuous dialogue on why certain actions do and do not work in certain contexts could help make feminism more effective, accepted, and hopefully more inclusive.’
Could you name an example of such a geographic difference?
‘Well, for example, I’m from the Netherlands, we’re pretty free and pretty equal. I haven’t had many disturbing experiences with men and it frustrates me when men are excluded from the feminist movement.. Shouldn’t we be in on this together? But having travelled a bit, I realized that in some contexts, involving men would be counterproductive and women need to make a stance against, or without men.
‘For instance, in France, a feminist collective set up the Programma d'Actions Sensibles au Genre et Espaces, or PAsSaGEs. Their objective was to make public spaces more accessible to women, especially in disadvantaged neighbourhoods where women were often confined to their homes due to security concerns or cultural practices. One of the actions adopted by the collective was undertaking women-only walks through the neighbourhoods in which the women would bring forward their concerns, feelings of exclusion or threat, etc. and link them to specific spaces and physical structures. At first, I was confused as to why the men weren't invited; wouldn't it have been more productive if women could tell the men in their surroundings directly what bothered them? Then, I saw how naive this was, as having the men around would risk enforcing certain power dynamics and inhibit women from speaking up.
‘This all doesn’t mean that we can’t work it out together. If we talk about these differences among each other, if we ask each other about those differences, I think that feminism might become a term we can all be more comfortable with.’
'If we talk about these differences among each other, I think that feminism might become a term we can all be more comfortable with.’
Anne-Sophie Halbertsma is a former student of Erasmus University College. She completed her Bachelor at University College Utrecht, where she did a double major in Social Sciences and Humanities. Anne-Sophie continued in the Social Sciences with a double master’s programme in Urban Policy at Sciences Po, Paris, and the London School of Economics. In her research, she focuses on the physical, social, economic, and cultural (in)accessibility of public spaces for various social groups.
So, you’re saying that feminism is different everywhere and we shouldn’t be too harsh on each other’s trajectories?
‘Well, I do want to add that I don’t think we should head towards some ‘feminist relativism’—that there’s no commonality between us. I really think that through dialogue, we can reach certain guiding principles together. It’s important to remain critical—also of one’s
own background and perspective. And, be critical only while listening to the other party, and continue listening, replying, engaging… Neither of us owns the entire truth.
‘Take, for example, the organisation that is hosting this event, FairFight. They empower girls and women from challenging backgrounds through martial arts training, while also strengthening local communities. Martial arts are from a certain cultural context, but here it is transformed to fit within another context. It’s a project that lasts and that is adopted within a local context. And it probably looks different everywhere. To me, that is a great example of how such a dialogue can take place.’
In what way does the concept of localized feminism you’re talking about relate to the #MeToo-movement?
‘#MeToo isn’t new. About 10 years ago, the term was already used on Myspace with the same purpose. But now, 10 years later, it did. Context matters; now that hashtag activism is a thing, large parts of the world are connected via social media platforms, a new generation of young adults is engaged on these platforms, and many more stories of sexual harassment started making it to the news, the #MeToo movement could take off.
‘Another interesting thing about #MeToo is that it started in Hollywood and was translated into a European context. But in France, there was a backlash. A group of 100 French women wrote a letter in which they opposed to the #MeToo-movement because it vilified men too much. I think, or rather, the historian Mona Ozouf argued this, and I recognise her position, that this is because the relationships between men and women developed differently throughout history in France. Gallantry, mostly among the wealthy, was seen as a sign of respect between the sexes. Sexuality, hence, provided women with a certain power. This would explain the ‘moderate feminism’ that speaks from the letter of the 100 women and opposes itself to an American Puritanism.
‘I’m not saying I necessarily agree with the position taken up in the letter. But knowing this provides one with a lot more context and creates understanding. Such understanding then creates further grounds for discussion.’