There are many ways to imply that a person does not belong to a certain context. When it comes to women in the spaces of power, there is a historical inventory of effective means of embarrassment, silence and exclusion.
One of the less subtle of these is not to guarantee them a place to sit in a meeting where the seats are reserved for the other male participants. This is what happened to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, left without a place at the official meeting with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, on Tuesday ( 6), in the Turkish capital.
She ended up settling on a side sofa, away from the epicenter of the reunion, and the episode was given the nickname sofagate. It was a shame for the President of the European Council to have faced the astonishment of his EU colleague.
In her book “Women and Power – A Manifesto” (editor Planeta), British historian Mary Beard discusses the origins of the “culturally embarrassing relationship between women’s voices and the public sphere” in which, when they are not silenced, women pay a high price to be heard.
Beard traces back to the non-place of women in the public sphere since ancient Greece and reaches out to sexist insults leveled at contemporary political leaders such as Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel and Dilma Rousseff.
According to the author, by entering the public sphere and integrating the practices and skills that previously defined masculinity, women encountered resistance and hostility, discrimination and misogyny.
Unsurprisingly, one of the themes of the meeting was the recent decision by the authoritarian Turkish leader to abandon the Istanbul Convention, an international agreement aimed at preventing violence against women.
By literally leaving the President of the European Commission in his place, the populist Erdogan sends a message about his indisposition with the theme, represented by the female presence of Von der Leyen.
Turkey’s withdrawal from the convention came after pressure from conservative Islamic groups arguing that the agreement would have a negative impact on the traditional Turkish “family structure”.
In 2020, Turkey recorded 284 cases of femicide. In the 2020 ranking of equality between women and men prepared by the World Economic Forum, Turkey was in 130th position out of 153. The countries of the European Union in the worst position in the ranking were Hungary (105th) and Greece (84th) – Brazil ranked 92nd.
In an attempt to alleviate the discomfort generated by the episode, there were those who argued that the President of the Council takes precedence over his counterpart in the European Commission, so Michael sat down and Von der Leyen did not did not. There were also those who blamed a poorly done ceremonial, noting that the European Council sent a representative to organize the meeting in advance, while the Commission, due to the pandemic, preferred not to refer anyone to these adjustments. earlier.
In any case, it was known who would be the participants in the meeting, and the fact that the only woman present was the target of embarrassment is not a mere detail.
Feminism has already cited many of the practices that exclude women from leadership positions, whether in the public or private sphere. This catalog includes gaslighting (delegitimizing female positions as if they were exaggeration or madness), mansplanning (when a man explains something obvious to a woman or whom she already knew), bropriation (appropriation of the ideas of women without credit) and continues to interrupt (interruption of a woman’s speech by a man who aspires to have the last word).
The women’s movement may now need to create a new nomenclature for cases of powerful women leaders who end up being looked down upon or looked down upon by their male peers, whether in politics or in the corporate world. You can risk inflicting words like “chair” or “sofa” with an excluding verb, but in the end the translation will be the same: fear of losing dominance and privilege.