Face of German feminism loses face

Alice Schwarzer has a problem. For decades, she’s been the ugly face of German feminism. No other feminist in Germany comes anywhere close to her notoriety and she has single-handedly done more to discredit feminism than any MRA could ever hope to. If she didn’t exist, we would have to invent her as a textbook example of everything that’s wrong with her hateful ideology. She seems to be the bodily incarnation of all negative stereotypes about feminists: her rather unflattering and androgynous appearance, her outspoken opposition to heterosexuality, her hostility toward pornography and prostitution, and her thinly-disguised contempt for men. Presumably, she also has hairy legs, though I haven’t verified this (nor do I wish to do so).
But all this is not Schwarzer’s problem. Despite these obnoxious attributes, she has attained fame and fortune as the undisputed spokeswoman of German feminism. Wherever there is some discussion even tangentially related to women’s issues, Schwarzer is invited onto every talk show or televised discussion to spout her toxic opinions. She has received several important awards, including the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Cross of Merit, first class) and she was made a Knight of the French Légion d’honneur, a rare honour for people who are neither French citizens nor residents of France.
But now, Schwarzer’s reputation is finally unravelling after Der Spiegel revealed last Sunday that Schwarzer had had a substantial amount of money on a Swiss bank account for decades and didn’t pay taxes on the interest which accumulated there.[1] According to German law, its possible to avoid criminal persecution for tax evasion by confessing (before an investigation has been started) and paying back the taxes owed. This is what Schwarzer did last year, after many wealthy Germans were found to be guilty of tax evasion through Swiss bank accounts. She paid €200.000 in back taxes, interest, and fines for the last ten years and nothing for the preceding years, which fall under the statute of limitation. This means that she still got to keep much more of her money than if she’d paid taxes from the start.
For this, she has been crucified all over the mainstream media. The political magazine Cicero went so far as to call her the “Erich Honecker of feminism” (Honecker was the socialist dictator of East Germany). Even members of the arch-feminist Green Party are attacking her now.[2]  The general population is similarly outraged; hardly anyone is still willing to defend Schwarzer. There’s even a petition for her to return her Bundesverdienstkreuz, which already has 6,000 supporters.
Though I have nothing but contempt for Schwarzer, I do not share this outrage. Of all the horrible things Alice Schwarzer has done over her long career, tax evasion, to me, is by far the least objectionable. She has demonized men and male sexuality. She’s campaigning to get prostitution banned. She praised Valerie Solana’s SCUM Manifesto for having the courage to openly express hatred of men. She cheered on Lorena Bobbitt, who cut off her sleeping husband’s penis. She persistently refused to engage in civil debate with her critics and instead resorted to smear campaigns and name-calling. For a perfect example of this, consider her 1975 televised debate with Esther Vilar (author of The Manipulated Man) in which, as one of many insults, she called her opponent “not only a sexist, but also a fascist.” Compared to all that, trying to keep more of her own money seems quite harmless to me.
So even though Schwarzer is now publicly condemned for what I regard as the wrong reasons, I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially not considering that Schwarzer has long profited from taxpayer money being funnelled into her own projects. Moreover, the whole way Schwarzer is handling this scandal is disgraceful. In an article on her website she admitted to having acted wrongly, but simultaneously attacked Spiegel for revealing her tax evasion, calling these revelations illegal and unethical. Of course Schwarzer is quite happy to enjoy freedom of speech when it comes to spewing her hateful propaganda, but when used to tell the truth about her, it suddenly becomes “character assassination.” On top of that, she seems to have developed an absurd persecution complex, speculating about political reasons for damaging her reputation. While Schwarzer has certainly earned the enmity of many people, the far more likely explanation for this revelation is that it’s a really juicy story. When a prominent person who was always quick to condemn others for real or imagined misdeeds admits to a crime, this is interesting, so journalists report on it. That’s their job.
Schwarzer gives a curious justification for opening the secret account in the first place. She claims that public opinion was so hostile to her that she feared she would have to flee the country. It’s one thing to leave the country and quite another to have all your assets seized. Of course nothing of the sort ever happened to Schwarzer. However, it was her critic Esther Vilar who was actually forced to leave the country after being beaten up by a group of angry women. But even if we assume for the sake of argument that Schwarzer’s fears were justified, this still does not explain the tax evasion. It would have been perfectly possible to open an account in Switzerland—or some other foreign country—and declare her interest income to the German tax authorities. Unless of course Schwarzer feared that Germany would somehow be able to also seize the money in her Swiss account. This is a feat that not even Hitler accomplished at the height of his power, so it is a rather outlandish worry.
At long last, the tides have turned against Alice Schwarzer. She was losing ground before, especially with her unsuccessful fight against prostitution, which even many fellow feminists opposed. This tax scandal will hopefully prove to be the last nail in the coffin of Schwarzer’s reputation. Now she finally gets the scorn she so richly deserves, though unfortunately most of the mainstream media attacks on her still claim that she “accomplished” many great things for German women in the past (though these claims are always made in terms of vague generalizations; no one seems to be quite sure what concrete improvements Schwarzer brought about). We can only hope that this too shall pass.
[1] For the original article, see Der Spiegel: Alice Schwarzer beichtet schweizer Steuergeheimnis. A good English article can be found here: DW.de: German feminist Alice Schwarzer admits to Swiss account, then goes on offensive
[2] For one example, see the last paragraph of Notizen aus der Politik
[3] See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5rt3tsHxi8&list=PLwRQEFL0KbbpyLIrRj8uGu1zZkCAs23tM for the debate with English subtitles. The whole debate is well worth watching.
Editor’s note: feature image by Michael Lucan

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