Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Or in this case, the Löwenbräu.
I have a terrible confession to make: I’ve never been to Oktoberfest. Not just because I never happened to be in Germany when Oktoberfest is on (because every time I went, I was still of school age, or at university), but because I’ve always been afraid to go to beer gardens anyway. Ever since I hit puberty at the age of 10, you see, I’ve been hyper-cautious of men. Oglers, grabbers, gropers and worse. Oh sure, not all men. But enough of them to make me leery of them all, especially when buckets of beer are in play. And I’m under no illusions about German men in particular, because I’m German and that’s what I grew up among. I know those guys like the back of my own hands. Which is why this article doesn’t surprise me in the least:
Do you know the story of the young German who pulled his victim into the bushes, tore her blouse and underwear, and finally raped the woman? Or that of the 53-year-old musician from Nordrhein-Westfalen, who upskirted women with a videocamera for hours? Or the story of the woman who fell asleep in a park, and despite dozens of eyewitnesses, was raped twice in the next few hours?
These stories, which you probably haven’t heard, are three of hundreds of sexual assaults that took place last year at Oktoberfest in München. And this even though security seems to be the topic of the day. A fence was built, handbag checks brought in, more video cameras mounted, the number of police and security guards visibly increased. One reads of new threats such as Islamist terror, Ansbach, and refugee mobs a lot. But of a type of violence that is so commonplace that it’s now a part of Bavarian folk-festival culture, one hardly reads a thing: Sexualized violence against women.
Like I said: Hardly. On a Facebook fan page for 1860 München, the topic does come up. “Form sex mobs and stick lion stickers on women’s cleavages and photograph them, then post them on our wall.” Nobody seems to be disturbed by that. The call for mass sexual assault has been there for days. It got 135 “likes”.
Usually, one only hears “sexual assault” and “Oktoberfest” in one breath when someone wants to insist that there’s no comparison between it and “that”. “That” being New Year’s Even in Köln. Then, the gropers were foreigners, and sexual assault was just that. And not a “jokey grab under the skirt”, that would end with the “naughty boy” getting a beer glass over the head. That’s not from the back cover of some dirndl-porno, but in a report by München police from last year. In the face of such police work, is anyone still wondering why you can’t compare the Köln cathedral square with the Oktoberfest fairgrounds?
During Oktoberfest 2015, the police recorded 1,191 criminal acts. The police were called to the scene over 2,000 times. There were 372 physical injuries. 20 sexual crimes. That sounds like a small number, especially in relation to the four million visitors. But the number of reported crimes isn’t so small because sexualized violence at Oktoberfest isn’t normalized. On the contrary, because rape, sexual duress and harassment at Oktoberfest are as normalized as the ritualized groping of waitresses.
“Just the short path to the toilets is like running a gauntlet. Three hugs from drunk strange men, two whacks on the butt, one hiked-up dirndl-skirt, and a bucket of beer deliberately poured down the cleavage, are what you can expect over 30 metres,” wrote two women in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Every year, women report that in a lot of the beer tents, it’s impossible not to get groped. That security guards won’t even try to stop handsy men. That waitresses are being forced to take self-defence courses. That victim services are warning women visitors and natives in the area of the Theresienwiese against going home alone at night. Duly noted: As protection against rapists, not terrorists.
That danger, naturally, is also there. And not just since the backpack-bombing in Ansbach. 13 people died, and 68 were badly injured, in 1980, when a right-wing extremist student from Baden-Württemberg blew himself up at the entrance to the Theresienwiese. The reaction to the violent act of a German was slack even then. The next morning, they went on celebrating.
So you can see, now, why I’m so damn skeptical and critical of the menzers (for of course they’re menzers!) who tout the imaginary problem of “rapefugees” while screaming “NOT ALL MEN!” whenever someone mentions how dangerous it is to be a woman in a boozy (and mostly white male) environment during a traditional celebration. When sexual assualts from groping all the way to full-on rape are part of the “tradition”, it’s hardly surprising that women are not going to want any part of it.
And one can’t claim that this “tradition” is part of the depraved upbringing of those pesky brown foreigners, because it’s white guys (and in this case, specifically, GERMANS) doing it. And getting away with it, too. Just like that neo-Nazi student who blew himself up in 1980, apparently any guy with white skin is not considered a “real” threat.
And when sexism and racism work against women this way, it makes sense for feminists not only to be anti-sexist, but anti-racist, and anti-fascist as well.
After all, our security is at stake!