Read the interview with Karen Kelchtermans in the section 'Experts talking'

Karen Kelchtermans

As soon as Bea asked me to write an introduction to her work on gender and equality, I knew I would find myself skating on thin ice. Although I advocate for the equal treatment of men and women, I do not consider our genders to be ‘equal’. On average, women and men differ immensely, but the differences were held silent for the past couple of decennia. Feminists feared that they would be misused as arguments to protect the status quo. It is my belief - and that of an ever-growing number of ‘new-feminists’ - that we will never reach a society of absolute gender equality if we refuse to address those differences.

For a long time, women have fought for the right to exist in public life, for the right to be visible. I will be forever grateful to all those feminists who stood up, who struggled their way up, who - unknowingly - gave up their femininity to breach the glass ceiling. Thankfulness is in order, but the process is ongoing. Today, women are still going out of their way to prove their worthiness within the existing labor model. For such a long time, we have tried to fit into a jacket that does not belong to us. Unknowingly, entire generations of women were ‘masculinised’.

While combining work, caretaker tasks, and the quest for success, we pushed eventually overstep our limits. As this occurs to women worldwide, it affects our health, our relationships, and our families. The consequences are a strain on humanity as a whole.

Research shows that once women reach what they wanted to attain, they once again allow their feminine characteristics to emerge. On a larger scale, a similar observation is found in societies that are on the more gender-neutral side of the spectrum, e.g. Scandinavian countries. This means that - in contrast to what one might expect - we notice more differences between women and men in suchlike societies. Evolutionary psychologists see this as a confirmation that in prosperous societies, both sexes can pursue their intrinsic interests more freely once the need for self-fulfillment is met.

What I am saying here is that throughout the struggle for equality and visibility, we have given up on our deepest connection with the feminine. We arrived at a point where we must restore that connection and sculpt it into a contemporary concept. By ignoring that intense connectedness, we insufficiently succeeded in integrating female qualities into the world as we know it. Consequently, we constructed a world that lacks balance and harmony. We have a lot of catching up to do. We need to establish a valorization of feminine qualities such as self-care, reflection, solidarity, cooperation, intuition, affinity with love and natural strength, and commitment. Alongside and in harmony with the prevailing masculine values such as economic development, result orientation, profitability, competition, decisiveness, and solution-based action.

At this specific time in history - the global crisis surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic - our attention got pulled back towards these neglected values. Finally, we cannot help but realize how relevant and valuable they really are. Finally, we say it out loud. Both men and women feel the need to integrate these values into their lives. We simply cannot go back to business as usual, nor do we want to. We want a more profound connection to ourselves, each other, and the world. Today’s women carry great responsibility to stand up for female qualities. With all of the strength and power they hold within them, they can bust wide open the door that is now ajar.

More info on Karen's work