The following text was produced as a response to the second call for entries by the newly founded Fount Magazine. The call asked for artists, writers and other creatives to produce a piece in response to a specific piece of art which had been submitted in the first call for entries by the magazine. The piece which I was asked to respond to is a piece of visual art which shows the words "Mea Vulva, Mea Maxima Vulva, Sex Sells" embedded, or rather, camouflaged in some kind of distorted zebra-striped pattern. Below, the text I produced in response:
The Uschi Principle
To be published in Fount Magazine, 2016
Sexism is described as a form of discrimination based on gender. Sexist discriminatory behaviour is understood as acting upon one's belief that one or multiple genders were to be evaluated as better than another or others. It is described to have complex, far-reaching effects in society. (1)
I'm reminded of something a person who I was friends with in my last years of high school told me about her relationship to gender. She introduced me to a concept she called the 'Uschi' principle. She was trying to win me as a supporter but I clearly distanced myself from what she tried to make her reality.
It feels weird to write about this in all seriousness because I perceived the 'Uschi' principle to be ridiculous when I first learned about it but with about ten years of distance and having been around people who actually acted accordingly, I find it important to speak about how young women might educate themselves to grow up.
I'm convinced that my friend felt empowered by making herself appear less intelligent than she actually was in front of male persons. At the time, it was hard for me to understand but I now believe that this was her coping mechanism to deal with the complexity of life at the age of 17. Surely, the attention she got felt good compared to the issues of dealing with her changing body and the expectation to 'become someone'.
I'm reminded of the 'Uschi' principle, hidden at plain sight.
“Das Uschi-Prinzip” was written by Meike Rensch-Bergner and published in Germany in 2006. It's subtitle translates to “Only to best of everything. How women get what they want.” A popular book distributor presents the book with a descriptive text which translates to: “Seemingly effortlessly, Uschis manage to have men dance to their tune. Uschis know what men want – and what they want themselves. Uschis make things easy for themselves and are successful doing so. In short: No intelligent woman would behave like an Uschi. And exactly that's a mistake.” (2)
It hurts a bit to look this up.
It hurts to think that for some time I was close to someone who actively shaped her being according to what I now understand to be self-degrading sexist propaganda. At the time, I dismissed the 'Uschi' principle as nonsense and didn't pay much attention to it. Now and then, I had discussions with my friend about it but it felt like it was none of my business to judge how she interacted with people of male gender. In front of me, she didn't play stupid so it felt easy to ignore that she did in front of others.
The descriptive text continues: “At some point, Meike Rensch-Bergner got tired with being single and fed up with carrying crates [of drinks] herself. That's why she decided: I want to learn. I want to be glamorous and happy – I'm going to become an Uschi! And so, she describes in this wonderful book unadorned, episode by episode, how it works – and how she gave her life a surprising turn as a brilliant Uschi.”
Uschi is a female first name. (3)
Ten years ago, this was sold as a self-help book, not satire and, believe it or not, it became a best selling book with 150.000 copies sold internationally. The author is a graduate in psychology and adult pedagogy and is active as a trainer and life coach. Her company “Uschi&Uschi” organises seminars around the 'Uschi' principle “in order to bring more satisfaction and happiness to the world”. Yes, let's take this seriously.
The website of a popular distributor of books features, 71 reviews about this book, 33 of which gave it the maximum score on the scale while 13 people evaluated the book with the lowest score. Three readers' reviews have been rated as most useful by others. A look at them will help to understand a bit more about what the 'Uschi' principle entails.
The first 'top-review' describes the 'Uschi' principle as a shift in thought which proposes that emancipated independent and strong women have noticed that carrying one's own crates [of drinks] proudly and strongly doesn't necessarily amount to much. The author of the review rates the book extremely positively concluding that “it helps to consider the areas of life within which a little feminine weakness can make our lives a little more comfortable and amusing.”
The second, similarly positive review speaks about applying gender cliches in order to “help” emancipated and self-confident women not to stand in their own light. It argues that one should strive to get what one wants and that might entail acting according to the rules the mainstream. The author of this review proposes the 'Uschi' principle as a coping strategy to survive within capitalist patriarchy.
The third 'top-review' evaluates the book with the lowest score possible. It describes the 'Uschi' principle as a method to withhold affection and sex while developing a demanding attitude that continuously asks for “more” instead of recognising interest or friendliness with affection.
My friend from high school was not the only female I met who acted like described above, playing weak and dumb to make things seemingly easy while challenging others and seeking for attention developing a stereotypically female 'bitchy' attitude. I'm sorry to use this word but I guess it makes clear what I mean.
According to the 'Uschi' principle, independence and strength hinder a female's social development while weakness and being a follower of the mainstream combined with a demanding attitude that keeps from recognising others' interests help to discover a happy life of comfort and amusement.
The pressure to mention that I utterly disagree with the above feels terrible.
To me, the 'Uschi' principle represents an unhealthy, self-destructive attitude similar to that found in relation to eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Self-harm is commonly described as a coping mechanism “which provides temporary relief of intense feelings such as anxiety, depression, stress, emotional numbness or a sense of failure or self-loathing and other mental traits including low self-esteem or perfectionism.” (4) Although self-inflicted pain can ease feelings of guilt, according to a study conducted by The University of Queensland (5), it harms a person physically and psychologically and can create a strange schizophrenic relation to the definition of one's gender identity.
Looking up the words 'gender' and 'identity' with help of a popular search engine, brings up a simple description of what gender and gender identity is generally understood to encompass (6). Stating the commonly obvious, 'gender' is described to refer to social expectations about the often biologically, socially and legally assumed gender binary. 'Gender identity' is described as the individual feeling about and expression of gender and gender roles. A list of culturally defined female traits includes: dependent, emotional, passive, sensitive, quiet, graceful, innocent, weak, flirtatious, soft and accepting.
The 'Uschi' principle seems to advocate against the challenging of stereotypical definitions of gender. Instead, it asks to embrace the roles society prescribes in order to live a simple life without 'unnecessary' complications, which, supposedly, would bring happiness. It's as if one looked at gender identity through the lens of capitalist market logic. Supply is dictated by demands artificially produced to simulate needs. Self-reflective critical thinking, questioning prescribed roles, discovering one's own identity and personal courage, challenging oneself and others to break lose from societal norms and 'normality', finding oneself and expressing these discoveries as well as embracing complexity and multiplicity is not recommended for living an artificially dumbed down, schematically objectifying, 'simple' life.
“Sex sells.” This is why.