Spotlight On women

Talented women all over the world are joining forces in increasing numbers to combat the patriarchy through the synergy of their networks. One of these young communities is Clam Club.

Flickering candles glimmer, giving off just enough light to admire the delicate flowers and seashells scattered between dishes of glowing pink beetroot labneh and appetizing crackers on long communal tables. The warm scent of caramelized butter floats through the air, while subtle clangs and sizzles emitted from the kitchen combine with on-the-fly kitchen interviews from a documentary being screened onto the bare walls of a former factory floor in Berlin-Kreuzberg.

The event, which is currently warming up the Freunde von Freunden Friends Space, is no less auspicious than the culinary delicacies filling the plates. A combination of film screening, dinner, and discussion, it is the first meeting of Clam Club, an association of talented women and one of the many local feminist communities currently emerging around the world.        

The goal of Clam Club and its counterparts is to bring together women with similar interests, passions, and career paths, to encourage banding together as a community so as to allow themselves to be publicly seen, heard, and respected for their work in industries still dominated by men — such as the film industry or gastronomy, two realms that Clam Club focuses on. “To get ahead in work and life, networks are needed,” says Clam Club’s founder, Kathrin Kuna. Yet, these networks often take the form of dusty patriarchal structures. Therefore, she adds, “women need to start building their own strong communities.” 

Kathrin collaborated closely with filmmakers and chefs for many years while working for the Berlinale. While venting her frustrations with her job in a major institution, other women in hospitality encouraged her to start her own business — encouragement that led to the birth of Clam Club. Kathrin’s first event saw Danish-born, Berlin-based chef Victoria Eliasdóttir — who has already made a name for herself in the German capital — conjure up a three-course dinner, which was served during the German premiere of “The Goddesses of Food.”

The documentary, directed by French filmmaker Vérane Frédiani — the third talented actress of the evening and part of the French women’s film club “Le Deuxième Regard” — poses the question of whether there are any strong women in the restaurant business today. Of course, the answer is yes. Naturally. The light that Vérane sheds on this matter reformulates one of the great feminist questions from: “Why have there been no great women artists?” to: “Why aren’t great women artists being recognized?”

Because while their male colleagues in the kitchen celebrate countless successes, women are being left behind in the shadows. Acclaimed for their creativity and expertise, male chefs team up with investors, thereby gaining even more attention, which results in further recognition — and so the spiral continues. For women, the opportunities for advancement in gastronomy, as well as in film, are still limited.

This inequality is not just a matter of feeling, but a truth that reveals itself through facts. Over the past 27 years, there have been 361 James Beard Awards for chefs — with only 81 of them having gone to women. The 2018 “Michelin Guide Italy” features not a single woman chef among its new additions. And the film business does not look much different. In 2016, 92% of all Hollywood-produced films were directed by men. In the past 88 years, only one woman has received the Academy Award for Best Director. Not a single woman cinematographer has been nominated.

The drawbacks can also be formulated closer to everyday life. In kitchens and on film sets, women often feel pressure to conform to aggressive and sometimes hostile, or altogether chauvinistic, work cultures in order to be respected. Women who set the tone, in turn, are often labeled as “bossy” or “bitchy,” while the same behavior displayed by men is considered strength of character. And the dilemma of reconciling family and career is particularly present in both the film and hospitality industries, which are both known for their long working hours. Women who raise children while keeping long and intensive working hours are quickly judged as uncommitted mothers. In this respect, men undoubtedly have it easier.

Despite the long record of injustice, instead of focusing on everything that is wrong with the patriarchy, many of today’s emerging feminist networks are shedding the spotlight on what women are doing right — and well — for themselves. This in itself, aided by the strength a tight community such as Clam Club can offer, is a welcome strategy that — hopefully — can alight the spark required to start transforming male-dominated industries.

After all, women are taking press and communication matters into their own hands with the support of partner organisations, such as the Parabere Forum, an independent non-profit that analyzes the opinions of women working in gastronomy today. Or Pantsuit Nation, a Facebook group with over 2.5 million members that started in October 2016 as a platform for women to show their support for US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Today, the once micro project has become a conduit for an international digital women’s movement. Pantsuit Nation demonstrates just how crucial the internet can be for the success of communities whose origins may appear to begin as niche, but soon swell to have a global impact.

While face-to-face interaction and conversation remain irreplaceable, social networks allow for relationships and ideas to be established across geographic boundaries and time zones. The new global groundswell is equipping women with the resources and support they require to create change in their own communities and, ultimately, around the globe. Clam Club has also been organizing itself via channels such as Facebook since day one. Under the slogan “Spotlight on Women,” supporters and curious people can follow its page to keep up to date with current projects and join the latest events. Clam Club’s Facebook rating, by the way, is five stars: the highest the network allows. This accolade, it seems, already foreshadows the success of things to come.

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