Maria Furtwaengler is chairing DLDwomen 2013, July 15 -16, again. In this interview, the renowned actress and physician explains the community spirit of DLDwomen, the role of inner images, curiosity, and the ultimate relevance of role models.
LK: DLDwomen celebrates her fourth anniversary this July. To what extent has it been a sustainable evolution and, on the other side, what’s the difference to the previous editions?
MF: In the beginning, I thought there is a "conference formula", a recipe how to make a conference right. Today, I believe that a conference gets exciting once it reflects the interests of the conference organizers. I am lucky to add my ideas to the tireless team around the DLD founder Steffi (Czerny). Beyond that, a great network has evolved around DLDw. Former speakers are very open, collaborative and willing to give us precious advice. Naturally, some issues always remain timely, particularly women empowerment and women’s rights. Due to my background as a trained physician, I am always interested in the hormonal and neuro-psychological aspect, too. The next “new” is ultimately dictated to us from the outside, the innovations that come to us through technology. Social networks and sharing economy models are good examples for such innovation, that are deeply social and thus feminine. These are issues that we will further push forward. Finally, the political dimension is in the focus of attention, too. In the policy field of gender and quota, for instance, Ursula von der Leyen, German Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, and Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, are two women that relentlessly fight for the situational improvement of women in the workplace.
LK: And just had to cope with a rebound. At the beginning, you were talking about the human touch which is key for DLDw. Based on the experience of your recent theatre debut as an actress, how important is it to leave the personal comfort zone behind and explore new horizons?
MF: Ultimately, that’s what life is all about, isn’t it. The temptation to settle in your comfort zone is enormous. Even though men in particular do not like to hear that, everyone of us is fighting against a lot of anxieties. The fear of failure keeps us from doing many things. However, it is infinitely invigorating, horizon and personality expanding to step out of the comfort zone and experiment with things behind this fear threshold. We are born with curiosity: touching things, smelling, tasting, sensual perception. The desire for knowledge is certainly one of our primary drivers. As adults, it should be our duty, to keep this curiousity alive and protect it against slack. Curiousity is a synonym for being alive. And you have to embrace change. That would make a nice slogan for the conference, too (she laughs).
LK: Embracing change; what does this mean to you?
MF: In consistency with the „third metric“ we should endorse a new mind set. We need a third metric, beyond money and power, that places value on our well-being, wisdom and our ability to make a difference in the world. The driving forces in our life are belonging, achievement and power. These elements have one thing in common: they are based on the economic growth model. But does size really matter? Haven’t we reached the limits in our affluent societies. I prefer to believe in the third metric instead, in the pursuit of happiness outside of the hamster wheel.
LK: If curiousity is a primary driver, you quickly come up against role models. There are magnificent examples in your family: Aenne Burda, the fashion entrepreneur and pioneer, or your great-grandmother Katharina von Obheimb, one of the first female delegates in the Reichstag. At the same time you surely figure as a role model for your daughter Lisa. Now I am asking myself: what’s Lisa’s standpoint towards the subject matter, the (provocatively so-called) „battle of sexes.“ Aren’t some issues already generationally passé?
MF: Maybe it is fair to say that her generation isn’t as fierce, because they don’t feel the same fundamental resistance. In this respect, her generation is not putting up with that. They have a healthier self-confidence. It is important not to forget that many women in my age did not dare to do many things. As much as we want to and demand it in theory, it is in our conditioning, that we are not becoming quantum physicists or tech engineers. To overcome this inner resistance is maybe the most difficult challenge. That’s also why we are intent on focusing to external circumstances such as laws. One may never forget: only a hundred years ago, women didn’t have the right to vote, only fifty years ago, women had to ask their husband for the permission to work. That’s only two generations. Wouldn’t it be utopian to believe that we have fully freed ourselves from these restraints in such a short time span? I wish things would be changing more quickly – for the sake of all generations of women. Still, I believe that these patterns, which have forced women into a certain role over centuries, are deeply anchored and not that easy to overcome. These are profound beliefs, images and identifications. It will take more time than it suits us.
LK: What’s your standpoint in the diversity debate?
MF: In my perception, the diversity debate has lost its way and slided into confrontation. I am afraid that it has stranded in a dead end. The bottom line is to cherish both, „celebrating men and satisfying women.“ The discussion with Alanis (Morissette) has clarified: it is not about men and women. It’s about the feminacy that is grappled in men and women likewise, sometimes more, sometimes less. There are women, who have very strong masculine traits. It is about getting to know the masculine and feminine principles in ourselves, creating a balance and using them intelligently for our advantage. We have to start connecting these parts.
LK: Instead of imitating men in their behaviour, women should bethink their female qualities?
MF: Absolutely. I hope that this years’ DLDwomen speakers will sufficiently address the question of „what is the feminine aspect“? What is the feminine part of women? This doesn’t imply that we should abandon the desire to be successful and strong. That’s „nice and juicy“ – how Alanis puts it – but women have without a doubt a bigger need for cooperation and sharing. Women are not as satisfied by being omnipotent, but rather happy, if others can take a stake in their wealth. Thus the female part is creative, receptive and cooperative. In the age of digitisation, this resonates well with the paradigms of „sharing“ and „collaborating.“ I fully agree with Brian Chesky, the founder of Air BnB, who said that is not about owning but about accessibility.
LK: This year, DLDwomen is opening up to the offspring even more by inviting speakers and guests to bring their children along to the conference. How important is it to gather different generations in one room?
MF: I cannot see how else it should be: I believe in the infinite importance of our offspring. In ten to fifteen years, they take over the steering wheel. They are incredibly open and have something we have increasingly lost along the way: curiousity! I think, we cannot afford to miss the chance to fire their imagination further with an excellent programme. We have seen and heard plenty – we will be excited but not change our lives upside down. But the young blood can say: Wow, I can do that, too! This excavates the importance of inner images of what’s possible once more. These images have to change and expand with the next generation.