Photography by Julia Giesen

Spring in all its colours – May, 27th 2023

curved right

Framed ocean – A composition of architecture and nature

Purity of life

Author bio: Julia Giesen is studying special needs education at the UDE. Writing short poems has been her passion since her final years in Gymnasium. She is particularly inspired and impressed by the melancholy of the Romantic era.

Prepare Kids for the Worst

By Corinna Schroll

In her article Schools should heed calls to do lockdown drills without traumatizing kids instead of abolishing them (The Conversation, 12.02.2020), Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Jaclyn Schildkraut writes about the importance of lockdown drills at schools in the US.

She mentions a report that suggests lockdown drills should not be a surprise, involve realistic details, or include kids. Some people even call for the abolishing of lockdown drills.

While Schildkraut agrees with the report that these drills shouldn’t be traumatizing to children, she argues children should still be included in lockdown drills to practice for a real school shooting. Given the deaths of four students in a November 30, 2021 shooting by a fifteen-year-old, such drills are essential. They save lives.

She makes the distinction between lockdown exercises as opposed to lockdown drills. In exercises, there may be someone pretending to be an active shooter with a toy weapon as well as a few students covered in fake blood who pretend to be wounded. These exercises seem over the top and needlessly terrifying for everyone partaking in them. The lockdown drills are a practice to prepare the children without traumatizing them. Kids don’t need to be exposed to the blood and screams of their fellow students, even as an act. Schildkraut writes that “nobody sets schools on fire during fire drills to make them seem realistic. Instead, everyone practices how to respond so that it’s easier to do the right thing in frightening situations.”

I do agree with Schildkraut: There is no need to reenact a scenario that is already traumatizing in such a realistic manner that someone may actually be injured. Teachers as well as students have been injured by fake rubber ammunition during these lockdown exercises before.

I work part-time in a primary school and have been responsible for a group of children during a fire drill before. Some kids stayed calm, but others became very anxious and struggled to keep a clear mind. While these drills prepare children for a real fire, the procedures do not need to be more anxiety-inducing by making them more realistic. I don’t want to imagine what a school shooting “reenactment” with false firearms and some students pretending to be dying might do to the psyche of children.

But abolishing the lockdown drills entirely would leave children unprepared for a real school shooting. This could potentially lead to more deaths if the children do not know how to act in this situation of crisis – they might even end up running into the shooter when they’re trying to get themselves to safety. Teachers may lose control over the situation when the students have never practiced the safety measures of a lockdown.

There once was a false lockdown when I went to secondary school, which was caused by a nearby construction worker accidentally cutting a cable. Our teacher kept calm, and so did we as we followed her instructions. But later I heard that especially the younger students had all gone into a panic and started crying instead of listening to their teachers’ instructions. School shootings may not be as frequent in Germany as they are in the US, but this false lockdown is an example of why lockdown drills themselves are so important.

As Schildkraut puts it herself, “Building confidence enhances the ability to do what’s needed during an emergency, our research indicates.” If you are prepared for an emergency, responding correctly is much easier than when you are caught off guard. This benefit outweighs the possible downsides.

Another important point Schildkraut mentions is “that only preparing teachers for lockdowns is short-sighted”. Teachers might be killed by a shooter, and in that situation, their students must be able to make decisions on their own. Preparing both teachers and students empowers both groups, enabling all to survive.

Schildkraut closes with the idea that “(…) kids should be prepared, but also that drills don’t have to be scary to be effective.” I fully endorse this conclusion, as I too believe that preparing children for the worst can only help to keep them safe. But these preparations must be age-appropriate and as little traumatizing as possible. Children deserve to have a peaceful childhood but should be prepared for the real world, especially in a country where the general population is allowed to carry firearms. If lockdown drills help children to act with a clearer mind and more confidence in a life-threatening situation, the drills are important and should not be abolished.

Pandemic Journal: Essen, July 2020

By Melissa Knox-Raab

Knox-Raab in corona fashion – perfume by isopropyl alcohol

1. Five minutes of CNN Covid coverage makes me feel like running into the bathroom and following Sanjay Gupta’s method: scrubbing the backs of my hands, between fingers, grabbing and twisting soapsuddy thumbs, and pushing the tap off with my elbow. I know I’m here, where the curve’s flat as a pancake, but American statistics make me feel like the virus can vault through the TV screen and get me.

2. Right now, I’m thinking of a John Donne poem:

When my grave is broke ope again
Some second guest to entertain . . .

New York used refrigerated trucks. In Donne’s day, they just dug up a grave and dumped in another customer.

3. When Miranda Bailey, chief of surgery at Gray-Sloan Memorial Hospital on Grey’s Anatomy gives a patient a dangerous bug, the fault lies in the cheaper brand of latex gloves the hospital had ordered in a misguided effort to save money.

4. The governor of Florida now claims there’ s plenty of PPE around. Meanwhile, medical professionals end up, at best, like Miranda Bailey: with a shrink who prescribes anti-anxiety pills.

5. In a stuffy office today–windows were closed–I asked the lawyers to wear masks. I was wearing a mask. One of them pulled her mask off her chin and covered up, all the while complaining, “it’s really hard to understand you when you’re wearing a mask.” The other– hawk-nosed, shock of white hair flopping intentionally–stared right through me. Maskless, he held forth like a winner at Toastmaster’s International throwing in a few words about the new alliance with the Rotary Club. He spoke for forty-five minutes.

6. Richard Quest, his signature rasp still intact, described the symptoms he keeps asking his doctors about. The breathlessness. The weakness. The pain. Now that he’s been cured for weeks, when will these symptoms stop coming and going? “We don’t know, Richard,” say his doctors.

7. When I went to the gym yesterday, the nice bearded trainer, the one who doesn’t follow the rules, let me in a whole twelve minutes early. There were only three people in the gym, whose capacity, when we all stick to designated areas on the floor marked with yellow tape, is seven. When the two people who enforce the rules are around—“No, you can’t go in for another four and a half minutes!”—everyone’s stuck breathing on each other in a grubby foyer right in front of the (spacious, windows-wide-open) gym.

8. The form I was trying to get the lawyers to help with is, according to them, “really complicated.” This is Germany.

9. The nice lady behind me in the Edeka line inquired where I’d gotten my plastic face shield. Turning to answer, I forgot about social distancing. Good thing that thin, impregnable plastic stood between me and a friendly conversation.

Easy-Peasy Recipes for Getting Published

If you’re interested in writing essays (narrative nonfiction, for example, reporting and interpreting cultural, political or historic events) or personal essays, fiction, poems, flash fiction or experimental forms, there are a number of magazines looking for such work. I highly recommend reading some of them (many may be found free online) and then writing to fit their needs, or seeing whether what you’ve written might work for them. Here are a few of the sites listing and evaluating literary magazines:

(This ranks magazines according to a number of criteria: circulation, number of writers who appear in the “Best American Series” and other factors.

A similar site:

The Clifford Garstang site:

Information about places to submit narrative nonfiction, fiction, flash fiction, poetry, and writing that fits no particular category:

Also useful is this list:

There are various services for which one can pay, like this one:

But I think they’re not really worth it–most of what they have you can find just by Googling around. 

Most of the 4-5,000 literary magazines allow electronic submissions as well as simultaneous ones, and most submissions take place through the “submittable” platform, which tracks pieces for free:

A few places want emailed submissions and a very few (but some of the more prestigious journals) still insist on snail mail or have their own submission platforms. Very few (but some, like The Hudson Review and The Threepenny Review emphatically refuse to consider simultaneous submissions. They hold on to things for six months and then may say “no.” I prefer to send essays to five or ten journals at once and then withdraw them electronically if necessary. 

What I Believe

By Nora Schulte-Zweckel

When it comes to taking action, most people excuse themselves by saying that they would not make a difference on their own. Their claim is that one person alone is not able to bring change to this world. But I believe in the power of the individual and there are several famous examples proving my point. The individual who takes action can set off a chain reaction. 

To start with an older example of a powerful individual, there was Martin Luther. He lived in the 16thCentury under the Roman Catholic church. Luther was not content with the church’s government and actions. Instead of allowing the situation to continue and waiting for somebody else to change the rules, he took action himself by stating his prepositions in the 95 theses, also called Disputation on the Power of Indulgences. The 95 theses were intended to begin a debate among academics but he actually set off a historically important chain reaction. Eventually he not only translated the Bible so that every-day people could read it, but also with his theses, initiated the Reformation and created the basis for the Lutheran-Protestant Christianity. 

Like Luther, Greta Thunberg effected significant change in society today. As a 14-year-old pupil, she decided to strike during school hours and protest in front of her country’s parliament in August 2018.She could not know how big the impact of her actions would be. She started the protest against climate change because nobody else had done so. But soon after, she was joined by other pupils and students. The school strike, now called Fridays-For-Future, started to expand to other countries. Until now, thousands of pupils around the world have protested, so much so that the governments are finally starting to take action against climate change. On May 24th 2019, there was even going to be a global protest. Greta Thunberg started off completely on her own but she became the role model and lead figure for a world-wide movement. Her name and her actions are known around the globe and she also appeared on TV to hold speeches. Already at the current European election, the influence of the FridaysForFuture movements becomes very clear in Germany: ‘Die Grünen’, the German party fighting climate change, have strongly increased their share of the vote and especially first-time voters and young adults voted for them. Greta started the movement almost a year ago, but the chain reaction she set off is still not over. The chain has not ended yet. Greta’s protest has already caused change for young people all over the world in half a year’s time and also strongly influenced the European election, so her impact on the future of our planet will probably be world-changing too. If Greta had not started her protest, we probably would not be fighting climate change as strongly and stubbornly as we do now.

I have also experienced the power of the individual myself. At the age of 16, there was only one girl in my school who ate a vegan diet. At first glance, that seems quite small in comparison to all the other children who were still eating animal products. However, a few weeks later her twin sister became vegan too. At the same time, my best friend and I became friends with the twins. With time we got to know the twin’s reasons for going vegan and what actually changed in their lifestyle without animal products. Half a year after the first sister became vegan, my friend and I decided to eat a vegetarian diet. And both of us again influenced and inspired others to consume fewer animal products and even turn their back to the whole meat industry. The first vegan girl started off alone at our school but influenced many others to join her cause.

All the previous examples have a rather positive connotation. But powerful individuals in history have not always been a good thing. The most notorious one is Adolf Hitler. His concept of Aryans and his ideal image of the world has spread so widely and influenced so many that Hitler was able to lead a whole country to death and kill millions of people. Especially bullies in every-day life start off as an individual. All that is possible because of the bandwagon effect: Most people just take the easy path and go with the flow sometimes without regard to their own beliefs. But every flow starts off with individuals. Regardless of whether the individual’s influence is negative or positive, it can lead the flow. And that is why you should never underestimate the power of an individual. People are suggestible and we should keep in mind that that suggestibility can lead to both helpful and harmful circumstances.

At the beginning the individual may seem small but because we are a community and therefore cannot help but influence each other; the individual can set off a chain reaction. Individual actions can be contagious.  In order to actually bring a change to a society, a country or the world you need a community and some sort of collective identity that the community shares. But every community starts with a single person. Many people need courage to take action and hope that their actions will actually have an impact. In short, every movement needs a leading figure. Somebody must take the first step and there lies the power of the individual. However, you should not wait now for others, Greta Thunberg or Martin Luther, to take that first step and lead you. Especially now, in an age of social media and worldwide web, it is easier than ever to spread information and propaganda and reach people around the globe. You do not necessarily need money, fame or special competence: If you want change and somebody to take action, that somebody always begins with you. You are somebody and you are entitled and able to take that first step. 


By Helen-Sophie Krott 

Master of the Unknown Realm,
Grant me your elder knowledge.
My determination won’t underwhelm
And neither will my courage.

I seek wisdom beyond comprehension
That whispers without voice in my head,
I want to await the horrific ascension,
When Cthulhu awakens in his deep sea bed.

How did you find the ancient truth?
Or did it choose you as their speaker?
For mankind alone cannot gather sooth
The Necronomicon holds the final answer.
I stood at the mountains of madness,
I searched under the pyramids,
I fought the beast in the cave,
And I listened to the call of Cthulhu
But still I cannot understand.
My mind is twitching.
Eyes inside my brain.
The waking world fades.
I feel.
The world shivers.
Dead but dreaming.
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind and the Symptoms of Anxiety in Male Rape Victims

By Sabrina Schnückel

The #MeToomovement has created a public platform for discussing the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. While numerous celebrities have come forward to unveil sex offenders within the film industry, many non-famous women have also followed their example and told the stories of how men took advantage of them. The current movement has enabled people to talk about their traumatic experiences that under different circumstances might have never reached the public at large. Through this exchange, victims of sexual assault could not only support one another but were also given the chance to warn about red flags in a relationship. The #MeToomovement has undoubtedly helped spread awareness about the frequency of rape. Still, the overall discourse appears to be limited to female victims only. Even the male inversion of the hashtag, #HimToo, is not primarily concerned with the sexual abuse of men. Instead, most of its entries discuss the repercussions a man will have to face once a woman has accused him of sexual harassment. In 2017, actor Terry Crews was one of the first men to publicly address the genuine issues surrounding male sexual assault. While most celebrities praised him for his bravery, others told Crews that a sturdy man like him should have easily been able to defend himself. Unfortunately, the issue is not limited to male celebrities of age alone. When a 27-year-old model posted inappropriate comments about child actor Finn Wolfhard, many commentators online reacted by telling him that he should feel honored by her remarks. The concept of men being the targetof sexual assault thus remains a heavily stigmatized subject.                                                                  In his autobiographical treatise Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety(2012), American writer Daniel Smith addresses the issue of male rape by recounting the story of how he lost his virginity to an older woman for whom he harbored no sexual interest. Even though he himself rejects the idea of having been raped (cp. Smith 2012: 62), he still discusses the traumatic effects of nonconsensual sexual encounters on the human psyche. Since he refers to the incident as the primary cause for his anxiety (cp. Smith: 14, 26, 41), I argue that he in fact hasbeen raped but refuses to recognize it as such because of the stigma surrounding the crime. I have compared several studies concerned with the issue to discuss the connection between symptoms of anxiety and having been raped. I will use Daniel Smith’s case in order to answer the question as to why men like him would avoid correctly labeling the crime.                                                     

Daniel’s reluctance to report the crime seems to stem from the question of whether his unpleasant first sexual encounter could even be considered a classical rape situation. In a survey conducted by Cindy and David Struckman-Johnson, rape is defined as referring to “the use of physical force, use of weapons, threat of harm, blackmail, unfair use of authority, or use of drugs/alcohol to obtain sex” (Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson 1992: 91). Since the female offender, Esther, did notuse any physical force or weapons during the assault, Daniel is led to believe that he had not been raped. The second half of the definition, however, demonstrates that abusive behavior is not limited to violence alone and can in fact assume many different forms. Esther can thus be pronounced guilty of both taking advantage of her authority as well as relying on alcoholic beverages and drugs during the incident. 

Since Daniel had been only sixteen when the undesired sexual encounter happened, whereas Esther was already in her twenties, she can be described as an adult preying on a minor (cp. Smith: 38ff.). Due to her cunning behavior, she was able to gain his trust even though Daniel was wary of her from the beginning (cp. Smith: 42). She repeatedly tells him that he is much more mature than the other boys his age and as a result he could not help but feeling flattered (cp. Smith: 48). In order to blur the lines between their differences in age, Esther thus managed to create a false sense of equality between the two. During their time at the bookstore, she would often “waylay” (ibid.) him and entrust him with very personal information about her private sex life. Despite his uneasiness about the topic, she would then force him to keep completely quiet about it (cp. Smith: 50). Esther would also be the one to suggest going to the party where Daniel and his friends would be “by far the youngest people” (Smith: 56) around. There, after consuming quite a huge amount of alcohol and marijuana, Esther would continue harassing him with overly sexual comments such as “I can come just by someone licking my neck” (Smith: 57). Daniel remarks that he had felt petrified in her presence and at that point in time believed that he never could have prevented the script that “had already been written” (Smith: 59) from unfolding. Esther had quite positively raped him.                                                                       

Like many male rape victims, Daniel displays symptoms that are among the criteria for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. In fact, one of the most persistent reactions following rape appears to be “general diffuse anxiety” (Rothbaum. et. al.: 456). Daniel, who jokingly calls himself “anxiety personified” (Smith: 7), correctly identifies Esther as the one who “set [his] anxiety off” (Smith: 14). Even decades after she took his virginity against his will, he still often complains that he was not certain whether or not he had a free will anymore (cp. Smith: 71). On top of this, he is frequently plagued by the feeling of having an “icicle” (Smith: 41) lodged inside his chest. He also describes his predicament as if “someone had injected a poison into [his] blood” (Smith: 62). Interestingly, these complaints are more reminiscent of stereotypically female reactions to having been raped. In an attempt to free himself from the lingering guilt inside of him, he takes after Lady Macbeth and furiously tries to “scrub [himself] raw with a fingernail brush and antibacterial soap” (Smith: 61). Daniel eventually realizes, that these feelings of anxiety cannot be disposed of, as they have become an integral part of his life. Like many rape victims, Daniel is also easily triggered by women that bear resemblance to Esther. When his mother introduces him to a therapist called Sandra, the similarities unsettle him (cf. Smith: 77). As it is common in men who have been sexually assaulted, Daniel also displays long-term problems with relationships in general (cp. Struckman-Johnson: 87). He admits that he has developed a form of “sex phobia” (Smith: 162) and thus spends years of his life without ever engaging in a serious relationship with a woman. When he first starts dating Joanna years after the incident, the relationship quickly crumbles because Daniel says that he feels “too nervous to love anyone” (Smith: 181). Yet, despite all evidence suggesting the opposite, he is reluctant to accept his fate as a male rape victim.                                                                                  

Daniel’s judgement could have been influenced by the common myth that being molested by a woman should never upset a man as much as the possibility of being raped by another man. As it was the case with child actor Finn Wolfhard, people tend to uphold the idea that a woman’s interest in a man should never be considered a problem. In general, men are even less likely than women to press charges against their assaulters (cp. Pino and Meier 1999: 986). This misconception is connected to the belief that heterosexual men would never not want to have sex with women (cp. Struckman-Johnson: 97). This stereotype primes boys to believe that there is always something to be gained from the experience and that the act itself can never pose any genuine harm to them. Daniel even addresses the social pressure he perceives himself to be under when he says that what he had been offered by Esther “was every boy’s dream” (Smith: 12). Despite his discomfort with the entire situation, he agreed to perform sex with Esther and the female stranger that Esther brought along. Still, he cannot deny that the episode was far from being a marvelous experience. Right from the beginning, he is “struggling to keep [his] erection” (ibid.) and even compares it to a “phantom limb” (ibid.). In order to fulfil his mission of manhood, Daniel feels compelled to completely dissociate himself from the situation. As he cannot enjoy the act by himself, he decides to “dedicate” (ibid.) the vagina in front of him to all the “groin-sore boys of the eleventh grade” (ibid.) instead. Ideals of toxic masculinity have led Daniel to believe that men should appreciate sexual encounters with women at any time, regardless of the circumstances.             Toxic masculinity had Daniel most likely also believe that a man simply “cannot be raped by a woman due to the average male advantage in size and strength” (Struckman-Johnson: 88). This reasoning reminds of the criticism Terry Crews had to face, albeit he had been molested by another man and not by a woman. Both examples show that the quintessence of the problem revolves around traditional gender role expectations according to which a man should be able to assert himself over anyone under any given circumstances. Since Daniel did not defend himself although he, as a man, should have possessed the power to do so, he jeopardized his masculinity. His predicament is complicated by the fact that he never had the chance to resort to violence, as Esther herself never threatened to physically harm him. By refusing to accept that he had been raped by her, however, he can retain the illusion of a stable masculine identity. This way, he can still uphold the illusion that he had been the one “initiating and controlling” (Struckman-Johnson: 86) the sexual activity, although it was exactly the other way around. Daniel goes even farther and creates a false sense of agency by claiming that he himself, if anyone, had “committed rape against [himself]” (Smith: 66). Since he is unable to admit that he had not been in control of the situation and had therefore not fulfilled his role as a man, Daniel starts to imagine himself as the aggressor. By blaming himselfinstead of the actual perpetrator, Esther, he attempts to erase some of the guilt that comes with being raped.                         In conclusion, Daniel Smith was indeed raped as a teenager. His efforts to reject the idea express even more clearly his sense of helplessness at being overpowered. He displays the typical symptoms of a male rape victim, such as anxiety, guilt sex avoidance, difficulty with maintaining relationships in general and a fractured masculine identity. Since male rape is considered a relatively rare phenomenon that is seldomly talked about in public, he probably felt compelled to downplay the importance Esther had played in his life. People need to be aware that rape can take on different forms and that men should not be ashamed to admit that they might be uncomfortable with certain sexual activities at times. When silence is maintained, even more people might believe that male rape could never even happen. Thus, I am thankful for men like Terry Crews who publicly address the existence of male sexual assault and thereby spread the message that men should not feel pressured to keep quiet about having been abused. Although Daniel Smith was mainly concerned with informing people about anxiety, he also managed to issue a warning against the dangers of abusive relationships. I hope that more people will follow their lead in order to raise awareness about sexual abuse. 

Works Cited

Struckman-Johnson, Cindy and Struckman-Johnson, David (1992): “Acceptance of  Male Rape Myths Among College Men and Women”. In: Sex Roles, Vol. 27, 3/4, p. 85-100.

Rothbaum, Barbara Olasov et. al. (1992): “A Prospective Examination of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Rape Victims”. In: Journal of Traumatic Stress, Vol. 5, No. 3, p. 455-475. 

Pino, Nathan W. and Meier, Robert F. (1999): „Gender Differences in Rape Reporting“. In: Sex Roles, Vol. 40, 11/12, p. 979-990. 

Smith, Daniel (2012): Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety. Simon and Schuster, New York. 

The Friendzone and Toxic Masculinity

By Helen-Sophie Krott

Young men today believe that being friend zoned by the girl they like is the worst that could ever happen to them.  I think the reason for this fear of the friendzone is the assumption that being “just friends” with a girl minimalizes their masculinity. Not being able to seduce or convince her that they are boyfriend-material is equated with not being manly enough for her. But still these men continue to hang out with the girl that has no romantic feelings towards them with the intention that she somehow reconsiders her decision. They try to be the best friends possible in hope of being rewarded with a relationship or sex. Often the buy expensive gifts or do very nice things for her she never asked for in the hope that they can make her feel obligated to enter a physical relationship with them. 

A friend of mine had this problem when she met a guy in university. They had the same taste in music and films and started to hang out. However, after a few weeks he tried to get more physical with her; he touched her more often. At first, he just hugged her sometimes but then he would sit very close to her and often tried to lay his arms around her. When she confronted him and told him that this made her uncomfortable he talked it down and said that he just wanted to be close to her, that he loved her. But my friend did not feel this way about him and explained to him very carefully that she was not interested. He did not take that very well. The following months were very hard for her because he who claimed to love her went to all her friends to badmouth her and even tried to get me to stop talking to her. His friends would come up to her and tell her what a horrible person she was for not wanting to be in a relationship with this guy.

This shows how men antagonize the girls that reject them even though they still want to be friends with these men. This seems a little unfair, right? Being in the Friendzone is generally conceived as negative but why is having a good friend, regardless of gender, something bad? Is not friendship one of the greatest bonds human beings can share with each other? This is the paradox I see with the friendzone. Friendship turned into something negative because the other cannot respect the boundaries of their friend.

In school I had mostly male friends and therefore I often heard them complain about being friend zoned. A former friend of mine – let us say his name was Fred – had a crush on one girl – I will address her with Ann – I have never met. Because I heard only his side of the story I antagonized this girl as well until I realized the problematic with the friendzone. Fred met Ann through his best friend who was at this time Ann’s boyfriend. They realized that they had the same interests and played videogames together almost every day. Ann lived a few hours away which was for me and my friends at that time really far away (we were 14 years old). Therefore, they spend time together online, but he would also met her on weekends. He started buying her the videogames she liked to play before she could even ask her parents. 

After some time, he started to gossip about his best friends. He told me, that his friend was the worst boyfriend possible and would not even love Ann at all. From his point of view, he was the better choice for Ann if she would only break up with his friend. Not knowing any better, I agreed with him. After some years Fred finally found the opportunity to tell Ann about his feelings and since Ann only saw him as a friend she told him how she felt about that. Instead of accepting her feelings he began to argue about it. He told her that he loved her since the day they met and that everything nice he did to her was because he loved her so much. She on the other hand felt betrayed because she realized that Fred never was her friend to the begin with. The next day Fred called me crying. Ann had blocked him from every social media platform and even changed her phone number. Other friends and I told Fred to move on, but he continued to pursue Ann. For us he was the poor misunderstood who was deeply in love with this girl.

A few years later I realized how terribly mistaken we were. Fred had started to create fake profiles on social media and even found out Ann’s new accounts when she changed them. He contacted her friends and convinced them to pressure Ann to talk to him. He finally stopped when Ann entered a new relationship. This is how I experienced that the concept of “being in the friendzone” destroys a relationship. It is a sad story, because due to Fred’s aggressive pursuit Ann lost the friendship with Fred but also lost many other friends that took his side. I can imagine how lonely she felt. She probably asked herself if it was her fault that Fred fell in love with her. What if she really had been leading him on without realizing it? After all, this is what Fred claimed. It is generally assumed that the girl in this scenario did certain things that “make” the guy fall in love with her. Such things include: wearing make up or revealing clothes, laughing at his jokes, touching him somewhere (like hugs) and making him compliments. I do all these things with my friends, with people I feel safe and comfortable around. The loss of this friendship was not Ann’s fault because she could have done nothing, except maybe ignoring Fred, that would have prevented his desire for her. It was Fred’s fault: He could not deal with his emotions and felt entitled to know what was best for Ann. However, this would be the easy way out and the truth is not that simple.

The true fault lies in our society. There are hundreds of similar stories and the friendzone has even become a meme. Yet, the girl is always the villain in those jokes or stories. The man is the one we are supposed to sympathise with whereas the woman is the cruel one that just would not give him a chance. We shame girls for being just friends with boys and at the same time we shame them for wanting a boyfriend. Because, when a girl posts something in the internet, like “Why can’t I have a nice boyfriend”, you can be sure that there is at least one comment stating: “You could have, but you already friend zoned him.” As a result, women feel guilty when they are with male friends. Women feel guilty when they get presents or compliments from male friends, because they assume due to this social pressure that they must repay them with a physical relationship. And if they do not, they put him in the friendzone which seems to be a new version of purgatory.

However, the friendzone is not a new phenomenon created by social media but rather a product of toxic masculinity and the suppression of female autonomy. Even Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote in his famous The Sorrows of Young Wertherabout the heartache of Werther because he could not be together with Charlotte who was already married to another man. The inability to be with Charlotte in a platonic relationship eventually leads to the suicide of Werther and since this is written from Werther’s perspective (and a male author) we are supposed to feel sorry for him. I say “no” to that. We must teach the value of friendship to create a healthy environment for boys and girls. Otherwise a friendship between male and female will not be possible anymore. Although I grant that you cannot chose with whom you fall in love with, I still maintain that you should never force and/or manipulate the other person to love you as well. If they do not feel the same about you it is you job to accept that and if you cannot stay friends after that, then maybe your friendship did not mean that much to you after all.

We need to become aware of the problematic regarding the friendzone. I believe that something like a friendzone does not exist but is rather a construct such as the distinction between the colours blue for men and pink for female. Man are not put in the friendzone by the woman they like because that implies that they would put these men there with calculation. Men are not the victims in this scenario. To clarify, men are not passively victimized by being “friend zoned” because they are the ones actively pursuing the woman. I think it is the other way around. Women are “f*ck zoned”. Befriending someone with the calculation of getting them to bed or into a relationship has nothing to do with being a gentleman or a white knight as such men tend to think. It is a cruel practise of tricking the woman to trust this person. Therefore, if you want to be in a relationship with a woman you need to know that nothing is more attractive that honesty. Be honest about your feelings and respect hers. Treat her equal. And if she just wants to be friends with you be happy about the new friendship rather than being one of those men that cannot respect women.

My Boss’s Hugs

By Hadis Fallah

People today tend to believe that standing up for yourself as a woman has become easy through the recent discussion of the “#MeToo” movement. Many women from different industries have come forward about their own experiences of sexual assault and harassment. Especially women in public industries have used their voices to raise awareness through social media platforms. Actresses like Tarana Burke, Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lawrence and Alyssa Milano opened up about men like Harvey Weinstein and Billy Cosby who had abused many women in different ways. These were all forced into sex or kissing and threatening them to damage their career if they refuse to participate. It’s the misuse of power or other higher social status which leads to sexual assault and harassment in such workplaces like the movie industry. I have heard people saying this issue gets annoying or is too unrelatable than the experience those actresses had. It seems to be too far from “our” reality. But what does the misuse of power look like in “our” ordinary lives?

It probably happens everywhere in every workplace like in schools, in hospitals or in usual offices like in my workplace. It might not exactly look like the experiences those actresses had but it’s somehow still the same thing. When I finally decided to tell my boss that I do not like to be hugged after he made several inappropriate jokes about women and how they should look or behave like “I like seeing women bended on their knees” I came to a strange realization. I realized how uncomfortable I felt knocking on his office door and it almost felt like I was about to throw up after he hugged me before. Although his hug was not meant to be sexual and I guess it sure did not look like it, I still felt very uncomfortable and felt like a line was about to be crossed. This lead me to ask myself why I was so nervous before notifying my boss about his wrong behavior? I could not answer the question except I wanted to stop acting like I do not have a voice and I wanted to stop thinking that I was afraid to speak up for myself. Women should not feel the pressure to stay silent just because they are afraid of their boss’s reaction in such situations. Men in general have the freedom to behave however they want to behave and society claims their behavior as completely legitimate. They can urinate wherever they want and they can say whatever they want without thinking about the consequences. Especially men in higher positions think they have the right to tell others what they are doing is wrong and get along with it. They themselves can not take it when somebody else gives them a little nudge. 

While it is true that it is a boss’s job to talk to his employees about their behavior at work or about their work methods, it does not necessarily follow that they are able to be told about their own flaws and failures. In truth they usually get very nervous and one can see that their pride is somehow scratched. While looking at my reflection in the dark computer screen I thought to myself “I was raised to have the courage to speak up for myself. So there it went, all my courage and pride. On the way to his office my fear level went up to hundred. I knocked on his door, stepped in and said “I just wanted to say, I actually don’t like hugs.” He looked up from his printer and suddenly turned red as a tomato and I could see in his eyes that he knew exactly what I meant. He knew that his hand before went little bit too far “downstairs”. While I was staring at his red tomato face, trying to read his facial expressions, I thought “dear God, please don’t act like you don’t know what I am talking about!” But he said “it’s good that you told me” and then started to talk about my attendance at work to change the topic. After I reflected on  the situation later, I felt so “dumb” about my feelings. I actually should not fear his reaction. Instead, he should fear my reaction! His behavior was inappropriate and unprofessional so why did I felt sick while knocking on his office door? I blame our current society for that. Obviously, it is hard to change how people thought and still think over decades but one should be able change his own way of thinking and to step up for others and for him- or herself.

To put it in a nutshell, stepping up for yourself is never easy. Still, it should not be that way. Instead women (and men) should be able to encourage each other to talk about this, to confront people with their wrong or unprofessional behavior. Nobody should be afraid of the boss’s reaction—for example mine, who is now ignoring me completely. I see the point that he might feel uncomfortable and wants to be careful of what he says or does around me but I do not get why he has not the decency to even say “Hello.” Probably because he is ashamed and afraid now. Maybe that is the reason why this discussion might be annoying for some people because they cannot relate or can relate and feel guilty.

What I Believe

By Josephine Grothoff

When I dwell on the word “belief”, my mind brings up all sorts of religious images and concepts. I think of so-called holy books and holy people. I think of churches, of mosques, of other buildings of worship. I think of rules, of sins and of prayers. However, to me, this is not what belief should ever be limited to. My own belief rests outside of the borders of any religion or institution or type of worship, for I merely believe in connectedness, as rooted in the following observations and perspectives I have of this world.

I do not believe in religion, I believe in spirituality. The two are not one and the same to me, because as writer Brene Brown describes, spirituality means “recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.” I agree with this notion, believing that all of us, no matter of what gender, nationality, class or other randomly constructed category, and even no matter of what species, are inextricably connected through nature. To specify, this does not mean that I believe in any wild conspiracy or magic, but simply that I see what we have in common as ever more powerful, lasting and beautiful than what we think separates us. Every earthling, no matter whether they be human or not, is dependent on the same things on this planet. All beings breathe the same oxygen, take nutrients from the same Earth and are dependent on nature providing them with surroundings that allow them to live rather than die. All animals, human or not, need the rain, the water this Earth provides. They need the moon and the sun for their life to continue moving in the cycles that it has followed for as long as we have been on this planet. We share our basic needs and our basic capabilities, such as feeling pain and communicating in some way, with not just all other humans, but also all other animals on this Earth. On top of this, we are biologically connected more than we often recognise just by having common ancestors. To claim that these traits do not connect us all in some very basic yet relevant way does not seem logically sound. Our common origins are simply so obvious, and I believe that much power lies in that reality. To me, recognising and exploring these connections defines spirituality, and this kind of spirituality does not require belonging to a religion at all.

I do not believe in Gods, I believe in nature’s wisdom. From my point of view, it makes little sense to pray to some white old man who supposedly once lived, or to attribute all our triumphs and tragedies to some holy supernatural being floating above us and presumably deciding upon them. Believing in and trusting in Gods makes especially little sense to me now in this time where we are seeing everything that is natural around us die, triggered by the climate crisis we ourselves are responsible for. We have been destroying our very home while worshipping imaginary beings in the sky who apparently know and govern everything. To me, this behaviour is the perfect example of disconnection, and I believe that if we had stayed in touch with nature instead of being occupied with our self-created religious institutions, the Earth would most likely be in a better place right now. Untouched and left to follow its course, nature appears to always be in some state of equilibrium. While we humans have put everything wildly out of balance in our time on this planet, Mother Earth never really deviates from her natural cycles and is always in tune with the other planets and stars (such as sun and moon) moving through the universe. Therefore, I do not believe that any supernatural being humans pray to could ever come close to nature’s wisdom. 

I also do not believe in praying, I believe in doing and being. I see little reason to close our eyes, fold our hands and think of some religious figure into whose hands we place our fates, rather than to take full responsibility ourselves. I believe in acting out of kindness and empathy, out of a feeling of caring and community – not because a religious scripture demanded us to do so, but rather because it is in our nature. I believe in being who we authentically are and who we trust we can be if we do our best, rather than praying to some God to release us of our sins because we are apparently not good enough. When things are not going well, we can do all we can to make the situation better instead of praying for it to become better. Especially during this very critical time on Earth where we are in the middle of a mass extinction caused by the climate crisis, it is inevitable that we recognise our autonomy and thereby our responsibility in all of this. Instead of praying that bad things will not happen, we should reflect on our role on this planet and stop making bad things happen. 

I understand that religion, if practised diligently, can relieve many people of unhappy feelings and guilt. This relief comes from religion often giving people the feeling that someone or something that is above us all has final control, that they can pray to and trust this great power to make everything okay. However, I see this religious naivety as a very negative and unproductive way to look at the world as it tends to make people omit the connection they naturally have to everyone and everything that is around them. Delving into our connection with nature, with each other, and with all other beings on this planet would surely be more useful. It would likely restore our sense of responsibility for all that happens around us as well as giving us a sense of obligation to handle this Earth softly, contrary to what we have been practising for a long now time now.

In conclusion, belief does not need to be linked to institutional religion. In fact, this Earth might do better if it were not. Instead of following human-made rules and systems to guide my spirituality, I believe only in our inherent connection to all that is around us, and in the compassion, kindness, creativity and love that are born from this connection. Finally, however, I know that people do not all perceive the world in the exact same way. I do not think that there is even any strictly right or wrong belief, as long as said belief does not do harm to others or the planet. This is the important bit to reflect upon.