- Mad Mädchen: Feminism and Generational Conflict in Recent German Literature and Film by Margaret McCarthy
Margaret McCarthy's Mad Mädchen uses the mother-daughter conflict as a framing trope for examining intergenerational tensions within feminism. As each generation of daughters rebels against its mothers, feminism is often presented as a teleological process of evolution, when in fact multiple [End Page 170] iterations of feminism coexist and shape each other. McCarthy's complex and nuanced analysis of literature, film, magazines (EMMA and Missy Magazine), and Internet-based media shows that the mother-daughter conflict—while still relevant—oversimplifies the complex processes by which feminist thought and politics in Germany evolve.
Chapter 1, "German Feminism in the 2000s," is a broad survey of media and pop-culture discussions of feminism and women in contemporary Germany, including Katja Kullman's Generation Ally (2002), the books Wir Alphamädchen (2008; We alpha girls) by Meredith Haaf, Susanne Klingner, and Barbara Streidl and Neue deutsche Mädchen (2008; New German girls) by Jana Hensel and Elisabeth Raether, and the founding of Missy Magazine (2008). Although often taken together as evidence of third-wave feminism in Germany, these pop-cultural moments (and the responses they evoke) instead give voice to a variety of political agendas and neoliberal attitudes, and varying degrees of knowledge of and respect for second-wave feminism. McCarthy's careful readings of the texts' intent—and especially of the media's tendency to reduce them to binary relationships—illuminate the multiple layers of today's feminist landscape.
Chapter 2 centers on three examples of women writing Popliteratur (an anomaly in itself): Zoë Jenny's Das Blütenstaubzimmer (1997; The Pollen Room, 1999), Alexa Hennig von Lange's Relax (1997; Relax, 1999), and Elke Naters's Lügen (1999; Lies). McCarthy reads these novels for their complicated and uninformed attitudes toward feminism and even ambivalence toward relationships with other women. The close readings of the texts are excellent, for example of the opening paragraph of Lügen (88–89). This thorough and nuanced approach continues in chapter 3, which focuses on Charlotte Roche's infamous Feuchtgebiete (2008; Wetlands, 2009) and the subsequent Schoßgebete (2011; Wrecked, 2013). McCarthy contends that in these novels (and in Roche's own media appearances) is "a manifest rejection of feminist mothers" but at the same time "a tacit embrace of some of their tactics" (103). In this way, Roche's texts exemplify the messy, tangled, and ambivalent attitudes of new feminists toward their feminist foremothers (most often symbolized by Alice Schwarzer, who appears both in Roche's novels and throughout McCarthy's book).
The next two chapters shift the focus from literature to film. Chapter 4 looks at Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (2008) and Das wilde Leben (2007; Eight Miles High, 2007) with an eye to the portrayal of Ulrike Meinhof [End Page 171] in the former and Uschi Obermaier in the latter. While McCarthy is interested specifically in how mainstream film represents these wild women through the lens of today's pop-cultural understanding of feminism, this chapter seems the least connected to the concerns of the book. Perhaps because the directors of both films are men, the idea of the mother-daughter dialogue inherent in feminism's evolution is missing here. The films discussed in chapter 5, Die innere Sicherheit (2000; The state I am in) and Auf der anderen Seite (2007; The Edge of Heaven, 2007), are also directed by men but thematically feature intergenerational conflict among women. Fatih Akin's Auf der anderen Seite is perhaps the best example for McCarthy's analysis of multigenerational feminisms. Her beautiful reading of the character Susanne, a white German mother, leads her to conclude that the film posits "women, bolstered by humanist and revolutionary ideals as well as psychic mother-daughter bonds that extend beyond a German frame, as the contemporary agents of '68" (196). In chapter 6, after an analysis of the conversations between EMMA and Missy magazines—roughly representing two different but not oppositional generations—McCarthy...