March 5, 2013 By Parvathy Arjun

Sexuality and Parenting: Lessons from Ulrike


“So the main problem of all women in politics is the gap between acting in your personal role and on the other hand dealing with your everyday problems. Sometimes, you feel helpless as a woman in this situation. This is not the problem of an individual, this is the main problem of women in society. So this is the main problem of women: their private life in concurrence with their political life. This is the oppression of the women. But political life has to be put in contact with your private life. You can’t praise an anti-authoric life style and on the other hand beat your children. This would not work. On the other hand, you can’t give your kids a slap without getting into politics, even at home. You can’t erase the balance of power you have at home-without fighting the balance of power in the everyday life.”

A few months after giving this interview, Ulrike Mainholf, the German revolutionary leader, left her children.
While watching Baader-Mainholf Complex-the 2007 movie on the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany based on the non-fiction book with the same title, I had rethinking about one of the greatest Issues ever: mothering.
Badder-Mainholf is the word blended with Andreas Baader and Ulrike Mainholf. They were at the forefront of the anarchic left-wing militant group engaged in fascist resistance against what they described as the fascist state. The group was a Marxist-Leninist formation with a strong belief in armed resistance and influenced by thinkers like Antonio Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse and Mao Zedung.

In the beginning frames, we see Ulrike Mainholf (Martina Gedeck) in company with her husband and children. While being a mother and wife, she pursues her career as a revolutionary journalist. This is the location where Ulrike Mainholf bridges the gulf between private and public. She does not remain under the shadow of anybody else. She is even admired by her publisher husband for the articles she contributes to newspapers.

Then comes the moment when she leaves her husband. She found him having sex with another woman and she departs with her children. Then comes the second phase of her career. She begins to chronicle the heroism of the RAF. The words above quoted must have been said at this juncture. An active revolutionary journalist living with a friend Peter Homann with her children. She interviews guerilla leader and RAF founder Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) who teases her into political activism. Then comes the third phase of her career. She joins the RAF, gets trained in Fatah training camp in Jordan and evolves out as a firebrand revolutionary. She is unable to balance the public and private-the politics and family. Peter Homann, suspected and ditched by the RAF members, takes her children with him and later entrusts them with her husband.

After watching the film (as well as Children of the Revolution a documentary on Ulrike Meinholf from her children’s perspective) and reading documents after documents on Ulrike’s tryst with the revolutionary movement, I tried to put myself in her shoes. There are many issues which a woman like me can share with her. Sexuality and Parenting being two of them.  Had I spotted my husband (fortunately I had not and God forbid) with his pants down in front another nude woman, I would also have deserted him. However, unlike in Germany, in India my rebellion would not have been favorably accepted by society. My action will be termed as ‘desertion of my husband’ (which I used too subconsciously) and as being wayward (as ‘normal’ women in a conventional society is expected to bear with earth-like patience errors of husbands who are ‘normally’ prone to errors). My choice would have been, much like Ulrike, to live with someone who I am pretty sure loves me. But identification with Ulrike as regards sexuality does not mean I vouchsafe for her stance on sexual liberation.  RAF is structured upon the countercultural movements of 1960’s whose hallmark is a bohemian lifestyle. There is apparent contradiction of a group of revolutionaries who smoke cigarettes, drive expensive cars, never try to bear and make use of the state of abject poverty attempting the overthrow the power whose very basis is the same epicurean value. Revolution is for them nothing but fad: a game of violence, motivated by money, sex and drugs.

Ulrike’s husband’s violation of trust also stems from the same epicurean anarchy whose signifier is the nude bath at the beginning of the film. She tries to leave him, not the values which beget him. That is why she ends up in a camp of warriors whose lack of vision or dream about the post-revolutionary ideal world is predicated upon the subconscious adoption of the system which they oppose and which forecloses access to them for the time being. That is why the revolutionary camp turns out to be a locus of clashing egos.

Parenting requires mutual responsibility and a long-time vision and planning. Here personal is not different from political. In politics as well, your action without a long-term planning and responsibility will end up in failure. Ulrike’s reluctance to accept the responsibility of children and leave them signifies the lack of responsibility in her political action. Here I am not saying that only a woman is supposed to grow children. But Ulrike herself takes them with her when she leaves her husband. But while her partner Peter Homann protects the children and dissuades her from the heedless revolutionaries, she is unable to raise her voice against his comrades who call Peter a traitor. Peter epitomizes responsibility both in personal and political spheres (He is estranged by them for dictating saner course of action). But Ulrike and the headless (also the heartless) revolution mistrust responsibility.

A right course of action is preparing society for future from the authority of present. But the revolution exists in the present and turns its face away from future (symbolized by endless cigars they smoke away; their mindless (hence loveless) fucking (imitating two uncovered weapons lying on the top of each other; and heedless (hence merciless) shooting). Their incapacity to face future head-on is further suggested by their reluctance (or fear) to accept their children. Responsibility and trust is conspicuously absent in their motives and actions.

To conclude I would like to move from Germany to Czechoslovakia; from Ulrike Meinholf to Milan Kundera. Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being sums up the entire discourse I am narrating here. Kundera’s protagonist Thomas believes in the lightness of existence: without responsibility and commitment. But is not that lightness unbearable? Are we not cut for responsibility of our actions?
“If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return, the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make. That is why Nietzsche called the idea of eternal return the heaviest of burdens.”

“Several members of my family perished in Hitler’s concentration camps; but what were their deaths compared with the memories of a lost period in my life, a period that would never return? This reconciliation with Hitler reveals the profound moral perversity of a world that rests essentially on the non-existence of return, for in this world everything is pardoned in advance and therefore everything is cynically permitted.”
Thomas, who is lost in his philosophy of erotic love, is reminded of Tereza’s heavy suitcase. For him, the warmth of a female body does not extend so much to love as to sleep beside her after sex. So he drives them back to their home after his desire is quenched. Tereza comes to his apartment with the suitcase, which reminds him of responsibility.  The whole novel is as much about whether he will accept it or not as it is about whether we will take up the responsibility of our political actions.

Posted in: Woman