Student - November 15, 2007

Soft on the outside, powerful on the inside

‘Design a different world. Dare to use your primal feminine force... right to the top!’ is the message that Kaouthar Darmoni delivered to an audience of over a hundred women on Saturday 10 November. The lecture and workshop that Darmoni, a university teacher and oriental dancer, gave were part of the annual symposium of the network of women graduates from Wageningen (VWI). The theme this year, ‘Vrouw (m/v) gezocht’, was about combining both masculine and feminine qualities in professional life.

Kaouthar Darmoni.
‘The Netherlands is at the same level as Pakistan and Botswana when it comes to the participation of women in high positions,' says Darmoni to illustrate just how badly Dutch women are doing in the business sector. Darmoni studied in France and got a PhD in Comparative Culture and Communication at the Sorbonne in Paris. Now she teaches Media & Culture at the University of Amsterdam.
Darmoni puts her finger on the lack of solidarity between women in the business world. ‘Dutch society is very individualistic. Of course there are positive sides, but it is out of balance. Women prefer to identify with men, because that is seen as being exciting and tough. To associate with women is seen as being less serious.'
On the other hand, Dutch women identify themselves too much with motherhood, says Darmoni. ‘When children arrive, women do a complete about-turn. Taking care of the children is seen as an individual duty. But if women stay at home en masse, society will be run by men. Women isolate themselves from power.'
Most people regard solidarity among women as old fashioned, but it is a strategy, according to Darmoni. As long as women don't connect, there will be no long-term change in the business world. ‘Older women need to pass on the flame to the younger ones'.
The chairs are pushed aside after her impassioned talk, to make way for belly dancing. Darmoni uses belly dance as a means for female empowerment. ‘Dancing is a way to get in touch with your feminine qualities. We must realise that we are different from men and use our differences as a form of identity. Women should not try to become men, but appreciate and use their feminine sides.' She demonstrates a few movements.
‘Enjoy your fat, we say in Arabic. The more it shakes, the better,' she instructs. The women follow her a bit awkwardly to start with, but soon everybody is enthusiastically moving their hips and copying Darmoni's sensual arm movements.
During an exercise involving sharp tensing and relaxing of the pelvis she comments: ‘The pelvis is very aggressive. While you tense your muscles, you balance that with a facial expression of serenity. Belly dancing looks soft and fluid on the outside. But it is very powerful on the inside. Just like the female identity.'
After the workshop the participants make their way to lunch. Sabrina Helmyr finds Darmoni's views both inspiring and refreshing. She works as a team leader at an engineering company. ‘Of the twenty-five management positions only three are occupied by women,' she says. ‘While listening to the lecture, all the pieces fell into place. We have to make a connection between women of different ages within the company.'
Rixt Komduur, a biologist working on her PhD at Wageningen university, appreciates Darmoni's emphasis on feminine aspects. ‘We should get more strength out of our femininity instead of suppressing our hormones. It sounds a bit woolly, but it is true.'

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