I think we all know at least one woman with a strong character, who doesn't hesitate to say out loud what everyone else thinks. Brut de décoffrage, as they say. This unfiltered frankness is often impulsive and not very (or not at all) well thought out.
The problem: The person opposite feels attacked, hurt or even offended and the message does not get through.
The solution? Show empathy and subtlety in your communication.
But knowing how to assert yourself with tact is quite an art...
... And that was not Iris von Roten's strong point.
Iris was born in 1917 in Basel, Switzerland, into a middle-class Protestant family from which she felt little love. Her desire for independence soon became her priority. She studied law and became one of the few women of her time to obtain a doctorate in law.
But what was the point: No one would hire her (at her fair value) because she was a woman.
Here are her words:
"A fool who works badly would earn 700 to 1,000 francs a month and I, who do the same job or better, would have to make do with 350 francs, not being able to dress elegantly. Wouldn't I have the right to an ambitious life? Never, never, never.
Opening his own practice?
It was a waste of time. She would have had no clients: who would be foolish enough to turn to a lawyer?
But her law studies brought her some good news: she met the man who would become her husband, the man of her life, Peter von Roten.
He was the one and only person to support her revolutionary ideas.
They soon decided to get married because relationships outside of marriage were unthinkable at the time (especially for Peter, who came from a noble and ultra-conservative Catholic family).
One would think that such a feminist and independent woman would never be forced into marriage... and yet.
But marriage to Iris comes with certain conditions...
... And not the least!
She drew up a marriage contract (the only one of its kind) which stipulated that she refused to :
- Change of denomination
- Doing household chores
- Take care of their children's education (if they ever had any)
- Giving up sexual freedom, advocating free love so that they could experiment more if they felt like it
Iris would never submit to male 'domination'.
And as you can imagine, her beliefs were not exactly appreciated by her family-in-law (or anyone else for that matter).
She and her husband were a very "avant-garde" couple for their time.
(And let's face it: a bit out of this world)
But despite this idyllic love, Iris was seething inside when faced with injustice. Apart from her husband, everything and everyone revolted her.
By the way, how would you have reacted to a man who said, straight to your face:
"The cow must stay in the stable and be milked. - Words addressed to Iris by a Valaisan MP
For Iris, this was the last straw.
Since no one seemed to want to listen to her, she decided to put it all down in a poignant book, claiming the urgency of women's emancipation.
In this big "manifesto" (over 500 pages!), she pleads for :
- Equal rights and equal pay
- A reduction in working hours for both sexes
- The taking over of household tasks by external specialists
- And the introduction of maternity insurance
When it was published in 1958, his book, entitled "Women in a Children's Park", was a bombshell...(to say the least)
Despite record sales, it was quickly rejected and criticised almost unanimously.
Even feminists distanced themselves from it, denouncing its lack of restraint and diplomacy.
As I said, Iris does not play around.
Her outspokenness and lack of tact have even made her the country's number one public enemy!
Worn out and hurt by numerous attacks and humiliations, she decided to retire and end her fight for equality.
Her book was republished in 1991 and was a great success.
So, was it an error of timing? Or simply a lack of tact in her communication?
Whatever the case, Iris was always a classy activist, never leaving anyone indifferent.
She was an intimidating woman because of her intelligence, her courage, her intellectual rigour and her undeniable charm.