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Mathilde Ramadier: “Anger is my power”

Graphic novelist and essayist Mathile Ramadier drew upon her experiences in Berlin for her critical books

Photo: Gianluca Quaranta

Anger is the power and motivation for us to feel outraged, and we need to stay with anger and use it to achieve important goals,” says 34-year-old Mathilde Ramadier, who subverts the sexist stereotype of the “angry woman” in her graphic novels and essays on topics ranging from bullshit jobs on the start-up scene to motherhood. Originally from Drôme in the warm climes of southern France, she swapped the sunflowers and lavender for the big city when she moved to Paris at 17 to study graphic design and then philosophy and psychoanalysis – moonlighting as an electro DJ and radio show host on the side.

It’s no wonder, then, that she was drawn to Berlin and decided to move here with her then-boyfriend (now husband) in 2011. She began writing graphic novels which incorporated her philosophical and psychoanalytical way of seeing the world into her storytelling and published her graphic novel (her first translated into English and German) – a biography of Jean-Paul Sartre – in 2015.

But in her early years in Berlin, she side-gigged in the city’s emerging start-up scene. Within five years, she worked for 12 different companies, which, she says, “were all horrible.” “Workers were lured into badly-paid jobs for companies which claimed to want to save the world and invent a new way of working,” she explains. “But the reality was doing a bullshit job for low pay and either being overworked or bored. I had no intention to write a book about my experiences, but the last start-up job was so bad, I just had to write my down impressions, not to forget.”

Those impressions grew into the manuscript for her book Bienvenue dans le nouveau monde (Welcome to the New World) published in 2017, a critique of Silicon Valley culture through the lens of her experiences in Berlin. Though only published in French, she was overwhelmed by the media response both in France and Germany. “I got over 200 emails from people I didn’t know, who had had similar damaging experiences and had lost a lot of self-esteem. Of course, there were some haters, too; I remember one CEO criticised me on Twitter for being too weak to survive in his world. Which, actually, confirmed the whole point of the book.”

Once you become a mother or are old enough to be considered one, the sexism, like the old-fashioned expectation for mothers to stop work completely, kicks in.

Beneath her mild-mannered demeanour she harbours the spirit of a crusader and uses anger as a driving force to tackle difficult subjects that others may shy away from. “Anger is an emotion we like to avoid in our western societies, but I think it’s a very important one which we should not ignore,” she says. The latest topic to antagonise her is the role of the woman in society; her experience of becoming a mother in Germany both shocked her and awakened her feminist consciousness.

“On the one hand, women are freer with their bodies here; they can dress how they want, still go home late at night and feel safe, which is not the case in Paris,” she explains. “But at the same time, once you become a mother or are old enough to be considered one, the sexism, like the old-fashioned expectation for mothers to stop work completely, kicks in. I found it shocking.”

This experience inspired her most recent graphic novel Corps Public, which explores the public appropriation of women’s bodies through the story of Morgan and her journey from adolescence to young motherhood. She’s now working on a new project that will confront the image of mothers in German society: “This topic is still taboo. The symbol of the mother is still very sacred in German society; it is something untouchable, immovable. I want to find a way to express myself on this topic and to do it in German.”

Despite having had many struggles in Germany, she has made Berlin her home. Since arriving over ten years ago, she has lived in the same Kreuzberg Kiez with her German husband and two small children. In her decade in the city, she has, of course, noticed the rapid gentrification and sees it as a concern. “But it is something I am also part of,” she admits. “I think every city, every village is being gentrified. I think we are always the gentrifiers of someone else. I feel gentrified by the CEOs and start-up people and their rooftop apartments. But when I moved to Kreuzberg, even if I was a poor wannabe writer, I also gentrified my district.”

She intersperses her life in Berlin with frequent trips home to southern France and dreams of returning to the countryside someday, to be closer to nature for her children and maybe to open a café or community space. “I think Berlin is a hard place to leave and I think not knowing where is home anymore is something a lot of expats experience,” she says, adding: “In the words of French-Bulgarian psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva, “we become strangers to ourselves.”