Theme: Get it off your chest.
A polemical pamphlet
Among the women in my peer group, one particular aspect of the feminist debate is constantly discussed: the compatibility of having a career while, at the same time, maintaining a family and raising children. To be clear, this is, for the most part, the debate of a privileged few. Still, there is something about that discussion that irritates me:
In Germany much of the policy discussion on gender equality is centered on reforms to integrate women into work life, especially highly educated ones. The German welfare state is increasingly trying to support skilled working women in keeping their careers (and money), while simultaneously creating incentives for them to have babies despite a fear of consequently being discriminated against for promotions. We have a quota system to ensure a representative number of women in supervisory boards, at least for our biggest listed companies. We will soon have an equal pay law with the goal of pushing corporations to ensure equal pay regardless of gender. We have paid parental leave for up to 18 months for both mothers and fathers. But, more importantly, we have had a female Chancellor for more than nine years, and we have a non-stop discussion about feminism in Germany. My point is: to those of us in our privileged peer group we have all our chances lined up, guarded by a social security net and laws that other countries squint their eyes at incredulously.
The women I’m talking about, including myself, have worked their way up from high schools to universities. We’ve studied through long nights and, when finally asleep, have lived through nightmares before exams, and have celebrated their good outcome. We have worked through six months of nerve wracking thesis writing, and some of us (including me, as I have written about here) have lived through the depressing time of unemployment. On top of that, statistically, we have better grades than our male counterparts. And then, when finally we are allowed to enter the holy halls of employment, what happens next?
Around the time we turn 30, our biological clock is, or is supposed to start, ticking. So we get married two years into working life. Wedding night is the night we finally free ourselves from the burden of birth control. And most of us put a hold on our professional career as soon as we are on paid maternity leave. Some of us come back, but most of us only part-time. Well, yes, I get it. Working is hard. Sometimes it is really annoying, and some of the people you work with make it hard to remember why you went through all that studying and worrying about getting the best of grades.
However, there are some older women, with no university diploma, among my friends. Most of them had no choice but to work because of financial needs. Sometimes when we sit together and I complain about glass ceilings and my work-life-balance, they look at me and say: It’s like you younger girls have too many options to be happy. You worry about how to break your glass ceilings despite having so many chances we never got. You worry about your work-life balance, about getting pregnant, and when you have a baby, you worry about attachment theories and that your kids cannot go to daycare because of that. Even now that glass ceiling has some serious cracks, you start to argue that your maternal instincts keep you from working again and that’s just how evolution damned women to be the caretaker. Seriously, girls, stop hiding behind all those worries: Just go for it.
And I have to agree, despite my acute awareness of the subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination happening all around me. The first step toward gender equality is us realizing that we are equal.
That hiding behind either our supposed maternal instincts or our social upbringing, as in, the mother stays home and father is the sole bread winner, will get us back to the 1950s. We have to earn our own money, even when kids are in the picture, even when it gets hard, even when our husbands make enough money for the two of us. Because without financial independence we are not equal. As long as we don’t realize that for ourselves, no state reform, no discussion on feminism or discrimination, no company program on female empowerment will make any difference!
Yes, the path towards success is still rocky because of sexism and glass ceilings. However, the path is also waiting to be walked on. In our generation it is on us to use those chances given to us. To all of us who have the chance of setting an example despite all the sexism we have experienced, we have the capability to set an example to the contrary.
It is our choice to become who we want to become. In the end, being a mother is an attitude towards life – and so is being a boss.
(Picture: Copyright 2007 Ephemera, Inc.)