Germany/USA - Originally I had intended to write about the limits placed on women in my home country -- about the constraints on professional careers and about the strange alliance of traditionalist conservatives and modernist greens who celebrate the cult of 24-7-motherhood. But then I read Marsha Lipman's depressing blog entry from Moscow and reconsidered.
Now I'll start by reminding myself how far we've come. Never has there been a time in German history that has opened more opportunities for women. Women who grew up in the sixties and seventies have had access to a decent public education and, for the first time, an equal opportunity to study in school. Today, in fact, women tend to be better educated than men. The number of working women has increased by 16 million since 1960. In a country of 82 million people that is a staggering statistic.
The number of women in leadership position is unprecedented. After all, a woman chancellor is leading the country for the first time. Five of her cabinet ministers are women. Quota systems within the political parties, granted, do help women to be nominated to run for public office but it is still an impressive accomplishment since at the end of the day, at the upper echelon of political life, you either fail or perform. And these women have gotten elected and reelected.
Just four decades, the old patriarch was idealized. A widely read textbook claimed that the male partner determines "lifestyle and financial expenditures, educational trajectory of the children as well as location of the family's home". According to the textbook, the man had the "authority to decide" while the woman had the "duty to follow". That law was finally replaced in 1977. Today people can hardly remember the bad old days.
However, there is ample evidence that women have not come as far as many would have hoped for. While it is true that more women enroll at university than men, less women graduate than men. Only one in three PhD students is female. And a female professor is still an exotic creature in Germany at 5.5 percent of faculty. Women don't make as much money as men. On the boards of the 30 biggest publicly traded companies, a trained eye can detect exactly one woman.
Why is the glass ceiling still there? One popular argument contends that capitalism is the source of all evil. The cutthroat environment of today's (Americanized) workplace does not allow for a balanced family life. Under pressure, women give up their careers to trade them for a family. Parliament is permanently trying to add legislation to increase family time. The welfare state provides more and more privileges for mothers and fathers, the theory goes.
Let me suggest another theory: the problem is not enough capitalism is what prevents women from forging ahead. Here is why: An odd alliance of conservative and green women have taken motherhood hostage. They contend, even though for different reasons, that a mother should be with her child for several years after birth. This ideal prevents women from re-entering the work place. The stay-at-home-mom has made its comeback. She who pursues her career is seen as a "cruel mother". Childcare or a nanny is perceived as the abandonment of the mother's primary duty. A few years ago, a proposal for tax incentives for families who employ a nanny was rejected on grounds it provided a tax break for the superrich.
One needs to look no further than to France or the United States to detect that things need not be that way. Both countries have invested in child-care facilities so that working mothers can actually work and pursue their careers. Both countries also have higher birth rates than Germany. There seems to be a connection. It appears that Germany women don't dare to give birth to children under the pressure of these circumstances. And if they do, the welfare state helps to keep them away from the workplace. That's called progress in a nanny state that does not want nannies.
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