German Machismo

They say, there’s an invisible glass ceiling, against which women bump when trying to climb to the top. If that was true, we would expect to see masses of women walking the streets of Germany with bandaged heads.

According to a OECD study on education, released in mid-September, “Germany is way behind the peak power in OECD,” as Andreas Schleicher says, the study’s author (2003 edition of ‘Education at a Glance’). The study compares education among the 30 OECD member countries. Especially the number of female German students successfully completing university studies is very much below OECD average. In the 80ties and 90ties Germany has invested far too little in education. As a result, Germany – the largest national economy in the EU – has slipped down to a lousy 23 position when it comes to labour productivity (in a ranking among 26 OECD members).

And when it comes to gender equality, Germany is one of the ‘taillights’ among EU / industrial nations. Our country discriminates against women on a massive scale. Only 14% of East-German women believe that gender equality is accomplished (1), in the West it’s 16%. So when we talk about a glass ceiling preventing women in Germany from pursuing a job career, it’s not about a high-hall ceiling that blocks would-be female CEOs, scientists, prime ministers – it’s merely about a cheap, narrow perspex tube that prevents women from even walking upright, that dwarfs them till they can only creep along the tunnel of part-time job slavery. What we are dreaming of, is being entitled to a full-time job career – even if we have small children, even in times of unemployment – without being denounced as taking “away jobs from family men,” or of being an uncaring mother. What we demand, are equal socio-economic conditions for education and job. And no part-time jobs, slave-jobs, Macjobs, what we want is sustainable work that renders us financially independent. Now we’re facing the so-called “reforms” – the worst dismantling of social rights in Germany since WWII. And nearly all analysts agree: women (and their children) will we the worst affected.

Meager and fat years

Compared to meager nowadays with high unemployment and cutbacks on social benefits and social security, the 70ties and 80ties were Western Europe’s fat years. Many EU countries – like France, Denmark or Sweden – seized the opportunity and enhanced gender rights during those “golden years”. Now these countries benefit from a well-trained female workforce – women, that had the chance to stay on the job while raising their children, with or without a partner. The rate of public child care for kids under the age of 3 in Sweden is 48%, in France 29%, in reunitated Germany lousy 10%. In Sweden you have comprehensive child care for children from 1 to 12 (and very qualified public facilities to boost). All-day schooling is standard in many European countries – not so in Germany. What we saw here in the 80ties and 90ties, were the miserable remnants of the so-called “West-German family model” – a dinosaur of the 50ties. Daddy, as the provider, pursuing his job career while Mummy stays at home with the kids. If father is not doing so well on the job, she might take up part-time work. The German social system discriminated against women, in respect to social security and pensions (“women live longer, but don’t know whereof”) and if daddy hit the road, Mummy was pissed off. 16 years of Conservative patriarchalic Kohl-rule have taken their toll. When Christian-Democrat Helmut Kohl was elected German Chancellor in 1982, he catapulted feminism back to the Middle Ages. Kohl, a big, tall man, was often compared to an oak, under which everything was doomed to wither. And women’s dreams and hopes for gender equality were the first to shrivel. During the Kohl years, you were entitled to the so-called ‘Erziehungsurlaub’ – a model that financially encouraged one parent to stay at home for the first three years after the baby was born. And if during that time you happened to have another baby, it was three more years off the job. (By the way, the rate of fathers choosing ‘Erziehungsurlaub’ was 1,5% to 2% (!)) A rather unflexible model that discouraged women with small children from returning to work. With some small positive adjustments, the new Socialdemocratic/Green Government has taken over the model – now called “Elternzeit”.

The message is clear: get married, stay at home, and take our little financial reward for being a good girl. Public child care in Western Germany – catastrophic! So, even if a woman has the energy to return to work after years and years of “Babypause”, she is confronted with a mountain of difficulties – and with a public opinion that still denounces public child care (if attainable at all) as “Marxist”, or “unnatural”. The Mainstream public notion is that of a housewife making it nice and cosy for her hardworking husband, sustaining the family. But what, if the husband leaves the family (as every 1 in 3 does)? What, if he gets unemployed? What, if the wife and mother chooses to work? Only about 50% of mothers on Erziehungsurlaub/Elternzeit return to the job – part-time, or full-time. For all the others, pregnancy is a river of no return. And more and more young women don’t want to go down that river. Result: a shocklingly low German birthrate. The fat years are clearly over in Europe. EU countries, like Sweden, Denmark, or France, profit from a workforce of well-educated, well-trained women. Many German well-trained, well-educated women sit at home, work part-time, or are single parents on the dole (because of a lack of public child care). And in times of massive social cutbacks, structural reforms to benefit women are not on the agenda. Meanwhile, the media echo the neverending wail of German business, about a lack of skilled workers, and specialists. The Government has extended the green card practice (which means, hauling in people that we “need”, instead of welcoming those that need us (refugees)). It’s crazy: We enhance skilled immigration while at the same time we have a standing army of (female) specialists on the dole.

It’s all in the head

There’s this anecdote from Napoleon’s Russian campaign. Riding victoriously into a small Russian village, the Emperor was infuriated when the bells from the little church didn’t greet his entrance. The Mayor was brought before him: “There are 14 reasons, why the bells didn’t ring,” he said, “but the main reason is, we have no bells”. There are 14 reasons, why Germany is a developing country when it comes to women’s right to work (lack of child care facilities, uncooperative employers, public opinion), but in the end it all melts down to one thing: There is no such thing as the right for women to work full-time – not in reunificated Germany. As a member of the EU, we are part of a burocratic, supranational State with the neurosis to regulate everything – from the length of cucumbers to the recipe of Salzburger Nockeln. But when it comes to EU Gender Mainstreaming (the extend to which each memberstate is allowed to discriminate against its female citizens), the EU is astonishingly compromising and wonkish.

What has German top-level (in business, university, politics, media) in common with the Vatican? Both are “men only” realms. There you have it again, the glass ceiling. Often, women can only manage to break through if they are ready to make the ‘big sacrifice’ – no children. At the top “conception is the exception”, as one woman put it. The Mainstream media mirror the plight of German women. Here’s one of the most striking examples of disrespect against women – a recent interview (2) with Ursula Engelen-Kefer, Vice-President of the umbrella organisation of German unionism, the mighty DGB. The interview was printed in one of Germany’s most influential Mainstream magazines, the ‘Stern’. The interviewer was a man. “Frau Engelen-Kefer,” the interviewer starts, “there are rarely nice things written about you. They say, you are a pest, shrill, obtrusive, in short, a terrible nuisance.” And later on in the interview: “(They said) She squeaks on all channels.” Needless to say that if 60 year old Engelen-Kefer belonged to the employers’ camp, she would have been treated with more decency. But being Germany’s top-woman of unionism, brings discrimination twofold. The interviewer went on: “Germany has become the ‘Republic of Engelen-Kefer’ – the country, as the woman: blocked, rigid, unable to reform.” Well, got a taste of German machismo?

XX – a disabling conditon?

In 1998 we finally got rid of Big Helmut. Since then German political chauvinism has been no longer allowed to show its ugly face in the open. It’s hiding under a burka, so to say. But apart from that, not much has really changed. Socialdemocratic/Green politics are less patriarchalic than Kohl’s were, but no less ‘chauvi’. In a Socialdemocratic/Green Government it’s still unthinkable that a woman breaks through the glass ceiling and becomes Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, or even Minister of the Interior. Instead, we have some minor ministries for token women. Remember Schröder’s famous slip of tongue when he called his own Family Ministry “Ministerium für Familie, Frauen und Gedöns” (Ministry for Family, Women, and all that rubbish)? We never had a female federal Prime Minister in all of our history. On the level of the 16 provincial States we have one lonely female Prime Minister – valiant Heide Simonis of Schleswig-Holstein – among 15 male collegues. When it comes to key positions, Schröder’s Government has taken over the ‘men-only’ sign from his Conservative predecessor Kohl. Now we’re heating our heads over whether it’s possible to even consider the possibility of having – for the first time in our history – a female President. Though the post is purely ornamental (since in 1933 President Hindenburg brought Hitler into office), many think, it might be much too much responsibility for one single woman. And wouldn’t all that travelling be too tiresome for a delicate XX? (They’d better ask 77 year old queen Elizabeth of England). The arguments against a female President are astonishingly identical to those brought forward against one of the candidates of the Conservative camp – Wolfgang Schäuble, a paraplegic, bound to the wheelchair. XX – a disabling genetic defect? In Germany man-y think so.

Losers of the reunification process

Germany’s East differs greatly from its capitalist Western part. After WWII – as everyone knows – Germany was split in half. The East becoming part of the communist block and the West a front state of the capitalist Western world. The parting line (represented by the Berlin Wall) ran right through the middle of our people – tearing many families apart. Separated for 44 years (1945 – 1989), we were shockingly abrupt reunited in 1989, when the wall came down. It’s almost like an experiment with identical twins. How does an identical society develop under capitalist / socialist conditions? I think, we all agree that the GDR was in many respects a failed experiment – not the least, because you can’t have socialism with force. But for women it worked to some extent. Here some interesting statictics:

In the GDR the quota of women working full-time rose from 52,5% in 1955 to impressing 91,2% in 1989 (1) (when the wall came down). This was due to the so-called “Socialist Emancipation Theory” – according to which every woman was entitled to work full-time, with society providing a comprehensive network of supportive public institutions. In the West full-time jobs for married women were regarded as private luxury, not to be encouraged by society. Often women in the West would have needed at least three shoulders to carry the burden of discrimination in the job market – but they only had two. In the GDR there was no official unemployment. That changed gravely after reunification. In 1994 female unemployment had risen to a top-level of 21,5% (men: 10,9%) in East-Germany (1). In 1999 still 20% of women in the East were unemployed (1). Since then the situation has aggravated even more – for both, women and men. Women in the West tend to drop out of unemployment statistics. They “fade” into the family, or/and work part-time. The level of part-time employment among women in West-Germany is much higher than that in the East, because an overwhelming majority of East-German women want to work full-time, and defend their right (that women in the West never had) no matter what – a right that shaped their very identity (and already that of their mothers). In West-Germany the official unemployment rate of women in 1999 was 9,9% (men 9,8%) (1). But at the same time 40% of West-German women worked part-time, in the East only 22%. The rate of men working part-time was 4,5 in West-Germany and 3,3 in the East. Also in 1999, 75% of all non-sustainable, or part-time work in Germany was done by women (1). The labour force participation rate of women in the East in 1999 was 74% while it was 55,3 % in the West (1). That shows impressively how women in the East cling to the socialist attainment of job equality while women in the West never managed to enter the full-time job market on a broad front, and are now more and more dependent on non-sustainable Macjobs – despite being often better skilled than men.

But it’s not just a German problem. In the Netherlands female part-time work has grown to almost cancerous dimensions, in Italy we see a massive lack of public child care and in Great Britain women suffer a lot more than men from the effects of a completely deregulated job market. If anyone is still in doubt, whether gender equality is a social justice theme in Western Europe – like rassism or globalisation – they are welcome to see for themselves. And with social rights more and more under pressure in all of Europe, gender equality in education, and the job market has to be addressed as one of the most pressing issues in our fight for social justice.

 (1) “Deutschland Ost – Deutschland West; zur Situation der Frauen in Ost- u. Westdeutschland nach der Vereinigung”, a study from Dr. Beate Rosenzweig, lecturing at the German University of Freiburg. You can read the whole study (in German) under:

(2)”Ich musste den Jungs zeigen, was ich kann!”, Arno Luik interviews Ursula Engelen-Kefer, Stern, 12/2003.

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