I grew up hardly thinking about feminism and gender equality. That debate took place before my time, it seemed.
During high school, girls could take the same courses as boys, and they got at least the same grades, often better. Then, as an apprentice and later at university, it was the same – loads of women attending the lectures on micro- and macroeconomics, a lot of them on top of their classes. They all got good jobs – it was the mid-1990s when we finished, the economy was doing fine all over Western Europe.
When I got my first well-paid position, the story continued – there were about as many women as men among the new recruits at Roland Berger, and also later at Financial Times Deutschland, there was pretty much a gender balance among editors and staff writers. Once you went up the hierarchy, women were scarcer, though.
So, all these years, I experienced that men and women have the same rights and that they can achieve the same if they want to.
This believe drastically changed when I got kids.
It might be a “German reality” much more than it is a Belgian, US-American or Argentine one. That is because until a few years ago (and still nowadays in a lot of cities in Western Germany), finding a day-care for your one-year-old is not easy. Finding one, that is open until 6 or 6:30 in the evening is close to impossible. And how about a creche for a six-month-old baby – forget about it. Germans are still doing quite well financially that the pressure for both parents to go back to work full time right after birth is less heavy than in Chicago or New York. And as Europeans usually run their own households, both husband and wife working AND doing the cleaning, washing, shopping and cooking is very often more than a lot of couples and new-born parents can deal with. In the developing world such as Latin America, professionals have the luxury of much more support at home – a “muchacha” who prepares your dinner, some guy who washes your car, a person with a power-drill and a bag of tools who fixes your broken sink for a few dollars, instead of you spending precious time on DIY during the weekend.
The special German character of this situation gets even more pronounced once children start school – as up until today, a lot of German primaries and even secondary schools finish at mid-day. And classes are usually designed so that students do a substantial part of the understanding and learning outside the classroom. In such a set-up, it comes in very handy for the student to have the support of a well-educated person in the afternoon – either in some after-school institution (those are, again, not always easy to find) or at home. In the latter case, another task for mom or dad.
When I consider all the men and women whom I studied and worked with in the past and who got children some time along the way, most of the men work full-time, while most of the women are employed part-time. The “moms” are occupied more than part-time, though – as in most cases they have assumed the main responsibilities of raising the kids and running the home.
So, on paper, men and women, fathers and mothers have the same rights and are considered equal. Reality shows, however, that even with the same education and similar capabilities, moms and dads very often take on different roles and subsequently have different careers and reach different earning potentials. One of the main challenges of nowadays families is for parents to find the roles that suit them and for couples to negotiate along mom’s and dad’s expectations, desires and necessities. After more than 30 years without them, I am finally leading my very own debates on feminism and gender equality.