Growing up in industrial America during the 60’s and 70’s left controversial impressions on the minds of young girls. They were at the mercy of liberal, alternative student teachers coming fresh out of college. They attended open-concept schools and were bombarded by the never ending stream of cable TV. Women’s role in society stood before a revolution—the fight against conservative, traditional duties and the even bigger fight towards independence and equality.
Young girls tended to look up to the young adults of that age. They said things like Question Authority and Think and What, Me Worry? Young girls were forced to choose between conflicting doctrines, ones that either their parents forced on them or ones that they found they could best rebel with. I had a friend in the third grade that painted a peace sign in art class and took it home. Her father, who was in the military, took it away from her and ripped it up. They moved away after that year, so I never saw her again.
Not only did the young girls have to choose. Women were fed conflicting ideals, too. New expressions like Permanent Press and I Don’t Do Windows showed women that if they wanted it, they could exchange oppressive drudgery for a fulfilling life. An example: the commercial for EZ-Off oven cleaner showing women sitting and sipping tea saying, “I’m cleaning my oven.” (I love that, by the way, but I couldn’t find a video.)
But what if sipping tea was not a woman’s goal? What if she wanted more? Some women embraced this new-found freedom and believed that a woman could be all she could be, or at least earn equal pay for an equal job.
The biggest culture shock that hit me after coming to Germany was probably the role that women take on. Women sweeping the sidewalks. Women washing the front stoop on Saturday mornings. Women ironing, women washing their windows once a week. Women earning 20% less for doing the same job as a man.
German women clean their windows like every week. Voluntarily. Happily. I used to tell the women in my aerobic classes that before they give in to the urge to wash windows, they should get down and do 20 (pushups, that is). If the urge was still there, then do 20 more. The only problem is there are men behind these women also urging them on. I have a neighbor who has white tiles all throughout the ground floor. The first time I saw that, I heard my mother in the back of my head: one does not put anything white on the floor. Along those lines, I don’t even wear white clothes.
Yes, there are more women in politics in Germany than in America. They must have someone to care for their kids or none at all. But for normal mortals, the communities are only slowly, slowly, developing decent day-care. Slowly, schools are turning into whole-day schools or developing afternoon programs. (When my kids were small, children were standing at home on the doorstep at 1:00 p.m., elementary school children–11:00 a.m. sometimes–and either the mother was there…or not.)
The roles women play seem to be a continuing theme throughout my blog posts. It is a preoccupation I never consciously knew I had. Women still face many conflicting dogmas and often have to choose in order to define themselves. Am I a woman or a mother? Am I a wife or a lover? To have a career together with a family and make life function is possible but the price women pay for this is definitely higher than for a man. How many supermoms have burnt out and given up their careers to save their health, putting their dreams on a back burner? Or chosen not to have a family in order to maintain a desired lifestyle.
What choices have you had to make?
|The Birth of Venus–Sandro Botticelli|