The series began with how a changing Germany is trying to blend family, careers, and schooling.
At the root of the problem is a 250 year old tradition that began when children were needed to help work and has continued to the present time. What hasn't changed is that that schools in Germany, because of this practice, still end at lunchtime. Exacerbating the issue is the notion amongst today's women that was prescribed by their great-grandmothers, "Kinder, Kuech, Kirsch --Children, Kitchen, Church."
Traditionally, in Germany, mothers are held responsible for rounding out the child's' education and making sure their homework is done, piano lessons are practiced, and the child is carted off to play soccer games.
According to Ms. Bennhold, women in the developed world now match or overtake men in the workforce and in education. Meanwhile, in Germany which is considered a modern society, customs are trapping women who either need to work, or desire to work, into staying at home. If they do choose to work, especially in the villages, they are subject to ridicule by their stay-at-home counterparts.
It was interesting to learn that the half-day school schedule survived feudalism, Hitler's rise to power, the women's movement of the 1970's, and the reunification with Eastern Germany. Even more fascinating was to learn that of the highly qualified women, who Bennhold says are more than ever, many will choose to work over having children. By mid-40's, one in three working women are childless. Angela Merkle, Chancellor of Germany, is herself, childless.
Increasingly, the women who do stay at home to raise their children, are the less educated or immigrant mothers whose children would surely benefit from a day care facility--if for language development if nothing else.
Germans were shocked in 2001 to learn from an O.E.C.D. study of literacy skills that they ranked 21st out of 27 and among the last in social mobility. Largely as a result of this study, the government provided $5.7 billion to introduce all-day daycare programs to 10,000 schools. By the end of last year (8 years later), only 7,200 schools took part.
The pressure is on, though, most likely as a result of the poor economic factors in Germany in 2010. Just as recent as 5 years ago, all-day day care facilities seemed unthinkable, but mothers, and more importantly single mothers, are finding it increasingly more difficult to have the make ends meet. A solution they find will still hold stigma in German society.
A most fascinating aspect of this dilemma is when it is compared to East Germans who for forty years after WWII were divided from the West.
Women in East Germany under Communist rule and who had lost male labor to the West, set up free day care centers and all-day schools. They performed factory work and studied in universities. I had to laugh when I read that Western German women, by comparison, had to get their husband's permission! By 1977, women in the East had already achieved a year of paid maternity leave!
Image by Nationaal Archief via Flickr
Image by sean dreilinger via Flickr
So, will women in Germany be
able to contribute towards their family's expenses, pursue their educational goals, find their life's fulfillment in a dream career, or in many increasing cases, be able to support their children as single mothers? Some companies are doing much to attract women for employment, such as Siemens, by providing day care centers near their work sites and offering "fathering months." They offer high school science camps for bright female math and physics students and mentorship programs. Time will tell as only 13% of professors in Germany are women. The sole woman on Siemens board, Barbara Kux, 55, is unmarried and childless. There are only 30 companies countrywide that have a woman on their board and only 2% of those running Fortune 500 companies are women.
Letting go of tradition is difficult, but in this case, necessary for Germany to continue to provide one of Europe's largest economies. If I were a betting woman, I would predict that our German sisters will one day follow their American sisters and learn the art of being "Superwoman." I say this with trepidation as I recall the words of my mother during the 1970's Woman's Revolution, "Be careful what you wish for!"
Mom liked having doors opened for her, her chair at the dinner table pulled out for her by my father. A stay-at-home mom who relished in her femininity, she foresaw trouble ahead when, one day, women learned that these advantages would disappear. She worried that women would lose their mystique and power to attract men if they were really equal. See, in mom's view, women were not only equal, but in many ways superior--just that their men were meant to be clueless and subsequently held their wives in high esteem. She would chide my sister and me that one day we would be sorry that we weren't elevated and pampered by our husbands as she was by our father. I know she saw trouble ahead, but had she lived long enough, her fears would have been allayed. I worked for 30 years at my profession, married, divorced, became a single mother, and remarried; yet, my very adored and loving husband is the happiest when he can make me happy and likewise for me. It seems that mom had nothing to fear when it came to the dynamics of men and women.