Monday, November 17, 2008

... and a mother, too

There’s something in German television - especially in talk shows or other discussions on screen - that is constantly grating on my nerves. The way women are presented as being, for instance, “an actress and a doctor and a mother, too”.

It’s a great achievement if a woman - or a man - manages to finish his medicine study and, in addition, the training for an actor. But you’d never hear a man being presented as “an actor and a doctor and a father, too”, even if he has children. Men might or might have not children, but usually (unless the whole talk show is about parenthood) it’s not advertised during their presentation. Women on the other hand seem to be judged this way. Okay, so she’s got a career, but she’s also got children. Depending on the tone of the show, being a mother on top of the actress and the doctor is either something good or something bad. It’s always something important.

I don’t know if it’s only Germany where this always seems to happen. It might be a problem everywhere in the world, for all I know. But it still gets on my nerves, a lot, because it’s part of a bigger problem.

In our society, men are defined through their job. That’s not exactly great, either, because even low-paid or bad-reputed jobs have to be done by someone and the job doesn’t really define the person doing it. Nevertheless, a man can simply change his job (okay, it’s not that simple, either, but if he really wants to, he can do it) and thus change his reputation. Women, on the other hand, are still mainly judged through their personal life. Does she have a relationship? Is she married? Does she have children - or is she at least planning to have some?

A career makes a man’s reputation go up and a woman’s go down. Somewhere in the back of people’s brains here in Germany a woman is still supposed to get married, have a bunch of children (but not more than three, that would not be appropriate today) and stay at home. That’s miles from reality, but prejudices often are.

Men are defined through something that can be steered a lot, although not completely. They are defined through their ability to hold on to a ‘good’ job. While it might take some luck to actually get it, it can be achieved by everyone really going for it and preparing well.

Women are defined through something that consists of a lot of luck. A woman might want to marry, but can’t find the right guy (the one she can really spent a life with, the one who’s reliable and the one who won’t leave after a one-night stand). A woman might want children, but be unable to get pregnant. And a woman might have a husband and children and still have to work, so the family can make ends meet. Nobody asks that much about the ‘why’ when a woman’s life does not follow those invisible rules. She’s not in a relationship, she’s not married, she hasn’t got children (or got some and still works), so she’s not a ‘good’ woman.

I’m not a ‘good’ woman because of all those points. I’m not in a relationship (currently), I’m not married (and never have been) and I don’t have children (and don’t plan on having any). At the same time I wonder whether modern society would survive if all women returned to that old-fashioned role. Germany currently has a female chancellor, just as a reminder.

And, just to make a last point, there’s never been a time since the days of the caveman when all women really lived such a life. There have always been woman who were working, who were not married and/or without children. Nuns, for instance.

Should I ever be invited into a talk show (maybe after my first bestseller) and someone (certainly not me) should be presented as “... and a mother, too”, I’ll immediately get up and leave the studio.

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