Hey out there,
having been raised and lived in the belief that in 21st Century Middle Europe one X-chromosome more or less wouldn’t be a big deal anymore realizing the opposite remains a shock for me. In fact as I grew up and saw the last bastions of men – namely the military – fall in Austria just as I reached puberty I couldn’t possibly imagine that one day I might feel like this but of course good will has hardly ever prevented things from happening.
I’ve just moved back to Germany – a tiny, remote village to be specific – after quite some years in Israel and “back home” in Austria following my common-law-husband (gosh I like that word, wish there was one like that in German). And of course I came here as an equal partner in both partnership and career issues. Of course the two of us, who have always considered gender equality as having already gone too far in parts – where women are made to be men giving up the joy of being a female – instead of it being still an issue, settled for shared household duties and for me starting my career as soon as possible whilst writing my thesis. Of course, as far as we are considered. I quite remember how female friends of mine nearly fainted as I told them about C. and C. supporting my career and my wishes and dreams as if … well as If I was as male as him. What was the most normal thing in the world for me was like a fairy tale to a lot of them.
For the rest of the world things have meanwhile profen to be that wee little different. May it be our landlady, who had been such a great support to C. during those rather difficult weeks he had already moved to Germany whilst I had to stay back in Austria for unfinished business, who takes it as a given that now I was to “take over household duties” and appears for a chat around noon only to get all excited for not keeping me from “cooking for C.”as she of course knows that he is to come home every minute and consideres me in charge of getting lunch ready by that time. She has taken over quite a lot of stuff for C. and now of course he wants everything to go on like that no matter whether I am here or not which I agree with. Yet I have a hard time going downstairs and asking her to do those things she did so naturally or C., no matter what I feel is “right” or “wrong” for I have grown so sick of sermons about “a woman’s place” and bullshit like that. I’ve just had too much of them since I got engaged with C.
Or may it be me realizing that that career I have chosen leads me right down into the rabbit hole of men’s domain Where No Woman has Gone before (actually it hasn’t been long that women have been allowed to work in all fields of that branch in Germany as I just found out some days ago).
Walking right into the bosses office for that job that had been promised to me I was all the girl I have been raised as: Feeling 100% equal. Only getting out of the office realizing that I had just had a great chat about completely business-unrelated topics and ended up with a job that is likely to bond me to folders and office work for the months to come without much of a chance for the challenge I had come to Germany for did I realize that a part of the outcome might be related to that second X-chromosome. Only then did I realize how it must come as a shock for a perhaps 60 years old head of branch office who, until lately hasn’t seen a woman working in his business who wasn’t a secretary– I’ve heard rumors that there’s a female engineer hardly elder then me working somewhere but haven’t met her yet – seeing a woman as ambitious as me appearing and applying for a job he has never even thought a woman could ask for one day. That for me being a female it might not even have crossed his mind to send me anywhere else then the office. Perhaps not even for reasons of not holding me capable of but just because he wanted to be a gentleman and keep me from potentially difficult working conditions – only that those are what I have come to Germany for. For the first time in my life did I feel I had been treated differently, had been denied what I had come for, just because I am a girl. Ask me a year ago and I’d have claimed it wouldn’t happen anymore in 21st Century Middle Europe. So this is how things change …
As I am more or less bond to my home until work starts in two weeks, besides writing my thesis I spend a lot of time walking through the village where I am looked at with the most weird looks – which is normal being a stranger in a remote village – and some more looking out of our window from where I can see a small supermarket and all those housewives coming in and out, chatting, doing whatever housewives spend their time with (which remains a complete mystery to me). Doing so I start realizing what a freak I must be in a village like that and yes, it comes with the feeling of “what the f*ck have I done leaving the city coming to this remote place just for a job that will never be anything but a constant fight and guy?”. I do start realizing that for my landlady it will come as a shock when she finds out I am to start work too, “gravely neglecting my household duties” or worse. And I do start realizing that those months are likely to be lonely ones being the freak 21st century woman who stumbled into a place where nobody is interested in 21st century women and where equality might not be more then a nice term learnt somewhere in school before girls come back home and to their senses, marry and, as soon as the husband is able to support her, give up their job.
Which is exactly what I have heard so often, even back home: “Why do you want to work now that your partner can support you?” “Why don’t you enjoy staying at home? It’s a luxury, you know.” It was my own father, the man who has contributed such a big deal bringing me up the way I was brought up, who confronted me claiming that in the end a woman’s place was to be with the family. “So why did I study all those years?”, I asked him. “Because you wanted to and so why don’t do it until you find a husband. But now you have one, you see?” And I in the same breath, whilst I felt like getting caught in the midst of “Monalisa’s Smile” had to ask myself whether his objection of me doing post-graduate studies claiming it wasn’t “necessary” might happen to have a corelation with the fact that now there would be C. to support me – as a housewife. I suppose I don’t have to write a word about how it felt …!?
Of course for somebody as headstrong as me all of this is mostly a challenge. The job is a challenge. The village is a challenge and in many ways my family and all those thinking I belong to the kitchen (don’t get me wrong: I do love cooking!) are a challenge too. Yet for the first time in my life I find myself confronted with the idea that I, too, will have to be a pioneer of equality. That I, too, will have to take the hard path, as woman have done before me and likely will have to do after me so perhaps my daughters or granddaughters won’t have to. And yes, it does come as a shock. Still.