Gender equality

Educational Apartheid

Hey everybody,

sometimes friends are your muses. Well, actually I think most of the time they are. They inspire you to think out of the box, to strife for new goals and roam new lands for they just make you feel how much they love you and how much they trust in you. Even on those dark days when you can’t even trust yourself. With real friends it’s basically just like with parents: They have to give you both strong roots to keep you down on the earth and wide wings to make you fly. I hereby wanna say thank you to those very special friends like Avarra who have so often made me fly or made my feet stick to the ground; sometimes, in a way, both at one time.

However Avarra, who’s the most amazingly wonderful mom I could possibly imagine, commented on my last post about a new kind of Apartheid. Educational Apartheid. And she sure made an important point. One I felt I had to stretch.

I grew up in 1990ies Austria and sure, I heard all those stories from the US where your school, which was defined by your parent’s income, defined your career and your whole life. However I was of course one hundred percent sure Austria was nothing like that. Like many of my generation I was made to believe by my parents, none of them academic, that all I had to do was finish my A-levels. Anyhow and on any school. If I made it past this boundary the world would be wide open to me and I could do whatever I wanted. This seemed as socially fair as it could possibly get.

Yet when I started tutoring next to school – less for the money it earned me but most of all for the joy seeing how my students improved gave me – I found out what it meant to try to make it to that A-levels if you aren’t out of a wealthy or at lest middle-class family.

Sure, there are no tuition fees for Austrian schools – there are very few private schools however – and on a theoretical level everybody can enroll at whatever school they like. In fact the Austrian educational system sure is way more flexible the for instance the German one where students are sent to three different types of school at the age of ten without much chances of changing anything about it later on. Basically (in fact it’s way more complicated then that) in Austria you have to decide at the age of 14 whether you want to do an apprenticeship (in which case you’ll do one extra year of school intended to prepare you for working life) or you want to do your A-levels (in which case you do another four to five years of school until your A-levels) until then there are a lots of possibilities to change from one school to another (given your marks are well enough for that change, which is a topic of its own) and actually even later on there’s plenty of ways to get hold of your A-levels.

Anyway, the thing is I soon found out that there are little students who don’t have difficulties with one subject or another. The Austrian educational system just isn’t very good in dealing with that so they end up needing a tutor. And an expensive one too. No problem for middle- or upper class children, but what about the working class? And this isn’t even talking about an academic’s children changes being their parents can help them whilst this isn’t possible for working class children. Seriously I don’t believe anybody could make it through any given Austrian high school without tutoring at one stage or another which of course means the odds of working class students are way worse then that of middle or upper class people. A situation that, by the by, is well-known from Austrian statistics featuring a vast majority of A-levels students being children of the upper or middle class.

But earning your A-levels is one thing, getting anywhere with them another one. Sure, tuition fees for Austrian universities aren’t as astronomic then in other places and have de facto been cleared lately, however life as a student is expensive! Living in Vienna you’d easily pay around 300 € a month for a room in a dormitory (without food!) and food has become really expensive in Europe these days. Of course there are “small things” like those 100 € you have to pay for a four month public transportation ticket vital in Vienna, money for copies and prints and books to buy that are obligatorily in many classes. Those books can easily add up to more then 100 € a semester, even more in some subjects. And then there would be obligatory field trips which might cost you as much as 50 € / day. It just keeps adding up. In the end even a middle class family can hardly afford sending more then one child at a time to university. As for the working class … well just forget about it!

Sure you can work but there is little flexibility in universities for working students; there is that one class you have to do and that is at one certain date (and actually for there are less places then students you’re lucky if you make it into the class anyway) and if you can’t fit that into your schedule you’re screwed. It takes working students forever to finish school and with every semester the problems worsen: They stop getting governmental aid, they have to pay for their own medical insurance and so on and so on. Many eventually drop out of university in debt and find themselves a badly paid job.

And it still gets worse then that. If you really want to be somebody in Austria there are certain schools you have to attend. Even if the regular citizen isn’t aware of that fact. Just look for anybody in Austria’s diplomat corps who hasn’t graduated from Vienna’s Lycée Francaise. You’ll look quite a while. And of course upper class children are gathered in Austria’s few, often international, private schools where they team up with fellow upper class children. Even if an A-level of those might officially be just the same then any other A-level people will know. Plus naturally you’ll have done quite a lot of social networking by the time you graduate. Social networking a “normal” student won’t have the opportunity to do.

So yes, even if not obvious on the first look, there’s plenty of educational Apartheid going on in Austria. Those who have made it to upper class keep to themselves and aren’t much interested in including anybody else. An upper class child can easily make it through school all the way to his PhD without ever becoming aware that there are people quitting school in order to make an apprenticeship or maybe not even that. Many are just locked inside their golden cage and kept from the world. They are kept from other people. And that’s the definition of Apartheid, as far as I remember … even if it has nothing to do with your skin colour but with your bank account. It truly is a shame for a country as rich as Austria in so many ways …

Yours,

Migdalit

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East and West

Hey folks,

has been a while yet there’s that post running wild in my thoughts for quite a while now that I need to get written down. Remember that job I was getting? Well in the end I didn’t get it (well, not yet) for reason of our all beloved economic crisis which has cost me two jobs so far. It was quite a story: I was meant to start working on Monday and – only by lucky coincidence – did I get the information that the whole thing was cancelled on Friday morning, around 3 am. Wasn’t quite funny, I can tell you that, not at all funny. Yes, I had known that that company was facing some troubles, and yes, I gave them a call as soon as I found out what was going on but all they’d say would be that it wouldn’t affect me thereby naturally keeping me from looking for another job.

In my darkest hours I have brooded the question whether the sudden cancellation of that job could have been connected with the way I have myself found treated because I am a woman but, frankly spoken, I think this would be going too far and leading straight the way to paranoia. More likely all it was was a bad coincidence or, perhaps, even the company trying to keep me as long as possible until there was just no other way then to cancel the job. I guess you guys know Occam’s law? If two possibilities are equally likely in most of the cases it’s the more simple one that’s true. You can spare yourself a lot of troubles and thinking the wrong way if you stick to that one.

However, only so you know the rest of the story. What happened after the first shock was over was of course me trying to find another job as quickly as possible – not so much for reasons of money then way more because I was going mad sitting in that goddess-damned village in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. I am not a good housewife at all after all (perhaps the true meaning of a “desperate” housewife …). In the end I called another branch office of the same company and asked there and – believe me I was surprised! – they got me a job within two weeks. So here I am now and I am loving it a lot having superb collegues and work that might, again, not quite be a challenge, but that is fun in the end.

It happens though that that new branch office – which is quite a drive from my home yet still better then doing nothing though I can imagine the size of my CO2-footprint pretty well – is situated in Eastern Germany, former German Democratic Republic. It’s an interesting feeling to cross a border that has been closed for decades, separating people from each other, killing people, twice a day. There’s some old watchtower where I cross the border that’s not a border anymore that somehow keeps reminding me every day. Yet as strange as it feels it is also something that gives me hope. I mean who would have thought that I could do this – crossing the border by car without as much as flashing my ID – back in 1988? Nowadays people might find it equally unlikely that one day people (especially Palestinians) might find themselves crossing today’s Israeli – Palestinian border just like that. But perhaps if Germany taught us one thing it’s that miracles like that can happen. And they can happen by little more then the people of a country stepping out and asking for it out loud. I know it’s not as simple as that but bottom line of Germany 1989 is that the people of the German Democratic Republic raised and told out loud that they were fed up with their corrupt government. That they just wouldn’t support it anymore.

In the end no regime in the world – the least tyranns – can succeed without the people supporting them. Even if “support” means no more then looking the other direction. And neither Hamas nor the corrupt political systeme of Israel – wasn’t it more then enough to have Bibi Netanyahu elected once? – could survive if they weren’t backed by their people. If people stood up and proclaimed they had had enough of war and hatred – on both sides of the border, best of all in an movement that touched the whole region – there would be peace. I am 100% sure of that (and I am hardly that sure of anything).

Yet I know it’s wishful thinking. In both places people are to deeply fractionated and fighting each other – a good Israeli friend once said that by the time there was no outside foe of Israel anymore people would turn on each other – there is hardly anything unifying them, in a way not even their enemies. Or would have people said the same thing about Germany in 1989? Would they have claimed people couldn’t team up too? Just how did they do it? How did they make it happen?

Don’t get me wrong: Germany is way away from being truely unified and the schism running between East and West is still giant – after nearly 20 years. There is in fact a growing number of people – Eastern and Western Germans alike – that would like to rebuild the Wall. In a way I can even see why – I have seen villages deserted because industry was closed down and people lost their jobs; I have seen villages inhabited by nobody younger then 60 years – yet still they did it. They made the Wall disappear by the sheer power and force of a grassroots movement. So if it was done once (and in fact it was naturally done more often then the one time in Germany) who says it can’t be done again? In the end one or two peaceful state(s) facing problems is/are still better then what we see today.

yours

Migdalit

Report from the Chaos ;-)

Hey everybody,

I am still caught in moving’s chaos – guess everybody who’s ever “enjoyed” the semi-nomadic lifestyle can emphasize – and the whole gender issue I have to deal with right now doesn’t quit help. What is funny though is that I have a very good and dear friend who enjoys the same gender issue however from the opposite perspective: F. is a loving housewife and mother out of own choice (if I’m ever going to be even half as good a mother as her I’d be overjoyed!) and now she does want to restart working yet prefers to do so only part time, perhaps even from home. And guess what: Just as I am given all kind of shit for wanting to have a career of my own and actively choosing not to be a housewife she’s given pretty much the same amount 0f most likely well-meant advice for taking the opposite decision with people telling her that she needs to have a “life or her own” “career of her own”, how she’s going to regret her choice once the children are grown up and whatever else. Is there any way a 21st century female human being can get around the whole gender bullshit? Is there any way people aren’t going to go after us for what they think our lifes should be like?

Anyway F. and me and – of course – my common-law-husband are taking it with quite a lot of fun lately. To everybody who “enjoys” the same issues then I do try this: Just publicly switch roles with your partner – she takes apart the old cupboard while he takes care of the laundry etc. – and have a great laugh about the funny faces old fashioned people stuck in 19th century partnership role models will make about it. It’s worth a try (and besides your partner can prove how pro-shared duties (s)he is 😉 )

And I’d be overjoyed to share stories ^^

so far

yours,

Migdalit

That X Part II

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.

So long

Migdalit

That X does matter

Hey there,

as I guess most girls from a Middle European background in the 1990ies I grew up believing that it wouldn’t matter, when it came to careers, whether I was a boy or a girl. I grew up in the spirit of equality that had just been claimed by our mothers, aunts, sometimes grandmothers too. And for all I experienced while coming of age it looked exactly like what I had been told. Girls were finally allowed to join the Austrian military – so did a good friend of mine and for most of our friend it was no really big deal. There seemed to be female engineers, female scientists, female doctors and lawyers everywhere. There were female head of states being elected in Europe and it seemed to be only a matter of time until Austria, too, would have a female chancellor or president. In short: Gender Equality seemed to have reached far into the very midst of society. And I, growing up into that society, would only learn about the struggle for women’s rights from history class.

I don’t think I ever relized how soon after the formal equality of women and men, how soon after western countries – like Switzerland in 1971 – had allowed woman to vote I was growing up. And of course I never realized what it meant for all those woman engineers, scientists and doctors to work amongst men and nothing but men. For me being a girl was no big deal and so I thought it was for everybody. In fact I could never be made to understand the whole fuzz about equality and positive discrimination support for women. I always had a great laugh about gender neutral language and those fancying for it. In fact so I have until today. Why the heck do we have to call it “herstory” these days when “history” has absolutely no historic (herstoric?)-scientific relation to the word “his” and even if so why should men be discriminated instead of women? I mean that’s exactly what’s happening in post-Apartheid South Africa these days: The black people (what’d be PC for it these days? Changing so often …) paying back white people that are born South Africans just as they are by discriminating them. But well … that’s going offtopic here; hope I’ll find some time to write about South Africa soon anyway.

Only recently however have I started to realize how much gender discrimination there’s still arround in Austria. And I think not gender aware language or guys not taking care of babies isn’t much of a part of the problem at all. The problem lies much more underneath. It’s small things you don’t even think about. Things like people  still assuming girls would naturally not be good at maths. And even if an effort is made at schools to get girls into natural sciences the pure existance of the effort makes every girl feel “this is something that has to be forced; it can’t be natural.” Those who already fancy for natural sciences for one reason or another will happily take all the support they get and it will serve a big deal for them. But what about the rest? Those that might be “natural scientists on inside” without knowing? Are they left behind?

When I chose my track at university nobody ever said as much as “have you had a look into natural sciences too?” though I used to be a computer geek a couple of years earlier and one of those disassembling stuff just for the fun of seeing how it worked in elementary school. It was as clear as glass that I was to do arts. In fact it was as clear as glass to me too and I didn’t busy a single neuron considering a technical career. These days I often wonder whether things would have gone a different way if I had had an Y instead of that second X chromosome … or if we lived in a truely eqal world.

And then there’s another of those tiny things that made me wonder. It still feels as if a young woman, once she found a wealthy husband is expected to be happy with being a wealthy (house-)wife what ever comes for her own career. It’s astonishing and worrying how many such women are told sentences I supposed would belong to gone-by centuries; things like: “So why the hell do you want to work if your husband can afford you staying home? Why don’t you just enjoy it and become a good mother?” or “Why do you worry about your career? You needn’t work anymore!” As if working women in wealthy families ‘d be no more no less then having an exotic hobby. Would anybody ask the same question to a man having a wealthy wife? I can’t possibly picture it. Can you?

There’s still so much work left until men and women are really equal – equal, not the same – and that’s not building kindergartens, though I suppose it often helps, and it’s neither pushing girls into technical careers by force but rather getting people – men and women alike – to really inhale the idea that one can have a career, can love that career even if she happens to have that extra X chromosome. And that doing sciences is just as normal for girls as it is for boys. Nothing that needs to be pushed and forced …

yours,

Migdalit