Frau weiß, was Frau wünscht! – The image of a modern woman in Germany
„Bauknecht weiß, was Frauen wünschen“, the manufacturer of the same name once advertised. Today, this slogan seems strangely antiquated, implying and absoluting a very traditional role model. This “Heimchen-am-Herd” vision of the German housewife is no longer relevant today. Nevertheless, this claim was only retired in 2010, after fifty years of hard work. Surveys had shown that young women in particular could no longer identify with this implied image of women. But what is the modern image of women in Germany?
Feminism as empowerment for the modern woman
Feminism is one of those words that you just have to put into your mouth, and the most wonderful discussion has already been unleashed in the most boring coffee party. Between a “classical” feminism and somewhat more open ideas of empowerment, the term feminism covers a lot of things, is partly self-evident and partly still a stumbling block. Depending on what it means.
If feminism is understood as empowerment, one can probably still achieve the greatest social support. Empowerment “, as we all know, is a term that derives from Development Assistance – and refers to the desire to enable local people in developing countries to help themselves and act autonomously by means of targeted measures. Since the International Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995, the concept has also been applied to gender relations, meaning that it is nothing more than a balance of power between the sexes. This is a goal for developing countries, but also an objective for industrial nations such as Germany. But to what degree does this correspond to the self-perception of modern women in Germany – or is this simply a political figure?
Continuous opportunity growth
Before we turn to this issue in greater detail, perhaps it is not wrong to take a look at what the life of German women looks like and what opportunities they have. From a legal point of view, equality has long since become a reality in Germany – there are no longer any formal legal restrictions on the choice of study or career. And although some domains have remained “male domains”, more and more women are finding themselves in engineering courses of study, for example.
The pay is still unequal: women’s earnings for the same job are sometimes significantly lower than men’s earnings. And women who continue to complain that they have difficulty in advancing beyond middle management positions – a phenomenon commonly referred to as a „Gläserne Decke“ – continue to complain. On the other hand, it can also be observed that the number of female founders is rising significantly. In 2015, already 43% of business start-ups were women – only 37% in 2001. One possible reason might be: in a business I found myself, there is no „Gläserne Decke“ – and no unfair wages.
All in all, it is clear that formal equality does not always mean practical equality, and that there are still areas of society in which gender equality is not culturally anchored. At the same time, however, it can be observed that women are increasingly adopting alternative approaches to achieving their professional goals – for instance by founding a company.
Family and career
So far we have ignored one essential aspect of the consideration: that of the family. One of the topics in connection with feminism and the image of women is the question of the compatibility of work and family life. Although women in senior positions are more likely to remain childless than women in subordinate positions or housewives, many “career women” also aspire to found a family.
Recent statistics show that women who combine family and work are faced with a large multiple burden. This balancing act between family and career is associated with difficulties, but social and professional support for young families is becoming increasingly important. The reason for this can probably be summed up in the following thought: women should regain their independence even after maternity.
For this reason, there are many women in Germany who manage to achieve this balancing act, for example because husbands take parental leave or because the child is cared for well by other family members or at the kindergarten.
In this respect, in the Federal Republic of Germany much is in the process of moving, as far as the image of women and the distribution of roles between the sexes is involved. It is increasingly accepted that women decide to pursue a career without a family, a career and family, or even just a family.
So what is the modern image of women?
The complexity is perhaps precisely what distinguishes the modern image of women in Germany. Because there is not one life plan for women that has been defined from the very beginning. Many women certainly do not aspire to a great career and are satisfied with a classical employment. Many women don’t want to be engineers or construction workers either. But the crucial point is that they could if they wanted to. While 50 years ago it was common practice and indeed was the case that women get married, have children and are housewives, today this is one of many options.
In principle, the modern image of women in the Federal Republic of Germany is therefore flexible. It promotes, makes possible and accepts a wide variety of lifestyles. In a certain sense, it is precisely these wide range of options that can be understood as empowerment in the true sense of the word – as the option of shaping one’s life beyond prescribed role models. It cannot be the task of feminism to make every woman a career woman or, simply out of principle, to force her into a male profession; rather, freedom to choose her own life plan, that is probably the best proof of a balanced gender relationship of power.
How is this lifestyle anchored in society and culture?
Although political directives may sometimes seem far removed from social reality, the basic prerequisite for women to have and retain this freedom of choice lies in a concept of equality anchored in law and politics. The Federal Republic of Germany has certainly already come a long way here. Nevertheless, it is important not only to look at the legal situation, but also to keep an eye on this equality claim politically. It must continue to be reflected in the education of children and adolescents – and thus in the curriculum. Only if children and young people are educated to accept the freedom of choice and accept the different viewpoints – a modern perspective can thus be anchored in the long term as a cultural value and remain so.
A look beyond the horizon – and into the future
With the immigration from other cultures, concepts of life shaped by other cultures also come to the Federal Republic of Germany. However, this should not be seen as a threat, but rather as an enrichment. Integration must mean that immigrants of both sexes must become acquainted with and accept the modern, open image of women in Germany. More conservative images of women, as far as they do not contradict German law, must be seen and accepted as alternative lifestyles, just like all other lifestyles. At the same time, immigrants should be encouraged not to see their present role as predetermined, but to consciously decide in the knowledge of their possibilities for a draft lifestyle.
Despite all the prophecies of doom that promise a “new conservatism”, there is no doubt that the image of women in Germany will not return to 1950. But there is also some evidence that there are women who want to live this traditional role model. And that too must be respected as well.
Nevertheless, freedoms are lost if they are not taken care of. Thus, every individual is called upon to contribute to ensuring that the issues of gender, equality and empowerment do not come out of sight – or are challenged for political gain.
Certainly it takes courage to represent a self-confident image – precisely because it is a fairly young image of women. But there’s no reason not to do that. It is precisely this process that ensures greater cohesion in society.