1 januari 2007

The Male/Female Balance

As someone who is often labelled socially ‘active’ or ‘involved’ and as a student of political science I am sort of expected to have a political party preference like almost all other people I know who have these two characteristics. The thing is that I don’t. When I had to vote last November for the Dutch national elections I made my decision not until I had the red pencil in my hand and this decision was not made based on true conviction, but on the feeling (yes, the feeling) that voting PvdA would keep Verdonk from polarising this country any longer (which seems to be based on a feeling as well, will come back to this in a later post).

My disgust with the current political atmosphere in this country apparently weighed heavier than my preference of making a well-balanced choice when voting. Not that I hadn’t thought of voting in a well-balanced way. The weeks leading up to the elections were filled with discussions about politics and especially my friend Aike’s pleas for GroenLinks had their effect on me. I like their international view and their position on the environment and integration. A test of my value pattern furthermore revealed that before everything else I am a ‘post-materialist’ which also kind of directs me towards GroenLinks.

One of the crucial points of their programme which I have been struggling to form my own opinion on is their position on working women. On the GroenLinks website I like the part on the ‘liberation of women’ internationally. The part on women in the Netherlands confuses me however. It is different from the black-and-white picture that was painted in the media. More nuanced (I’m suppressing a ‘duh’). The image that came forward was that Halsema wanted every woman to work. This is supported by the website, but here it also made clear which conditions are necessary for this to be a realistic option (free and good day-care facilities, arrangements for fathers and mothers to work part-time and take pregnancy and parenting-leaves of absence, etc.).

My problem is that I am not sure whether it is a good thing if women started working en masse. Would this really be the proof of the success of our emancipation? When I was preparing for our discussion of Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sexe’ last month, I read this interesting article in which De Beauvoir looked back on her book and said that women were emancipating on ‘male terms’ meaning that we have strived to become equal to men by doing what they, as males, do. Which is kind of in line with my horror vision of women having to work terribly hard (in order to be promoted, break through the glass ceiling and be considered the equal of their male colleagues) while juggling a couple of kids and keeping the house clean and warm.

De Beauvoir wanted the ‘male’ and the ‘female’ to be equal, to be in balance. She did not want the female to become 100% female and 100% male in one. And nor do I. In my view the media portrayed GroenLinks as wanting exactly this, but when you carefully read their website the nuance that comes forward is that they want the male and the female to be in balance IN a person, too (meaning that benefits, tasks and responsibilities should be shared between the man and the woman). This might be too much of a nuance floating voters can handle, but it should be brought forward more forcefully.

If not, what remains is a picture of all women being driven like sheep to the job market while being given the message that what they were doing before was somehow not good enough. And what were they doing before? I will be the first to admit that women who delegate their household duties to cleaning ladies, put their kids in day-care and spend their days watching As the World Turns, chitchatting with neighbours about the new haircut of the witch from across the street or shopping for clothes nobody needs, should be talked into making a real contribution to our society. But women who raise their own children, work their buts off in voluntary work and provide a warm home to their men in order to keep their marriages in one piece, should not be blamed for doing this.

Before GroenLinks and my ideal of the male and the female balanced IN persons can be realised a true appreciation of the worth of the ‘female’ is necessary.

This means accrediting the worth of voluntary work. A recent research report on the radicalisation of Muslim youth in Amsterdam showed that one of the necessary causes for people to radicalise is ‘not feeling connected to Dutch society’. The research also showed that scores on this variable were highest in parts of the city where the civil society network was weak. Isn’t it often said that these networks can only exist because there are a lot of volunteers? Who are often women? Doesn’t a lot of the social glue that keeps our societal networks together depend on women (writing Christmas cards, knowing their neighbours, phoning her and her husband’s friends, organizing familial get-togethers, but also: remembering her boss’ appointments and contacts)?

This also means accrediting the worth of raising children. Isn’t it often said these days that schools have to spend way too much time on raising kids instead of educating them because their parents just don’t have time to do this anymore? Aren’t we forgetting that raising children is a crucial, maybe even the crucial, task in our society? Tell me, who (used to) do the raising?

Believe me, there is more. Please understand me correctly though. I am not saying that women should not work. I am just saying that drawing a black-and-white picture of ‘working women’ and ‘not working women’ is making problems worse, not better. Nuance is needed, maybe I should finally follow Aike’s advice?

2 opmerkingen:

wtr. zei

Well, allow me to brutely and in a masculine way summarize your post, by stating that you claim it is not really a liberation for women if they just become the same as men and through that proces also have to see themselves as equal.

I support that statement. Without wanting to tackle the problem of our society always thinking in binary oppositions let us just imagine for a while that there are two different sides: women and men, or men and women, whichever way you like it. I then would want to embrace the fact that these sides should be equal. But equality means not being the same, it means that on both sides of the equation there is an equal value.

And this is what you're saying, I think, that we should look at the way we value the efforts of women and men and notice that there is an unbalanced appreciaton between the activities which have long been the sole purpose of women and those of men.

The problem also is that the ones who do the appreciating have most of the time been men. So it would have seem logical for women to try and act as men have, to become equally appreciated. Hence emancipation. But I think this is not the solution to the problems which are visible in our society when it comes to the "male/female balance"

I don't know what is the solution, other then to start by ourselves and acknowledges that men and women differ, but so do fellow men and fellow women from each other. Let us look at people for how they act, not for what they supposedly 'are'.

cheruchan zei

I'm glad we agree :) Maybe people have to determine the balance for themselves.. Not some top-down approach to how it should be or something.. I would like to hear someone who completely disagrees with my post, though... anyone?