Monday, 22 November 2010
German Family Minister Speaks Out Against Feminism
Kristina Schröder, the German Family Minister, spoke recently to SPIEGEL magazine of the shortcomings of feminism. The full interview can be found here, but it's long & the interviewers are rather annoying so here are some of the highlights:
Schröder: I don't agree with a core statement by most feminists, the statement by Simone de Beauvoir: "One is not born a woman, one becomes one." Even as a schoolgirl I wasn't convinced by the claim that gender has nothing to do with biology and is only shaped by one's environment.
SPIEGEL: What do you think about [prominent German feminist] Alice Schwarzer?
Schröder: I found that many of her theories went too far. For example that heterosexual intercourse was barely possible without the submission of the woman. I can only say to that: Sorry, that's wrong... It is absurd if something that is fundamental for humanity and for its survival should in itself be defined as submission. That would mean that society can't carry on without the submission of women.
SPIEGEL: Did you think feminists fundamentally oppose relationships between men and women?
Schröder: There was indeed a radical movement that argued in this way and saw being lesbian as a solution. I didn't find it very convincing that homosexuality should be the solution to the problem of women being disadvantaged.
SPIEGEL: Has feminism made women happier?
Schröder: Good question. I think that early feminism at least overlooked the fact that partnership and children can provide happiness. It isn't the only way but for very many people it is the most important way.
SPIEGEL: Is there such a thing as conservative feminism?
Schröder: Such artificial terms don't mean much to me. For me conservatism means accepting reality. The Left wants to re-educate people. We acknowledge that there are differences, also between men and women.
I always thought we have badly neglected issues concerning boys and men. It's a fact that it used to be Catholic working class girls from rural areas who had the biggest problems in school. Now it's boys from low-education backgrounds. I want to make sure for example that there are more male staff in nurseries and elementary schools. Boys brought up by single mothers often don't get to see a man, either in the nursery or elementary school, until they're 12 years old. If one assumes that men and women are different then there's a lot to suggest that children benefit from being with both genders. For example a friend of mine who is a single mother keeps telling me that her little daughter wants to spend a lot of time with people she knows, uncles and brothers. She simply lacks a father figure in her everyday life.
It's a fact that boys are worse at school than girls, more of them go to secondary modern schools [the lowest tier of high school in Germany], and they have to repeat the school year more often. We must review what is taught in nurseries and schools to assess if it takes enough account of the needs of boys. To put it in an exaggerated way: do we give enough dictation with football stories? That interests boys. Or is always just about butterflies and ponies? I think it would be really rotten to tell boys that schools won't cater for them properly because men have unquestionably been dominant for thousands of years. A feminism that deliberately neglects boys is immoral in my opinion.
SPIEGEL: But you are the women's issues minister and not the men's minister, and you are responsible for promoting women in society. Why didn't you start demanding quotas for women in leadership positions long ago?
Schröder: Because a quota always amounts to a failure of politics. For me, economics is first and foremost the ability to act freely without state rules. That's why I believe quotas should only be used as a last resort. In fact, I am certain that we do not need quotas -- especially not in a time when we have a growing shortage of qualified workers.
You also have to ask yourself which women would profit from a quota -- probably those who have no family obligations whatsoever. But aren't women with families precisely the people we want to help? That's why we should, if at all, theoretically introduce a quota for mothers, which would be impossible in practice.
SPIEGEL: If you don't want any quotas, could you at least help women out by banning wage disparities for the same work -- the so-called gender pay gap?
Schröder: That has already long been forbidden by the General Equal Treatment Act. But the reality looks like this: Many women like to study German and humanities; men, on the other hand, electrical engineering -- and that has consequences when it comes to salaries. We cannot prohibit companies from paying electrical engineers more than people with German literature degrees.
SPIEGEL: So women themselves are responsible for the fact that they earn less?
Schröder: At the very least, they need to be conscious of the fact that certain earnings potential is attached to specific career choices.
SPIEGEL: So there is no real disadvantage for women when it comes to payment?
Schröder: Of course there is, and in multiple regards. First, women are often years behind if they take time out from their careers for the family. Second, women who work part-time earn an average of 6.5 percent less than men. On top of that, many women are simply bad at negotiating (their salaries). Many are happy if they succeed in returning to professional life. The main thing for them is that their job is at least somewhat compatible with their family life. But that's exactly where they are wrong. We, as women, often believe that we have to endear ourselves by acting modestly. But that leads personnel directors to think: Anyone who gives themselves away so cheaply cannot be very good. On that point, women need to get much, much more self-confident and tough.
SPIEGEL: As a minister, you have an advantage when it comes to your salary. It is stipulated.
Schröder: That's true. I am happy that I didn't have to negotiate that.
SPIEGEL: Studies have shown that women aren't particularly interested in placing their careers before their personal lives. You yourself became a government minister early on in your career. What's your feeling? Do careers make people happy?
Schröder: Not careers alone. A successful professional life and joy in work are certainly a part of it, but I couldn't be happy without a fulfilling private life.
Interview conducted by René Pfister and Markus Feldenkirchen