Gendered labour as seen through “Make Me A German”

I’ve just watched “Make Me A German”, a documentary on the BBC in which a family travel to Nuremburg to adopt the behaviours of a “typical” German family, to investigate what about German culture has led to the differences in the success of German versus British economies. Justin and Bee, the parents, look at differences in working culture and socialising.

The gender gap was particularly noticeable. They discussed how it is normal for German mothers to stay at home while the men receive tax breaks and benefits if their wives provide childcare. Bee found that she had a full day of housework and childcare planned out for her by the advertising executive whose company specialises in “the average German” and the “housemistress” who came to show her the skills she would need.

What struck me was that there is a lot to commend a clear division of labour in the household, in terms of viewing the job of raising a child as an honourable and worthy career – it’s not “I’m just a mother” or “I’m a stay-at-home mum”, it’s a proud “I’m a mother”. The qualifying term is a disparaging one, a mother who works is a “raven mother”, a term that implies abandoning or neglecting the children. And the liveliness of the children shown in the film is remarkable. It looks like a happier system than what we have, with far less concern over testing and measuring success. It’s a qualitative rather than quantitative success.

However, I am if not a feminist, then certainly pro-feminism. I am also somewhat averse to gendered role-casting, due to being somewhat gender-fluid and rejecting the label “man” for myself.

It follows from this that, even though a dyad-parenting model with a clear division of labour between “earning” and “childcare” may work, there is no reason why it should be divided by gender. I probably couldn’t manage the levels of housework shown in the programme, any more than Bee was able to, but being responsible for the home is something that I could manage if that was my role and it was understood that was the division of labour (I would still want to find time for my writing, though, so you know…). But, in general, I like to know what is expected of me, and then I can go and do it. (This may seem like a strange point of view for a BDSM Dom to take, but really, it is about knowing the duties of my role, and a Dom has duties just as much as a Sub – maybe more so.) Justin needed training up in the workplace ethic of the German factory where he went as a trainee supervisor, I would need training up in the expected levels of cleaning – but I could do it, just as he adapted to the demands of the German workplace. And in general, it really should be about a fairly agreed division of labour, not, “you are man, you do this, you are woman, you do that”. And how do you know it’s fair? When gender is not a predictor of who does what, and when the socially-afforded (e.g. via tax and benefit systems, and social norms) benefits are the same regardless of who does what.

Bee and Justin discussed the situation, with Justin being very happy with the state-subsidised gendered labour gap. Bee suspected that it was not as comfortable for her female peers in German society and remarked that “the political is personal.” I don’t know for how long it’s available on iPlayer (or who can access it) but as a theatrical demonstration of the invisibility of gender privilege, the discussion was classic (around the 40 minute mark, IIRC). Justin’s comfortable, “I think it works very well,” was confronted by Bee’s feminist-influenced view of gendered labour, frustrated at the lack of advancement and opportunity afforded her in the culture they were adopting for the programme.

It is supported, as a theme running through the programme, by a sense of community and partnership: in the workplace, there are bonuses that are awarded to all the workers in a department based on the performance of the whole department rather than the individual workers, and immediately it promotes, “I can see my team mates work hard, so I do not want to let them down.” (Justin said something like that directly). Similarly, I suspect, there is the sense of it being a team game with defined roles for the members. I don’t think it is the only efficient model for work/family divisions (another one would be to have complementary part-time jobs at half the hours, for example). What makes it work is that there is qualitative success at the heart of it, coupled with this teamwork ethic. But the best teams award roles not on superficial grounds (like gender), but on who is best-suited to a job. When quality of living is viewed as important, then that also refers to how happy it makes the person doing it.


About ValeryNorth

I overthink everything.
This entry was posted in Economics, Gender, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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