A politics of co-operation in society may also promote a better relationship between men and women
It can happen occasionally in Germany or in other European countries, that when you would like to meet a person - whether male or female – and ask for a date at any particular time, he or she replies: “I must first ask ‘my better half’ what kind of plans we have made for that day!” Such an exceedingly respectful and polite answer gives the impression that all is well with regard to the relationship between the sexes. The statement implies a practice of democracy and equality. - But of course life is more complicated than that, and privileges in society are rarely distributed fairly and equally. More often they are heavily contested. In most societies around the world, men dominate and enjoy a higher social status and more privileges than women. Is this a natural, righteous phenomenon, or are there human-made root causes?
Germany is at present waking up to the fact that its birth rate has fallen to its lowest level since the end of World War II in 1945. Since the bumper baby boom year of 1964, when as many as 1.357 million babies were born in both East and West Germany together, there has been a steady decline in the number of births. Just 686.000 babies were born in unified Germany in 2005 with its total population of 82 million inhabitants. Much public debate is at present going on here among experts, popular TV stars, writers and politicians, to find out whether the emancipation movement of women and political equality-seeking measures might have had the result to produce small-size families and a huge number of single-households. The official birth rate in Germany lies at 1.3 children per woman. The birth rate for a society needs to revolve around 2.1 children per woman if the population figure is to remain constant. Yet more than every third marriage fails in Germany, and in large cities such as Munich, Berlin and Hamburg every second household is a single household. Out of the 82 million inhabitants, 43 million people live in households with a partner and / or children. Yet a huge number live in single-households or share a flat or house with friends. What has gone wrong? Is gender equality detrimental to society? Did the original good intentions of achieving equality between the sexes backfire and turn us into egotistical, career-minded consumers? Or did the harshness of economic reality with its demand on our flexibility and mobility overburden us, with the result that family life has deteriorated or in some cases even become impossible? Should we return to a more patriarchal and traditional attitude towards life and uphold family values more clearly once more, in order to reverse the radical demographic change?
Yet only a few decades ago, to avoid having children was a decision that met with understanding by many people. During the 60s and 70s of the previous century, it was fashionable to discuss the problem of the world’s overpopulation and the ways and means to overcome this problem. In the last 100 years, the world has quadrupled its population figure. Within the same period of time, we have burned the energy which nature has taken thousands, perhaps millions, of years to produce. With a view to the forthcoming climate crisis and the expected rise of the sea level, it may well become a relevant topic again. The present 6.5 billion people and the projected 9.3 billion by 2050 exceed the world’s biological carrying capacity.
Much in today’s life-style is determined by market regulations and international capital streams – how can we keep these unfortunate essentials out of our personal relationships? Equality between the sexes has raised living standards, it has taken some of the pressure away from men having to toil to make a living for the family, yet it may also have produced more than the desired amount of individualism and egoism. This development does not come about without a good reason. The upbringing and the education of children is very time-consuming and expensive. After much studying and training, work life does not begin before the age of 28 for many youngsters. This time and money is spent on children of either sex, and a return for this investment is expected from both. A woman’s dowry is her education. In this way, selective abortion did not become an issue in Europe.
Yet the importance attached to the sexes varied considerably over time. Women were once revered as priestesses for their power to give life. Around the world, quite a number of matriarchal societies existed at various stages. The Basks in southern France even maintained their system of matrilineal inheritance until the Napoleonic civil code was enforced in France in 1804.
A number of well-known scientists have put forward the theory, along with some evidence, that in ancient times there was a cult of the Goddess. For instance James Mellaart, a British scientist and university lecturer and an authority on Near Eastern archaeology, writes in his famous survey of ancient Near Eastern civilisation: "Between 9000 and 7000 B.C. art makes its appearance in the Near East in the form of statuettes of the supreme deity, the Great Goddess." Mellaart states that historically "the cult of the Great Goddess" is "the basis of our civilisation." Other scientists who backed this idea were the geologist James DeMeo, archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, neurobiologist Humberto Maturana as well as the psychologist Wilhelm Reich. They believe that after this matriarchal period, around 7000 years ago, climatic changes led to a forced migration of peoples. This had as consequence that societies became rather warlike in order to survive. Men became more important and began to dominate in social life. Society became patriarchal. The division of labour was fairly clear. Women stayed at home to look after the children, men provided the family income outside of the home.
Two “halves” fitting well together obviously make a strong wholesome institution. It was women in Finland who proved this point extremely well! For a long time they had been unhappy about their husbands having major rights such as determining the religion of their children and the place of residence. But the women of the country were not able to unite and work together politically, as the rift in the Finnish society of those days was not between men and women, but rather between those social classes that were privileged and those that were underprivileged. The proletarian female parliamentarians instead practised solidarity with their men and fought with them to obtain better social rights. This way, they were able to secure the right to vote as well as the right to be elected for both men and women above the age of 24 already in 1906. There is just one country which had granted the right to vote for women a little earlier: New Zealand. In 1893 the women of New Zealand were given the right to vote, yet they were not allowed to be elected. Thus Finland with its granting of full rights became the champion and the shining example for women’s movements around the world.
In England and in the United States women’s groups were rather more feminist and militant. They were able to arouse a lot of attention by breaking windows or smashing their way into Parliament, but with these practices they had no broad support among the people. In England, the United States as well as in Germany, women had to wait for the right to vote until after the First World War.
The right to vote is one aspect of participation in political decision-making and therefore in determining one’s own life. Yet earning money is a more potent factor for the aspired independence. While men were fighting in the world wars on the European continent, it was for the first time that women showed that they could work and earn money just like their male partners. In fact they had to do so in order to survive and in order to provide the country with the commodities it needed and which could not be provided for by men busy fighting a war. When those men who had survived returned home in 1945, they again had the priority in taking up work. At the time, it was still rare for women to work. More than a decade later, women in Germany were free to study, work, vote and open her own bank account since 1958. But it was not until 1977 that married women were legally allowed to work without the consent of their husbands.
Not all women, however, aim for financial independence. A different kind of feminist movement took place more than 100 years ago. Whether she was worried about abrupt demographical changes is not really known, but Mary Harris Jones (1837 – 1930), better known as Mother Jones, the great American labour and community leader, co-founder of the union ’Industrial Workers of the World’, was committed to promote women’s rights all her life. But she did not want women to earn as much as men, because in that case they would have no incentive to stay at home and have children. Men should be in a position to earn enough money for the family so that the women would not be made to work in the coal mines or spinning mills by uncaring capitalist patrons, she thought.
To this day, of course, equal pay for women doing the same work as men, is still not in sight, although much progress has been made. Out of the ten new countries becoming a member of the EU in 2004, women earn 35 per cent less than men for the same job, and their share of positions in power is still very minimal. One successful way of securing a more equitable share is to introduce quotas for women, and to extend facilities for daytime child-care.
According to a report by the United Nations, women worldwide own just 1 per cent of the wealth and 1 per cent of real estate in the world!