Not until moving to Switzerland did I become aware of the feminist inside of me. Perhaps the reason for that is that I was raised by the strongest, independent, most capable woman I know. Growing up our household was all about girl-power. Not ever in a spoken “rah, rah, chicks rule” way but in the quiet and certain knowledge that our all-girl home had no limits, no boundaries, no obstacles that would stand in our way. It wasn’t feminism. It was just the way we rolled and we knew no different.
Pair with that being raised in Canada where, while not necessarily fully equal, a woman’s rights and place in society are highly valued and protected. Through the plight of brave and courageous women before me (my mom included in those ranks) I have been able to confidently show up, knowing that I had a place at the table. Never questioning that I didn’t.
I know that isn’t true for all Canadian women. It certainly is in question for the women in America these days. But it has always been my reality and I’m not sure I ever fully appreciated it until leaving.
Recently a “poll” voted Switzerland as the #1 country in the world to live in. Followed closely by Canada. In many ways I can easily agree with the outcome of this poll. It has been amazing living here and I am loving it. But in many ways I find myself wondering “based on what, exactly….and for whom?”
Long before we arrived here my spidey-senses told me something was off. When the very first correspondence for MY Swiss visa came addressed to Herr Garcia. When I was sent away from the immigration office here because my husband wasn’t with me. When the bank wouldn’t give me my own card for our bank account until Manolo finally had success in asking for me.
The assumption that a parent is home during the day to cook the kids lunch and spend the afternoons with them, not actually stipulated as being the mother, but it does seem to be implied. And the assumption that the parent at home’s schedule is free to be devoted to the kids.
After the Christmas break, D in his way of finding something to worry about, said “what if when I get to school today they tell me that my schedule has changed and I have to come home early today.”
“That’s absurd Buddy. They can’t just do that without letting us know.” (I know what you’re thinking…”Seriously people, when will this woman learn!?”)
Sure enough, at lunch he came home to say that his schedule was changing and he’d now be staying late on Monday and leaving earlier on Friday. No forewarning for us to adjust our schedules, just the simple assumption that I would make it work.
And then hearing Swiss women talk here. Feeling “lucky” to be given 14 weeks of maternity leave. Acknowledging the burden it is to the company to “allow me to be off” after having a baby. In comparison to the American friends we have here who had all of 6 weeks maternity time, I guess 14 weeks does feel pretty great. More than double. Wow!
Look north Ladies…the Finns get 3 years paid leave. 3 YEARS!!! 14 weeks is not “lucky”.
So many moments that I’ve bitten my tongue. More moments when I haven’t…
Not sure if the Swiss ladies know what to make of me when I rant about equal opportunities for women. I read an article recently about the concept of “…returnships, a form of later-life work experience that some companies are experimenting with to help older people — mainly women — return to work, often after breaks to care for families….” (Kind of like an internship geared towards those who have been out of the work force for some time but who possess a great degree of skill and knowledge.)
Since my inner feminist has been awoken, things like this are creating a mounting frustration in me. If your society is structured so as to “highly encourage” one parent (let’s face it, it’s most typically the mother) to be away from the work force for upto the first 8-10 years of their children’s life, there had better be a plan and an expectation to help these women re-enter the workforce!
Most recently my feminist rage has been awoken in my German language classes. I don’t know if it’s merely a “lost in translation” thing or if inequality has really been written into the nuances of the language as much as I have found.
We did a chapter on professions. German is similar to French in that nouns are designated as either male, female or neutral and need to be communicated as such. So a professional title has a male version and a female version. Arzt – male doctor, Arztin – female doctor.
Seems relatively straightforward. Until you notice a few translation inconsistencies. For instance a Businessman in German can be called a Kaufmann. However, Kauffrau translates to “clerk”. I beg your pardon?
Pflegefachfrau (let’s just go ahead and laugh about how ridiculous this word is…) is the word for Nursing Assistant. But the male version, Pflegefachmann is a Nursing Specialist.
Wait, what!? Why is the male version of the job automatically more senior? Grrrrr.
The chapter on families got me all worked up too but I quickly realized that this was not the time or place to fight this battle. The word for parent is Eltern. Technically Eltern is parents.
Turns out there is no singular form of the word for Parents.
It assumes 2.
In the absence of both parents you would of course refer to them as Mutter (mother) or Vater (father).
Uh oh, the mature student has her hand up again…
“Why can’t it just be 1 parent? Without needing to be gender specific. What if the “parents” are not a mother and a father? What if it’s two moms or two dads? What if there really is only one parent?”
Considering the nationalities of my classmates (Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, etc.) the wide eyes and perplexed faces quickly told me to stand down.
Gotcha. Parents, always plural here. Right.
It’s ok. I’ve decided that my brain needs a bit of a break from the intensive language classes anyhow. 2 months of daily lessons has left my brain feeling a bit full.
I started out so strong, proudly wearing the mature student label and maintaining grades at the top of the class. But lately my young peers have been gaining on me. Today I was officially left in their dust.
When confronted with learning a word that is as long as the entire alphabet I tapped out.
Medical insurance card. Easily 3 distinct words. Not in German. They love to just keep adding on letters until the word becomes so long it surpasses absurdity.
My young peers aren’t having any troubles. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that after class they go home, where their mother is preparing their hot lunch, doing their laundry and generally making their life happy and simple.
Among my HouseFrau duties I will add practicing German to the list. Submersing oneself in the culture of the forgeign language you hope to learn is arguably the best way to learn. So trying to learn German in a country where no one is actually speaking German is tricky. Of course everyone can speak High German but the day to day spoken language is Swiss German.
Asking everyone to switch to speaking High German feels a bit like the equivalent of saying “would you mind if we always use the silver and good china when I’m around? It’s really what I prefer.”
Feels a bit uppity. Thankfully we do have family willing to indulge our learning minds so we’re making progress.
And at the end of the day I am well aware that what triggers my inner feminist remain 1st world problems. Compared to the plight of women globally, Switzerland has every right to claim their spot as the most desirable country to live in. I am incredibly lucky and blessed to be here.
Sorry, gotta run, someone is hungry.