So as not to end Martina’s presence on this blog on a bad note, let me return to a happier time. Back when she liked speaking to us, approximately 24 hours before she stopped speaking to us, she expounded on the place of women in German society. Germans take their time off seriously (The German word is “ernst.” Everything in Germany is ernst. If only I’d picked up on that pattern earlier.) Virtually all shops close on Saturday and Sunday. Those who must work weekends like police officers or firefighters receive compensatory days off during the week.
In East Germany, Martina told us, the government gave everyone weekends off, and women got to take Fridays off as well in recognition of the greater share of housework and child care women shoulder. A creative solution to this problem, and a particularly communistic one. “What’s that? Inequality exists? The government will eliminate it through state action.”
I disagree with their solution because it provides a reason for women to do more housework than their husbands, rather than addressing the underlying problem. Women and men should be culturally understood to be equally responsible for home and family, and couples must work out a division of labor that works for them upon that fair footing. But there’s no space for private solutions in a communist regime. I imagine that in a non-communist state, taking Fridays off would also interfere with career advancement and further entrench the workplace as a male sphere and the home as the realm of women.
Martina was quite smug about this enlightened East German policy. When the wall fell, women lost their Fridays off, and did not get any more help with the housework.
United Germany still promotes gender equality in some ways, Martina told us. Either parent may take parental leave from work, which I can’t remember the details of anymore, but it was impressive. At least a year with more than 60 percent pay. Martina took the leave for the older daughter while Jürgen had his turn with their younger. In divorced families, the state pays the children’s school costs, and of course the non-custodial parent must pay substantial child support. (Martina always said “the father,” so maybe mothers always get custody.)
We even got a treatise on one of my favorite topics, married names. Germany does require that families have the same name, but the state doesn’t care what that is. The Germans seem to be a very practical-minded people, and they’ve been rejecting ugly names in favor of pretty ones, and common names for unique ones, regardless of which spouse brought the name to the marriage. Martina’s older daughter and her husband chose Manthey (the bride’s name) because it’s rare and sounds nice in German.
This makes sense to me. It’s a simple solution that’s not politically loaded. Aaron Ashley has a lovely ring to it, I think.