Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Sexism of Switzerland - Mom Edition

Living in Switzerland has a ton of upsides. Good chocolate, good cheese, and a quick hop to the rest of Europe. It is, however, incredibly sexist when it comes to moms. Every time I think about living in Switzerland permanently, I wonder if I am sending the right message to my daughter. The one who was named after a mathematician who was so stubborn, she studied math naked at night because her parents took her clothes in an attempt to stop their daughter from learning by candlelight.

Since I have nothing better to think about when I am pushing the stroller through the grocery store, I've been thinking about how Swiss culture is structured and how that impacts moms who might want to work outside the home. Here are some random thoughts on the subject.

Working on Sundays. It is strictly verboten unless the canton (county) gives express permission. This includes laundry and washing the car. On the positive side, this means Swiss families spend Sundays together doing family  activities that don't involve shopping - remember working is illegal so the stores are closed. The negative aspect is obvious. A lot of the younger Swiss ignore the no laundry law and do it anyway but you can be fined if someone in your building complains.

Short store hours. Remember the days when life just sucks, the kids throw tantrums just looking at the grocery store and the fridge only has a half container of milk and an apple? Back in the US, there were months when I'd do my grocery shopping at 11 pm because the husband was home and I could go child-free. Welcome to Switzerland, where all the grocery stores close at 8 pm. Except in my town, where they close at 7. The husband gets home at 6:45. Do the math.

Weekday lunch for the school age child. Kids come home for lunch so someone needs to be there from 12-1:30 when afternoon school starts again, but only on some days. The daughter of a friend attends the local, public school and in fourth grade she only attends one afternoon a week. For between 14 and 30 SFr (sliding scale, income dependent), there is a program that will pick the kids up from school, serve them lunch, and return them in the afternoon.

So let's talk about afternoon or all day daycare. Recently a friend and I were at a park where we struck up a conversation with an American expat there with her two young kids. She had just quit her job as a lawyer because fulltime daycare completely negated her monthly salary. I was quoted prices of 120 SFr per day per child minimum. 

Getting hired. A friend and I were chatting while our kids play about staying at home versus working. She was looking for a position PT now that her youngest is in kindergarten every morning and two afternoons a week. She went and interviewed at a shop that had the perfect job for her. Everything went great until the hiring manager asked her how she could take care of her family if she was working. That is kind of the question, isn't it? The society is built around moms that stay at home with the kids. If it wasn't, these policies just wouldn't work because there simply are not enough hours in the day to get everything done.

How do people do it? Simple, really. Almost all moms stay at home and if they don't they need an incredible amount of familial support. If you are a woman, the choices aren't really there. Role reversal doesn't seem to happen either, I have yet to meet a stay at home dad.

So what happened with my friends? The one who interviewed for the perfect position was not hired because of her obligation to her children. Discrimination is legal. The other friend who was chatting with the expat lawyer is probably quitting her professional job because now that she has 2 kids, it is costing them money for her to work.

As for me, if I went back to work I would lose my stay at home mom stipend from the government. So I stay at home and I am studying a new programming language when the kids are asleep.

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