Working mothers and gender inequality in Germany
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I investigate how women in Germany balance their professional and familial commitments given the generous welfare state support for work-family reconciliation. Drawing on interviews with 21 German mothers in white-collar occupations, I examine the cultural perceptions of working mothers, the impact of “family-friendly” policies, and women’s workplace experiences with their supervisors and colleagues. I argue that working mothers struggle to balance their work and home lives because gender inequality is still widespread in Germany, despite – and in some cases because of – this welfare state support. Women are frequently denigrated and stigmatized for being employed outside the home while raising children, and for their family status at work. Their identities as both mother and worker violate traditional understandings of femininity in Germany. Consequently, the women I interviewed feel like inadequate mothers and incompetent workers as a result of the gendered messages they receive from the state, businesses, and dominant culture. Until the responsibility for raising children and earning a living are shared equally between women and men, and the government and society support them in this endeavor, gender inequality will continue to be a central feature of our social world.