The Female Breadwinner: Uncharted Waters?

Guest Blog by Morgane A. Ghilardi

So, I was an 18-year-old BA student, had just gotten both my first apartment – a tiny studio in a slightly scary neighborhood –, and my first real, paid job – with a slightly scarier boss. Life had suddenly gotten very serious; being fiscally responsible and self-sufficient was no longer reserved to adults.

It took me a while to adjust to the situation, as the reality of being in charge of prp_working-mom-300x300.jpgutting food on the table, paying rent, and what seemed like an unreasonable amount of bills – don’t even get me started on Billag – was completely overwhelming. Nonetheless, I remember thinking to myself that I was the third generation in a family of strong women who have always been in charge of providing not only for themselves, but also for their families.

Although that thought is a comforting reminder of the determination and strong desire for independence that runs in the family, it has also been a source of anxiety. My great-grandmother and grandmother left France to live and work in Switzerland, while my mother was born in Zurich in the 1960s. In spite of speaking two of the national languages, all of them faced adversity for being foreigners.

And of course, they all experienced a Switzerland in which women were still expected to adhere to traditional gender roles, even after being granted the right to vote and access to the political sphere on a federal level in 1971. All of them had to work hard with less (if any) chances of promotion and lower wages than their male equals, while also providing for the family.

Husbands and fathers were not a constant in that equation – though not always by choice –, which is why I always saw these women’s autonomy as an extraordinary achievement considering the context of Swiss culture. However, I am also very aware that life has been neither easy nor fair to them. How does my life compare to that?

Now 24 years old and nearing an MA degree in English and Gender Studies, I recognize both my privileged position and the challenges ahead. While I am grateful for the education and professional opportunities I’ve had so far, I still see that these are strange times for working men and women in Switzerland.

Gender roles, which are deeply connected to economic and social structures, are still being negotiated and tested; we experience that in everyday life. Stay-at-home and part-time working dads and husbands are not an accepted norm yet. In the media, we witness a discomfort towards women’s claim for equal opportunities, as it is spun into some kind of epic battle of the sexes or an attempt to drown out the voices of men who also are struggling in this fast-changing society.

Looking at both women’s past and future as providers, it is obvious that we have been navigating uncharted waters, and that won’t change for some time. But if we just keep in mind that we have the right to ask for support and acceptance, that this is a path that we tread as a collective but also as individuals, we never need to feel like we have to apologize for being overwhelmed and apprehensive at times.

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Morgane A. Ghilardi, MA students at the University of Zurich & editor at Adwired AG 

Twitter: @MorganeGh

LinkedIn: Morgane A. Ghilardi

 



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