Monday, May 16, 2011

Meeting upper-class 'native' Greek women.

The last week was spent in Athens, Greece for a study trip (and of course, some sightseeing). We met several organisations related to gender equality, migration and sexuality and I learnt so many things about Greece that I wouldn't have if I had just gone there for a holiday.

One of the organisations we visited was the Hellenic Association for University Women. And I must repeat, as they did (at least five times), for “university women”. Such repetition was already instructive in warning us what awaited us in the next hour and a half.



We were welcomed by three women, including the Vice-President and Secretary of the association. After a short presentation we introduced ourselves, and two of them asked us further questions which said more about them than about us. A sampling of their questions:

  1. Was it difficult to come to the Netherlands? (Yes, I had to pay 3 smugglers to get here and now I have to work in the informal economy to pay off my debt.)
  2. Are you the only child or do you have brothers and sisters? (Is this your subtle way of finding out if my family fits your African stereotype of big families?)
  3. Do you want to go back to your country? (No, because Europe is a heaven for all from the Third World and I'll stay as one of many undocumented migrant workers who are "leaking" into Greece, making up 2 million of your total population of 11 million.)
  4. Which genocide? (You haven't heard of the genocide in Rwanda? Didn't one of you study Political Science?)

They stated their aim as increasing the educational level of young girls in Greece, but they weren't the most intersectionally aware. The problem, according to them, was that young women today, especially those from private schools, dream of having a 'good family' and as a result, give up their career ambitions in order to find a husband. Girls who don't go to private schools have similar dreams because of the popularity of Turkish soaps which show examples of more 'traditional roles' (yeah, blame the foreigners!).

After quoting statistic after statistic of the grossly lower percentage of women in the higher ranks of career hierarchies and the disproportionately higher number of women making up the unemployed (total unemployment is at around 13%, highest ever!), they implicitly blame immigrants for stealing away women's jobs, making no distinction between the types of jobs immigrants are likely to be doing (low-wage or unsafe, and usually in the informal economy).

Their solution for the lower number of women in high positions (CEOs, professors, etc.)? Give young women more accurate information on the types of careers, trainings and educational fields they can have. No acknowledgement of the fact that they want to have families too. Since they said before that women tend to give up or slow down their career to give way to their families, they seem to imply that a more aggressive pursuit of career instead of family will bring success and bring down glass ceilings all over Greece. Alternatively, one of them mentioned that it was really difficult for her to work with men in the workplace, because they would talk about football and girls to make her uncomfortable.

Getting more and more curious about who will do the housework and childcare when both parents work, I asked them what the gender division of labour was like in their own homes, and in Greek society in general. The VP replied with " My situation is exceptional, I have a very progressive husband, he encouraged me to travel and further my career" - completely personalising a needed transformation of gender relations. Of course, if women are to pursue their careers as aggressively as men who do, they need the same (emotional and physical) support that men receive (from their wives). Progressive men don't fall from heaven and marry career-driven women by luck, they are made through egalitarian socialisation.

Another lady replied that in most of Greek society, the men are "Spartans", just like her husband, who doesn't do anything at home. When I spoke to her privately after the meeting, she revealed that she hires a domestic worker - aha! The women that should get higher education is only 'native' Greek women, naturally. Such is the nature of domestic work - women from bordering Albania do the housework and childcare, making it possible for Greek women to pursue careers like Greek men, while also being responsible for raising a family. On a side note, she also insisted that "there have been no cases of abuse of domestic workers, but there have been cases of child abuse from domestic workers".

When asked if the Association does any work with men (to transform gender relations), they rather defensively said that they "don’t see ourselves as opposite to men, so when we have events, our husbands come along." I don't think attendance does much for any social transformation.

This association was the perfect illustration of the modus operandi of positivist feminists. They want women to be 50% in every sector, and focus their interventions on putting women into these positions. Problems or exceptions are often individualised (progressive husband; psychological difficulties of working with mostly men), and desires are universalised (all women should have careers - too bad if you want career and family).

There is also no intersectionality (immigrant women or women from developing countries don't need to have education or careers). This is often the mentality of women from the economically/ethnicaly dominant class, who can't see social phenomena from a nuanced perspective (e.g. migrant work, immigration) and also reinterpret history to explain the  status quo ("In fact, Greece has been a homogeneous country until the 90s").

To these upper-class 'native' Greek women, I say: show the young women of Greece some role models of women who have careers and a family, and who managed to do it with the help of their feminist partners. 

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