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New housewives choose not to have it all

Hard work, but someone has to do it

(Keystone)

A growing number of Swiss women are said to be turning their backs on successful careers to devote themselves to home and family.

The "new housewife" phenomenon has been well documented by the Swiss media since the publication in September of "Das Eva Prinzip" (The Eve Principle) by German TV presenter Eva Herman, in which the author puts her case for stay-at-home mothers.

The new housewife is defined as typically a well-educated woman, who gives up her career – temporarily or permanently – to be a full-time mother. The new aspect is the fact that this is a conscious choice, and not something dictated by tradition.

Herman argues that instead of trying to do everything - and exhausting themselves in the process - mothers should focus on spending time with their children. And this means staying at home.

Herman's views have found some echo in Switzerland, where writer Marianne Siegenthaler has just published her own book – "Housewife – the best job in the world" - extolling the virtues of the job of homemaker.

"Housewives have a very bad image and I'm trying to improve it a bit," Siegenthaler told swissinfo, while admitting that the book's title was deliberately provocative.

"I'm not saying women should get back to the kitchen, as Eva Herman does, but that they should have a choice," said the mother and freelance journalist. "And if they decide to stay at home they should make the most of it."

Motherhood and apple pie

Mother of three Alexa Tschan sees many positives in a full-time domestic role. A thirty-something who gave up a promising legal career when she had her first child, Tschan is a perfect example of the new housewife.

"Being your own boss is very nice. I can organise my day the way I want. I feel quite free and I don't have any regrets," she told swissinfo.

Despite this, Tschan is quick to point out that the life of a full-time housewife is not all motherhood and apple pie. And then there's the lack of social recognition, not to mention money...

Markus Theunert, president of the Swiss forum for men and emancipation Maenner.ch, makes the valid observation that women can only choose to stay at home if their (normally male) partners bring home the bacon. Speaking to swissinfo he said that through their books, Herman and Siegenthaler seemed to be trying to "reconstruct old stereotypes" of men and women.

"If you have a housewife at home, you need a breadwinner out at work, and this is the [stereotypical] male role," he commented.

Glass ceiling

While she talks up the job of "domestic manager", Siegenthaler admits that household chores - particularly cleaning - don't hold much allure. But she says more and more women are choosing to stay at home and wash the floors rather than bump their heads off the corporate glass ceiling.

Because of the difficulty of combining a career with raising children in Switzerland, many women prefer to work part-time. But part-time working delays their progress up the career ladder.

"I think many women are experiencing a disillusionment with the idea that they should be able to juggle everything – child, career, home. They realise it just doesn't work," she said.

"They'll reach a point where they say: 'this is too much. I am not progressing in my career.' And at that point maybe they'll decide to put home first."

Once they've made the decision, they can look forward to organising their own time, without the pressure of dealing with difficult colleagues or a demanding boss. Some compensation for the lack of a pay packet every month.

swissinfo, Morven McLean

Key facts

From the women and equality atlas of Switzerland (statistics for 2000):

In 37% of families with children aged up to 7 the man works full-time and the woman does no work outside the home (traditional middle class model).
In just under 37% of families the man works full-time and the woman works part time (modern middle class model).
In 12% of families both the man and woman work full time (egalitarian work model).
In 3.5% of families both partners work part-time (egalitarian family model).

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