Medical careers, gender and dishwasher politics: The view from Germany

Prof. Mangler looks at the beginnings of the first female doctors and explains why structures have to be changed for female careers in the health sector.

Translated from the original German version.

Women in medicine: hurdles and opportunities... and hurdles

Women were not allowed to study medicine for a long time. In the old days, if you wanted to apply to study medicine, you received the following answer from the University of Würzburg (Bavaria, Germany) for example:

"The awarding of the university matriculation is linked to the prerequisite of male gender."

It was not until April 1899 that the Federal Council decided to admit women to the study of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy in the German Empire. Nevertheless, individual states (Länder) and faculties continued to resist this for a long time. In Prussia, the first female medical students were admitted in 1908/1909.

The resistance in society was enormous. For example, the university professor of anatomy Prof. Theodor von Bischoff formulated: "The occupation with the study and practice of medicine contradicts and violates the best and noblest aspects of female nature, modesty, shamefacedness, compassion and mercy, by which it is distinguished from male nature. The reformer Martin Luther had a clear stance on this: "There is no skirt or dress that looks worse on a woman or virgin than when she wants to be clever."

One should therefore not be surprised that in 1900 the physician Paul J. Möbius published "Ueber den physiologischen Schwachsinn des Weibes" (On the Physiological Idiocy of Women). And the author Max Funke asked in his writings in 1910: "Are women human?" - and answered the question himself at the same time. Of course they were not! "Mulieres homines non sunt!" and that "on the basis of scientific sources". We can almost no longer imagine all this today.

Because smart women and men fought for something to change, I was able to start studying medicine in 2004, less than 100 years after the first woman in Berlin did so. My fellow students and I took it for granted and would never have dreamed that it was ever otherwise. So, is all well now? Unfortunately no!

The Gender Care Gap

The residues from the previous patriarchal structures remain with us today. There is for example the "gender care gap". This is a measure of gender equality. Raising children, caring for relatives, housework, voluntary work: women spend an average of 52.4 percent more time per day on unpaid care work than men, according to the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. This is called the "gender care gap". Women work for pay in their professions and also do significantly more unpaid care work. Something must have gone wrong. The logic of this gender care gap is not clear. On what grounds does a woman do more unpaid care work? I have not yet found a good answer.

It takes two to tango

A partnership can also be seen as a team. It is therefore a legitimate question: how does the division of labour work for us as a team? Do we share parenthood and the household fairly? And if not: does it have to stay that way? It always takes two. One puts the dishwasher away, the other leaves the dishes around. Individually, this can be quite challenging. Because each of us may see reasons why she cleans out the dishwasher much more often. For example, if the man earns more and needs to relax more at home, the question is: why does he earn more? That is the devil's circle: he earns more, does less at home, can work all the more and earn even more.

Upward spiral for the man, downward spiral for the woman. Or is the gender pay gap perhaps due to the woman's part-time job? Because she spends more time running the dishwasher? Or maybe they both earn the same amount and yet the care work is distributed differently. There are couples who write down all the benefits of care work in Excell tables to create justice. This may not be something for everyone, but the question remains: whose time is worth more and is valued more highly. That is also the decision of a team or a couple.

Conclusion: Dishwashers are highly political

For those who want to develop a career in medicine, a fair division of care work is a very good idea. The dishwasher is where the assertion of one's own professional goals begins. The dishwasher is therefore highly political. And if one can assert oneself at the dishwasher, then everywhere. In other words, if you voluntarily do more unpaid care work, you shouldn't be surprised if society as a whole ticks along similar lines - and if some people are surprised if women don't want to take on a servant function in their jobs as well. The most credible way to demand gender justice is to help shape and live it.

I wish you all the best along the way!

Yours, Mandy Mangler