The mommy wars go global

Germany has its very own Caitlin Flanagan.

Published March 15, 2007 10:08PM (EDT)

Über Hausfrau! It's a crossbreed that ignites the imagination. The love child of Caitlin Flanagan and Nietzsche? Or Ann Coulter and Schopenhauer? Whatever their parentage, these fearsome creatures seem to be rising up all over Germany.

A fascinating story in Spiegel Online covers the Teutonic version of the mommy wars, led by Eva Herman, a former television broadcaster who decided to become a stay-at-home mother and wrote a bestselling book on her lifestyle choice. Like Flanagan, the author who styled herself an American poster frau, Herman's claims of devoting herself to staying home and attending to her family's needs seem suspect at best. (Anyone who has ever gotten a book published knows writing it takes plenty of time away from the chitlins and promoting it even more.) But, be that as it may, Herman penned "The Eva Principle," which spawned adoration, derision, several book-length counterattacks by feminists and now a sequel: a compilation of fan letters from women who are appalled by the prevailing "femi-fascism." Now Herman's got competitors as well, with eft-wing politico Christa Müller doing a 180 and devoting herself to elevating the status of the housewife.

What's interesting about what's going on in Germany vis-à-vis "the new femininity" is that it's part and parcel of a much larger anxiety about the country's low birthrate. As a response, the government spends $78.6 billion on family policies, with a vast portion of the money going straight to families for baby bonuses and only $10.5 billion going to childcare. Spiegel paraphrases Herman as saying that "the survival of the country is at stake -- Germans will 'die out' if women don't change their behavior."

In a country where they are passing out billions of dollars with little effect, it's not surprising that a stay-at-home movement should gain traction. But, as the article notes, the research doesn't support the notion that stay-at-home mothers necessarily have more babies. Comparing reproductive rates across Europe, researchers found that France, the continent's biggest baby-making country, also has 80 percent of women working outside the home.

The researchers' conclusion? Reproductive rates are highest in countries "where more women work, where the divorce rate is higher, and where there is a high degree of equality between men and women." In other words, if these beacons of maternal virtue want to boost their country's waning birthrates, they should get a job and dump the hubby.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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