Working Paper 85

Experiences of Devaluation: Work, Gender and Identity in eastern Germany

Tatjana Thelen

Project Group Legal Pluralism

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 85

The paper starts from the observation that differences in gender regimes between East and West Germany are still commonly referred to in eastern Germany. More concretely, men and women share positive images of the socialist gender model especially with regards to the working mother. This reference to the past is different from that in other postsocialist countries where the evaluation of the socialist gender model seems to be much more ambiguous. I argue that the specific East German interpretations can only be understood within the framework of former partition and later unification. Changes in gender regimes were predominately experienced in a hierarchical situation and often as imposed by West Germans. In this situation the socialist ideal of female integration into the labour force acquired more power as a resource in identity construction than in other postsocialist countries. Experiences during transformation are often perceived as a devaluation of women’s paid and unpaid due to the import of a conservative gender model from western Germany. In the almost complete absence of other positive references to the socialist past, this interpretation gains in importance for identity construction. Current public debates about the need to restructure the German labour market as well as educational system contribute further to the centrality of gender images.

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