Are Dutch women really spoilt princesses? This question, raised on the RNW Dutch language website following publication of a book criticising Dutch women’s attitude to work, triggered a wave of reactions from the website’s visitors.
It seems that Elma Drayer, who wrote Verwende Prinsesjes (Spoilt Princesses), hit a raw nerve with her scathing attack on Dutch women. So, RNW asked Elma to respond to the fierce internet debate.
‘Interesting’ was how I reacted to the email that popped up in my inbox on 23 November this year. “Spoilt princesses who should be devoting themselves fulltime to a job: this is how journalist Elma Drayer sees Dutch women.” The contents of the email informed me that it was this statement that RNW’s Dutch service was endeavouring to bring to the attention of visitors to its website.
I was somewhat surprised. I have, indeed, been living with the name Elma Drayer for some time now and I did recently publish a book by the name of Spoilt Princesses.
It is also true that in that book I describe the so-called 'MonTueThur Woman': being those of my own sex who make it known to all and sundry that they work on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday only. The ones who only want a job if it is ‘fun’ or contributes to their ‘personal development’- even if they are highly-educated and even when they do not have any children or when the children they do have are all grown up. The ones who appear to live in the belief that nothing could ever happen to them (divorce, partner hit by a bus, partner loses job, etc.). Who expect there will always be someone to take care of them, because of some kind of mysterious birthright – the kind that comes with being a real little princess.
All well and good, except… where did RNW get the idea that I am out to get the women of the Netherlands all working full time? To quote my very own words in that book (in translation here): “And, no, that doesn’t mean everyone (male or female) should have a fulltime job outside the home. It means every adult (male or female) should earn enough to keep themselves alive. Simply because that’s part of being a grown-up.” And that, it seems to me, at least slightly contradicts the foregoing.
Well, that’s how these things go. Anyone who knowingly publishes a polemical work knows that many a reader will see red as a result – and certainly so if you hit a raw nerve like the attitude to work of the Dutch female. So red, in fact, that taking the time to read what is actually written on the pages of the book becomes a seriously overlooked priority, and the actual point of the entire piece gets equally missed too.
The website visitors who responded to the item in the days that followed concentrated mainly on whether the author of the book actually realised that comparable countries elsewhere were seriously jealous of the part-time working pattern which is so common here in the Netherlands.
Now it just so happens - a book like this one can take you places – that I was recently invited to a women’s seminar in Brussels. There too, it turns out, the Netherlands has a name for being a veritable ladies’ paradise, a shining example for the civilised world. The women there were convinced that thanks to our ‘part-time’ working culture, nowhere in the world is it so easy to achieve ‘the combination’ (of work and home).
Funnily enough, they turned out not to know that ‘part-time’ in the Netherlands generally means something completely different to what it does in their own countries: not working weeks of 30 or 35 hours, but of 12, 15 or 24 hours.
More than this, it also emerged that they did not know that more than half the adult women in the Netherland – that’s three million – still could not and cannot stand on their own financial two feet in any way. Of these, one million do have jobs outside the home but don’t work enough hours to earn more than 900 euros a month – the norm when it comes to measuring ‘financial independence’. Almost 800,000 because they rely on the largesse of their men or families. And more than one million because they rely totally on some benefit payment or other. Figures which, let us say, put the much-praised Dutch model in a somewhat starker light.
After the seminar, one of those attending came up to me. “Why,” she asked, “do you lot never mention this when the subject comes up?”