Chapter 30 - After the Fall: The Western World in a Global Age, Since 1985

New Directions and New Problems in Western Society

FOCUS QUESTION: What are the major developments in the women’s movement since 1985, and what problems have immigrants created for European society?

Dramatic social developments have accompanied political and economic changes since 1985. New opportunities for women have emerged, and a reinvigorated women’s movement has sought to bring new meaning to the principle of equality with men. New problems for Western society have also arisen with a growing reaction against foreign workers and immigrants.

Transformation in Women’s Lives

It is estimated that parents need to average 2.1 children to ensure a natural replacement of a country’s population. In many European countries, the population stopped growing in the 1960s, and the trend has continued since then. By the 1990s, birthrates were down drastically; among the nations of the European Union, the average number of children per mother was 1.4. Although the EU rate had risen somewhat to 1.59 by 2009, it remained well below the replacement rate. In 2011, Germany and Spain both had a rate of only 1.36.

At the same time, the number of women in the workforce continued to rise. In Britain, for example, women made up 44 percent of the labor force in 1990, up from 32 percent in 1970. By the twenty-first century, women constituted 48 percent of the labor force in the Scandinavian countries and 51 percent in the Eastern European countries. Moreover, women were entering new employment areas. Greater access to universities and professional schools enabled women to take jobs in law, medicine, government, business, and education. In the Soviet Union, about 70 percent of doctors and teachers had been women. Nevertheless, economic inequality still of ten prevailed; women received lower wages than men for comparable work and found fewer opportunities for advancement to management positions.

THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT Feminists in the women’s liberation movement came to believe that women themselves must transform the fundamental conditions of their lives. They did so in a variety of ways. First, they formed numerous “consciousness-raising” groups to heighten awareness of women’s issues. Women got together to share their personal experiences and become aware of the many ways that male dominance affected their lives. This consciousness-raising helped many women become activists.

Women also sought and gained a measure of control over their own bodies by insisting that they had a right to both contraception and abortion. In the 1960s and 1970s, hundreds of thousands of European women worked, of ten successfully, to repeal the laws that outlawed contraception and abortion. In 1968, a French law permitted the sale of contraceptive devices, and in the 1970s, French feminists began to call for the legalization of abortion. One group of 343 prominent French women even signed a manifesto declaring that they had had abortions. In 1979, abortion became legal in France. Even in Catholic countries, where the church remained adamantly opposed to abortion, legislation allowing contraception and abortion was passed in the 1970s and 1980s.

As more women became activists, they also became involved in new issues. In the 1980s and 1990s, women faculty in universities concentrated on developing new cultural attitudes through the new academic field of women’s studies. Courses in women’s studies, which stressed the role and contributions of women in history, mushroomed in both American and European colleges and universities.

Other women began to try to affect the political environment by allying with the antinuclear movement. In 1982, a group of women protested American nuclear missiles in Britain by chaining themselves to the fence of an American military base. Thousands more joined in creating a peace camp around the military compound. Enthusiasm ran high; one participant said: ‘‘I’ll never forget that feeling; it’ll live with me forever.... We walked round, and we clasped hands.... It was for women; it was for peace; it was for the world.”

Some women joined the ecological movement. As one German writer who was concerned with environmental issues said, it is women “who must give birth to children, willingly or unwillingly, in this polluted world of ours.” Especially prominent were the female members of the Green Party in Germany (see “The Environment and the Green Movements” in Chapter 29), which supported environmental issues and elected forty-two delegates to the West German parliament in 1987. Among the delegates was Petra Kelly (19472002), one of the founders of the German Green Party and a tireless campaigner for the preservation of the environment as well as human rights and equality.

Women in the West have also reached out through international conferences to work with women from the rest of the world in changing the conditions of their lives. Between 1975 and 1995, the United Nations held conferences in Mexico City, Copenhagen, Nairobi, and Beijing. These meetings made clear that women from Western and non-Western countries had different priorities. Whereas women from Western countries spoke about political, economic, cultural, and sexual rights, women from developing countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia focused on bringing an end to the violence, hunger, and disease that haunt their lives. Despite these differences, the meetings were an indication of how women in both developed and developing nations were organizing to make people aware of women’s issues.

Guest Workers and Immigrants

Despite an aging European population and declining birthrates, the total population of Europe has increased over the last decades due to mass migrations. As the economies of the Western European countries revived in the 1950s and 1960s and birthrates declined, a severe labor shortage encouraged them to rely on foreign workers. Government and businesses actively recruited so-called guest workers to staff essential jobs. Scores of Turks and eastern and southern Europeans came to Germany, North Africans to France, and people from the Caribbean, India, and Pakistan to Great Britain. With the collapse of the colonial system by the 1960s (see Chapter 28), millions of people from the former British, French, Dutch, and Portuguese colonies moved to Europe. Overall, there were probably 15 million guest workers in Europe in the 1980s, representing 5 to 6 percent of the population. They constituted 17 percent of the labor force in Switzerland and 10 percent in Germany.

Although these workers had been recruited for economic reasons, they of ten found themselves unwelcome socially and politically. Many foreign workers complained that they received lower wages and inferior social benefits. Moreover, their concentration in certain cities or certain sections of cities of ten created tensions with the local native populations. Foreign workers, many of them nonwhites, constituted almost one-fifth of the population in the German cities of Frankfurt, Munich, and Stuttgart. Having become settled in their new countries, many wanted to stay, even after the end of the postwar boom in the early 1970s led to mass unemployment. Moreover, as guest workers settled permanently in their host countries, additional family members migrated to join them. Although they had little success in getting guest workers already there to leave, some European countries passed legislation or took other measures to restrict new immigration.

In the 1980s, there was an influx of other refugees, especially to West Germany, which had liberal immigration laws that permitted people seeking asylum for political persecution to enter the country. During the 1970s and 1980s, West Germany absorbed more than a million refugees from Eastern Europe and East Germany. In 1986 alone, 200,000 political refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka entered the country. By 2005, 13 percent of Germany’s residents were foreigners. Other parts of Europe saw a similar influx. Between 1992 and 2002, London and southeastern England received some 700,000 immigrants, primarily from Yugoslavia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Aftica. A survey in 1998 found that English was not the first language of one-third of inner-city children in London. Many other European countries experienced similar increases of immigrants during the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2000, Spain’s immigrant population was 4.6 percent, but by 2006 it had grown to 10.8 percent.

The arrival of so many foreigners strained not only the social services of European countries but also the patience of many native residents who opposed making their countries ethnically diverse. Anti-foreign sentiment, especially in a time of growing unemployment, increased and was encouraged by new right-wing political parties that catered to people’s complaints. Thus, the National Front in France, organized by Jean-Marie Le Pen (ZHAHN-mah-REE luh PEHN) (b. 1928) and now led by his daughter Marine Le Pen (mah-REEN luh PEHN) (b. 1968), and the Republican Party in Germany, led by Franz Schönhuber (1923-2005), a former SS officer, advocated restricting all new immigration and limiting the assimilation of settled immigrants. Although these parties had only limited success in elections, even that modest accomplishment encouraged traditional conservative and even moderately conservative parties to adopt more nationalistic policies. Occasionally, an anti-foreign party has been quite successful. Jorg Haider (YORG HY-dur) (1950-2008), whose Freedom Party received 27 percent of the vote in 1999, cushioned his rejection of foreigners by appealing to Austrian nationalism and attacking the European Union: “We Austrians should answer not to the European Union, not to Maastricht, not to some international idea or other, but to this our Homeland.” In 2012, Marine Le Pen won 17.9 percent of the vote in the French elections-the National Front’s strongest showing. Even more frightening than the growth of these right-wing political parties were the organized campaigns of violence in the early 1990s, especially against African and Asian immigrants, by radical, right-wing groups.

Even nations that have traditionally been tolerant in opening their borders to immigrants and seekers of asylum are changing their policies. In the Netherlands, 19 percent of the residents have a foreign background, representing almost 180 nationalities. Two high-profile assassinations in the early 2000s, however, including the shooting of filmmaker Theodoor van Gogh, who had directed Submission, a film on the oppression of Muslim women in immigrant families, prompted the Dutch to alter their immigration policies. In 2004, the Dutch government passed tough new immigration laws, including a requirement that newcomers pass a Dutch language and culture test before being admitted to the Netherlands.

Sometimes these policies have been aimed at religious practices. One of the effects of the influx of foreigners into Europe has been a dramatic increase in the Muslim population. Although Christians still constitute a majority (though many no longer practice their faith), the number of Muslims has mushroomed in France, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. It has been estimated that at least 15 million Muslims were living in European Union nations in the first decade of the twenty-first century. In some nations, concern that Muslim immigration will result in an erosion of national values has led to attempts to restrict the display of Islamic symbols.

In 2004, France enacted a law prohibiting female students from wearing a headscarf (hijab) to school. Article 1 stated: “In public elementary, middle and high schools, the wearing of signs or clothing which conspicuously manifest students’ religious affiliations is prohibited.” The law further clarified “conspicuous” to mean “a large cross, a veil, or a skullcap.” Small religious symbols, such as small crosses or medallions, were not included. Critics of this law argue that it will exacerbate ethnic and religious tensions in France, while supporters maintain that it upholds the traditions of secularism and equality for women in France (see the box on p. 948).

Next Reading: 30-6 Western Culture Today