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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Audience disputes motherhood quota

Published: November 22, 2013
Section: News

On Tuesday, Hilke Brockmann, sociologist, demographer and distinguished professor, came to Brandeis to discuss her work on whether German Parliament should implement a motherhood quota in the German economy and the European Union. A professor at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, Brockmann is currently on sabbatical and serving as a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Center for European Studies (CES).

Brockmann has authored several journal articles and publications on her research, which focuses on the causes and consequences of aging, subjective well-being and happiness. The lecture Brockmann presented was entitled, “Do we need a motherhood quota? Women and Mothers in German parliament,” and was based upon a paper she authored on the topic.

Brockmann began the lecture discussing the nature of German motherhood and showing data that illustrates the small numbers of women in leadership positions in government and corporations across the European Union. While what she had to say was certainly interesting and necessary background for the discussion of her paper, Brockmann’s PowerPoint slides were in German and she failed to provide background on the structure of German parliament. This made complete comprehension of this background difficult, if not impossible.

She then discussed the concept of “having it all” and how this idealistic state is not feasible within the German society, especially for women with children. She discussed how a majority of women in leadership positions are childless and how this correlation between women in positions of power not having children is not by pure coincidence. Brockmann explained how many of the parties in Germany have voluntary quotas requiring a certain amount of female parliament members in the party, but how most of these positions are filled by motherless women. She explained how this is problematic and that as mothers are the best advocates for children, who do not have representation in parliament, so mothers’ increased presence and membership in parliament is necessary.

After providing what she deemed was sufficient background information on the German political structure and its need for motherhood, Brockmann launched into an explanation of her paper and its structure. Her paper first began with an explanation of the pros and cons of a motherhood quota and then proposed a potential design for the aforementioned quota. She explained with humor that it was received quite negatively by the German tabloids and that some even questioned the sanity of her ideas. Everyone in the room laughed as Brockmann discussed how the out-of-context picture featured on the front page of many of the tabloids indeed made her like quite the crazy person.

Brockmann’s presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session in which many questioned and criticized her work. Professor Bellin of the Politics department animatedly questioned Brockmann’s motherhood quota, saying she believed it would be ineffective given the lack of unified objectives of mothers as a group. She further criticized Brockmann’s focus on amplifying the voices of mothers exclusively, questioning whether or not other underrepresented groups in parliament should also be able to benefit from such quotas. With tensions high in the room, Brockmann largely skirted Professor Bellin’s questions and comments, even going as far as to compare the underrepresented groups Professor Bellin asked about to ridiculous subsets of the population, saying that you could create quotas for people with big feet and the like, but there would be no reason to do so.

Others in the audience also questioned the objectives of the motherhood quota and its implications. They brought up issues of why a parenthood quota wouldn’t suffice and if the proposed motherhood quota would lead to an antagonistic dynamic among women themselves. Again, Brockmann danced around answering these questions, claiming that a quota would be a “pulse to signal women and mothers not to worry” that they had a voice and that a majority of women are mothers.

Brockmann’s presentation was unimpressive. Despite her academic credentials, her presentation seemed very much like the beginning of a research project as opposed to the presentation of an already-published paper. Further, her research appeared to be quite descriptive in nature with very little empirical evidence presented to support her claims. While certainly an interesting topic for research and discussion, it seems like Brockmann has much more work to do before any causal or conclusive findings can be obtained from her work.