13 Aug 2023

We’re Left Alone with Having Children

Mareike Fallwickl

„You’re doing it for love, and love never charges for its services.“

“It’s the women’s fault. Everything is. That is a basic pillar of patriarchy,” says Mareike Fallwickl. Her novel Die Wut, die bleibt is a stirring document. Adapted for theatre, it is presented at the Landestheater this summer.

Your novel Die Wut, die bleibt (The Rage that Remains) was inspired by true statements by overwhelmed mothers during lockdown. What effect did these statements have on you?
I was going to write something nice; the text was already finished. But then I received so many messages from women, from mothers, during lockdown, who wrote: “I can’t go on; I can’t take it anymore; I’m just going to jump from the balcony now.” And that hypothetical sentence electrified me to such an extent that in the midst of the whole home-schooling mess, I pulled up my laptop on the kitchen table and wrote the first page of the novel, exactly as it is printed now. That immediately made it clear that this idea was much better than the entire nice book I had written.

You have two children. How did you experience this time?
I don’t think anyone had a good experience during lockdown, it was a very challenging time. But I was not alone; my husband and I share everything pertaining to care work equally.

Not only during the pandemic, mothers took on a much larger share of childcare and housework than fathers. They always do. Often it is not a conscious decision, it just happens. Why do women walk into this trap?
It’s not the women’s fault. We phrase it as if women were to blame. As if they should have seen that there was a trap there. And it doesn’t “just happen”. The fact is that the gender pay gap is ignored until a couple has a child, and then suddenly, you hear: of course as the man, I will go to work and my wife will stay at home – after all, I make a lot more money. Men do not take career hits; for women, it’s normal. The labour market offers no flexible models because so far, it does not have to, but the next generation will make demands for fairer parental leave and paternal leave, that much is clear. Furthermore, society dictates that childcare is women’s work, and it is difficult to give up these preconceptions and act to the contrary.

Then why do we speak so little about the demands and challenges of motherhood?
In her book Die Erschöpfung der Frauen (The Fatigue of Women), Franziska Schutzbach wrote the wonderful sentence: parenting means a radical absence of breaks. Your question cannot be answered without taking a step back and looking at the big picture. It’s not motherhood that is the problem, not parenthood, and certainly not the children. One person taking care of another is the most human gesture we are capable of. It’s the system that causes our failure. We are left alone with having children, and it’s not possible to deal with that. All difficulties are individualized and presented as problems every family must solve privately, so that we don’t recognize that political solutions are necessary, that these are challenges affecting all of society. We cloak motherhood in taboos and enforce this silence. After all, if parents, if mothers spoke honestly to one another, the truth would come to light. And that would force politicians to make massive changes.

Do women lack rage? Where’s the rage?
Currently – and this was not always the case, nor can it remain the case – we have linked femininity and care work so closely that we can’t even manage to think beyond these confines. The fact that women now have access to professions and education, but all other tasks have remained the same, leads to double and triple burdens. The fact that half the population is willing to tolerate this is down to a simple, clever trick. We tell them that they must enjoy it. It’s in your nature! It’s your destiny. You’re doing it for love, and love never charges for its services.

Doing it differently than preceding generations requires courage. Parents who share care work can look forward to sarcastic comments. Not everyone can take it.
Yes, of course. In Austria, only four percent of fathers do what my husband does. FOUR. I am often asked which feminist principle is behind our decision. None – 13 years ago, I had never even heard the term “care work”. We sat down and said: okay, we’re having a baby, how are we going to divide things? That was it. When I hear snarky comments, I am well-equipped to react, because I now know all the figures, studies, statistics. I can understand the women who get defensive: it is hard when you give up everything, your husband pursues his career, you tell yourself that you have to make this sacrifice because you wanted children. And then you see mothers like me, where things are different. It’s difficult to look at your own life and recognize that everything could be different.

We are often told that we must raise our daughters to be self-determined women. There is little discussion about raising boys. Why?
Because that’s a basic pillar of patriarchy. It’s the women’s fault. Everything is. It’s even their own fault that they are disadvantaged and discriminated. If they are paid less, they didn’t negotiate cleverly enough. If they are raped, their skirt was too short. If their children are different, they have failed as mothers. This list could fill a thousand pages. This targeted and efficient framing relieves the perpetrators of their responsibility, and assigns it to the women. From the very beginning, when they are still girls and boys.

What do you have in mind?
For example, quiet girls are often placed next to trouble-makers, and then it’s their responsibility to make the boys behave better. If a boy treats a girl roughly, she is told: “He does that because he likes you.” And when those girls are adult women, we are surprised that they let themselves be treated like this, that they aren’t self-determined, that they often think everything is their fault. But who taught them to think that way?

Now your novel is being adapted for the stage. Were you involved in creating the stage version, and are you in touch with director Jorinde Dröse?
Jorinde and I are in close contact. I read the theatrical version she created and attended the first rehearsal with sets. When rehearsals begin in June, I will travel to Hanover. The piece is going to be really, really good. Jorinde has done an outstanding job of distilling the 370 pages of the novel to its core message, and to keep all the rage in the story alive. I am sure it will leave no one cold.

Will your entire family attend the premiere?
Yes, my husband and my children are coming too. They love theatre and are really looking forward to this. We just went to see Die unendliche Geschichte in the stage version by John von Düffel, which brings things full circle in a nice way, because that was the book that made me want to write when I was a child – and I read it to my children, during the lockdown.

Interview: Judith Hecht
Translation: Alexa Nieschlag

First published on 20.05. 2023 in Die Presse Kultur Spezial: Salzburger Festspiele 2023