How did you deal with that in your own career?
“After graduating from university, I started working full-time. But I didn’t really enjoy that. I then opted for a different job that was part-time. I was fortunate to be able to afford that financially, which has really been a privilege. This freed up time for me to do things that I really enjoyed, that my heart desired. Which, incidentally, was often work-related. In that respect I still have a bit of the traits of a hippie from the sixties, haha.”
So women’s fate is largely in their own hands?
“Absolutely. It is still often pointed out to women that they are dimwits who just want to sit at home all day with the children. And that it is therefore their own fault that they are not pursuing a career or earning very little. The women are blamed once again. But I think men should also push up their sleeves. Take on more household tasks, for example. A lot has already changed for the better in that respect; when I was growing up, for example, it was unthinkable for a man to change diapers; the few who did, kept quiet about it. Afraid of being called a wimp. Those days are over, fortunately. And that’s a good thing! Of course, it has also helped enormously that housework takes much less time than it used to, thanks to washing machines and other appliances.”
What women do you see as icons of the Dutch women’s empowerment movement?
“Oh, there are many. One of my favorite ones is the maid Neeltje Lokerse. She was standing in the Binnenhof in The Hague, armed, in 1902. That was where the father of her newborn child worked; he was also her employer. He refused to acknowledge his child. When he came out, she shot at him, but she didn’t hit him. She just wanted to draw attention to the matter with her action. She was immediately arrested, but later acquitted. After that, she devoted her life to improving the position of servants, unwed mothers and prostitutes, by giving lectures, for example. Very brave, because those women were all disenfranchised at the time. Other icons are Corrie Tendeloo and Clara Meijers. Tendeloo was a politician who campaigned for legal equality between men and women. Thanks to a motion by her, the forced dismissal of civil servants upon marriage was abolished in 1955. She also saw to it that the legal incompetence of married women was abolished. And Clara Meijers saw to it that a separate Women’s Bank was established for women in 1928. At the time, it was virtually impossible for women to get a loan if they wanted to open a store, for example, or needed a mortgage for their own home.”
Why have you been focusing on the history of women in the Netherlands your whole life?
“I was born in 1952, a time when women were still expected to be submissive to their husbands. I was still a student when I witnessed the establishment of Dolle Mina, in 1969 in Leiden. That feminist action group fit in with the spirit of the times; it was fascinating to me. When I started studying history, my attention automatically gravitated towards the history of women in the Netherlands. I have always maintained that fascination. Looking back, I can see that a lot has improved for women. We’re not there yet, but we need to persevere and stay alert. Someday men and women will be completely equal; I am convinced of that. That outdated male bastion is gradually being demolished more and more.”