Everyday sexism in Switzerland

April 11, 2014, 13 Comments

Lady menu

Lady size portions and unequal pay: sexism in Switzerland lives on. Three times in the past few months I have been confronted with Swiss restaurants that think it’s ok to refer to smaller portions as ones for the ladies. It’s like opening a menu and being transported back 40 years.

Maybe they thought they were being ironic, or even funny, but it didn’t work. For me, it felt rather odd to ask for a ‘Madame’ portion simply because I wasn’t very hungry that day – let alone the fact that many women I know can eat just as much as me and sometimes more. How demeaning for them to have to order a ‘Monsieur’ portion purely because they want a standard not a smaller one. Why not just write ‘small’ beside the cheaper one?

Madame menu

In Graubünden the Swiss couple at the table behind us ordered one of each size, but refused to use the ridiculous labels; as the man said to the waitress, I would like a small portion not a lady’s one. And even a sushi take-away in Zurich (also in Bern) finds it necessary to call the small box of sushi ‘Lady size’.

Lady size sushi

But perhaps these restaurants are actually making a political point. They know that women earn less than men, so they label the marginally cheaper portions as female ones so that women can conserve their hard-earned francs. In Switzerland the effective pay difference between men and women is 18.4%, even though both are doing exactly the same job. Did you get that? Same job, less pay just for being a woman.

Those campaigning for equal pay for equal work came up with a great video to highlight this disparity. Men using a ATM or money machine at one Zurich bank were given 20% less money than they asked for. Press the button for 100 francs and only get 80. That really brings home what Swiss women face in the workplace.

So what, you might think. You might even agree with Frau Blocher, the wife of SVP godfather Christoph, who said that in an interview last year that many mothers work even though it’s not financially worth it; they do it only because it is fashionable. Never mind wanting to work or even needing to work. Of course it helps if you are married to a billionaire. Then you can cast judgement on other families’ situations because you live in your ivory tower, paid for by your husband.

Women in Switzerland haven’t had an easy time of it. Rather shocking is that until 1978 if a Swiss women married a foreigner she automatically lost her Swiss citizenship; also her children could not claim their Swiss nationality through her but were classed as foreigners, even if they were born in Switzerland. It took until 1992 to change the first part of that law, so that Swiss women stayed Swiss no matter who they married, and until 2003 to eliminate all the discrimination regarding children.

And Swiss women famously didn’t get the vote at federal level until 1971. In some respects, they have made up for lost time quite quickly, with three women in the Federal Council; on the other hand women make up only 21% of the members of Federal Parliament. That figure puts Switzerland behind the European average of 25% but 35th in the overall international rankings, way ahead of the UK (65th) and the USA (84th).

So liebe Schweizerinnen, I look forward to the day when you are paid the same wage for doing the same job. When you are not told that your children will suffer because you want to work. When you are not asked in a job interview about your plans for pregnancy (as happened to a friend of mine). When you are not patronised for having a smaller (or larger) appetite. When, in fact, you are treated as equals in your own country.



13 Comments on "Everyday sexism in Switzerland"

  1. Sally Friday April 11th, 2014 at 10:13 AM · Reply

    I knew about the history of discrimination against women — wasn’t it only recently that married women had financial equality? And I knew that daily life is certainly not organized with working women in mind — such as the fact that children are sent home at mid-day for lunch, and weekend shopping must be done on Saturday because everything is closed on Sunday. But I’ve never run into the “Lady” size on any menus I’ve seen in my three years in Switzerland. That’s just bizarre!

  2. Belinda P Friday April 11th, 2014 at 10:25 AM · Reply

    Things no better down under – the gender pay gap in Australia is consistently also around 18% (even worse in Western Australia where it is 24%). Sadly even worse when it comes to the amount of women in parliament over here too – we rank 45th in the world (49th on the ranking chart that you link to) and there is currently only one woman in the cabinet of the Abbot government who, by the way, is in the process of repealling the carbon tax, repealling racism laws and shutting down environmental agencies whilst reintroducing the ancient system of knighthoods and damehoods. If you want to know what it is like to time travel backwards to the 1950s take a trip to Australia at the moment and see it in action! (As regards the menus, I don’t mind having the option of smaller sized meals (due to a smaller appetite) however it is sexist to label the meals as either ‘lady’ or ‘man’ meals – just smaller or larger portion labelling would be adequate.)

  3. Gydle (aka Mary Parlange) Friday April 11th, 2014 at 04:58 PM · Reply

    I have steam coming out my ears. You’re a sweetie for thinking they put the “lady” label because women earn less, Diccon, but that’s not it. Women are supposed to take a back seat, trust me. I had plenty of acquaintances in Switzerland who were very conscious of maintaining the correct feminine “image” and believe me this includes a svelte body, not a single gray hair, and a super-clean house. I was also stunned by the fact that job ads can specify by gender and age — like “barmaids” (read: young women) and cooks (read: males). This is illegal in the US.

  4. Chris Friday April 11th, 2014 at 11:13 PM · Reply

    “I want more women in Parliament! But only if they’re left wing and vote as I tell them!” ~Belinda P (paraphrased)

    Excellent article, terrible comment.

    • Belinda P Monday April 14th, 2014 at 10:15 AM · Reply

      LOL – you are funny Chris – at least you can actually admit that you paraphrased me. Though sadly got it so wrong. I don’t give a hoot how many women want to put themselves into Parliament – I am, however, pointing out that Switzerland is certainly no more sexist than Australia as evidenced by the facts. In fact, from the information provided on those links Australia ranks worse (if you care to accept the stats). But you know, whatever, stick to your paraphrasing if making those kind of assumptions about total strangers is the kind of thing that floats your boat.

    • Belinda P Monday April 14th, 2014 at 10:49 AM · Reply

      Or, on the other hand, please refrain from paraphrasing me and speaking on my behalf – thanks.

  5. Tom Waugh Friday April 11th, 2014 at 11:32 PM · Reply

    I’m job searching at the moment and it makes my blood boil to see jobs advertised as” women only need apply”

  6. T.J. Martin Monday April 14th, 2014 at 03:10 PM · Reply

    Amazing that this still persists in CH . But then again in light of recent revelations here in the US as to equal pay and treatment in the work place [ even GM is paying Mary Bara a salary below what a man in her position would of gotten ] and our [ US ] along with racial discrimination issues … the more things appear to change .. the more they seem to stay [ or return back to ] the same worldwide .

    An ironic side note here in the US as to racial discrimination . Under a deep south Good Ole Boy’s reign [ LBJ ] the voters rights act here was passed . While under the 2nd term of our first Afro American president [ Obama ] … most of those rights are being stripped away by our Supreme Court .

    Its an upside downside World Mr Bewes and from your reporting CH is not immune to it in the slightest . With this story giving us even more second thoughts as to retiring in CH .

  7. Christine Bienvenu Thursday June 12th, 2014 at 03:22 PM · Reply

    Wow… I did NOT know that up until 1992 Swiss women lost their citizenship if they married a foreigner! That is the year I came to Switzerland (from Montreal, Canada) I knew about the voting in 1971, but not this… This country will never cease to surprise me 22 years later, and I keep learning about my country of adoption through another foreigner… Thank you Diccon Bewes!

    PS. If I may, in your Swinglish video, you mention Switzerland has 3 national languages. It actually has 4, Romanche (or Romantsch in German) is not widely spoken, but a national language nonetheless. 🙂 Greetings from the other side of the Röstigraben!

    • Diccon Bewes Thursday June 19th, 2014 at 08:28 AM · Reply

      Thanks Christine. Glad i keep helping you fill in the gaps.
      In the video I say that Switzerland has 3 official national languages. The word official is crucial as Romansh is a national language (thanks to a referendum in 1938) but it is not an official language. That means, for example, safety instructions on trains or nutritional info on food does not need to be in Romansh but it has to be in German, French & Italian. Same goes for laws published and electoral material. So yes you are right that Romansh is a national language but it is not the same status as the other three.

  8. Jill Sunday November 23rd, 2014 at 11:09 PM · Reply

    I haven’t come across the lady-sized portions, but I was a bit confused last year when hiring ice skates for my kids. I was asked whether I wanted girls’ skates or boys’ skates. A bit bewildered as to why I was even being asked, I replies, “Well, my daughter will have girls’ skates and my son will have boys’, thanks!” It then became clear that the girls’ skates were actually figure skates and the boys’ were ice hockey skates. We all get boys’ skates now, but I find my eyes rolling involuntarily every time I have to say it.

  9. Consumertron Saturday September 5th, 2020 at 05:25 PM · Reply

    Wow, what a horrible backward place. I was so shocked at women not getting the vote until the 70s that I thought it must have been false and checked it up. Sad to see it’s actually the truth and it seems things really haven’t moved on here. Can’t believe it’s like this in 2020. Sort it out Switzerland.

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