I have always wondered why there seems to be an endless parade of 40-50 year old Dutch women on the streets here, obviously enjoying an afternoon off with their friends or going shopping. Mostly look very similar, with hair dyed blonde, fashionable to extravagant clothes, often with boots, skinny jeans, and the ubiquitous leather jacket, at any time of day on any day of the week. On a weekday, they are more prevalent than teenagers having an afternoon off, or retired people, which always struck me as unusual.
The stereotype goes that Dutch women are highly emancipated and this certainly seems to be the case on the surface. Many Dutch women are loud, very outgoing, and often initiate the contact with men, which is great. It even seems that 30-40 year old educated Dutch women are the source of the recent vowel shift in the Dutch language.
However, lately I have discovered there is another side to this story. I have always felt an underlying sexism at my institute here in Holland, which I did not feel at my last position in Germany. Also, I have never seen as many women quit science as during my time here. Especially Dutch women rarely seem to continue in science after their PhD, and somehow the Dutch seem to be puzzled by women taking their career seriously: I have certainly never had as many strange looks directed at me like I have here, by female and male Dutch PhD students but also by male Dutch professors, when I voiced my opinion in a meeting.
Now I believe I finally found an explanation both for this and for the strong presence of fashionable 40-50 year old women on the street:
While a relatively high fraction of Dutch women work (about 70%), no other OECD country has such a high fraction of female workers which are employed part time. This phenomenon is something that Dutch people appear to be proud of: There was even a book named “Dutch women don’t get depressed”, claiming that the fact that Dutch women allow themselves to work part-time causes them to be happier and less stressed than women in other countries.
However, there is another part to the story: Dutch women probably feel considerable pressure not to take their career too seriously.
It is easy to find part-time work here, and of course it might seem fun to continue to work part time and have afternoons with your friends off, even if there are no children to look after anymore. It seems to be pretty normal for a couple having the man work full-time, and the woman part-time, spending the rest of her time with shopping, drinking koffie verkeerd with friends, socializing and probably doing the household work.
I think this is one of the things that has subconsciously irritated me from the start, and now I can finally put it into words: Although everyone claims that the Dutch are among the most emancipated people on the planet, I see very very few women here which look like they are doing something serious with their lives. But at least they have time to fashionably shift around their vowels.