Men + work + family = completely normal.
Women + work + family = wanting to “have it all”. Followed by “probably selfish”.
When talking about whether women can “have it all”, no one ever mentions that men already have it all. Men have careers and family and there are no articles about how they are selfish/unrealistic for wanting both. Or about how they struggle to juggle a wife and kids and career. Of course, the reason why men have been able to do this is because no one questions their commitment to their job if they have children. And because women still do most of the housework, even if they have full-time jobs. (As an aside, if you want to see how mothers are penalised in the workplace, check out these studies. And Anne Summers’ Pamela Denoon lecture about how John Howard’s policies punished women who wanted jobs. I wasn’t interested in politics during the early Howard years so I had no idea how truly awful he was for Australian women.)
In a beautiful example of synchronicity, the topic of “having it all” came up three times on the weekend. Over lunch on Saturday, Lady Cherish, LAL, Dr W and I were talking about how, if your male partner puts the bins out once a week, or does the occasional load of washing, society gives him a round of applause for being a good guy for “helping out”. For helping you by doing a couple of things on your list of domestic duties. A token effort gets rewarded because our society believes that in heterosexual couples where both work, women still have to do the housework. (Note: If you say you “help out at home”, then most of this post is directed at you.)
Later that night at a house party, I met some women talking about how discussions about whether or not women can “have it all” happen independently of what men are doing. That we talk about whether women can have jobs while also raising a family, but there’s never any mention of the role men play in raising the family. There is just the underlying assumption that all men need to do is work, while women must work and raise kids and keep the house clean and oh my, doesn’t that make life stressful.
And then I saw the article by Rachel Hills in Sunday Life, on the return of the superwoman, I figured it must be a sign. A sign to say that having a career and a family is not an outrageous thing to want.
I heard a discussion on ABC702 radio a while ago, where the male host was getting men to call in with their oh-so-hilarious stories of how they get out of housework. (Please note: I originally attributed this segment to Richard Glover. He contacted me and said it really didn’t sound like something he’d say. Since the segment was a while ago and I’m not totally sure it was his show, I should have checked before publishing. I offer my apologies to Richard Glover for offence caused.) You know, fucking up the washing, deliberately doing things wrong so they don’t have to do them again. Oh what fun it is to be so lazy, so selfish, that your partner – someone you supposedly love and respect – has to do everything all by herself. I turned it off in disgust. Very few people actually like doing housework, but most of us recognise that there’s a minimum amount that needs to be done. If you have deliberately done something wrong to get out of housework, or if you pretend not to notice the dirty dishes because you know your partner will eventually do it, then grow up and stop being an arsehole. And before you say “oh, but I mow the lawn/put out the bins”, let me ask you this: do you do these things every day? Of course you don’t. The bins are once a week and it only takes a couple of minutes, and lawns get mowed what, once a month? Yeah, that’s completely fair.
So, when we talk about whether women can “have it all”, we also need to talk about what men are doing and not doing. Everyone should be able to have a job and a family, if that’s what they want. It’s hardly an outrageous request. But it requires having an honest look at your own relationship and seeing if things are really fair. Guys, it’s up to you.