What’s the difference?

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.

54 responses to “What’s the difference?

  1. I was a feminist starting to have kids when Howard was in power. That’s what made me political.

    I’ve linked this to my blog.
    Thanks NWN

  2. I’m not complaining about my own situation, as my partner is pretty awesome with this stuff, but in my own experience when both the male and female in a relationship work full time, then the domestic work gets done fairly equally. It’s once kids enter the equasion, and the (usually) female is home as primary carer and perhaps also working part time that the dividing lines of who does what gets a bit more grey. Recognising child care as proper work is hard for some.

    • Absolutely. The issue of fairness becomes particularly interesting when you consider time. When I started my doctorate, I felt I had to do all the housework to make it fair, because ManFriend was bringing in most of the money. He pointed out that that didn’t make it fair at all, because a doctorate is full-time work and he isn’t doing anything extra to bring in the money, so why should I do extra?

  3. Good post. A female professional I know was recently made a partner at her firm after many years of hard work and, brace yourself, providing an assurance to the bosses that if she ever got married she would not have any children. Of course, they didn’t directly ask her this question, but she knew it was something they were concerned about. She felt she had to volunteer this information in order to finally be made partner.

    A lot of people bang on about how ‘women can do anything these days’, but they’re naive if they think things like this aren’t going on in Australian workplaces.

  4. Great post. I have to say that I honestly think that having kids and working part-time for seven years did not hamper my career, but I think this is probably unusual. I am also fortunate enough to work in a job where the boss is a mother of young kids and very accommodating.

    On the housework front, there are just so many men out there I would like to kick. Not quite relevant, but it reminds me of when I used to turn up to parties after my first daughter was born and people would ask me who was taking care of her and they NEVER asked my partner that!!! I also hate it when men ‘babysit’ their own kids. It’s not babysitting if they’re your own offspring!

  5. Best thing I’ve read all day, no question.

    The “having it all” thing makes me clench my jaw due to extreme annoyance.

  6. The general meme of “women today work more than men, because they have full-time jobs but still do most of the unpaid work” is…questionable, at least in Australia/UK/USA/Canada/Germany/etc.

    See Burda MC, Hamermesh DS, Weil P (2006) Different but equal: total work, gender and social norms in EU and US time use. In: Fondazione Rodolfo Debenedetti: Italy. (http://www.frdb.org/upload/file/copy_2_report1.pdf).

    The basic findings of that paper are that although it is true that women (on average) tend to spend more hours/week in unpaid work than men do, it is also true that men (on average) spend more hours/week in paid work. When you add the two together, the total hours/week of work come out almost identical, at least in the non-Mediterranean Western world (Spain/France/Italy/etc. are notable outliers; there’s still a way to go there). Pages 19-21 contain the tables and figures relevant to Australia.

    • Craig, different but a similar number of hours doesn’t mean anything remotely like different but equal. Unpaid work isn’t given status, career progression, recognition as work, superannuation or, indeed, pay. It also has none of the delineation of on duty/off duty time that paid work has. There are also serious problems in the estimation and recording of hours of work, probably the most glaring one being that the Australian census doesn’t include childcare when it asks people to put down how much unpaid work they do.

      I recommend (to everyone, but particularly Craig) Susan Maushart’s book “Wifework”, for some well-documented insights.

    • Uh Craig, it may be questionable overseas, but in Australia it is very well documented. In addition to the links in my post:

      “While men are doing slightly more household work than in the past, in 2006 women still did around 1.8 times as much as men (compared with twice as much in 1992).”

      “As noted in Chapter 2 and in the Striking the Balance discussion paper, Australian women currently carry a much greater load of unpaid work in households, including child care, elder care and housework than men.2 This greater responsibility for unpaid work is not limited to women in couples who have chosen to adopt traditional male breadwinner/female caregiver roles. Survey data shows that in couples where men and women both work full time women undertake more than twice the amount of housework as men.”

      “Two new reports released today show that men need to take a greater role in unpaid and caring work to close the gender equality gap in Australia.”

      • I’m not disputing that women do the bulk of the unpaid work in Australia, and neither are Burda et al.

        What they’re saying is that the extra hours that women put into unpaid work in Australia are almost exactly balanced by the extra hours that men put into paid work. If Burda et al.’s data is correct, then the total working hours each week are roughly equal.

        Table 1.3 in Burda et al. claims that in 1992 the average Australian male put in 300.9 minutes/day in paid work and 154.3 minutes/day in unpaid work (for a total of 455.2), while the average Australian woman put in 143.5 minutes/day of paid work and 310.0 minutes/day of unpaid work (total 453.5). The graph in the ABS link you provided (2006 data) paints a similar picture: men spend roughly two thirds of their working time in the paid workforce, women spend roughly two thirds of their working time in the unpaid workforce, but overall, the totals are roughly equivalent.

        Is it problematic and unjust that a higher proportion of women’s work is unpaid? Yes. Is this difference a reflection of historical sexism? Almost certainly. Do I think that these figures somehow represent gender equity in more than a numerical sense (as their title puts it, “separate but equal”)? No. I don’t think that the authors think that, either; the title is an attention-grabbing headline for a conference presentation, not a statement of political belief.

        But, if we accept Burda et al.’s data, then the claim that Australian women are working more hours per week than Australian men is just plain wrong.

        (note, however, that there is certainly room to argue that Burda et al. are not accurately measuring the time spent in paid and unpaid work for each gender, as Orlando suggests above. This is why I said “questionable” rather than “false”)

        • Except that we’re not talking about housework hours done by women in part-time work versus office hours by men, which is why Burda et al’s study isn’t relevant here. This post is about women in full-time work.

          • Women who work full time are included in Burda et al.’s data. The overall mean for women resembles that of someone who works part time, but it’s made up of everyone: those in full-time paid work, those in part-time paid work, those whose work is entirely unpaid.

            If it is the case that full-time working women [1] are both matching male paid work hours while maintaining average female unpaid work hours, then it’s a mathematical necessity that those numbers have to be balanced out by “underworking” women somewhere in spread in order to keep the means balanced by gender.

            Again: I am not denying that women, on average, spend more time in unpaid work than men. I am also not denying the fact that stereotypically “female” work is undervalued compared to stereotypically “male” work, nor that this situation is unjust. My only objection is to the idea that women, on average, work more than men: that claim just isn’t supported by the evidence.

            [1] Note, BTW, that “full-time work” covers everything from 35hrs/wk to the 60+hrs/wk that is common in my profession, and that the gender distributions are unlikely to be perfectly balanced as you move along the hrs/wk scale. Although I don’t have handy data to back it up, I think it’s a fairly uncontroversial observation that men are more likely than women to undertake excessive overtime styles of paid work; their willingness to do so is often cited as a partial reason why some professions (eg: lawyers, CEOs, politicians) remain male-dominated and female-unfriendly.

  7. I suspect it is the division of labour and the delaying tactics of men when it comes to housework that drives women like myself to happily embrace the single status following divorce and shudder at the thought of sharing a home with a male partner again. I would enjoy the greater financial security of partnership but the penalty is too great and a lodger is a reasonable alternative to help with housing costs.

  8. It is very hard to decide what is ‘choice’ and what is forced on you by society’s pressures.

    It shows in the little things, too. I still remember part of the Sale of the Century ‘banter’ before the quiz started, a female contestant was asked “Oh, you have children and you work – is that hard?’. No mention of a partner teaming with her, and the men certainly weren’t asked the same.

    I’m a guy earning good money (healthy six figures) and my wife and I had a really long and open talk about kids, and what we would do when / if we had one (our youngest is now almost 2). We agreed that she would remain at home with our children until they started school. We agreed that this would mean that she would be doing the majority of the housework and child-based work. I never refer to myself as ‘baby-sitting’, and when people ask “Does your wife work?” I always say words along the lines “She works very hard – we’ve got a two-year-old!”

    We’ve talked about her working (in ‘paid’ work) for several days a week, and whether it is economical.

    I suppose I argue as strongly as I can (as a proud feminist) that women need to be free to choose their path, even if this path is sometimes not one of paid work. If someone things our path is ‘sexist’ or I’m holding her back, I’m happy to engage on that point. I really and truly think (and hope) that we’re in a partnership, both working really hard for our family in different ways.

    • Aussiesmurf, welcome to the News with Nipples. Firstly, good for you for saying loudly that raising children is work.

      Your comment touches on several discussions we’ve had here previously, about real choices and choices that are forced upon you. Women are generally paid less than men for doing the same work (and if you clicked on the link in my post to the studies on working mothers, you’ll see that if a woman with kids, a woman without kids and a man (no one asks about his kids) all apply for the same job, the working mother is automatically offered, on average, $13,000 less, which is fucked up), so when it comes to someone giving up work to look after kids, it makes financial sense that it’s the one with the lower salary. But it’s not a real choice, is it?

    • Aussiesmurf

      You say you had a ‘long and open talk’ with your wife, out of which you say ‘We agreed that she would remain at home with our children until they started school. We agreed that this would mean that she would be doing the majority of the housework and child-based work.’

      OK, the two of you ‘agreed’. But on what criteria did that agreement come about? Your wife participated in that ‘long and open talk’ from a premise of thousands of years of entrenched expectation that women perform the bulk of the labour that makes up the unpaid economy (about 60% of GDP in most OECD countries, much higher in others). Was she agreeing to something she wanted or was she agreeing to that entrenched historical expectation?

      You also say that ‘I’m a guy earning good money (healthy six figures)’. I’d be willing to bet that, pre-children, your wife did not earn a salary equal to yours. If so, then her participation in that ‘long and open talk’ was coming from a disadvantaged bargaining position. Also, rightly or wrongly, I sense a bragging undercurrent to your declaration of a ‘healthy six-figures’ salary. Women are notorious for putting their husband egos before their own aspirations. Women are brainwashed since birth – to a greater or lesser degree – that to challenge a man’s need to work is to challenge his entire sense of worth.

      Maybe I’m completely wrong, but I felt that your entire comment was about you, not your wife nor your children. Both men and women who claim to be ‘proud feminists’ pass the theory with flying colours, but fail miserably on the day-to-day reality checks.

      • Kellsy,

        I’ll try and reply to your comments as honestly as possible.

        (1) Of course any discussion of this kind happens against a historical background replete with patriachal expectations. I know this. This is particularly the case with my wife’s Italian background, where it is certainly the case that historical expectations were that wives stayed home ‘with the children’.
        Does this background mean that the only valid choice is one which subverts these historical expectations? Am I being condescending if I say words along the lines of “I know you’re saying that you want to care for our child full-time, but I really think you’re conforming with my and your family’s expectations.” Is there any way that an equal partner can make a valid choice to forego paid employment?

        About the disparity in incomes…I only referenced my income level as part of the comment that our family were lucky enough to have a choice to exist on one income, which is a choice a lot of families do not have. I probably do have an ego with regard to my career – but my career is an achievement of both of us.

        My ‘need to work’ is linked strongly with my ‘need to eat’ and ‘need to pay mortgage’. Yes, I take pride in my job, in our family, in our house, in our marriage. We have worked hard.

        I suppose my comment was ‘about me’. I was the one making the comment. It was entirely written from my perspective. I think one of the worst examples of patriachy would be for me to say ‘my wife thinks this’ or ‘my wife thinks that’.

        I have a lot of advantages in life. I’m a white, straight, male with a lot of historical forces on my side. I was also lucky enough to be the child of two dedicated parents who were able to send me to a top school and allow me to live with them during a five-year university course. I’ve had a lot of head starts in earlier years. But I also acknowledge that my wife and I would have reached the same individual and collective achievements without each other.

  9. Overall, studies consistently show that men’s increased involvement in unpaid domestic work occurred mostly from the 1960s to the 1980s before slowing right down again, whereas women’s decline in the number of hours spent on unpaid work has been occurring steadily since the 1960s. But it’s not because men are doing more (hah) it’s because of the out-sourcing of a lot of labour, like childcare, cleaning, ironing, fast food etc. Also, globalisation and poverty and the availability of cheap female labour to do the dirty work of middle class families.

    Interestingly, even in hetero homes where she earns more, as rare as that is, she still ends up doing more housework and quite often much more than women in poorer and working class homes. Even more interestingly, in homes where the man is unemployed he does even less domestic labour than men who work full time. The gender performance model explains this better than the economic exchange model (see Oakley, Baxter, Pixley, Baker).

  10. I can site more specific sources for all of that btw. It’s a pet topic of mine.

    Aussiesmurf, it’s really only a genuine choice if there are a range of meaningful alternatives. I suppose that the fact that your “choice” aligns precisely with what is commonly expected of women is just pure coincidence.

    • Linda

      After putting up my long-winded reply to Aussiesmurf above, I got round to reading yours. You said everything I tried to say, but in about on-tenth of the words. Needless to add … Well said!

      • Thanks kellsy, your expansion on the general idea was extremely clear though. I would have loved to say more to him myself but I was on my way out the door to work in my lowly $44000 a year job before coming home to do some unpaid domestic labour.

        Another good source for an account of Howard’s treachery toward women is Marian Sawyer’s Australia: the state of democracy, 2009. This one is handy for stats and also for an account of misogynist policy-making. For example women’s social services, dv, sexual assault etc. were simply excluded from decision-making spheres. Appalling stuff.

    • Linda,

      I genuinely want to engage on this point, but I am also wary of presuming to speak on my wife’s behalf.
      (1) When we became engaged, we both wanted to have children during our marriage.
      (2) I said on many occasions during and after her pregnancy that she could absolutely make her own decision regarding a return to work (or indeed, further study if that was what she wanted) and the timing of same.
      (3) She has talked about returning to work on several occasions, and at each time I have stressed in strong terms that she is welcome to do so, and that I will support any decision. I accept that any return to paid work will involve greater expectations on me regarding the parenting / home duties.

      I can absolutely say that the prohibitive cost of child-care has been a real factor in her (present) disinclination to return to paid work, given the high level of effective marginal taxation.

      WIth regard to my personal background, I refer you to my comment above. Yes, I’ve been extremely lucky in my personal background, and that has greatly assisted me in my career. I can’t deny that our respective incomes played a part in our decisions.
      I’m not sure how to respond to the sarcastic comment which implies that our family structure is in line with historical expectation and therefore not a product of a genuine and mature discussion and decision.

      Have historical pressures and expectations factored into our life choices? Probably. Our raising

  11. NWN, thankyou so much for this. Anne Summers wrote an excellent, detailed analysis of Howard’s relentless on attack on women’s rights in her book The End of Equality.

    • Yes! It’s in my book pile that I’m working my way through.

      I think it’s really important to recognise that the next step towarsds equality involves getting men on board.

      • Pamela Denoon’s son is a very dear family friend, so although I hadn’t heard of the lecture series, it doesn’t surprise me. He just told me his wife got home from work at midnight last night, and he left work early to look after a baby with conjunctivitis! My husband’s mother, too, was part of the same 1970s core of smart women who decided to change the world, starting from Canberra and working outwards.

        But it’s your story about Glover’s radio show that really hits me, because I so often find myself looking at men who at some point decided to ask a woman to marry them and thinking: did you do that because you wanted a servant? Did you never have a better reason than that, or have you just forgotten it?

      • That step has been taken many many many times already.

    • This bit is awful:

      “While employers want women to come back from maternity leave, they’re much less likely to hire a mother with young children, according to the 2010 Working Mothers Study by consulting firm Regus. Only 41 per cent of firms planned to hire more mothers, compared to 55 per cent a year ago. Gallingly, half the firms surveyed said mothers returning from maternity leave were assets because they were cheap. Women trying to convert part-time roles back into full-time ones discover their firms won’t let them – they’re already good value at half price.”

      Most new mothers I know who have gone back to their old jobs part time end up doing almost a full time workload, but for half the pay.

  12. blue milk has done a post on the Chore Wars story in Time mag – you might want to read.
    I’ve been a SAHM for 11 years – I do heaps of voluntary work and some activism – now studying to be a teacher – it is one of few jobs that fit with having kids. Most mothers go through periods of part time/fulltime/ work from home/ stay at home. The conclusion re sharing house work is that it is only equal when the mum works full time. Working part time means working extra hours for less pay, being off the career track and out of the workplace loop. And doing more than the fair share of childcare and housework, and the mental work of organising/networking etc. Mothers working full time means men no longer have any excuse to shirk their responsibilities.
    The Richard Glover story. Shame, Richard, shame. A mother doing the same would be vilified.

    • That’s such a great post – blue milk is always spot on.

      I do have to say that I’ve updated my posts because I wasn’t entirely sure that it was Richard Glover’s show. It was someone on 702, and I should have checked before publishing. (I still haven’t checked because I’ve been flat out.)

  13. I thought this part was a particularly chilling warning:
    “A study of older women in rental accommodation by Swinburne’s Dr Andrea Sharam identified a host of women who never thought it would end up like this: they were tertiary-educated mothers who had spent some years at home and then worked part time. They were doing well, until divorce rewrote the script. When their marriages ended, they were underpaid, under-skilled and undercapitalised.”

    …and this resonates with me personally:
    “The female-dominated industries that do offer flexible hours, such as community services or retail, are the worst paid sectors in Australia – partly because they are dominated by part-timers, and partly because women’s work is not as valued.”

    Although I wouldn’t say it is because the community sector is dominated by part-timers necessarily. More like the increasing casualisation of this sector. Women often opt for two or three casual jobs in order to have the flexibility needed to carry out all the unpaid domestic and caring work (all that invisible work that keeps society rolling along so well), and so they often end up with very low job security, no super, no sick or annual leave entitlements. Thanks to the modern award, from Feb 1, 2012 casual workers in the community sector will no longer be entitled to evening or weekend penalty rates. This in a sector where it’s quite often only the penalty rates that ensure women can even make enough money to survive. A newly graduated social worker is probably looking at getting a position at Grade 3 Year 2 under the SACS Award – that’s about $22 an hour, after four years at uni.

    I think Griffin really summed up the main issue though, that restructuring the workplace to accommodate families should be the ultimate goal here.

    ” Mothers working full time means men no longer have any excuse to shirk their responsibilities.”
    Clearly they don’t need an excuse.

  14. One day, I am going to google cultures and find one where children are highly valued and caring for children is the task of the most important people in the culture.
    We all know that women are often the subject of mistreatment in society solely because they appear to have lady bits. I used to think that women were the despised gender because of their bad habit of birthing children, but I’ve come to suspect that women have been assigned child care because they are despised. I wonder if children are not even more despised than women. Our advertising is full of soft focus photos of parents and children, but we really think of children as noisy, inconvenient and economically unviable.

    • Aboriginal culture (prior to white occupation). Children are the responsibility of the whole, not just their parents. And if something happened to a child, the whole group was punished. Raising children wasn’t ‘women’s’ work. Children were just as valued by the society as every body else. (The concept of the nuclear family is still a concept that modern Aboriginal people find strange.) Old people are respected.
      In a culture where everything is shared, so too is the every day labours. And they aren’t divided by gender lines, but by individual talents and strengths. (Yes, there are certain roles that are gender specific but some of these are ceremonial, and the ceremonials are secret and sacred to each gender.)

      NB: as there are many many different Aboriginal tribal regions, what is true for one is not necessarily true for another. I am by no means an expert on any of them, I am still learning about my own people.

      • Speaking of modern cultural concepts that are strange, I find it so weird that people come home, go inside their houses, and close the door, shutting the rest of the world out. There are lots of older European people where I live and they sit out the front of their houses, or lean on the fence, for hours, just watching the world go by, saying hello to people, chatting to neighbours. It’s lovely.

        • I think that’s very indicative of how “closed” some of western culture is.
          Or at least how little we here in Australia seem to engage in our local communities. We’re very quick to complain when something in our communities is broken, not working right or is non-existant, but few seem to have the level of engagement necessary to be the change they want to see. (Something I think we are all guilty of from time to time)

      • From my reading, children were more the responsibility of men than women in the old west, when the USA was being settled (colonised), because they needed the next generation to keep the new societies going. Sorry, I can’t remember the reference.

  15. I don’t even have a problem with women doing the child-raising per se, but rather the patriarchal capitalist demands that circumscribe women’s mothering roles. It’s the lack of social/economic supports coupled with the isolation (nuclear family unit) and hyper surveillance/hyper responsibilisation that women are expected to put up with that’s the problem. In an advanced capitalist state built upon the unpaid labour and reproductive servitude of women within the nuclear unit, children are just a resource, hence the over-policing of the childhood stage.

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