Ah, Bettina Arndt. Where would feminist bloggers be without her? Probably writing about things that are way more fun (like ethical masturbation) than responding to her tired old “oh the poor mens, the entire world is against them because women are lazy, sex-denying bitches” opinion pieces, again and again.
In today’s piece – Combating myths of women’s work is a full-time job – she basically says men do loads of housework and childcare and besides, women don’t want to work full time. Oh, and the poor mens, the world is against them.
She’s writing about the Race against time: How Australians spend their time report from NATSEM. You can download a pdf version of the report here (7.83MB).
I want to start with her final sentence:
Blinkered social scientists are wonderfully adept at peddling selective truths.
Blinkered sex therapists are good at this too. Very good.
The report highlights how men and women spend their time: “At all ages, women spend more time each day doing housework and other domestic activities while men spend more time on recreation and leisure.” How’s that for a jab at slothful, self-indulgent men?
So you’re saying that it’s not self-indulgent that men are having fun while women are stuck doing the housework?
Yet the report’s table on time use shows that the extra time women put into childcare and other domestic chores is matched by the time men spend commuting and on other employment-related activities.
Well, yes and no. Table 1 – Time use and gender – specific activities outlines the amount of time men and women spend on personal care (eating, sleeping, hygiene, health care), employment-related activities (main job, any other job, travel, looking for work), education, domestic activities, child care, purchasing goods and services, voluntary work and care, social and community interaction, and recreation and leisure. When you take out recreation and leisure, so you’re just looking at the not-fun things, men spend, on average, 19 hours and 23 minutes, and women spend, on average, 19 hours and 57 minutes doing these not-fun things each day. (I was going to take out sleep as well, but the personal care category includes other stuff so I didn’t think it would be accurate to just eliminate this completely. The housework issue is one we’ve discussed here before, so I won’t go into it in this post.)
Now to the ‘no’ bit. When you consider recreation and leisure, men spend, on average, 4:29 hours a day and women spend, on average, 3:57 hours a day on doing whatever the fuck they want to do to relax. And when you’re talking about ownership of time and quality of life – which is what the NATSEM report was looking at – this is important. Men have more time that is theirs. Yet in the world according to Arndt, simply reporting this result is a “jab at slothful, self-indulgent men”. And “peddling selective truths”.
It’s rather puzzling that she chooses to make a point of this:
The report quotes the number of hours people spend commuting – an average of nearly six hours a week in Sydney and five in Melbourne – but there was no attempt to find out whether men, the group more likely to put in these long commutes, think this is a great deal.
Well, derr. That’s because commuting for 5-6 hours a week is 30-36 minutes each way per day. OHMYGODTHATISOUTRAGEOUS. To use Arndt’s own words, “The spin was remarkable”.
It is extraordinary how often reports such as these bang on about old chestnuts such as housework inequity, while ignoring the real story about men, women and work.
It is extraordinary that Bettina Arndt continues to write about gender issues without any demonstrable understanding of gender issues.
One of the most stubborn characteristics of the Australian workforce is women’s rejection of full-time work. The Australian National University economist Bob Gregory sums up the data: “Despite the rapid increase in education levels, despite large changes in social attitudes towards married women working in the labour market, despite large increases in labour market rewards and despite increased labour market involvement, the proportion of women 15 to 59 employed full time is much the same as it was 35 years ago.”
Rejection? Or government policies that punish working mothers, coupled with a society that still believes that a woman’s most important contribution is that of a wholly devoted mother.
Between 1996 and 2000, John Howard cut around $850 million from the childcare budget (Summers, 2003, p. 126). If you make childcare expensive, couples will look at how much it consumes of their combined income and say “Fuck it. It’s just not worth both of us working”. And so it logically follows, when making financial decisions, that the person earning the least is the one who stays home to look after the kids. In heterosexual couples, this is almost always the woman. Hello gender wage gap, which, by the way, has increased from 15.1 per cent in 2005 to 17 per cent in 2009 (the most recent figures, published in 2010). It’s currently estimated to cost the economy $93 billion a year in productivity. Anything else that expensive would have been fixed by now. But gender issues, naaaah. Another report from NATSEM – The impact of a sustained gender wage gap on the Australian economy (download 367KB pdf here) – found that “simply being a woman is the major contributing factor to the gap in Australia, accounting for 60 per cent of the difference between women’s and men’s earnings, a finding which reflects other Australian research in this area”. Fuck me. Having a vagina is bad for your career.
I’ve worked with many women who said that it was hurting them financially to return to part-time work because the cost of childcare was greater than their salary. But they felt they had to get back into the workforce because they knew that being out of it for too long (and “too long” being just six to twelve months) means you’re never allowed to catch up. If a man took six to twelve months off to travel, I doubt he’d be penalised, career-wise, in the way that women are.
As Summers writes in The End of Equality – Work, babies and women’s choices in 21st century Australia (Random House Australia):
The Howard government has made ruthless use of childcare, employment, family assistance and taxation policy to steer women with children out of the workforce and into full-time motherhood, in the process imposing substantial financial penalties on mothers who continue to work. (Summers, 2003, p. 143).
The Baby Bonus is the most insidious of the Howard government policies designed to undermine women’s equality. This is because it so blatantly seeks to remove women from economic activity and to deskill them, ensuring they can never return to anything like the same level of employment… In order to qualify for the full amount, a woman must stay home with her baby for five years! (Summer, 2003, p. 153).
Five years out of the workforce is going to severely damage anyone’s career, regardless of whether they have a penis or a vagina. Is anyone still surprised that Australian women have one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the OECD? (For more information on this, see the OECD report, Babies and Bosses – Reconciling Work and Family Life: A Synthesis of Findings for OECD Countries.)
So, Bettina. Do you still want to argue about who is “ignoring the real story about men, women and work”?