It’s Bettina Arndt time, again

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”?

23 responses to “It’s Bettina Arndt time, again

  1. I’m not sure how to comment on this since I work part time by choice (yay), I live alone and therefore do ALL the housework, cooking, shopping etc at Chez Emily Sue (boo), I spend 4-5 hours per week commuting (boo) and my leisure time is my own (yay). I’ve probably totally screwed the stats there.

    The line about ‘selective truth’, however, made me laugh. Bettina Arndt has made a career of doing exactly that.

  2. Arndt has no grasp of the way social policy shapes women’s “choices” around work. She has no grasp on anything much at all except how to keep her head perpetually up the arse of patriarchy.

    • Linda,
      “She has no grasp on anything much at all except how to keep her head perpetually up the arse of patriarchy.”

      I almost got cider up my nose! Agreed.

  3. I think you might find that a man who takes time out of the workforce to travel can be penalized by potential employers. They would look at him and think that he is likely to do it again. I know of a number of men who have chosen to do this and it did take them time to re-enter the workforce and overcome the stigma.

    • That hasn’t been my experience (with male co-workers) but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, of course. Anyone know about any studies in this area?

    • But are men socially and culturally coerced to travel from the day they are born because it’s some kind of moral obligation to society? Are they stigmatised for not doing it? Is it generally assumed by employers that once they reach a certain age they will almost certainly want to do it? If they do it and then afterwards try to re-enter the workforce do they now have extra caring responsibilities and mouths to feed because of it?

      • Nicely said Linda.
        I must admit I would quite happily exchange some of my household work and childcare responsibilities for a bit of commuting – silence in a car, listening to radio on a train, reading a book on a bus …

  4. To go a little off-topic, my eyes bulged reading 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.”

    WTF? Where do these statistics come from? Inner-city suburbs is the only place that this makes sense. I only work three days a week (due to study committments) ATM, and with three days in the office in Brisbane, I easily clock six hours. With cruddy traffic and late running buses, I could clock six hours in two days (meaning 1.5 hours each way – btw, w/o traffic, it is a 20 minute drive into the city from my house). Is traffic that much better down south?

    Back on topic, Arndt’s ability to present scewed information (which is what it is, IMO, when you blatantly refuse to factor other relevant data into your arguement). Great takedown, as always. I wonder how, in Arndt’s world, women would have time to work anyway – after they’ve finished with the mothering of both their countless children and the sexual needs of their men-folk.

    • Ah, averages. I have two jobs – one involves an hour 15 each way, the other involves 50 min each way.

      I think Arndt would just prefer it if the only thing women did was have sex with their husbands even if – especially if – they didn’t feel like it. That seems to be the message from her other writing.

  5. Maybe the leisure time disparity is because, in Arndt’s world, sex is recreation for men but housework for women?

  6. “One of the most stubborn characteristics of the Australian workforce is women’s rejection of full-time work. ” Ha ha ha.

    Yes, myself and the other 2/3 of University graduates who are women, have worked long and hard to achieve bachelors degrees… in order to reject full time work! I mean isn’t that logical! We know that by embarking on study we will end up with large loans, that are best paid off through working full-time, yet we continue to go ahead and up our skills only to REJECT full-time work! Don’t you realise that all women absolutely CANNOT work full-time because we have to spend time frolicking in the fields!

    ….yes, because societal expectations have nothing to do with it, right? Nor an environment in which I am statistically very likely to earn less than my male counterparts as SOON as I enter my first every grad job.

    I don’t understand why people publish such ridiculous, unexamined statements. (This was based on NZ figures but I’m sure Australia is similar).

  7. Did you notice the chanting of the word “choice” like a mantra? That’s the really insidious bit. It’s such a simple word, it doesn’t look like a word whose legitimate application you need to prove, and yet it’s the crux of the whole thing, how choice functions in a society that exerts a huge amount of pressure on people to go in one direction or another.

    • Yes. It was my *choice* to spend years at home looking after kids because my earning capacity was so low.
      I guess it was my *choice* to develop depression and anxiety as well! Choice choice choice choicety choice.

        • Ooh yes, I am recovering now! I started seeing a psych earlier in the year for some work on my anxiety – over the last three or four months I have developed a lot more confidence and I don’t have meltdowns quite like I used to. I have just about stopped stuttering when I am upset, and I have also applied for a few jobs since moving to Canberra – first time in a decade I have applied for a job without having a panic attack, so yay for me.
          I would say that I was…convalescent rather than ill, now. But it has been a really tough three or four years.
          Thanks for asking!

  8. Her views just get sucked up mindlessly by the press. I’m so over it.
    I wrote a blog about her too and my fed-up-ed-ness.

    • Hi Michelle Temminghoff, welcome to the News with Nipples. I disagree with your first par (I don’t believe that all men want more sex than all women), but agree with the rest of your post. Particularly this bit:

      If men are complaining to Bettina Arndt about their lack of sex within committed relationships, maybe they’re just shit lovers. Maybe they are lazy, self obsessed, uncommunicative, not tuned in to their lover’s needs, not evolving and being the best partner they can be.

      While Arndt doesn’t think very highly of women, she doesn’t think very highly of men, either. She portrays them as one momentary lapse of attention away from raping every woman within reach, regardless of whether they’re at a nightclub or at work.

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