Last Friday, my husband Rory finished up a job as General Manager of a medium business, to “stay at home” and look after our kids. Full time.
The reactions to this have been interesting – almost always met with a shocked expression and a not-quite-knowing-what-to-say-next sort of awkwardness. As though the proper order of things has suddenly been reversed, like water flowing backwards or dessert wine coming first.
Casting my mind back, my own (albeit brief) break from full time work was never met with such aghast exclamations such as “What a trooper!” or “Are you sure she’s going to be okay with that? Isn’t it a little [whispered voice] castrating?”
It seems that by stopping and admitting to my husband “actually, I’m finding both of us simultaneously attempting to juggle big careers whilst our children are small horrendous, could you please deprioritise yours for a bit?” I might have offended 2 unspoken rules – the high-flying female executive’s airbrushed mystique of effortless perfection; and the idea that men shouldn’t “step down” into the full time caring realm (even if they may find much that is meaningful there).
So as not to be accused of the hyperbolic, I thought I’d back my statements up with a few statistics: In Australian families with children under the age of 15, 60% have a father who works full-time and a mother who works outside the home part-time or not at all. Working fathers are five times more likely to have a stay-at-home-partner than working mothers. And only 3% of families have mothers who work full-time and a father who is at home or works part-time. Welcome to the 3%, Rory Brown.
But life goes on, and despite the fact this has only been the official position in our household for approximately 3 business days, it’s fair to say that our day-to-day has been resembling this reality for the past 12 months. And so I feel qualified to put it out there that having a “wife” – ie a partner who works outside of the home part-time or not at all and pretty much has the domestic duties sorted – is pretty freaking awesome and a massive advantage in terms of managing my career.
The upshot of having a “wife” is that I don’t really have to worry about what day Zac has to take his library books to school and whether he has a sufficient number of non-chocolate-milk-stained school shirts. My husband has our kitchen cupboards stocked and the playdates in the diary and even knows how to do Evie’s ballet bun. And so the reality is that a lot of my energy gets directed towards performing well and giving my best to work, without too much logistical drama.
It also now makes sense to me why a lot of men in high flying corporate jobs and politics seem to breed like rabbits – because they have terrific spouses at home acting as ninja warriors within their domestic empire. Annabel Crab (in her book The Wife Drought) utilises some excellent surveys in terms of the highly paid end of the corporate sector – one study of CEOs that she cites found that of the 30 men interviewed 28 had children, and all 28 had a stay-at-home spouse. And of the 31 female CEOs interviewed, only two had stay-at-home husbands, and even then they were self-employed.
And it also translates to successful women having comparatively less children (me included) – in the 44th Parliament, male MPs and senators had an average of 2.1 children, where females had an average of 1.2, with 40% of female MPs not having children at all.
Whilst this illustrates how much women are doing in the home / workplace, the next question should be how much are men doing in the home? Well, the 2014 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey revealed that, in households where men are the main breadwinners, they do only 14.5 hours of housework a week compared to 27.6 hours done by women. Seems fair I guess.
BUT in households where women are the main breadwinner, men do around 17.5 hours a week of housework, whilst women do 21.5 hours.
And if you combine housework and childcare, in households where men and women earn roughly equal amounts, men do a mere 28.3 hours compared to the women who do nearly 57 hours. Now THAT doesn’t seem right to me.
So what’s my conclusion from all of this? Well, to me at least, promoting gender equality should be less about implementing strategies to directly enable women to take on more in the workplace, and more about encouraging and incentivising men to take on more in the home. Surely that would go a lot further towards equalising the scales than loading up women with more responsibility on all fronts….
Guys often comment to me that they think their wives are heroes. I love that. But guys, if your wife can do all that she does with a certain level of help at home from you, imagine how unstoppable she’d be if you helped out a bit (or a lot) more.
And, in light of the recent changes in my own household, it seems I have no excuse. Wish me luck everybody….