This piece first appeared in The Melbourne Age in May 2001
It’s happening again! Every year about this time men come in for a bashing. Men’s role as dads, their position in the workplace and their even less secure position in the bedroom are all questioned. As usual, men are blamed for everything, yet this year men should prepare for a few new bruises.
The recent report by the Centre for Labour Research at Adelaide University paints a dire picture of working women and particularly working mothers. According to the report, working mums feel tired and guilty. Their sex lives are up the spout. Their partners are bastards and they feel ‘torn’ between the expectations of good mothering and the need to earn a buck.
According to the Head of the Centre for Labour Research, Dr Barbara Pocock, ‘Women find they can’t be a terrific worker, a wonderful mother and have great sex at night’.Oh dear!
Of course, none of this is their fault, but rather the fault of men who simply haven’t kept up with the trend, who still don’t do any cooking, who still don’t care for children and who seem genetically blind to dust, dirt or anything that needs cleaning.
While no one denies that men and women see dirt differently, the real question that needs to be asked of the thousands of ‘tired and guilty’ women is ‘What on earth did you expect?
For hundreds of years, men have known all too well that giving sweat and blood in the workplace means giving less in the family. Men didn’t like it much, but in order to provide financially for families, it was simply something they had to do.
I remember my dad going off to a cleaning job at 5am, only to finish before his ‘real’ job began at 8.30. He then backed up three nights a week with a night cleaning job as well! I saw him perhaps 10 hours a week if I was lucky. Did he like the idea? Not much, but it paid the mortgage and kept us from that ever threatening bread and dripping.
Until the early 70’s, women accepted (and often enjoyed) being the dominant manager of family affairs because dad was busy turning the wheels of industry. If dad was the chief of business, mum was the chief of the family, and while nowhere near a satisfactory situation, the gender roles were tolerated as parts of a system that limped along.
But let’s get back to the original question. What did women expect when they made that bold foray into the workplace 40 or so years ago?
It’s true that many women saw the lure of work and career as a dangerous new frontier; a frontier that had prevented men’s intimate role in families and that could do the same to them if they didn’t look out.
Yet many others took the “women can have it all” approach to this frontier of work. It was simply another item to be included with the driver’s license, the credit card and the multiple orgasm.
Rather than forging a newer, more realistic model of work, 70’s feminists led the charge headlong onto the male white-collar career treadmill. Shoulder pads to the wheel, this charge held no thought for the sanity of the millions of women who would march after them. Like the followers of Jim Jones, or the victims of the Waco massacre, women have been led into the fire, and not surprisingly, they aren’t happy.
The ‘women can have it all’ ideal must rank alongside such other urban myths as the classless society, the level playing field or successful consensus decision-making. Women can no more ‘have it all’ than men can. There’s a price to pay for work that pays, and while we may not like it, our current workplace structure isn’t likely to change for men or women.
Yet perhaps the most distressing part of Dr Pocock’s report is her belief that ‘While women agonise about what it means to be a proper mother, there is no parallel debate over fathering’.
Oh Dr Pocock, where have you been? I know Adelaide is 10 years behind Melbourne but not even the residents of Manjimup have missed that debate.
The fatherhood business is booming, with books, seminars, government funded research, private research and a thousand ‘experts’ giving their tuppence-worth on fatherhood issues every day of the week.
And according to private research carried out in 1998, most dads hate the thought of having to work harder and longer in order to pay the increasing costs of mortgages, school fees and food bills. Most feel tired and guilty at not being able to give more to their relationships. Most feel torn between the expectations of good fathering and the need to earn a buck.
Not surprisingly, most find they can’t be a terrific worker, a wonderful father and have great sex at night’. Sound familiar?