Sisters are doing it for themselves… and everyone else.

March 11, 2011 at 5:46 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve read a few International Women’s Day commentaries the past few days, and while it’s ambitious in the extreme to imagine for a moment that I might post about it myself given Baby J’s resolutely disgruntled mood today, I can’t let it pass. However, Mr. Cranky Pants woke up on the wrong side of the bassinet this morning, and he is determined not to cooperate, so this little two-second session may well be a bust. In fact, maybe I should forget the nap he’s currently resisting and wheel his soft little bite-sized bot-bot to mothers’ group instead… (For a final insight into my baby boy’s temperament, consider this: one of his main nicknames is Grumbles.)

Okay, it’s later now. We abandoned the nap, went to mothers’ group an hour late, and now I am home and making the most of the minor miracle that is my child asleep in his motionless pram…

So. Women. I’m a fan. I’m even more of a fan now I know just how much shit they have to deal with as mothers, and I mean steaming volcanoes both figurative and literal. How men ever came to be regarded as the Masters of the Universe I will never know. I can only surmise that women were simply too busy running things to set the record straight. And I love men, I really do. I say this with all due respect to them. My best friend is a man. You may have read about him here – he’s that guy I married? Yeah, that’s the one. The father of my child? Uh huh. Him. And he’s great. And he works really, really hard. But it’s very different work to the kind of work I do, and I’m lucky – very lucky from what I understand – that Llew both recognises and values my contribution for what it is. But society at large? Not so much. Still.

I am fortunate to have a freelance career that means I am still able to contribute financially (cough) and intellectually to our household beyond the primary care of Baby J. And it’s extremely important to me that I am exercising my mind and retaining some sliver of my professional identity. But now I understand some women’s decision to pack it in, because the balancing act really just means more work – those women who head back to paid employment don’t opt out of childrearing and housekeeping, they just add them to their job description. And while there are always exceptions, and I have a good friend who is a stay-at-home dad, I would argue pretty strenuously that this is true for women much, much more often than it is true for men.

I have done the lion-share of the housework at Poo HQ ever since I started working from home as a freelancer-with-novelist-aspirations. I am a worker by nature, and this trade-off seems only fair to me, since I bring in such a piddling amount of legal tender. Leaving aside my commissioned work, which is sporadic, I think the writing work I do – including the unpublished fiction – is inherently valuable. I believe in written language the way some people believe in God, but the vast majority of words I write are not worth anything in purely fiscal terms. It’s Llew’s work that keeps us financially afloat. And so I think it’s reasonable that I make up the shortfall in my income by taking on the work of the house. Women have been doing this for centuries, because care-giving roles have and continue to be predominantly filled by females. They’re in the home having and raising the kids, aren’t they, and like it or not, it’s a job lot (unless you’re loaded, which most of us aren’t).

I was always going to be Baby J’s primary carer, but what’s only clear now he’s here is that the value of my writing has decreased in direct proportion to Baby J’s demands on my time. I am writing this post because he’s sleeping. I will stop writing this post when he awakes. Oh, and the menial work of the home is likewise prioritised above the writing, whereas previously I’ve had the luxury of being easily able to accommodate both. No longer. Now I’m finding even unloading the dishwasher a struggle some days. So when Llew does get home? I whip round the apartment like someone’s chasing me. Writing is coming a distant third – and I would love to get a show of hands from other writers, male and female, to see if this is what has happened to them too, because writers are so much likelier to work from home than other professionals.

When I flee our home now, and meet up with other women with babies as I did earlier today, it’s not leisurely; it’s solidarity. I hadn’t realised that when I used to pass all those ubiquitous packs of pram-wielders – I used to think it all looked pretty jammy. But it’s not. It looks leisurely, but it’s not. No, no. Make no mistake: I have not been at my leisure for one single second since my baby was born. Not. One. Second. Even when I am in bed asleep, my entire being is attuned to the possibility of his cry in the night.

I don’t even know what I am trying to say. Women work. I guess that’s it, and I think it needs saying because women work in so many different and often quite gender-specific ways and many of those ways are still completely overlooked. Every woman I know – married, unmarried, with or without kids, homemaker or mover and shaker – is busting her arse around the clock. Women are crazy multi-tasking maniacs, and it really does disgust me that so much of that talent, born of necessity, goes unacknowledged in a Western world still completely myopic about what and who matters. One of my friends forwarded this to me the other day, and it’s so, so true:

The sentiment expressed by Eva Cox in Crikey’s International Women’s Day issue yesterday — that feminism has become wrongly aligned with the appearance of a select number of high-powered women in traditionally male executive roles — was echoed by a number of readers.

Emily Crawford, in her email to Crikey, laments liberal feminism’s focus on merely assimilating women into an economy and working environment that “are still structured pretty much along male lines.”

She writes:

“If we take earnings and status as a signifier of values in our capitalist society, it’s pretty clear we do not value ‘female’ occupations and concerns because care workers of all types are paid so bloody badly and those jobs attract no status. Not like those oh-so-clever Masters of the Universe in the financial sector nearly bringing the world to its knees with their hubris.”

Niall Clugston feels similarly. He writes:

“International Women’s Day was founded by the socialist movement, but now the discussion centres on getting more women on corporate boards … The assumption is that the payment system, and other social structures, are fair for men, and all that’s needed is for women (as a statistical classification) to receive the same results.”

Essentially, a number of readers made clear to Crikey their view that we need fundamental shift in our societal understanding of the workplace — a transformation that cannot be reflected by the meeting of quotas alone. To put it simply — as Ian Buchanan did in his email to Crikey — “culture change is needed, not quotas.”

We do need to be the change we wish to see in the world, but I’m just going to start with a humble thank you for all that women do.

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10 Comments

  1. litlove said,

    If you weren’t there to care for Baby J, tally up the cost of the childcare it would take to look after him. That’s already a huge financial contribution you’re making by default to the household. Add on the wages of a cleaner and a housekeeper. In fact, when you tot it all up, you are probably worth more than Llew, particularly if it were possible to put a figure on emotional wear and tear. But is this recognised? No. I always felt that motherhood was the place where feminism failed. Because not to love the job somehow equates to not loving the baby, and that would be tooooo dreadful to contemplate. I adore my son, but I did NOT like the role of mother until he hit about 7 and I stopped being anxious all day and all night. And I read a brilliant book about mothers and fast-track careers – you’re quite right that women just do everything when they work and that the average week for them contains over 100 working hours. And still, still, if a man lifts a finger, we fall over with praise for him.

    You will see this is one of those topics that lights a fire under me. All that unrecognised heroism by women I find quite galling.

    • doctordi said,

      ‘And still, still, if a man lifts a finger, we fall over with praise for him’ – oh, LL, absolutely. I actually had two women approach me in a restaurant to gush that my husband was sooooo amaaaaaazing, where did I find him, look at him holding the baby like that, and I really wanted to snap, ‘Yes, and what’s even MORE amazing is that I fed the baby for 40 minutes during lunch – on my own breasts! And guess what?! I do that five times times a day!”

      It made me so cross, and yet I do constantly find myself saying, ‘Thank you, Llew, thank you, thank you’ for doing things I’d never be thanked for.

  2. Charlotte said,

    Thank you for saying it. Makes me feel like my last eleven years of child-rearing, writing, freelancing and fighting for a space in my life that is mine and mine only was worth it. it is work, goddammit, and just because I do it well and make it look easy doesn’t mean it IS!

  3. Lilian Nattel said,

    To your post and the comments that follow, I say: Amen.

    • doctordi said,

      Sometimes I actually think women are almost too competent for their own good!

  4. Woo said,

    Yep, this topic lights a fire under me, too, and I don’t even have children or a husband/partner.

    My main concern with feminism over the last 50 years has been its seeming insistence that we women need to be the same as men in order to have rights equal to theirs. I don’t want to be the same, but I do want equality. And at the same time, I don’t wish to struggle up the greasy pole (and there’s a phallic pun if ever there was one) just to find myself measured as successful in terms of the bullshit capitalist system, with value purely financial and the only rewards being monetary.

    We know, as women, that there is more to success than money and that we have more to contribute to family and society than cash. We just need to value that properly.

    • doctordi said,

      I think this is all absolutely, er, on the money, Woo. Could not agree more.

  5. I Am A Teensy Bit Late For International Women’s Day | peripatetic sloth said,

    […] at the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) after having a child, as well as reading a beautifully written post on the subject by DoctorDi, freelance writer and new […]

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