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According to merit? No men at the park?

Every Issue

Cite as: April 2012 86 (04) LIJ, p.84

Gender segregation of domestic and work spheres persists.

Before you turn the page, this isn’t another rant asking: “what are law firms, business leaders and government doing to address the dearth of women holding senior positions in business, politics or law?” (noting the desperate need for change, while the gender pay gap persists at 18 per cent, and men still represent 97 per cent of executive positions in the top 200 companies).

Instead we need to consider: where are the men in the park? Answering this question begins to address the gendered assumptions about who does what at home, and will help in addressing gendered assumptions about work and leadership.

A male acquaintance recently attended an end of term park play. He was the only man in the park where he counted 70 or so women enjoying a chat and watching their children play. This illustrates the persistent gender segregation of domestic and work spheres. While most women now have jobs,1 very few dads participate in school and parenting to as great a degree as the mums (of course there are exceptions but these are rare). Perhaps it is difficult and uncomfortable for men to fit in with the mums at the park.

The Scandinavians have a great solution to this. They normalise men taking the primary caring role for children at times by having a certain amount of parental leave that can only be taken by the father or second carer. In Sweden, where the last two months of paternal leave are reserved exclusively for fathers, 85 per cent take parental leave. A growing number of studies have pointed to the benefits of early father involvement in their children’s lives.2

And while we’re talking about work traditionally done by women, let’s talk housework. Housework seems to be one of the great “undiscussables” in our society. It’s invisible and mundane. Priceless or valueless? Who wants to say: “today I did the dishes, the grocery shopping, cleaned, changed the beds, cooked, did the laundry, etc.” . . . yawn. But someone has to do it. It’s certainly a tricky subject to bring up as it’s loaded with emotion. Many men believe they are doing much more than their fathers did and they resent being asked to do more. However, ABS statistics state that in Australia women do two-thirds of all housework.3

These gender stereotypes of who does what work are not immutable and are open to being challenged and changed.4 Women need to practise their assertive negotiations at home as well as in the workplace.

If nothing else, we need to have a discussion about who does the dishes so that our sons and daughters don’t perpetuate our gendered assumptions around the home and therefore the workplace.

With greater gender equality at home and work we all benefit. Women have increased financial security, men are less likely to be overweight and die prematurely,5 children benefit from the influence of two parents and society benefits when leadership is shared among a diverse group.




AMANDA STEVENS and MICHELLE WHYTE are members of the Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) Work Practices Committee. The views expressed are their own and may not be shared by VWL.

1. Women’s participation in the labour force in August 2011 59 per cent: http://tinyurl.com/6lqrzo8.

2. Jeremy Adam Smith, The Daddy Shift cites better cognitive development in infants, higher educational attainment and fewer behavioural problems in the teens.

3. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Social Trends March 2009: http://tinyurl.com/7z4mnuq.

4. Note the recent Fair Work, Equal Remuneration case, which concluded that gender based undervaluation of work was due in some part to the large percentage of female workers and type of work being “caring”. The decision awarded between 18 and 41 per cent wage rises for these workers.

5. An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report released in June 2011 says that “men have a life expectancy five years shorter than women, a higher risk of cancer, injury, smoking, illicit drug use and obesity but are less likely to see a doctor.” One of the barriers to better health for men identified in the report was long working hours.

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