Why male power must be cut

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 Why male power must be cut
 Eva Cox

                     R    ecently the English New Statesman
                          reviewed the situation of women in the
                     UK and found that all is not well. This
                                                                       work when the new laws come through, but
                                                                       it is a bit vague on details of how it will work.
                                                                       We earn about 84c to every male dollar and,
                     analysis begins: ‘Families and firms are at       as in the UK, women have many part-time
                     war. It will only be won when parents —           and low paid jobs.
                     fathers as well as mothers — can care for              There is also the problem with who does
                     their children without harming their careers.     domestic work. The UK article doesn’t cover
                     It’s the economy that must change.’ It goes       the issue, but as I write new local data shows
                     on to proclaim ‘The Sex War is over. Girls        that while more women have moved into
                     outperform boys at school and are streaming       paid work, men have not taken up their share
                     through higher education. Young women are         of household tasks. The latest time use study
                     now taking home the same size wage                shows that men do no more a day on domes-
                     packets as young men. But the celebrations        tic duties than a decade and a half ago, but
 We need to look     have to wait. A new, tougher battle has to be     women have cut their time use by 10 min-
 at how to shift     fought. It is not a duel between men and          utes a day. In child care, women put in nearly
                     women, but between families and firms.            an hour a day to caring for children (not
 the basic           This family war will be won only when             including multi-tasking) versus 22 minutes
                     parents — fathers as well as mothers — can        by men. Their time is also more likely to be
 attitudes to paid   care for their children without dumbing           play time than chores. Even non-employed
 and unpaid          down their careers.’                              fathers spend less time on domestic work
                          So what’s happening here? Firstly, the UK    than non-employed mothers and full-time
 work, the gender    seems to have much of what we need. Women         working mothers spend almost double the
                     are entitled to statutory maternity pay, mostly   time on household duties than equivalent
 stereotyping of     at 90% of their weekly earnings and men are       fathers. And it’s not changing with younger
 jobs and            entitled to two weeks’ paternity leave (pay       people: females 15–24 still spend 1.7 the
                     negotiable). There is a statutory right to ask    time that males of this age do on domestic
 ridiculous          for part-time work when women have young          chores.
                     children. Figures suggest that the pay gap             It seems unlikely that more men will
 undervaluing of     between men and women is relatively low           start to work part-time and so take on more
 the often more      (3%) under the age of thirty but rise rapidly     care and domestic work, and/or the lower
                     when children appear. This reflects their         paid jobs that often mirror the home care
 productive part-    move to part-time or lower status jobs. The       tasks, Few men have had the socialisation
                     solution offered is more sharing by male and      that encourages women to take on unpaid
 time worker.        female parents of the downside of time off,       care and low status, low pay jobs. We need
                     lower pay and part-time work, loss of status.     to look at how to shift the basic attitudes to
                     This seems very unenterprising, so let us go      paid and unpaid work, the gender stereo-
                     for some major changes.                           typing of jobs and ridiculous undervaluing
                          We need to catch up on some UK provi-        of the often more productive part-time
                     sions but, more importantly, to change long-      worker. This involves questioning the
                     term underlying prejudices and assumptions        confusion of long hours of being there with
                     that are often unquestioned. Women are            productivity and the need to re-evaluate
                     emerging into workplaces that reflect very        underlying assumptions about skills and job
                     archaic attitudes about both work and place.      prestige that reflect archaic male definitions
                     This is shown by our lack of paid maternity       of value setting.
                     leave. Instead, there is just a one-off cash           Technology has changed both the content
                     payment, about to rise to $5,000. We have         of paid and unpaid work and the need to
                     been promised the right to ask for part-time      always be present in many jobs. People have

  2                                                                                            Australian Rationalist #80
basically stopped directly making things by       out of the paid workforce. Young women
hand and more time is now spent offering          often say feminism is passé because they can
services to people, or thinking. These tasks      choose to do whatever they want with their
depend not on arcane skills with tools and        lives but fail to recognise the gender basis of
widgets but on human capacities to deter-         valuing skills, tasks and even achievements.
mine needs and communication. Most work-          So choice is illusory. Women do choose to
ers are now no longer labouring but thinking.     spend time with children more than men. But
But these changes are reflected in revaluing      instead of being a workplace penalty this sort
types of workplaces, use of time and diverse      of choice should be integrated into a wider set
hierarchies of skills and knowledge. Pay,         of criteria so that the good life is more than
status and value have moved somewhat but          paid work. And choice should mean a non-
within parameters still set in the 19th to mid-   sexist balance is possible.
20th centuries.                                        A young women on an online forum
    There is a deep gender mindset to these       summed it up: ‘I am at the age now where
categories which needs reviewing so we can        babies seem to be popping up all over the             Most workers are
design new ways of working and redefining         place with colleagues, friends and family all
skills and valuing to solve some of the many      welcoming new additions to their home. But              now no longer
problems we face socially and economically.
We need to rebuild our social system so that
                                                  in every single case it has been the mother
                                                  who has taken a year off for maternity leave
                                                                                                          labouring but
it values relationships, including unpaid         with the father taking a few weeks off to help               thinking.
care, community and nurture as highly as          after the birth (which is a great start).’ She goes
paid workplace activities. Then there may be      on to say: ‘It seems that the problem lies with
better balance between them. This would           employers and society deeming it as accept-
allow the revaluing of care-related paid          able for women to remain at home to care for
occupations, which are generally paid less        their children while it is almost unheard of for
than other similarly skilled jobs. Redefining     men to do so. The other thing to consider is
productivity would also allow for the proper      the difference between the wages of men and
valuing of part-time work in areas where          women. Of course if the man earns more it
services, productivity and creativity are         would be a lot easier financially for him to
probably highest in early or shorter hours        remain full time in the work force.’ So change
on the job.                                       is not yet being seen as arriving.
    It would also make sense to recognise the          Why not a norm of a thirty hour week for
costs of the present system in the under use of   all those with care responsibilities? Or, more
qualified women and the loss of their             radically, work units of three hours but with
services, if they move into lower level jobs or   hourly rates dropping once you pass 30?

                   Women in the workplace data,
              reported by, 10 April 2008
  • Women continue to be over-represented in clerical, sales and service jobs, holding 87%
    of advanced clerical jobs. They also tend to be disproportionately employed part-time.
               — From ‘Gender differences in occupation and Employment in Australia’,
                 Alison Preston and Elizabeth Whitehouse, Curtin Business School paper

  • Women are massively under-represented in the top echelons of employment, with only
    six female CEOs in the ASX top 200 companies and one in the top 10. Overall, median
    pay for the top female earners in the ASX200 companies was a mere 58% of the median
    male pay. Female Chief Financial officers on average earn half the wage of their male
    counterparts and female CEOs earn two-thirds of what male CEOs earn. It was, however,
    found that ASX200 companies with more women on the board tend to have more female
                               — Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency

  • Women on average in 2006 earned $941, only 84% of men’s average weekly income.
    This is reflected throughout the age groups, with new graduate females in 2007 earning
    a median salary of $3,000 per annum less than their male counterparts.
                                                             —Graduate Careers Australia

 June 2008                                                                                                            3
    Shorter hours could be as productive and           equally to be valued and allow all of us to mix
    allow time for other responsibilities as well.     the modes.
    Why not have an assumption that we all take            It is time to seriously revisit the split that
    time out, part-time or full time in our lives to   came between factory and home in the
    care, say an allocation of up to four years over   industrial revolution. Men went out to work,
    one’s working life allowed for all of us? Like a   away from home-based craftwork. The office
    sabbatical or long service leave, it could allow   followed and now it offers the main form of
    people the dignity of approved care leave and      workplace for many. Many workers are
    a set pay rate, partly government funded.          already sole traders and types of sub-
    Income support should supplement low pay           contractors, so employment is changing and
    areas when others are being cared for and we       we need to recognise these shifts in arrang-
    may move away from the impasse where               ing our time. The use of high tech equip-
    women were allowed to go so far and no             ment means much can be done almost
    further.                                           anywhere. Jobs like checkouts and personal
        Let us revalue caring skills and change the    care services, that need us to be there, will
    balance of worth to a more pro-social set of       remain but need to be recognised as best
    values. Let us keep the creativity and excite-     offered in shorter shifts. It is time to undo
    ment of passion and tensions and recognise         workplace gender streaming and look at
    that conflict can be creative and makes for        more flexible supported roles for all. It is the
    change, but let us recognise that nurture is       21st century.

     Eva Cox is the chair of Women’s Electoral Lobby Australia and director of Distaff Associates.

4                                                                              Australian Rationalist #80

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