Men, we need to talk. It’s time to start putting your home schooling, vacuuming and, generally speaking, unpaid domestic childcare and labour where your mouth is. Or, more specifically, where social scientists have long suggested your “attitudes” are.
On Thursday Australian women awoke to a report in the New York Times by the always insightful Claire Cain Miller indicating that pandemic era domestic work isn’t being divided more equitably than before the lockdown. Okay, that’s news to … no one. At least no woman I know.
What had our collective jaws on the floor (I feel confident speaking on behalf of the ladies, given the amount of traction the report has, thus far, generated on social media in just a few short hours) is the fact that nearly half of men say they do most of the home schooling.
Only 3 percent of women agree. And that’s not a typo. Three percent.
I know…right! And just before Mother’s Day.
You’ve got to be kidding me. Men, particularly those keen on the “male champions of change” label: You could have just gotten the mothers in your life a corny mug, not a massive dose of your own self- delusion. It actually feels like you’re just trolling us.
You see, this isn’t the first time research has shown a huge disconnect between what men say or believe they are doing on the domestic front and reality.
As Cain Miller points out in the NYT article, past research using time diaries has consistently shown that men often overestimate the amount they do, and that women actually do more.
In another brilliant analysis for the NYT earlier this year, Cain Miller also pointed out that “Young Men Embrace Gender Equality, but They Still Don’t Vacuum”. Other research shows that while younger men profess that they have more gender equitable attitudes about women and work, they still hold very traditional views about who does what at home.
This led the NYT gender newsletter “In Her Words” to quip, “gentlemen, start your vacuum cleaners”.
If that wasn’t enough, in 2018, in a piece entitled “The ‘Woke’ Men Who Still Want Housewives”, US-based feminist writer Jessica Valenti wrote about a new study with data spanning four decades that shows while Americans’ attitudes on gender are progressing (there is broad support for equality between men and women) there is still a major gap in how people reconcile their political beliefs with their private lives.
Twenty-five percent of the people surveyed in the study said that while women and men should be equal in the “public sphere”, they believed women should do the majority of domestic work and childcare.
Taking men’s self-delusion about the amount and utility of their efforts to promote gender equality out of the home and into the workplace, who can forget the 2019 Chief Executive Women and Bain & Company report on “engaging men”. The majority of men (64%) think they’re doing a great job, the majority of women (70%) think men need to do more. What’s more, the report highlights that only 17% of men are “highly engaged” and “prioritising action”, while more than half of men (55 %) rank it as a “low” or “non-priority”.
Those statistics belie the reports’ slightly cheerier “headline” finding that, in theory at least, 76% of men in the workplace “support” gender equality.
As I wrote about the report in Women’s Agenda, it seems too few are prepared to do anything meaningful about it.
For me, the most interesting thing about the CEW report garnered little comment at the time, but it is actually the most illuminating. There is a huge “perception gap” between men and women when it comes to the promotion of gender equality, not only the extent to which men think they are already doing “enough”, but what men, as opposed to women, think would have the greatest impact.
Men and women are simply not talking about the same thing, even when they think they are. (I know, shock…it won’t be the first time.)
Men’s top priorities, what they think would make the biggest difference, include things like “engaging in conversations with other men”, “participating in training” and “leading a gender diversity group”, while women place a greater emphasis on “calling out instances of gender discrimination”, “sharing household responsibilities with a cohabiting partner” and “taking steps to remove bias from hiring or promotion processes”.
The gap between the kind of symbolic things men prioritise vis-a-vis the concrete actions (with associated outcomes) women prioritise is, well, pretty glaring.
After nearly a decade that has seen the proliferation of “engaging men for gender equality” initiatives, such as Male Champions of Change here in Australia (which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year) and the UN Women’s HeForShe global solidarity movement for gender equality, that’s just not good enough.
It’s time to call a spade a spade. It’s all well and good for men to whisper sweet gender equality nothings in the ears of social science researchers (I “support” gender equality, I really do), and to profess that support in their woke re-inventions as “champions”, but at the end of the day – and here’s a bit of leadership jargon – it’s time for more show and less tell.
In other words, pick up the bloomin’ vacuum.
Kristine Ziwica is a regular contributor. She tweets @KZiwica