“Women have changed so much in the last half-century, thanks to perseverance, spirit and the incredibly galvanising force of feminism. If men evolve – both in their own expectations and their treatment of each other – I think there are incredible gains for both sexes to be made.” — Annabel Crabb.
Why is the work-and-family debate focused entirely on women? In our fixation on the barriers women face in the workplace, have we forgotten about the barriers that exist for men?
We talk to political correspondent and the ABC’s chief online political writer Annabel Crabb about her new book The Wife Drought and her call for a ceasefire in the gender wars.
Why did it feel important to write about the state of “wife-drought” at this point in your life?
People change, I guess, as they go through life’s stages, and at the stage I’m in now – young children, juggling work and family – it’s become increasingly clear to me that women’s experience of work and family is profoundly different from men’s.
What messages from the book do you hope every person walks away with?
I hope that readers – both male and female – will walk away thinking differently about the arguments of the past, and thinking of the current situation not exclusively as one in which men are winners and women are losers, but one in which settled expectations and prejudices can disadvantage everyone.
You’ve made it clear this isn’t a man-hating exercise, so what can men draw from the book?
I hope men will think about the possibilities of change in their own lives, and think about how the traditional ideals of what makes a good man might be out of date. Women have changed so much in the last half-century, thanks to perseverance, spirit and the incredibly galvanising force of feminism. If men evolve – both in their own expectations and their treatment of each other – I think there are incredible gains for both sexes to be made.
Can you elaborate on the idea of a ‘wife’ as an economic asset?
Yes: I use the term “wife” for its historical resonance but what I really mean is a spouse who either is at home or works only part-time in the paid workforce. These “wives” – and overwhelmingly, they’re still female – are an economic power-pellet, in that by being available to manage the demands of home and family, they free their spouses to go out and achieve highly in the workplace. In Australia, a Dad who works full-time is five times more likely than a full-time working Mum to have a spouse who picks up responsibility for domestic matters. And that is a significant professional advantage.
How do we start bringing more men into this dialogue?
Well, my own small-scale idea is to start asking men about their families. Mothers who work are always being asked, “How do you manage it?” We even have a term for them: working mothers. But fathers who work don’t get asked how they manage, and we don’t have a special term for them, mainly because on some level we expect that it’s not them doing the managing. And my question is: if we assume they’re not doing the managing, then how can we really be surprised when they don’t? Language is important.
Have there been particular challenges you’ve faced in juggling family life and a media career?
Of course. Juggling a family and any career is bloody hard work. And I’ve changed the way I work as a result, as most women do when they have kids. What worries me is that we really don’t expect men to change their ways. My own partner has; he time-shifts work and works flexibly some of the time, like I do. And having two of us doing it makes it easier than if just one of us was.
Now that you’ve reignited the work-and-family debate, are there practical ways we can bring about change individually?
Yes. Think about your assumptions is the most important thing. If you are a manager and a man tells you he wants to leave early to pick up his kid from school, think about whether saying “Can’t your wife do that?” is actually a reasonable response. Think about why you ask a woman how she “manages it all” but not her husband. Think about why you express surprise, delight or hilarity when a man stays home to look after kids, but not when a woman does. If you know young men and women who are settling down and having a child together, think about your assumptions as to who is going to take time off work, go part-time, and so on. And if you’re settling down yourself to start a family, talk about how you’re going to arrange things, and why.
What’s next on the agenda?
As soon as I can arrange it, I’m going to have a nap. 2036 is looking good.
Written by: Thea Christie
Annabel Crabb’s new book The Wife Drought is a thoughtful and engaging read about women, men, family and work. Acclaimed as a catalyst for a conversation that’s long overdue, you can read more about The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb at Random House.