“In the olden days, wives were usually women. Which is funny, because nowadays wives are usually women too.”
Well-known political commentator and broadcaster Annabel Crabb has turned the gender debate on its head in her new book, The Wife Drought. Crabb punctuates a long history of feminist narrative with a startling truth – that the male ‘breadwinner’ model continues to be a dominant role expectation in modern society. However, in our focus on women and work, we rarely consider the barriers men face in getting flexibility to spend more time with their families. After decades of protest, reform and research on how to get more women into the workplace, we’ve been slow to notice the next most important step – how to help men get out of it. Crabb brings this to light and opens up the conversation, no doubt sparking the next chapter in this long debate.
We’ve taken a look at three of the most interesting theories from Crabb’s book:
- 1. Men get wives, and women don’t.
The phrase “I need a wife!” is a frequent joke among women balancing work and family. Except that it’s not funny. If you’re working full-time, and your spouse is working part-time or not at all, then you are one of the lucky ones classified as having a ‘wife’.
Crabb explains that a wife can be female or male. It’s probably not surprising that the asymmetric rates of having a ‘wife’ – someone who foregoes some or all of their paid working hours to handle domestic duties – is stacked in the man’s favour. Three out of four full-time working dads in Australian workplaces have one.
After a conversation with a male friend, Crabb had a light-bulb moment. This man reveals his happiness knowing his wife is home caring for their child. Does he really know how fortunate he is or does he think that’s just how society works?
“What a weird and – for him – wonderful crimp in the sociological evolution of humanity it was that allowed him to walk out the door at 8am, work a full and rewarding day, eat a nice lunch with both his hands, and come home …”, Crabb writes.
- 2. Men need balanced lives too.
Don’t think Crabb makes women out to be the victims. It’s far more difficult for men to access workplace flexibility and to ask for fewer hours without being judged. Crabb writes that they may feel making home life a priority is damaging to their career prospects, and too often they are disproportionately excluded from life at home.
Only one in three working fathers with a child 11 years or under alter their working pattern, Crabb says, with the majority of them considering flexi-time rather than part-time, and few make the major modifications to their schedule that women routinely make. In fact, on average, fathers slightly increase their working hours by four hours per week with the arrival of their first child.
Needless to say, Crabb has opened up a conversation that’s been long overdue.
- 3. It’s men’s turn to change.
Have we truly forgotten to encourage men to adjust their own work and family priorities? Many men already reject the old-fashioned roles that exist in the workplace and perhaps they can be the drivers of change. Workplaces too should be equally accommodating for men who readjust their work times or take time off for their family without the awkward questions attached.
However modern we think society has become, argues Crabb, a role reversal in standard family arrangements from 50 years ago is still far more acceptable. Many stay-at-home dads feel ostracised without a social network so men can reach out to other men for guidance.
If we refocus the debate equally among both genders, suggests Crabb, helping women move up the career ladder while convincing men they are entitled to reject certain expectations in their workplace, perhaps we can make sense of our roles at work and home.
Written by: Thea Christie
For more information on The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb, visit Random House.