The Wife Drought

sm-gall-kitchen-20130820140239816216-620x414I recently read an incredible book by Annabel Crabb, one of my personal heroes.  She is a journalist and tv presenter who hosta one of my very favourite shows, ‘Kitchen Cabinet‘ (a political cooking show; it sounds odd, but it’s brilliant).  She is intelligent, classy, sassy, funny, interesting and many more things.  Ok, I’ll stop gushing now and talk about the book.

(As a side note, Annabel Crabb & Leigh Sales started their own podcast this week and IT IS THE BEST THING EVER!!!  Here is the link.)

The Wife Drought‘ is a fascinating look at Australian life and how relationships tend to function in society.  The issue that the book centres around is that most married men have a ‘wife’ (and most men are married statistically speaking) and women don’t.  ‘Wife’ in this context is a partner who either doesn’t work, or works part time so they can take care of unpaid work that goes on in any household.  Having a ‘wife’ enables a man to continue their career despite circumstance.  They can have children and have it make almost no impact on their working life.  This is rarely the case for women.  Women tend not to have ‘wives’, that is a partner who reduces their working hours to take care of the unpaid work of a home, and this effects their ability to remain in or advance in the workforce.

“It turns out that in Australian work-places, 76 percent of full-time working dads have a ‘wife’.  Three out of four.  But among the mothers who work full-time, the rate of wife-having is much, much lower: only 14 per cent.”

Not only do women not usually have partners who work less than full time, but statistically speaking they almost always do more of the domestic work, even when their partner works equal or less hours than them outside the home.  This statistic concerns me greatly.  There are numbers on this in the book.

This arrangement can work well for those who choose it, but what of those women who want to remain in the workforce and not exit it to raise children and run a home?  How do we accommodate those women?

One of the central points of the book is that workplaces are generally excellent at helping women work more flexibly, but are terrible at doing this for men.  Mothers are seen as primary caregivers, so they are given flexibility to help them accommodate both family and work.  Men are not seen as primary caregivers, so they are not afforded the same flexibility.  We need to look at how families function for both of the sexes and help everyone work in a more flexible way.

Kitchen CabinetLook at politicians as an example.  Men have multiple children whilst being sitting members of parliament and no one bats an eyelid.  This is because they have a ‘wife’ who takes care of the child raising and domestic work.  This is rarely the case for women.  Usually full time working women also have full time working partners.  So, when a woman is a politician and a mother they get pounded with questions about how they do it and how they can ‘have it all’.  One of the interesting things about the Labor leadership debate in 2013 was when Bill Shorten was potentially up against Tanya Plibersek.  It was thought by some that she might be a bad choice because she has 3 young children, so she couldn’t commit herself to the leadership position.  Bill Shorten also has young children almost exactly the same age and no one even mentioned that.  As a society, we have extremely different expectations of the roles mothers and fathers ought to play.

“…’caregiving’ fathers were subjected to more mistreatment at work than traditional fathers, and in some workplaces more than twice as much mistreatment as ‘caregiving’ mothers.  Of the women studied, in fact, those without children were hassled more than mothers.  In fact, patterns of mistreatment – the researches found – was much more to do with how closely workers conformed to traditional expectations of them, much more than it was to do with gender.  The least mistreated people tended to be men who had children but did not take anything beyond customary responsibility for them, and women who had children and did.  Those in line for a tougher time were women without children, who were thought cold or indifferent, and men looking after their children, who were thought soft.”

There is also some pretty funny stuff in it too.  Some of the book looks at what was going on in society in the past and how that affected our needs in the workplace and how we spend our time outside of it.  This next part was looking at the industrial revolution.

“It triggered, in time, an extra ordinary burst of economic growth that established a sizeable middle class, enjoying not only reliable wages, but the fruits of the labour-saving devices they were employed to make.  The car.  The refrigerator.  The washing machine.  The tumble dryer.  (Such is the irony of the human condition, of course, that in 2014 some of the richest beneficiaries of these labour-saving devices use their spare time to make cheese, spin wool, or grow their own vegetables.  A magazine devoted to artisanal hobby coal-mining cannot be far away.)”

I won’t dissect the whole book because Annabel says everything way more articulately than I ever could (and with more jokes), but do give it a a read.  It’s brilliant!


And as a bonus, here is a brilliant interview of Annabel Crabb by Leigh Sales about the book.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s