Having it all.

Source: www.retronaut.com

What Tony Abbott’s Cabinet does not look like.
Source: http://www.retronaut.com

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s announcement of his Cabinet and ministry in September 2013 prompted criticism on a number of levels.  Never mind that it foreshadows portfolio emphasis with which I am not all together happy.  I have previously stated my opinion on the previous government’s asylum seeker policy.  The Coalition takes an even more hard line approach, and a Minister for “Immigration and Border Protection” does not bode well.

And do not get me started on the fact that there is a Cabinet-level “Minister for Sport” in a country already saturated with support for sport, but no Minister at all for important issues I consider Australia must tackle on a national level if it is to make progress on those fronts.  Australia has a worsening situation in terms of homelessness and housing affordability, an aging population and a new-born National Disability Insurance Scheme; general society appears to demonise immigrants, despite its history being steeped in immigration and climate change is one of the “greatest moral challenges of our generation” (or as Mr Abbott put it so practically from a political point of view, “The argument is absolute crap.  However, the politics of this are tough for us.  Eighty per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger“).  Surely areas such as housing, aged care, disabilities, multiculturalism and climate change (or at the very least science) deserve some priority in our national government?

However, what I find most thought-provoking is that Mr Abbott could only find space for one woman in his 19-strong Cabinet and six women in a 42-strong executive, despite there being “some very good and talented women knocking on the door of the Cabinet and lots of good and talented women knocking on the door of the ministry.”  Zoo Weekly’s staff meeting has more women than the Cabinet.  And Mr Abbott’s statement begs the question:  if there are such women knocking (and some examples can be found here), when is he planning to open the door to them?

It also gives another perspective to the chorus of opinions regarding working women, the option of “opting out” and whether women can in fact “have it all”.  (And why we are only wondering whether women can have it all?  Does this mean that men do have it all?  That the definition of “men having it all” is somehow different to “women having it all” and that having children and playing a pivotal role in a child’s upbringing is not part of men “having it all”?)

I do not agree with women being promoted to meet strict quotas rather than on merit.  But that conveniently brushes over that workplace conditions and society pressures often make it more difficult for women to prove their ability and gain the requisite experience that demonstrates “merit”.  The idea of merit is complicated because it presumes all people have the same opportunity to succeed.

I was asked at a job interview whether I had children, whether I was planning to have children in the future or whether I had any other reasons for needing a flexible work hours policy … and then the person asking the question queried aloud whether he could ask such questions.  He reiterated that they were a flexible workplace that could work around my other commitments (such as children).   It was clearly not meant to be offensive.  I replied that no, it was probably not an appropriate question to ask at a job interview, but that I had no problem in answering that I currently had no children or other commitments that required taking advantage of their flexible work hours policy on a regular basis and left it at that.  But I doubt I would have been asked that at all (even in the guise of “flexible work hours policy”) if I was male and it is indicative of the unthinking different treatment of men and women in the workplace.

Women as baby makers is the unspoken elephant in the job interview room.  If I were to have children within my first year of employment with my new employer, they would not be obliged to give me paid parental leave.  I would benefit from the national government system proposed by the Coalition during the election (depending whether they manage to get the legislation through both Houses of Parliament).  But it would mean that I would likely be out of the workforce for some time and rely on Boy Robin’s support, at a time where some would argue I would be better placed investing in my career.  (Although that premise has been criticised as well.)

Even if I decided to go back to the workforce soon after having a child, I am not sure I could cope.  Through my university and working life, I have been exposed to women who do indeed seem to have it all.  I had a tutor at university, who not only oversaw a number of tutorials a week, but was a senior associate at one of the top four law firms in the city, as well as having four children, one of which was (from memory) eight weeks old at the beginning of the academic year.  After I started working in commercial law firms, a number of the female lawyers I worked with held senior positions, including partner, as well as seamlessly running a household, getting children off to school and all their extracurricular activities, having dinner on the table each night and (presumably instead of sleeping) keeping the clothes washed and house cleaned.

However, as previously discussed, I have a pretty light schedule of commitments.  And yet, some days I struggle to go to work, come home, (help) prepare dinner, keep the house clean and tidy and do washing regularly enough to ensure I always have a surplus of clean underwear.  I certainly do not make my bed every day.  Boy Robin helps immensely.  He mostly does the grocery shopping and we share cooking.  I have no idea how I would manage with children as well, although to be fair, I am sure Boy Robin would help immensely on that front too.  But, society seems to expect women to be able to “have it all” and if they do not, they are somehow lacking.  They have sacrificed their career for their family, or given up the chance to have a family in order to progress their career.  Never mind that a man who does not take paternity leave is only considered to have continued with his career without any reference to his family (if paternity leave is raised at all).

I am not sure whether I want it all.  It sounds very tiring and busy, without taking time to actually enjoy life.  But I want to be able to make that choice.  What troubles me is that at our highest echelons of government, the glass ceiling is still going strong and our current government seems to prefer women sacrificing their career for their family and those who do not are not considered to have the merit to qualify them for promotion.

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