I was out walking the dog on a brisk (very brisk) Canberra morning when I came across a mum and two young children – I’m guessing one and three – on the play equipment at a local park. The kids were still in their PJs and dressing gowns and were delighted to be swinging and sliding despite the temperature still being in the low single digits. The mum just looked exhausted.
It brought home to me, again, that I am so grateful that in this period of intense confinement that I am an empty nester. I live alone (save for the dog and three cats). The downside is that on Zoom meetings and the odd phone call I struggle to form words and sentences, such is the dimension of the inner life I’ve been living. The dog – who does manage a form of Doglish – is my only company on many days.
But I keep thinking that had I been home alone with two children, cooped up in a small flat, on many days and in many hours and minutes I would have been unsure – deeply unsure – of my ability as a parent and human. My sanity would have definitely been called into question.
Just before running into the mum and two kids in the park, I had just been listening to a Washington Post podcast called ‘You have all the jobs: Motherhood during the pandemic’. Which raises the very pertinent question: where are the men? Why is it that childcare and housework fall overwhelmingly to the mother who has to juggle that along with paid work?
Where are the men? Why is it that childcare and housework fall overwhelmingly to the mother who has to juggle that along with paid work?
Which brings us to one of the big emerging issues of this time: childcare. The current free emergency arrangements are due to be discontinued on June 28. But the pandemic has revealed the gaping wound that is the flawed childcare system Australia. A truly excellent piece of reporting in The Guardian this week by Celina Rebeiro captures the complexity of the system with frustrating accuracy.
Underpinning the issue, Melinda Gates has also targeted childcare as a critical element of her $US1 billion commitment to gender equality. Accessible, affordable childcare will be essential to restarting the economy and ensuring that women still have a place in it, Gates argues. And she’s right.
The New York Times also picked up on childcare – or more specifically the crucial role grandparents play. “As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on and childcare centres remain closed, many grandparents are split into two groups: those who are quarantined from their families and those who are isolating beside them,” the article says. It’s an issue we picked up in BroadAgenda a couple of weeks ago after speaking with University of NSW academic Myra Hamilton on how free grandparental care is the sticky tape that hold Australia’s ramshackle childcare sector together.
Meanwhile, as a former higher education journalist, I was infuriated to read in The Telegraph that women make up around 70% of all enrolments in a number of postgraduate masters degrees in the UK. The same is most likely true in Australia. Why? Because the gender pay gap is pushing them to ‘upskill’ to keep up – thereby having to take on more debt to counter systemic workplace sexism. It drives me mad. (The article is behind a paywall or you can read the original report here.)
Closer to home, Virginia Haussegger was also unleashing in the Canberra Times (and BroadAgenda). Virginia’s supremely justifiable beef was that while women leaders have been highly visible during the pandemic – Gladys, Annastacia, Angela and, of course, Jacinda – it gives the impression that the ‘problem’ of gender inequality has been licked. But, of course, it hasn’t.
“But while looks and even headlines may be deceptive, the data is not. The actual numbers of women cutting through is nowhere near what the media dazzle of a bit of colour and difference might suggest,” she writes.
The actual numbers of women cutting through is nowhere near what the media dazzle of a bit of colour and difference might suggest.
Speaking of which, it was good to see the Minister for Women Marise Payne pen a piece for The Strategist on how women and girls in the Asia Pacific have been particularly vulnerable to the social side-effects of the pandemic and will continue to be so in during the recovery phase.
In BroadAgenda this week, we also ran an exceptional piece by Professor Deborah Widiss from the University of Indiana who compared and contrasted paid parental leave schemes in Australia and the US as part of her Fulbright Senior Scholarship. It is genuinely surprising to find just how different policies – and attitudes – are between the two countries.
We also looked at consent and privacy in the era of sexting. Yes, sharing ‘nudes’ has become a thing due to social distancing. We also took a look at Professor Kim Rubenstein’s chat with Ginger Gorman on the Seriously Social podcast.
The 50/50 Foundation is still looking for participants for Freeze Frames – our COVID gender roles research. It’s easy – even a bit of fun! Just click here, then chat to Pia if you need more information.
And before I go, I’d just like to point you to this extract in The Guardian from the wonderful Helen Garner – ‘I may be an old woman but I’m not done for yet’. It’s an extract from an essay she wrote for Griffith Review on ageing.
“But mostly I wrote [her diary] for the hell of it, because I really love writing. I mean, I love a pen and paper. I love words and sentences, and the way you can knit them together and shift them around and pile them up and spread them out.”
And I, for one, really love reading those words and sentences and how they are knitted together and shifted around and piled up and spread out. Bless you Helen Garner. You have made my world a better one.
Virginia will be back next week.