Women marry their glass ceilings. It’s the thesis behind a new book by author Caitlin Moran and hits close to the bone.
“If she wants children and a job, a woman’s life is only as good as the man or woman she marries,” Moran writes in More Than a Woman. “That’s the biggest truth I know. All too often women are marrying their glass ceilings.”
As Moran points out in a wonderful essay in Marie Claire, six months into the pandemic and she personally knows “women who have quit their jobs, taken an extended leave, or significantly scaled back their careers in order to care for and homeschool their children”.
“I know these women well enough to be certain that they’re all married to perfectly nice men who, despite their niceness … think their own jobs are more important than their wives’ jobs. They might not say it out loud, but that is the subtext of your wife dropping out of the workforce to educate your children while you lock yourself in the bathroom and take Zoom meetings all day.”
The differential impact of the pandemic on women has been in the news for months now. It’s not helped by the federal government’s “men-first” policies – partly a result of the structural sexism within the Liberal and National’s ranks.
As Chris Wallace, author of How to Win an Election, wrote in The Conversation and BroadAgenda this week: “The gendered nature and impact of the Morrison government’s pandemic policy responses makes the domination of men within the coalition cabinet and party room a matter of national significance.”
She goes on: “The Liberal and National parties’ preselection processes are broken and need fixing. The fact that only one in four coalition MPs in the Morrison government’s cabinet and party room is a woman is proof.”
Given that, it was refreshing to see a piece in the ABC about the number of female federal politicians who have given birth since the pandemic began – or will give birth in the coming months. They include Lisa Chesters, Amanda Rishworth and Alicia Payne – all Labor politicians and all beneficiaries of the ALP’s affirmative action quota system.
As journalist Annabel Crabb has previously pointed out, we watch Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in full-flight defending his government’s response to the pandemic, but few of us “questioned how he would juggle being a father of two small children when becoming his party’s deputy after the 2018 Liberal leadership spill that elevated Scott Morrison to Prime Minister”.
The glass ceiling is ever present, but women are – slowly – making strides in politics. Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner this week announced a majority female cabinet – with six of his nine ministers being women. Selena Uibo will serve as Attorney-General, making her the first indigenous woman attorney general in the country. Victoria is the only other state to have a female majority – at 55%.
Meanwhile, over the progressive ditch, New Zealand will again see two women – Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins – go head to head for the prime ministership. As former PM, Helen Clark, (who successfully contested her election in 1999 against sitting PM Jenny Shipley) wrote in The Conversation: “To use a ghastly phrase, in a way there’s nothing that a lot of observers would like more than to see the two of [them] descend into some kind of ‘cat fight’.”
(As though all the chest-thumping, shirt-fronting, shouty, abusive male bravado that goes on in Australian politics would ever be belittled to something as nasty as a ‘cat-fight’.)
“I think the women leaders feel a real onus not to get down into the gutter,” Clarke wrote, paraphrasing Michelle Obama’s wonderful line: “When they go low, we go high.”
But back to Caitlin Moran and the concept of marrying your glass ceiling. Michelle Obama did – but didn’t. She may have stepped back to allow Barack to become US President but now she’s having a post-White House renaissance with her wildly successful book Becoming (the second most read autobiography after The Diary of Anne Frank) and her new podcast The Michelle Obama Podcast.
Obama was among the thousands of people who paid tribute to the notorious, trailblazing, and brave Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last weekend at the age of 87.
“To lose that kind of icon in this time that we’re in, because we’re facing some difficult times, it’s heartbreaking but it should also be eyeopening,” Obama told Conan O’Brien – whose own mother cracked glass ceilings by becoming one of the first female graduates of Yale Law School
Ginsburg, of course, married a man who lifted her glass ceiling ever higher so she could be the person she needed to be.
As Jill Filipovic wrote in her article ‘Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn’t solve sexism in America, but she died trying’:
“[RBG] represented the kind of path to influence and power that today’s young women can imagine emulating, succeeding because of her own hard work, her meticulousness, and her intelligence (and, it should be said, to her excellent decision to marry a man who saw her as his intellectual and professional equal). She wasn’t on a soapbox with a megaphone; she was a quieter sort of dissident, always cool and collected even when she was clearly enraged, a kind of sharp fury that occasionally came across in her dissents – ice so cold it burns.”
We all need to be able to see our glass ceilings for what they are – with a clarity like ice so cold it burns.
And with that, my dear friends, I bid you a wonderful weekend full of love and honesty.