One day as a 13-year-old girl, I remember gazing out of the back seat window as my mother drove us home from school. It was 1979. I was dreaming of my future career, and ticking off in my mind the occupations I might choose. Book publishing would be great, I thought, or breeding Palominos. Or maybe a lab scientist. Or a palaeontologist. As neat houses and well-kept gardens flashed by, I was also dreaming of my creative grown-up life-to-be running a lovely home. The future was inviting.
Yet I was uneasy. Career and home both seemed a key ingredient in a satisfying life-to-be, but I could sense that no woman-shaped workplaces were forming in the feminist foment of the 1970s in which I was growing up. How did a woman do both?
Feminism had no answer to that question back in 1977. Forty years later, it still doesn’t.
The 9-to-5 workplace, designed for a man with a wife at home, is still overwhelmingly in place. Workplace practices that allow a woman to pick up and put down her paid work to send an e-mail to her children’s school, or to dash to the store to buy supplies for the kids’ science experiment due tomorrow, scarcely exist. Unpaid leave to care for sick children (beyond her own mandated sick leave) is desperately needed by almost all mothers, but is not on feminism’s radar. And the school-hours economy, which should be a fixture in many sectors by now? Not even a twinkle in feminism’s eye.
Workplaces are Masculinist
How did this happen? How did a feminist movement that promised so much deliver so little?
The answer is that women at the top are masculinists. These are the feminist ‘leaders’ who believe not that the workplace should fit women, but that women should fit the masculine timetable and conditions of the workplace.
Those feminists are wrong. Workplaces are for women. Women are people who run homes and raise children. A workplace that welcomes women is one that acknowledges that she has dinner to cook, by ending her work-day at 3 p.m. It expects that as a mother, she may have to work from home, or not at all, when the kids are sick. It makes kids welcome with a beanbag and TV in a spare meeting room some afternoons, so mothers don’t fork out for after-school care five days a week. It knows that, as the lead home-maker, she may need to spend two or three days per week running errands and cleaning house. It understands that she may have large one-off tasks like moving house, that will need blocks of unpaid days off here and there. It faces up to the fact that mothers need to care for kids in school holidays.
Sure, not all employers can offer jobs designed around a woman’s need to run a home and care for the kids. Plenty of employers can, however. And until they do, our economy can’t claim to be a space of ‘equal opportunity’.
What About You?
Does your workplace offer job conditions tailored to women? A timetable expressly designed for mothers? Do you have a great tale to share of how your employer accommodates you when your children are sick? Does your organisation let your children come to the office after school? Is your work as a mother and home-maker respected in your workplace? Or is it ignored, or even disparaged? Share your experiences here, or at @RoarLikeaWoman on Facebook.
Natalie Ritchie is a mother of two boys, 13 and 15, and was most recently features editor of Australia’s biggest parenting magazine, CHILD. When she is not ferrying kids to basketball and writing to change the world, she is living the dream as an Indiana Jane, decoding hieroglyphs and digging as a student of Egyptology.
Roar Like A Woman: How Feminists Think Women Suck and Men Rock by Natalie Ritchie went on sale 5 June, 2018.
Image credit: Unsplash