I remember being shocked the first time I heard it - uproarious cheering over the HSC result. It wasn’t that my school had come near the top of the state or that one of the students received a 100 TER, it was because we had beaten our brother school.
I had just started year seven at one of the top female selective high schools in Sydney. The main message I took from this and my next six years of education was ‘women can do anything’ and I remember being bemused. Of course we can, I thought. Me and my 150 classmates had all been the top of our grades in year six. We had beaten boys left, right and centre in academics, debating, sport. My innocent mind didn’t really understand the lesson we were being given.
They were trying to influence change from the very beginning. They were hoping that by teaching us, the leaders of the future, the women who could change the world, that we can do it all, then maybe it would happen one day.
Now, almost 20 years later, I finally understand what my school was doing. They were trying to influence change from the very beginning. They were hoping that by teaching us, the leaders of the future, the women who could change the world, that we can do it all, then maybe it would happen one day.
However I feel like I’ve been cheated. Women can’t do anything they want. The gender imbalance is real and I know exactly when it started, the day my husband went back to work after our first child was born. Until then, we were equal parents. Although I obviously did the hard work giving birth, my husband was there every step of the way. He timed contractions, mopped my brow and gave me ice chips. In the hospital he attended classes, learned to settle and bath and assisted me in learning to breastfeed by fetching water and trying to learn how a good latch looked (bless him). We shared parenting as equally as we could.
As soon as he returned to work, I became the default parent and it’s stayed like that ever since. It started out because I had given birth and had the breasts so obviously there was no other choice. However it continued that way because even though my husband had 10 weeks paternity leave after I returned to work, I was then made redundant from my job. There was a new role for me however it had shift hours which were impossible to coordinate with my husband’s shift hours. Considering the redundancy package I was being offered, there was only one real solution.
As soon as he returned to work, I became the default parent and it’s stayed like that ever since. It started out because I had given birth and had the breasts so obviously there was no other choice.
It’s not just me. My group of high school girlfriends work in medicine, law, media, finance and other fields. They’re all working reduced hours and have all made sacrifices both professionally and financially to try and ‘have it all’. All their husbands work full time and although they try to increase flexibility in their working lives, as their responsibilities increase their flexibility decreases thus widening the gap. I’ve even heard of company cultures that would mock and belittle a man if he stayed home with a sick child.
The discrimination is then perpetuated in the world we live in. It’s the Mother’s Day morning tea at your kid’s school at 11am when the Father’s Day morning tea was 7:30am. It’s the ‘flexible’ school hours jobs aimed at women that pay a pittance, as though women who have borne children aren’t smart or driven enough to earn a decent wage. It’s the lack of options to do anything else.
The truth is, I don’t want to work full time at this stage of my life. I do want to spend some time home with my children, particularly as my husband works on weekends so during the week is often the only time we have together as a family. I’m lucky that I have been working three days a week for the past 18 months and am now home with a new baby. I do think there are companies that are embracing flexibility and work-life balance and I was lucky enough to find one.
I do want to spend some time home with my children, particularly as my husband works on weekends so during the week is often the only time we have together as a family.
However what I do want is options. I want to know that I don’t have to sacrifice salary, benefits or choose a role beneath my experience because that’s all I can find that is part time. I want my friends to not have to stay in roles they hate because it’s flexible and they can’t find anything out there that suits their needs. I want women to stop saying that it’s not worth them working because their salary won’t cover childcare (as though that’s not a family expense). I want flexible, interesting, well paid, part time opportunities that could suit both men and women to be the norm.
Maybe my school wasn’t all wrong. Perhaps we will change the world, by writing one article at a time.
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