Choose to Challenge - #IWD2021

 by Anna Ambrose  @AnnaAmbrose

On Friday 6th March, 2021, I noticed a thing on my Facebook feed. It was the last day (for now at least, fingers crossed) of home-schooling for families in England. And men were busy thanking their amazing wives* for home-schooling their children. There were gifts. Flowers. Champagne. The works. How lovely.

[*Obviously not everyone is married. But these posts were genuinely all about wives, so I may over-use the word in what follows.]

When I saw the first post, I thought it was a bit OTT. Then came another, and another, and another, and gradually my blood began to boil. Because this was men-with-full-time-jobs thanking women-with-equally-full-time-jobs for home-schooling their children. I’ll put it another way – it was men thanking their wives & partners for running themselves ragged trying to do two (or more) things at once and sacrificing at least a little of their career, so they didn’t have to do a 50% share. So whilst the flowers were a heart-warming gesture, I think pulling their weight from the start would have been better still.

Over the weekend, I mused about this on Twitter – admittedly a slightly passive aggressive response when I could have said something on Facebook where the posters in question might have actually seen it.

What I tried to say (and it’s hard to sound this reasonable within a character limit) was that I know that everyone has just had to muddle through the last year of on-and-off home-schooling as best they can. I totally respect that everyone’s solutions look different, and that since I don’t know everyone’s personal, professional and financial details I can’t comment on their decisions. I’m not judging anyone personally.

So my anger at all these messages wasn’t at the individuals concerned – my friends, muddling their way through a tough year in the way that worked best for them and their families.

But, when that pattern made itself so obvious on Friday, my anger was at our society where it’s still been the default for so many families that it’s Mum who has juggled work and childcare, who has reduced her hours, and who will probably pay a price in terms of her career. For every family making those choices, it’s probably seemed logical – maybe Mum earns less already, maybe her work is more flexible, maybe Dad’s work isn’t as accommodating.

Why then? It’s all the same reasons why women tend to be the ones who go part time after having children, and it’s all the same reasons that turn into a self-fulfilling scenario that when the kids are ill, it’s Mum who takes time off. And when older relatives need care, it’s women who step up. And so on, and so on.

Why? Because despite all the progress we’ve made and all the efforts of generations of women before us, women are still operating in a deeply unequal world. Whether it’s the ‘motherhood penalty’ and the ‘fatherhood bonus’ which sees mothers lose out relatively to their peers whilst fathers gain, whether it’s pay-gaps or boardroom representation, the playing field isn’t level. It goes right back to the things we think we’re capable of, the careers we and others think we’re suited to, the paths set out for us from an early age.

I think the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on working mothers (see plentiful evidence and lots of great writing about this which I won’t attempt to summarise) has forced us to confront the reality that a lot of the equality we thought women had was so unbelievably fragile. Let’s not forget that these inequalities, which see men struggling to get the flexibility they crave to enjoy and fully contribute to family life, or steered away from caring careers towards something more ‘masculine’, do everyone a disservice too.

So, I was angry with the system for its hard-baked sexism, not with my friends for their cute bunches of flowers.

But then I looked at the theme of International Women’s Day on March 8th: Choose to Challenge. What if those men had chosen to challenge those norms, whether that was when they were discussing how to accommodate the kids at home for lockdown, or a little earlier when their career path and that of their wives/partners began to diverge? They might not have been buying flowers and bubbly, but they might have been doing half the home-schooling shifts and sharing the plate-spinning / juggling act at home. They might have challenged their boss’s resistance to giving them the flexibility to do so, or even their wife’s assumption that this was hers to deal with. They might even have enjoyed it…

Perhaps in retrospect I am a little bit angry with those men and their thanks and their flowers. I hope the Choose to Challenge cry of this year’s International Women’s Day can be a call not just for women to challenge inequality and unfairness when we see it, but for men to do so too.

***

Massive disclaimer:

  1. I didn’t get chocolates or champagne on Friday.
  2. I have been splitting the childcare / home-schooling 50:50 with my husband.
  3. This blog is about heterosexual couples with children, which of course doesn’t represent all families or all women.

Reblogged with permission from https://annaambrose.wordpress.com/2021/03/08/iwd2021-choose-to-challenge/

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