The 75th Quarterly Essay arrived in my mail box, and it is Men at Work by Annabel Crabb. Here I have summarised and paraphrased:
It’s about social de-engineering. Half a century of modern feminism has changed the way women conduct their lives almost beyond recognition. But men are still in their old box.
In 2014, a 24-year-old man embarking on an average forty-year career can expect to earn $2m over the course of that career. If he has kids, that goes up to $2.5m. A woman of the same age and aptitude, setting out on the same career, can expect to earn $1.9m. But if she has kids, that goes down to $1.3m.
Annabel gets mad that male leaders aren’t asked how they balance the demands of being both a dad and a leader. Female leaders get asked all the time. But by not asking men it’s sending a powerful message. It says ‘no one expects you to care about this.’ It says, ‘it’s not your job to worry about that stuff’. It says, ‘whatever efforts you do make, or whatever private griefs your big job cloaks, are not of interest to anyone’.
We have the term ‘mothers’ groups’, we have the term ‘working mum’, as if that’s special enough to be surprising. But ‘working dad’ isn’t a thing people say.
Over the 9 years since the government’s paid parental leave scheme commenced, 1,236,675 women have taken up the scheme, but only 6,250 men. That’s less than 0.5 per cent.
There are attitudes that receiving public parental leave payments is at some level a scam – money for nothing. If caring for a child is such lowly work that devoting public money to it raises eyebrows, it’s hardly surprising that men as a class don’t feel madly tempted to get involved.
The question men seem to ask themselves, which women don’t have the luxury of asking is: how will I hold on to my identity and my role at work, while also managing my child?
But if you accept, as Annabel and I do, that our culture presently puts pressure on men not to take parental leave or work flexibly, then it is a step towards freedom and equality to remove those constraints.
How does a culture learn to respect and reward a man for being a good and connected father, rather than – or as well as – being a capable breadwinner?
Young men arrive in workplaces who had never sexually harassed anyone, and yet feel the uneasy legacy of #MeToo. These young men have commonly been outperformed at school and university by their female peers, and yet may find their new workplaces have schemes in place to increase the rates at which women are hired or promoted. How galling is it for this generation of men?
How many young men are carrying around this feeling that they are lumped with the transgressions of an older generation, while missing out on entitlements that should reasonably be theirs?
The Equal Opportunity Commission is well aware that men face discrimination around their roles as fathers. Yet, the Sex Discrimination Act explicitly permits employers to treat mothers and fathers differently.
According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, only 2.3% of Australian men took parental leave in 2018. And while 70% of employers have a policy or strategy for flexible working, only 2% have made an explicit effort to involve men. Which – given we already know that women are good at asking for flexible work, and men are bad at it – makes no sense at all.
How can it be that working a compressed work week, working part-time or taking parental leave for a chunk of time is deeply unremarkable – indeed, expected – for women, and yet for men it’s a matter of privilege, luck or indeed in some cases flatly unthinkable?
But there’s also something stuck for dads – something stand in the way of them responding to demands by being around more. What role does male ambivalence play in this pattern of behaviour?