I haven’t posted for close to six months because just after that last post, I got a new job. It’s an intense job, where I am the manager of a network of web sites with just over 200 people contributing text and photographs. The thinking space I’m in during my work day is very different from my family space.
When I started, my daughter was in “junior pre-school” four days a week and my partner looked after her the other day. (Adorably, she said “junior picolas” because the consonant combos were a bit much.) Since January, we pushed for her to be moved into the 3-5 class five days a week (she turned three at the end of January but there are few places so many of the other three year olds are still in the junior class. Now she can say “preschooler” and she’s learning at the right level for her.
My partner is now looking for work. Part-time, full-time, we’ll take it. But we’re in a world which seems set up for women to do part-time work and look after their children after hours, not one in which men can do the same. We’re in a world in which women are expected to take years out of their careers and suffer the commensurate loss in salary and status, not men. So my partner is finding he’s not getting interviews. At all. I’m not sure whether he should start explaining that the four-year gap in his CV is one year trying to set up a freelance business in a new country followed by three years parenting or not. What do other stay-at-home parents do? I have no idea.
I spent International Women’s Day this year very aware of my blessings. Full-time work. A country with socialised medicine and abortion rights and a variety of other wins. A female Prime Minister. Penny Wong, our awesome out Minister of Parliament who recently had a baby with her partner and is publicly standing up for same-sex marriage.
It’s also a country where we still have far too much domestic violence and recently gave a bravery award to a man who kicked his pregnant wife in the belly (she later miscarried) just because he (once) saved some people. We live in a world where a singer who hospitalised his girlfriend can still have fame and awards and seemingly few consequences. We still have a rape culture and a slut-shaming culture. And that’s not even starting on the issues of gender in the developing world.
This is the world we raise our daughters in.
I wished my gorgeous three-year-old girl “Happy International Women’s Day” and I explained to her that there were many women in our history who had worked very hard so that she would have a better place to grow up in. I told her that she could be anything she wanted, a doctor, a bricklayer, a teacher, a scientist, a stay-at-home mama, a carpenter, a nurse, a sailor. She said she wanted to stay home and look after babies. I told her she could do that too… but of course, there’s a part of me that’s crushed. How is it that in such a short time out of my influence, in only a year of external socialising in a preschool setting, these kinds of gender roles are already embedded?
She’s started jazz and tap class and loving it but every single child in the class is female. She’s started to say that some games are only for girls and that boys can’t play. She still has some male friends at preschool but there’s a core posse of girls she’s in: her, Eleanor and Abigail, with Elise on the fringes of it.
Her favourite colours are still blue and purple, but she’s started to be pushed towards pink by the sheer overwhelming pinkness of girl culture.
It’s not all bad: when she plays Mummies and Daddies with me, she always says that Mummies have to go to work and that Daddy will look after me (the baby). I’ve also started talking to her about how some families have two mamas or two daddies or even three parents. And she still switches the gender of her favourite doll every other day, including my favourite sentence, “She’s a boy today.” She still says that some day, she’d like a “brother-sister”.
At the end of every day, she asks me, “How was your day at work, Mama?” and I tell her as best I can what I did. Then I ask her how her day was, and find out what she did. If we can keep up that mutual respect and interest, we should be okay.