Quarantined roles - we’re not what’s expected

This year, 2020, was supposed to go a certain way. I was bringing a new life into the world for the second time and my partner decided he’d like to have the experience that most fathers miss out on and become primary carer for our baby. We didn’t really think about the reactions people would have to the flip in traditional gender roles.

It wasn’t our intention to be held up as an example of what could be, but I do like the message our situation would send to our employers, friends and the public. I wanted to break down the stereotype of women automatically being perfect mothers at home with a baby while their husband goes off to work to do the ‘important’ work. We are both feminists, unionists, Labor Party members and believe in gender equality.

I have a feminist upbringing, and like many of my generation, it was drummed into me that women can do anything men can. At this life stage, I expected I would be working full-time, using childcare and bringing in around the same income as my partner. How differently that turned out!

I had always wanted to show my kids what equality in a household and in relationships looked like. In preparation for our new addition, we decided in 2019 we’d actively share the traditional ‘women’s’ jobs, with him doing the majority of the unpaid “women’s work”, and me doing the paid “women’s work” later in the year. Pregnancy complications forced me to stop work around 2 months earlier than I had expected and put an end to our “equality experiment”.

It was during this period we experienced how entrenched the gender assumptions are within our community. The healthcare world assumed a name change on marriage and heroized my partner staying home and looking after the kids, annoying but inconsequential. The reactions from his workplace and government agencies were confronting to this feminist family. How could a man possibly take on that role? Were we trying to ‘double-dip’? It was exhausting and incredibly frustrating jumping government hurdles to convince agencies that yes, a man was going to be the primary carer.

I have ended up in extended COVID-19 isolation in hospital. I’m now looking at my family’s new version of home-life from the outside, at a distance. My partner is looking after the three-month-old baby, was trying to home-school a 7-year-old, looking after 2 dogs, running the household, making appointments and remembering to get to those appointments. He is virtually living as a single parent for this time, and I believe (or at least hope) he has been able to truly understand what it means to carry the mental load that many women in hetero-normative relationships carry. Quarantine has meant the load is light, there are no playdates, birthday parties or any of the extra-curricular activities that made up our pre COVID life. He is surprised how revered he seems to be for simply doing a little bit of ‘women’s work’. I am saddened to see how far we still have to go.

As a community, we shouldn’t be praising a male for taking care of his children, we should be demanding other fathers step up. We should be angry that the workplaces that champion women taking on leadership roles, allow flexible working arrangements and implement non-discriminatory policies and procedures are unable to create an environment where all parents can make use of the flexible working arrangements.

My political, feminist heroes give me hope, that I will see kids in my daughters’ generation knowing there’s not a particular ‘place for women’ (unless it’s representing other women!), that they don’t judge people by the clothes people wear or how they wear their hair. They care about positive futures, where they have a voice, where they can see people like themselves and their peers represented and listened to.

“You can’t be what you can’t see”
- Marian Wright Edelman, American civil rights activist

We need more women and men normalising the flipping of traditional gender roles like we are. We know if we don’t see a new or different way of doing things, it doesn’t occur to us to change our ways of thinking and being.

Importantly, we need keep on encouraging women to achieve their potential, especially when that potential is actively getting them into politics and into positions of power to improve the present and plan for an equal and positive future for all of us.

 

Elisabeth is a Registered Nurse working in the community with homeless people. She is a passionate unionist and uses her skills to promote the role of women in politics, leadership and policy making.

 

Do you have a story about the issues we care about: equity, diversity, choice, equal pay, and early childhood education and care? Submit your piece to comms@emilyslist.org.au for consideration.