Initially I thought little of Crikey’s query as to why fewer women than men subscribe and read the daily newsletter — a 70/30 split didn’t seem that bad.
Then I read Liz Gunder’s comments on women still having to work double shifts (paid work followed by unpaid running of a household — providing a catering, laundry and personal assistant service rolled into one — oh, and raising children as well …) and it really rang true.
The thing these observations always neglect to mention, and what is more relevant in this case, is that it’s not just the physical time and energy spent doing these things, but the head space required to take in, remember, organise, plan and act on information about kids’ sports, excursions, plays and parent-teacher nights, what the family is going to eat for the next three nights and what groceries need to be purchased to accommodate this, which family member is having a birthday in the next fortnight and has a card been bought, did anyone pay the power bill, and the all-important how many rolls of toilet paper are left in the cupboard?
By the time this sort of life administrivia is committed to memory and the planning done, then a day job is completed in which similar levels of detailed information needed to be taken in, processed and acted on, is it any wonder that women have little head space left to think about bigger picture issues such as politics, climate change, analysis of the media and the like?
This phenomenon is not limited to mothers, either. As a single, childless female, I still find myself doing more of these sorts of things than any of my single, childless male peers. They seem to have no trouble eschewing grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning in favour of eating take-away, living in squalor (or more commonly finding a female flatmate to do the cleaning), missing people’s birthdays (ahem!) all the while taking their careers to new heights while having female personal assistants (the workplace equivalent to a wife) to make their working lives easier, leaving more head space for the bigger picture.
What is equally striking is the gender difference in relation to caring for older relatives. Some years ago, when my elderly father spent a year fighting a losing battle with cancer, I spent the year running ragged after him and my mother, who was providing full-time care. My mother, being of a generation where it was unusual for women to learn to drive, needed me to provide grocery deliveries, pharmacy runs, a taxi service to doctor’s appointments as well as emotional support. At the time I was employed three days a week and working for myself the rest of the time. For that year, I had to all but put my business on hold and run it at a loss as family responsibilities had to take priority.
What was my brother doing during this period? Nothing. He left home at 16 and lived interstate from then on. His children had grown up and left home by this stage, but it still did not occur to him to fly home to put in some time and effort to support our mother or dying father — nor was he expected to.
When we were left joint executors (did you know the legal word for a female executor is ‘executrix’?) of our father’s will, it was I who did 99% of the work as I was in the same state and my brother was not — he just received things in the mail to sign. Not being legally trained, the process of applying for probate and the associated financial and property dealings, was intellectually and logistically challenging, not to mention the emotional strain of my own grieving process combined with supporting my mother — having lost not only her life partner but sadly her only sibling, my aunt, only three months later.
As with many women who have been in similar situations, I was running around supporting everyone else but was anyone supporting me? No.
Did I have time to think about politics, media, public affairs and world events during this time? Ha! I barely knew the rest of the world existed. I most certainly would not have had time to read a daily email such as Crikey.
I was reminded of this recently when reflecting on how a good friend of mine, a woman in her 50s, is in a time of life when her adult children have only recently left home to live independent lives, when her father-in-law recently passed away, requiring her to provide practical and emotional support to her partner, and now her own father has a debilitating chronic illness, and she is one of a few (female) siblings providing care and support.
Unlike me, she married and had children early in life, thus her education was delayed until later in life. She is still studying part-time, working full-time and has all these caring responsibilities on top of this.
So if Crikey aims for a 50/50 gender split in readership, perhaps encourage more feminist (note, not the same as, or limited to, female) writers to explore these political and social issues of why women have less time to be involved in public life and how we can get men to take on a greater share of the second-shift load.
I also read a few comments on the blog about having more “girly” topics. Please spare me. The reason I subscribe to Crikey is for a gender-neutral and intelligent analysis of the world — if I want the latest in hair care or how to give a good blow job I’ll consult Cleo.
A female-only blog is a nice idea but doesn’t the idea of 90% of Crikey for men and a blog for women seem a teensy bit tokenistic?
I say tinker by all means but only by getting more columns written from a female/feminist perspective will you win over more female subscribers.
At the end of the day, please remain focused on what is more important to society as a whole, whether for men or women, old or young, gay or straight, family or childless, rich or poor, Aussie-born or recently arrived. Major issues affecting society affect us all.