Why I don’t believe men when they say they want flexibility at work

Why I don't believe men when they say they want flexibility at work thumbnail

“Poor men.”

That’s what I hear every time I write about the unfair burden of domestic work and caring for children that falls on women. Men are expected to work so hard that they are deprived of family time. And then criticised for it by feminazis like me.

When it was revealed recently that only one in three fathers who are eligible for paid paternity leave actually take it, we heard about how unfair it is that it’s culturally unacceptable for men to take two weeks off to spend with their newborn.

Don’t I know that work/life balance and flexible work is a luxury that is only afforded to mothers? That fathers would love to spend more time with their families, it’s just that our hyper-masculine work culture doesn’t allow it?

To which I say: BS.

It’s time we call the standard retort “men would love to take on more responsibility at home but their hands are tied” what it is: an excuse.

I used to work with a number of male colleagues with young families who would be the first to put up their hands for interstate travel so they could get a good night’s sleep. It was so common it was a running joke in the office.

As adman Nigel Marsh admitted in his book, Fat Forty and Fired, when he came home from work early he’d sit out the front of his house in his car until his wife had put the kids to bed so he didn’t have to deal with the chaos inside.

At the end of the Christmas holidays, every year without fail, a father will joke to me about how glad he is that the holidays are over so he can go back to work. But the thing is, it’s not a joke.

It’s the truth at the heart of so much domestic inequality. Men prioritise work over family because work is often easier. Men are not agitating for workplace change because, for many, the status quo works just fine for them.

Take carers leave. How many men take it when their kid is sick? Most have the same number of eligible days as their working female partner. But many choose to go to work, not because they’re unable to stay home, but because they just don’t want to.

And I get it. I don’t know a mother who hasn’t wished she could pick up her keys and walk out the door, leaving behind a screaming/snotty/vomiting child with little more than a sympathetic smile and a “sorry honey, I’ve got a meeting”.

I’ve had high-stress corporate jobs working long hours, managing big teams and big budgets. I’m also a mother. In the competition between which is harder, there is no competition.

I’ve never had a client as demanding as a two-year old.

I’ve never been responsible for a work problem as gut-wrenching and as high stakes as a vomiting child who’s at risk from dehydration and needs to be hospitalised. No work project has ever been so demanding that I didn’t get more than one hour sleep in a row for months on end.

I’ve never been so bored in any work meeting or professional development day as I have been playing imagination games for hours. And that’s saying something; I’ve attended some pretty godawful professional development sessions.

Sure, there are plenty of jobs with higher stakes than I had as a management consultant. But paid jobs have training, best-practice, processes, colleagues, holidays, sick days, lunch times and home times.

What often underlies the complaint about men’s lack of workplace flexibility is the implication that if women want men to do more at home then feminists should solve the corporate culture problem. But if men really wanted to have more “life” than “work” in their work/life balance they would be fighting for it themselves.

But men remain mostly silent on the issue.

Where are the regular opinion pieces by male commentators in the newspapers? Or the social media campaigns, conferences or national days of action? Why haven’t they made it an election issue?

Of course men will say that if they fought for workplace flexibility they would be penalised for it. Their careers would suffer.

Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Women’s careers suffer from this too.

Mothers are penalised for prioritising family life with poorly paid and unsatisfying part-time work. In fulltime work our careers suffer on “the mummy track” with stagnant salaries and being overlooked for promotions.

One in three Australian women retires without any superannuation. And on average, Australian men retire with super balances twice the size of women’s.

Women also pay with endless emotional labour, sleep deprivation and exhaustion from being forced to do the second shift of domesticity by ourselves.

If men fought as hard for workplace flexibility as women have done for decades the issue wouldn’t be reduced to a “women’s problem”. It would be a workplace issue, and it would be solved by now.

Too harsh? Am I wrong about men wanting to maintain the status quo? I sure hope so. And I relish the day when I’m proven wrong.

Daily Life

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