Can I have a wife please?
Can I Have a Wife Please?

The Spice Girls sang “So tell me what you want, what you really really want” back in the 1990’s. My two kids kids were 6 and 2 at the time that song was released. I wish someone had asked me then what I really really wanted. I would have said, can I have a wife please?

Back then, my life was dominated by the 3 C’s.  Cooking. Cleaning. Caring. Career, whilst an incredibly important other “C” to me, was required to take a back seat. Even though I was an ambitious and driven young working parent, my career necessarily went into holding mode whilst I juggled the 3 C’s and (part-time) work.

There is not one doubt in my mind that if I knew then, what I know now, I would have asked, or demanded, a lot more. I would have asked:

  • Can I have a wife please? (to enable my career)
  • Can I have a pay rise? (to be paid equally and what I am worth)
  • Can someone make childcare affordable? (to remove one of the biggest barriers to my economic advancement)
  • Can you stop overlooking me, and my ambition, because of YOUR mindset about women, work and leadership? (to ensure that I can reach my fullest potential, irrespective of societal and gendered attitudes about my role in the world)

I Need a Wife 

When I read “The Wife Drought” by Annabel Crabb a few years ago, I laughed, albeit though gritted teeth. I was envious that there were advantages that one has when one has a life partner who enables one’s career by doing “wifely” stuff. I read the book thinking “I need a wife!” The books correctly points out the advantages and ‘potent economic empowerment‘ that having a stay at home spouse delivers.

If I had a stay at home spouse back in the 1990’s, I could have:

  • worked continuously, without an unpaid career break;
  • not had my superannuation contributions stopped each time I took maternity leave;
  • not had to pay almost my entire salary in child care fees;
  • worked hard, got noticed, got promoted and advanced my career and financial situation at a much faster rate than it actually occurred;
  • been a hell of a lot happier than I actually was.

Instead, I became another statistic where I was economically disadvantaged because of the systemic barriers that working female parents face. My personal gender pay gap started when I was 25 and a first-time mother. I had to take unpaid parental leave, my superannuation stopped, then, when I did return to work, I had no option to work flexibly, so I had to work part-time, spent a monarchs ransom on childcare and was overlooked for promotions because I was “only part-time”.

But that was then. Right?

We All Need….something to change!

I’ve just finished reading the latest offering by Annabel Crabb. Men at Work; Australia’s Parenthood Trap. The essay tells us that whilst women have benefited from significant social change in the last 40 years, particularly when it comes to the workplace, mens lives have barely changed. Not because they don’t want to, but perhaps because society (thats us) stubbornly cling to the gender stereotypes imposed in a historical time.

I read the essay by Crabb through a veil of outrage because let’s face it, it is that nearly three decades on from when I became a first time mother. My Spice Girls fan girl daughter is now the same age as I was when I gave birth to her older brother. What is really really crappy, it that she will, should she choose to become a parent,   face many of the same barriers that her mother did in the 1990’s.

What is even MORE crappy, is that my now 29 year old son, her older brother, realistically has just as few choices as working fathers did when he was born. Men are not taking parental leave, men do not work flexibly in large numbers and are still trapped by the rigid gender stereotypes society imposes on them. Which means women are still trapped as well. Women are still expected to be The Wife. Women are still expected to shoulder the greater share of the 3 C’s. Cooking. Cleaning. Caring.

Both men and women are being held back by outdated attitudes about who bears the responsibility for the 3 C’s. The reality is that the collective prosperity of our nation and the individual sense of fulfilment are being held back by attitudes that should only be observed in history books. So despite the fact that my experience was ‘back then’ in the 1990’s, it doesn’t appear that much has REALLY changed, for working parents of all genders.

What You Must Do Now

If you’ve kept reading until here, then I can only assume that you are curious about what it is that you can do.  So here is my call to action:

  1. Examine your mindset and behaviours about women, work, cooking, cleaning and caring.
  2. Examine your mindset and behaviours about men, masculinity, work, cooking, cleaning and caring.

When you’re done, have a think about what action you can take to enable women and men to never, ever have to ask “can I have a wife please?” Because we all have a role to play when it comes to challenging stubborn gender stereotypes that harm men, women and society.


Man Up TV: Saving Mens Lives

The Man Box: A study on being a young man in Australia

The Equilibrium Challenge: How real men work flexibly

APLEN: Advancing Parental Leave Equality

Parents at Work: the future of work is gender equal

Flexible Working Day: tackling flexism head on

Michelle is a trusted advisor to leaders who are serious about moving gender diversity from conversation to action in their workplace. Have a chat to see how she gets stuff done! 

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