Being bold, but for what change? #IWD17 #BeBoldForChange

Ms Marvel / Kamala Khan, Muslim-American superhero; source: dailydot.com

Ms Marvel / Kamala Khan, Muslim-American superhero; source: dailydot.com

Wednesday is International Women’s Day, with the theme #BeBoldForChange. While some might argue that there isn’t a need for an IWD, and men’s rights activists might cry, “Where is International Men’s Day?”, there is plenty of evidence that there remains a gender parity problem. Global events such as Brexit and the voting in of the Trump administration suggest that there are a multitude who do not value or champion diversity in gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity or ability.

Pay gaps, inflexible working arrangements, and representation of gender in media, film and the toy aisle, all point towards persistent social beliefs about gender. The wife drought, by Australian political reporter Annabel Crabb, is an excellent read on the ingrained gender disparities in Western society and the ways in which they disadvantage both women and men. Gender inequity is an issue for everyone, as evidenced by the around 2 million people – women, men, girls, boys – who marched around the world in the January Women’s March after Trump’s inauguration.

We live in a world where in the same month (February 2017) the US President can comment that he likes White House female staff to ‘dress like a woman’ and LEGO can release a Women of NASA series of figures to counter the highly gendered representations of girls and women in stores (to join LEGO’s female Legal Justice Team and Bioneers). The Gender Pay Equity Insights report can reveal ongoing gender pay gaps in Australia, and Australian Rules Football can introduce a Women’s League competition. The gender equity dance seems to be one of some steps backward, some inertia, some steps forward, and then a step to the side.

Hidden Figures screen shot source: huffingtonpost.com

Hidden Figures screen shot; source: huffingtonpost.com

The teaching profession is dominated by women, but school leadership globally remains a male-dominated field associated with masculine qualities (Cunneen & Harford, 2016). I work at a school that is co-educational to Year 6, and single-sex boys to Year 12. We have gender balance in our leadership team, but like most schools in Australia with boys in the high school, the title of the principal is ‘Headmaster’, implying that only a man can hold that position.

In my career I have benefited from the generosity of women colleagues who supported me and women leaders who gave of their time and expertise to support me in my growth. Equally, I have profited from the collegiality and support of men who have played pivotal roles in my work and my career. In more recent years, my nerd herd, Twitteratti and Voxer squad have provided diverse global colleagues, coaches and accountability partners. My mentors, coaches, advocates, professional friends and cheerleaders have been so because of their capacity for empathy and their willingness to give of themsleves to others, to pay forward and to reach back. Each has offered me something unique.

Rogue One film still; source: blastr.com

Rogue One film still; source: blastr.com

I have made deliberate choices in my life, reflecting the IWD theme this year of being bold for change. For me, being bold has been to be true to my own intuition about what makes a good parent, a good educator, a good leader and a fulfilled individual capable of being present with her children, present in her work, and occasionally present in her relationship and present with herself. Of course this tenuous balance is not so easily enacted.

For my male high school students, I aim to be an example of empathy, teaching and leadership. For my male children, I aim to be a present, engaged parent who is also engaged in her own pursuit of personal excellence and contribution to a good greater than myself. By modelling an equitable partnership in concert with my husband, I hope our boys will grow up accepting notions of gender parity at home and feeling comfortable to choose paths that suit them as individuals. Teaching, modelling and leading social justice, diversity and equity, at home and at school, can help our students and our children accept these as given.

Ghostbusters promotional image; source: blastr.com

Ghostbusters promotional image; source: blastr.com

Annabel Crabb’s words still ring true for me, even though I read her book three years ago:

The obligation that evolves for working mothers, in particular, is a very precise one; the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.

There is the constant tension between the obligations of work and home. My inner primal mama bear feels the umbilical tug of my children no matter how far from them I am. Yet there is also the underlying and constant hum of hunger for intellectual stimulation, professional exhilaration and personal challenge. It is the hunger that propelled me back to work after having each of my children, and that led to my doctorate. My PhD—submitted within three years of enrolling and completed while working and parenting two young children—is my most visceral example of being bold for change. As a sustained challenging endeavor, in which life events intervened along the way to make things at times crushingly difficult, it shaped me and made me feel stronger in the struggle and via the conquering.

LEGO's new Women of NASA figures; source: sciencealert.com

LEGO’s new Women of NASA figures; source: sciencealert.com

One of the great challenges for me is, to use an airplane analogy, fitting my own oxygen mask before I can help others. I have learned to prioritise exercise, yoga and self-care as non-negotiables, rather than the first thing to go when life gets busy or an optional add-on. My children, my husband, my students and my colleagues all benefit when I am in one piece physically, emotionally and mentally.

For girls and boys, men and women, being bold for change can mean apologising less or demanding more from ourselves and those around us. It can mean calling out casual sexism at school, work or at social gatherings. It can mean sharing unpopular opinions or having uncomfortable conversations. It can mean advocating for your child’s, your friend’s or your own non-stereotypical choices. It can mean putting yourself first, or making a sacrifice for someone else. It can mean saying ‘no’, or saying ‘yes’.

International Women’s Day provides us all with the opportunity to bring mindfulness to issues of gender, diversity and privelege.

Shepard Fairey's protest posters for the Trump inauguration; source: theverge.com

Shepard Fairey’s protest posters for the Trump inauguration; source: theverge.com

References

Crabb, A. (2014). The wife drought: Why women need wives, and men need lives. Ebury Australia.

Cunneen, M., & Harford, J. (2016). Gender matters: Women’s experiences of the route to principalship in Ireland. In K. Fuller and J. Harford (eds.). Gender and leadership: Women achieving against the odds. Peter Lang.

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Work-family fulfilment: The elusive sweet spot

I have never met a woman, or man, who stated emphatically, “Yes, I have it all.” Because no matter what any of us has—and how grateful we are for what we have—no one has it all. ~ Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In

Usually this édu flâneuse blog is focused on teaching, education, school leadership and research, although I have written about self, travel and gratitude. This post, which was incited by reading Annabel Crabb’s 2014 book The Wife Drought, is about partners, parents and families grappling to find collective fulfilment. What does it mean to be a partner and parent in a world where everyone is leaning in?

my two boys adventuring

my two boys adventuring

Recently, as the mother of a two and a four year old, I went on a work trip, my first solo travel since the birth of my eldest. Apart from the very occasional overnight (drop-off-at-bedtime pick-up-at-breakfast) sleepover, I had never been away from my children. My husband had travelled consistently since they were born, but this experience was new to me. As I strode at a grown-up pace through the airport, wheeling a single teeny carry-on, it struck me: this was the first time in five years, since first falling pregnant, that I had conceived of myself as a singular entity, a human being in my own right. Of course, there was still the invisible umbilical pull, but this experience of thinking-only-of-myself was both foreign and like slipping on my softest old comfies.

It got me thinking: What makes our lives whole? How do we prioritise family time, husband-wife time, career time, self-care time and home time? Can we be whole or can we only be compartmentalised parts? Is there a work-life-family-self sweet spot?

lean in to sandcastle building

lean in to sandcastle building

I like Jennifer Dulski’s concept of the Work-Life Mashup. Be with people you love and do the work that matters, she says. Focus on what’s important. I also resonated with Rosa Brooks’s response to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: lean out! More is not always better. How about also leaning in to family, happiness and wellbeing?

A good friend recently leant me Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought: Why Women Need Wives and Men Need Lives. Crabb’s message is that, in order to achieve any semblance of work-family happiness, women need support in the home and men need more flexibility to step out of a traditional work model.

Men: supercharged by wives but missing out on lives

“Men’s careers rattle along uninterrupted,” says Crabb. Their wives are the “invisible power-pellet” which makes them more able to succeed in their own careers. “For fathers, having a family gave them a competitive edge,” while for women children make her, “less likely to be employed.” Men don’t tend to take time out from their careers when they have a family. As their children are born and grow, their work lives rocket forward on unbroken trajectories.

The downside of man as breadwinner and woman as homemaker is that fathers are excluded from “a universe of experience … and that’s a sad thing.” Why is a dad looking after his own children called being “Mr Mum” or “Daddy Daycare”, instead of just ‘being a parent’?

My husband recently went to the weekday parent induction for our eldest son’s new school, and he was one of three dads there; the other forty-plus parents were mums. Hopefully he was seen as neither a hero nor a novelty; just a proud, interested and loving parent.

Half-crazed superwomen: doing it all not having it all

Crabb cites studies and statistics which show that women are the ones who tend to adjust their schedules and take on the lioness’s share of the caring and housework responsibilities. She describes this as the age of the “half crazed ‘superwoman’” who attempts to ‘do’ work and family in equal measure, all while having “that feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one does not have a job. To do any less feels like failing at both.” Women tend to step back, step out, or figure out acrobatically-flexible ways to scratch together a work life while their children are small, or pay others to care for their kids.

I have heard an employer say, “if you want efficiency, hire a part-time mum” and Crabb asserts that she uses “every scrap of the day like an Italian farmer uses all of the pig.” We all have our multi-tasking, time-saving routines. I wrote here about the way I approach my PhD schedule. And there are always circumstances under which the delicate ecosystem of childcare, work, family and self, tips on its axis and sends us sprawling.

Social media: help or hindrance?

Social media allows us all to connect to others and share our lives. While my professional social media is focused on my intellectual interests and cultivating professional conversations, I use my personal social media to share moments of beauty or delight which I’ve carved out or stumbled upon: a sunrise at the beach, my children playing happily, a wonky birthday cake I made from scratch. My aim is not to craft an image of work-life-mashup perfection, or to suggest that this social media output is my complete reality. This is the highlights reel, not the whole picture! Crabb warns, though, that women who try to make work-family-life juggling appear easy can’t complain when the world doesn’t notice how much they are struggling to maintain their appearance of effortless togetherness.

For some, social media posts are an additional pressure. Apparently there is a thing called ‘Facebook life envy’. The mother who sees others’ decontextualised posts might wonder: How will I assemble a perfect outfit, while making grain-free dairy-free sugar-free recipes from whole foods grown in my own garden, mixing my own eco-organic-fairtrade face scrub, engineering creative craft activities, hand making personalised Christmas cards, and take a ‘no filter’ photo of a house sparklingly clean from all-natural chemical-free cleaning products?

We need to remember that social media is not life. And our lives are our own to live. 

social media is not reality

the highlight reel: social media is not reality

Finding the Work-Family Fulfilment sweet spot

Crabb concludes The Wife Drought by suggesting that we become accepting of men taking time for family or working more flexibly to achieve their own work-life-family contentment. Men should be able to lean out, she says, without being the subject of ridicule or novelty.

I’m lucky enough to have the kind of mutually supportive relationship that Tanya Plibersek talks about in Crabb’s The Wife Drought. My husband and I support each other professionally and share what we do at home. My husband believes in me as a mother, a wife, a researcher and a professional. He supports me in my dreams: to nurture a happy, connected family; earn a PhD; build a satisfying career; have a love-filled joyful adventurous life. And I support him in his: to be a present, treasured father to our boys; build a family legacy with them; grow his own businesses; develop his reach and impact; nurture professional connections and make a difference to the industries in which he is immersed.

We need to believe in each other’s capacities for awesome, and in each other’s dreams.

It may not be easy or perfect, and my husband and I may live our weekday lives by the ding of an Outlook calendar, but we both want to actively parent our children and be – really be – in their lives. We both work a semi-flexible working week. We share housework. We both have times when one of us is parenting our children and the other is working or traveling. We have lots of time when we are all together. Our boys see us, I think, as equally their parents. They experience us as a whole family unit in which we all work together to support each other as we seek individual and collective happiness. These choices are based on our beliefs. I know many happy families who make different, equally fulfilling choices for their own circumstances and principles. Each family needs to find its own changing recipe for the sweet spot of ‘this works for us, for now’ and ‘this makes us happy’.

Perhaps discussions about work-family-life fulfilment should be less debates in which we tally the percentage of housework done or hours worked or dollars earned by each partner. Can we focus more on talking with our partners and our employers about how we can support each other in our dreams for our selves and our families? What might that look like for our particular family, based on our visions, dreams, opportunities and resources?

There is no “invisible power pellet” or perfect one-size-fits-all recipe for finding the work-family-life-happiness sweet spot. We can only make choices which work for each family at any given time, riding the ebb and flow of life’s messy randomness together, and with a view to serving each individual (parents and children) and the whole.

carve out time & space for joy & simple pleasures

carve out time & space for joy & simple pleasures