This post asks, “Why do we still have trouble acknowledging men’s and women’s experiences in public and private spaces are different?“.
“I think you should take out reference to gender; it’s too inflammatory”, “We don’t want to make it a women vs men thing”, and “Don’t try and be too politically correct”.
Try to champion gender equity, and you will likely come up against these statements. There is still a significant reluctance from many men and a surprising number of women to acknowledge the truth about how gender disparity plays out in our lives.
A mother who recently returned from maternity leave told me she was relieved to be making her own money again. During her leave, she was answerable to her partner about spending; he was the breadwinner while she cared full-time for their children. She had to seek permission to buy items outside groceries and clothes for their children. Without her own income and with two small dependent children, she one day stopped and realised she couldn’t leave even if she wanted to. When this realisation strikes us like a wet cloth to the face, we stumble backwards and gasp for air.
“What’s your name, gorgeous?” he said as she walked past with her friends. Rather than ignore him as she had every right to, she said quietly, “Hannah”. I saw this interaction when I was out in the city recently, and it reminded me of when I was younger and still choosing to regularly stay up past 10 pm. A friend I would go out with was constantly harassed by men. She was and still is quintessentially beautiful, her button nose and olive skin like honey to passersby. She would be stopped at restaurants or walking down the street as men of all ages tried to chat her up. These interactions hinged on the assumption that she owed these men her time. A feeling of entitlement to women’s time enables this behaviour and affects all women.
When women prepare for a night out, we also prepare escape routes and defences. We hold keys in between fingers, make fake phone calls and refer to imaginary boyfriends. We avoid public transport after dark, sit out of reach in the backseats of Ubers, and park our cars in lit areas. Women employ many strategies to create a sense of control and safety, and it’s exhausting.
Despite our perceptions and experiences of danger in public places, our homes and private lives present the most risk. Women are most likely to be assaulted by men we know, including family members and intimate partners. One woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
The risk of domestic and family violence increases during pregnancy and when we become mothers. Yet systems built around patriarchal motherhood force us to depend on our partner (if we have one). Maternity leave and family tax benefits are designed with a family income in mind. Mothers taking leave or reducing their hours impact their superannuation contributions and leave entitlements.
Mothers who experience family and domestic violence are often asked why they didn’t leave sooner. Aside from the emotional, psychological, and physical danger this presents – there is also the financial. Our current system of patriarchal motherhood traps us. If you are a mother that undertakes primary care for your children, you are inadvertently choosing a life of dependence or a life of poverty, or both.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can use different policy responses to move away from patriarchal motherhood and toward empowered motherhood. Empowered motherhood gives us real choices in how we mother or if we become a mother at all. Our empowerment begins with agency about our reproductive rights.
The Senate Select Committee on Work and Care report highlights how people, including mothers, are disadvantaged by their care roles. Recognising unpaid care in our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a key recommendation from the Senate Report. Estimates suggest unpaid care work in Australia was valued at $650 billion in 2016; this amount represents half our current GDP.
If unpaid care work were measured through ABS and other tools, it could be accounted for in the Federal budget. Arguing against recognition and remuneration for unpaid carers becomes much more problematic with cold, hard data. Perhaps then it would be possible to introduce the evidence-based policy responses many are advocating for to create financial security during motherhood, such as 52 weeks of paid parental leave, universal quality early childhood education and care, and social security above the poverty line.
The Work and Care inquiry concluded the system isn’t working. Patriarchal motherhood deliberately stacks the system against us. I urge you to be part of the change.
Join The Parenthood, join your Union, and continue supporting Middle Ground Motherhood. Our campaign to address transport equity, Kidical Mass Adelaide, is raising funds for our annual demonstration event on 24 September 2023 – check out the GoFund Me here. Being able to make safe choices about how we get places is also part of the solution.
Contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) to access support. To learn more about the drivers of violence against women, visit Our Watch.