Every time an article like Kevin Myers’ distasteful attack on women’s right to equal pay in the workplace appears, comments sections are rife with men claiming they earn more simply because they deserve to – because they are more capable, work harder, do longer hours and take fewer sick days.
Let’s take a second to smash the idea that women are less capable or less willing to pieces:
- Girls consistently outperform boys at school and in college
- Women are more likely to have a third-level degree than men
When it comes to academics, we’re killing it – and the same can be said for our early careers; employment rates in Ireland for female graduates are higher than those of their male classmates; most young doctors in Ireland are female, and the unemployment rate in March 2017 was 6.9% for men compared with 5.8% for women.
So let’s just dispense with the idea that women are incapable or unwilling to work.
And let’s take a second to really grasp how endemic this problem is; Brian Dobson gets paid tens of thousands more than Sharon Ni Bheolain at RTE for doing exactly the same job, Micheline Sheehy Skeffington was awarded €70,000 after being discriminated against in her role as a senior lecturer at NUIG, with four further cases pending, and women continue to be wildly underrepresented in the Oireachtas and Seanad.
There are a myriad of historical, cultural and socio-economic factors at play. possibly the most significant of which is the arrival of little ones on to the scene. Let’s examine a few of the reasons why women who compete so strongly with men in their teens and early 20s drop off the radar as they get older.
INTRODUCING YOUR INVISIBLE, UNPAID PERSONAL ASSISTANT
Almost from the moment they enter a relationship, men outsource the management of their social lives, travel plans, and familial obligations to the women in their lives (“Did you pick up a birthday present for my Mam? Is there a card to go with it? No, you write it”). Unfortunately I can’t offer any hard evidence in this regard – there’s no data available – but the mountain of anecdotal evidence is undeniable.
As the relationship gets more serious, the list of things women hold primary responsibility for expands; cooking, childcare, groceries, making sure the bills get paid, booking dentist appointments, laundry and housekeeping, to name but a few.
Men can afford to spend those extra few hours in the office because women are picking up the slack in every single other aspect of their lives – as well as working full-time in many cases.
This status quo suits men down to the ground, and they’re not going to change it unless we as women decide to stop doing these things for them.
“I can’t remember the last time I booked a flight” a successful male friend told me recently. “At work the PA does it, and at home my personal PA does it”, he said, with a cheeky wink at his wife, who has a successful career herself.
Another male friend recently asked if I wanted to go to a football match, and when I said yes he replied: “Are there tickets available for it?” He and I have access to the same information online, but the implication was clear; I should take over the organisation and planning. “Google it” I replied to his text, resisting the urge to add “I’m not your secretary.” Even in platonic situations – a meal with friends, a weekend away, the responsibility for organising, planning and booking most often falls to the ladies – and like eejits, we do it.
The much vaunted Irish Mammy must take a certain share of the blame for this, for that’s where the cycle of indulging young men and burdening young women with this type of invisible, unpaid life admin starts.
BUT WOMEN TAKE MORE SICK DAYS THAN MEN…
It is a fact that women take more sick days than men, but the evidence suggests that’s because men take too few rather than because women take too many.
Women are more in touch with their own health than men are, so they take time off when they need to – unlike men who are more likely to ignore health problems, choosing not to take care of their physical and mental health, which can have terrible repercussions, including an epidemic of suicide among young men. Seen in this context, fewer sick days is not necessarily something to be lauded.
In most cases, when a parent has to care for a sick child, they need to take time off work themselves – and in most cases, it’s Mam is left holding the baby while Dad goes into the office as normal. In order for mothers to succeed at work, fathers need to take on more of that burden.
TIME TO MAN UP?
The bottom line is that for women to thrive, men need to take more responsibility – for themselves and for their children.
All that life admin that your wife/ girlfriend/ mother/ female friends are taking care of for you right now adds up and it takes a toll. It adds hours to a woman’s day and impacts her stress levels.
And women, let’s stop underestimating men’s ability to look after themselves and to fully play their part in friendships, relationships and family life.
Agree or disagree? Leave me a comment.