By Hugh Joughin
“Well, we haven’t got anything against employing a male…”
No, this is not a line out of some satirical TV show. I heard these words (twice) during my recent search for a job. I left my previous work due to a combination of a desire to pursue other opportunities, and because I’d had a complete gutsful of the big corporation I was part of. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit it, but I realize now that I was pushed to the brink and beyond.
During my time “between jobs”, I experienced some rather ugly aspects of humanity. It came to my attention in no uncertain terms that too much time spent at home engaging in domestic activities was not at all healthy for the male species. Messages started filtering through that something had to be done.
One day while I was hanging out the washing, my mind flashed back a few years when relatives were visiting from the North Island. In my flashback, I remember coming back inside having just finished hanging out a fresh load. The atmosphere inside however, was far from fresh.
Apparantly I was doing far too much “around the house”. Hell… I am a completely housetrained man !!! While this may or may not be deemed as a virtuous male trait in 2004, it is by no means supposed to get in the way of a man earning a crust.
We superficially judge a persons worth upon, firstly, whether they are officially employed or not, and secondly, what they actually do for a job if they are employed. Nobody cops this more than a man with a family.
I think a lot about work, that necessary blight in our lives. Many people will say I think way too much about work (as opposed to actually doing it). As a man of course, there is no escaping the shackles of the workforce, however it manifests itself.
Come rain, hail, shine and childbirth, it’s something we are supposed to just keep on doing. In their book, “The next generation” Jane and James Ritchie outline what the depression years meant in terms of employment.
“For the blokes, these were often times of crisis. How could you be a good provider without a job? And being a provider was the basic foundation for being a man”.
Ah yes, the good ol’ financial provider and rock; the natural hunter-gatherer, etc. So, have attitudes really changed that much in 70+ years? Much has been written in more recent history about the world of work. You know, 106 career changes, 15 redundancies, 24/7 working week, at home Dads, she earns more than he.
Through all these social upheavals and developments, there seems to be one constant that will never, ever change. BLOKES HAVE GOT TO WORK AND PULL THEIR FINANCIAL WEIGHT. A decent stretch out of work will reinforce this to any guy on the globe.
Women don’t escape the pressure either. My beloved was asked many times when and/or if she was going back to work (and not just by me !). But a woman who juggles career and family is deemed to be highly virtuous, she is the woman who miraculously, somehow “does it all” (but not a stay at home mum strangely- that is SO easy!).
A man who juggles however… “Nahhh…It’s just not the same…. is it”. He who juggles is seen as the guy who only works part time, and goofs around picking up the kids from school. To be anything less than the primary breadwinner is to be less of a man.
The Prime Minister recently wrote an excellent piece about work-life balance in New Zealand. In it she suggests that many businesses are trying to address the balance, moving forward to a less gender specific approach, which actually increases staff loyalty, job satisfaction, and productivity, while reducing absenteeism, and staff turnover.
Awareness of the work-life balance for men seems to be definitely in its infancy in New Zealand. The corporation I worked for gave me a free “baby pack” full of goodies before each birth, but offered absolutely no “after sales service”. Help options were in place (like free counselling), but most of it was “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” stuff.
Helen Clark points to an Equal Employment Opportunity Trust survey, which found that eighty percent of employed fathers would like to spend more time with their families. I wonder how many of these fathers are encouraged by their employer to achieve that particular goal?
My wife has recently returned to the workforce part time. The main problem with this is the shift-work. She has complained on many occasions that she is no longer able to do the school pick ups or drop offs. I kind of understand her anguish, but then thought this through for myself.
When I worked full time, I missed out on a whole heap with the children, day after day, year after year. I just so felt like the secondary parent, that I would often cry with frustration. I was there as much as I possibly could have been, but I couldn’t compete with a full time Mum. I am positive that my wife simply wouldn’t have tolerated the situation that I had to live, if the roles were reversed.
Now that the children are at school, we have a fairly good work balance between us, but back then she wanted to be at home and I was (mostly) happy to play the breadwinner. It’s just the way it worked out, but it did mean someone missed out on quantity time with the kids. That someone was me, and I have legitimate feelings around that.
My time out of work convinced me that gender employment stereotypes are as prevalent now as they have been during previous generations. Government departments like “Work and Income”, tend to reinforce the “man as breadwinner” model.
As I cast my eye around the employment section of the newspapers, I saw first hand that the roles open to woman actually seemed to be wider than for men.
I also saw how totally intimidating the wording of these advertisements are for anyone seeking their first job. Most companies basically want some kind of superhuman, who will basically spill blood for the cause, if their “situations vacant” advertisement is anything to go by ! The figures still indicate that men are more represented at the management level, but at other “front office” levels, the opposite seemed to be true.
Walk into any industry you can think of, and take a look at the gender mix of the people you first come across. I would have thought that in 2004, we would be living in more enlightened times, where gender employment roles were far more open and family friendly attitudes extended to all members of the family.
Maybe New Zealand’s very first elected female Prime Minister can change the psyche of a nation, and give males the true freedom to explore different occupation options that benefit them and their kids. Or is that sounding too much like election year propaganda?