Gender equality: can men and women both ‘have it all’?

Pebbles balancing against an ocean backdrop

Each year, the theme for International Women’s Day highlights a particular aspect of the fight for gender equality. This year’s theme centres on gender balance, and what can be done to achieve an equitable balance at home, in the workplace and in society.

#BalanceForBetter seeks to create a more gender-balanced world where people are celebrated and represented equally regardless of their gender. It examines the roles and responsibilities typically associated with traditional gender roles asking ‘who has more, who has less?’. In the responsibilities associated with raising a family while maintaining a career, the disparity between gendered expectations is significant.

While most people acknowledge these expectations need to change, many people haven’t seen an example of what this looks like in the real world.  

We spoke to Murdoch student James Treacy, who knows first-hand what it takes to find balance in work and home life.

An equally ambitious couple

James and his partner Catherine share long term goals to become doctors within their respected fields, and in Catherine’s final year at medical school, she gave birth to their first child. Not long after, she returned to university to complete the final month of her studies, two weeks of finals, and make up the four weeks she took off to have their baby. With such an intense schedule, the two decided together that James would support Catherine by caring for their child at home.

“For her to be able to do this I quit my job and took a semester off university.  This was the beginning of my time as a stay at home parent and it continued into the next year so she could complete her intern year and gain permanency in her work.

“In terms of career progression for her, our choice for me to stay home allowed her to get onto the career ladder as a doctor whilst she was also the bread winner for our family.”

After remaining at home full time for the first 6 months of their child’s life, James decided returned to his studies at university, while continuing his role as a stay at home parent. James and Catherine’s life highlights how both genders can experience success in their working and home life without adhering to traditional roles by choosing one or the other.

But for James, his experience has also highlighted the flaws in the current support systems available to working families who attempt to take a more gender-balanced approach to work and home life. 

“After taking 18 months away from work and having been the parent whose career has been put on pause, I realise how little men truly grasp the way child rearing affects the pay gap and career development.

“I find it worrisome that a lot of policy pertaining to child-rearing, be it at a national, state, local or uni level, is often written or endorsed by people who don’t have the coal-face experience to understand the effects.”

The reality of ‘having it all’ with family, work and study

Like any family and work situation, there are still similar highs and lows.

“As with any family with young children, there are struggles. For the parent who is not home, they feel they are missing out on seeing their kids grow up. For the parent who is home, they feel they are missing out on personal and career development.

“I suspect there is an added layer of complexity because being a male in the home role it can be quite isolating.  The current picture we have of parenting doesn’t make much space for full time dads and a lot of social interactions I have are just me explaining how it works to confused and judgmental looks.  I might add that the judgement on me is positive, whereas my partner receives a different judgment." 

So how can both men and women steer away from traditional gender roles to find a balance in their careers and home life?

“Something my partner and I say is that ‘you can have it all, but you can't have it all at once’.  When it comes to children and work, traditionally, women take on the parenting responsibilities and give up their careers.

“There is a double standard, in which women must work to prove they are equal to men in capacity, but also still take on the child rearing responsibilities without missing a beat.  Men on the other hand simply work and if they do some parenting, that makes them a super dad. 

“So, we have decided we both want to parent and we both want to have a career, the thing is we just have to swap roles regularly.  I’ve taken a job this week and my partner will be home for a while, because we can have it all, just not at once.”

James is speaking at tomorrow’s International Women’s Day event at Murdoch.

Posted on:

7 Mar 2019

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