Drawing a long bow – Gillard and cohabitation

By Legal Eagle

Bettina Arndt wrote a piece in the SMH the other day which Paul Norton at LP has described as a “Bondi cigar“, and I must say I’m inclined to agree with Paul’s assessment. Jason Soon alerted me to the piece in the first place, and I must say I’ve stolen his heading for my post (*dips hat*).

The premise of the piece is as follows:

It’s fine for Gillard – a 48-year-old woman – to live with her bloke. Yet as a popular role model for women, her lifestyle choice may influence other women into making big mistakes about their lives.

Cohabitation produces two groups of losers among women and children. Most women want to have children – Gillard is an exception – and some miss out after wasting their primary reproductive years in a succession of live-in relationships that look hopeful but go nowhere, leaving them childless and partnerless as they hit 40.

While the de facto lifestyle leads some women to miss out on having children, others are taking the risk of becoming parents despite these unstable relationships. A growing proportion of children is now born to de facto couples – up from less than 3 per cent in 1975 to 12 per cent in 2000, according to data from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics Survey.

It is often assumed these children will provide the glue to keep de facto relationships together, but sadly this is not so. David de Vaus, a sociology professor from La Trobe University, found cohabiting couples who have children are more like to break up than married parents, increasing their risk of the negative impacts of family breakdown.

So then, of course, I was curious about de Vaus’ research. Had Arndt accurately represented it? My co-blogger, SL, suggested that she had cherry-picked arguments which suited her own purposes.

Research on cohabitation

Contrary to popular wisdom, research has shown that couples who live together before marrying have a greater risk of subsequent divorce than those who do not. However, in a 2005 paper in the Journal of Population Research, de Vaus et al show that it is more complicated than that, and it depends on the changing social context. These days, couples normally live together for a time before they marry. I lived with my husband prior to marriage, my sister did and almost all my friends did. De Vaus et al show that the risk of divorce for couples who lived together before marriage was considerably greater in the 1970s than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, and that there was a progressive decline. The decline was most obvious when controlling for selection effects: once these were controlled for, in the most recent group, “direct” and “indirect” marriages were at equal risk of separation. In fact, some evidence emerged to suggest that premarital cohabitation screened out relationships which were unlikely to last in the long term. De Vaus et al said:

The change in the link between the pathway to marriage and subsequent marital separation highlights the importance of ensuring that conclusions about any heightened risk of indirect marriage are based on recent data. Over the last thirty years the social meaning of cohabitation has changed as premarital cohabitation in many Western countries has changed from being a deviant to the normal pathway to marriage. The duration of premarital cohabitation has doubled, the separation rate of cohabitations has increased substantially, and the conversion of cohabitation to marriage has declined. These changes suggest that premarital cohabitation may now be operating more effectively as a screening-out process whereby the longer time living together is resulting in more unviable relationships not proceeding to marriage.

(David de Vaus, Lixia Qu and Ruth Weston, ‘The Disappearing Link Between Premarital and Subsequent Marital Stability, 1970 – 2001’ (2005) 22 Journal of Population Research 99, 115)

SL pointed me to very recent research which shows that the picture may be even more complicated than this. Jose et al have published an article in the 2010 volume of the Journal of Marriage and Family. This study suggested that, while cohabitation prior to marriage was generally likely to be negative, where the partners who cohabited had an intention to proceed to marriage, their marriages were more stable than those who did not cohabit before marriage. Jose et al say:

The major practical implication of this review is psychologists can inform the public that, despite popular belief, premarital cohabititon is generally associated with negative outcomes both in terms of marital quality and marital stability in the United States. This review also suggests, however, that cohabiting with the eventual marital partner may not be negatively associated with marital stability. In light of this finding, those who are considering cohabitation would be well served to consider their own commitment to the relationship as well as their expectations about what cohabitation will (or will not) lead to. Open discussion between partners about the meaning each person assigns to cohabiting, what each person’s expectations are, and what each person’s desired outcome is may be crucial to coming to a mutual understanding of the experience.

(Anita Jose, K. Daniel O’Leary and Anne Moyer, ‘Does Premarital Cohabitation Predict Subsequent Marital Stability and Marital Quality? A Meta-Analysis’ (2010) 72 Journal of Marriage and Family 105, 113)

You can’t just say that research indicates that living in a de facto relationship is bad, and that you are more likely to split up. It all depends upon the level of commitment of the parties at the outset and the extent to which they have communicated their expectations.

Cohabitation – pros and cons

Cohabitation is not necessarily a Bad Thing. The difficulty comes (as I have discussed in this post) when one party has an expectation that the relationship is quasi-marital and the other party has an expectation that it is not. I reiterate Jose et al’s suggestion that people should carefully consider their expectations when they move in with one another, and be aware of the level of commitment that their partner is willing to provide. I also wonder, as I discussed in the previously linked post, whether we need a default rule for de facto relationships which forces people to “show their hand” so that everyone knows exactly what is intended:

…[I]n Roman times, people who had cohabited continuously for a year were deemed to be in a de facto marriage. Sometimes, a partner would move out of the de facto home just before the year was up to symbolise that he or she did not intend to make the relationship binding. If we had something similar to this in our law, there would be less confusion about the status of a relationship. Each party would be aware of the legal consequences of moving in together, and if one party suddenly moved out, their lack of commitment to the relationship would be perfectly visible to the other.

The rule would have to be well-publicised and broadly known for it to work.

Sexist assumptions of Arndt’s piece

The other thing which annoyed me about Arndt’s piece is that it presumes all women want marriage and children. Yes, many women do want marriage and children. I happen to be one of those, and luckily, I have achieved my desires. But some women do not want marriage, and some women do not want children. Gillard happens to be a woman who does not want children, and has been derided for that choice (think of Senator Heffernan’s jibe that she was “deliberately barren”). From my point of view, if a woman thinks she doesn’t want children, it’s far better that she not have them. As I’ve recounted in a post some time ago, Gillard got in trouble for saying that it would be difficult to be a top politician and a mother. She’s spot on. If you really wanted to devote yourself to the job in the way she has, your children would have to be grown up, or you would have to leave the care of your children to someone else and barely see them. Gillard has made a choice that she is going to concentrate on career, and that’s fine by me. Not every woman is meant to be a mother.

I do sometimes worry that the kind of women who get their hands on the policy levers are women who don’t have children, or women who have made a choice to leave the care of their children with someone else, because you simply can’t get into a position of that power otherwise. Thus, they assume that other women are like them, and regard their career as all-important. As I’ve discussed, some attitudes to maternity leave reflect the idea that women are simply champing at the bit to get back into that career, but not all women feel this way (particularly if their job was not very stimulating in the first place). My main concern is that women have choice. If they want to marry and have children, they should be able to choose that. Alternatively, if they want to live in a de facto relationship, remain childless and become Prime Minister of Australia, they should be able to choose that. And policy should be constructed around giving people choice.

Further, if men don’t want children, I think that’s a choice they should be able to make. Couples have to talk about this kind of stuff openly and frankly, and if a woman is in a de facto relationship where she wants to have kids and the man keeps stalling…well, maybe she needs to consider what his level of commitment to her is.  I’m reminded of the title of that book which was popular a few years ago — ‘He’s Just Not That Into You.’ You can’t blame Julia Gillard for women finding themselves in that position. That wins the Agincourt Award for Drawing the Longest Bow (an award I am told was invented by Mark Bahnisch).

A bad role model?

There’s been a lot of excitement about the symbolism of a female Prime Minister. The other side of the coin is this kind of piece by Arndt – Gillard provides a bad role model for women by being unmarried and barren. Now, there is a part of me which is really pleased to see a woman as Prime Minister. (I might have even gotten a little teary during Gillard’s speech for this reason.) But ultimately, what matters is not whether Gillard is a woman, whether she’s married or whether she believes in God. I really don’t care about those things. All I care about is whether she does her job well (better than KRudd, hopefully). And I want her to be mindful that she represents the people and that she understands their concerns and fears.

I have never really understood this obsession with famous people as role models – I think we’re more likely to take our immediate cues from those who directly surround us. I don’t know that I’ve ever regarded a famous person as a role model. My role models are friends and family, teachers and bosses, not celebrities.


Yes, Arndt’s piece is a Bondi cigar. It doesn’t fully consider the complexities of the research it cites. It doesn’t consider other ways to fix the problem of women being caught in relationships where the men don’t want to commit. It contains a variety of sexist assumptions that irritated me. It buys into that whole “she’s a role model” rhetoric without examining it critically. It is simplistic and draws a very long bow. It should be flushed out to sea.

Update: Mindy and Pavlov’s Cat in comments have pointed out that usually people don’t make an active decision not to have kids — it’s just something that unfurls from a series of small decisions or happenstances. I think that’s something important to remember as well.


  1. Posted July 1, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Julia made an interesting comment the other day when her childless state was mentioned – she said she made a series of small decisions which turned out to be a big decision which effectivley meant no children. So I don’t know that she actively didn’t want children or that the opportunity to have children didn’t arrive, or didn’t arrive at the right time. The outcome is the same, but the meaning is different.

  2. lilacsigil
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    And of course, some women can only have de facto relationships because same-sex marriage doesn’t exist in Australia. While my de facto status does provide me with a good deal of legal protection in Australia (which it doesn’t in other countries) and I am very pleased with Rudd’s government for that, it sounds like Gillard is stopping right there.

    Did De Vaus and co exclude same-sex partners? If not, there’s a relationship that can be as marriage-like as any marriage, but cannot be a marriage (yet).

  3. Posted July 1, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    It’s fine for Gillard – a 48-year-old woman – to live with her bloke. Yet as a popular role model for women, her lifestyle choice may influence other women into making big mistakes about their lives.

    Y’know I hear a lot about the Patriarchy (on my way to family court). But methinks chicks should be more concerned about the Matriarchy: there’s so many women who think women need to be told what to do!

  4. Posted July 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Drawing policy and other implications from research on families in relationships is full of such long bows (to be polite).

    For example, if you want to drag down the results of a group, cut up the research so they get lumped in with low income single mothers. Single parenthood turns out not to be an issue if you have a high socio-economic background. But it turns out to be a bad idea if you are poor.

    Research regularly shows that same-sex couples are slightly better parents (on average) than opposite-sex couples. (I suspect that is a selection effect.) But, if you divide the parenting world into “opposite sex couples and others” then the results get dragged down by the poor single mothers. (Bill Muhlenberg and his ilk specialise in that sort of thing.)

    Alternatively, if one divided the family world so poor single mothers were classed as “heterosexual parents”, then one could “prove” that homosexuals make better parents!

    The games people play with research …

  5. Posted July 1, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Mindy, I as a childless woman in her 50s can (and do) say exactly the same thing about a series of small decisions (I blogged about this once at some length, years ago), and I think any woman who’s had an unbroken career path and ended up with no children will tell you the same thing. In my case it certainly wasn’t an active rejection of the idea of children and I bet in Gillard’s it wasn’t either. People who talk judgementally about other women choosing to have or not have children as though one could pick them out of a Weeties packet (and then put them back if one changed one’s mind) give me the screaming meemies.

  6. Nathan
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Gillard will be introducing so many affirmative action and other anti male policies, that many men will no longer want to cohabbit with a women or marry anyway. In Gillard’s changes to education, boys were never considered as an issue even though they lag behind girls in Australia’s gender biased education systems. In higher education, females exceed males in numbers for all degrees including law, medicine, optometry etc, except for a few like engineering. The result? Gillard tries to get more females into engineering and does not do the equivalent for males.

  7. Posted July 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    One of my friends is upset by the news that Gillard is not going to reconsider the position on same sex unions, because I think she’d love to marry her partner and have a big celebration.
    I think she would if she could but she can’t. Too much opposition.

  8. Steve
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    You are right Nathan. Males were in the minority at my university – I left two years ago. I have a girlfriend, but there is no way that I am going to marry or cohabit with a woman. There is already too much discrimination against men in education and work, so I am not going to face it in cohabitation or marriage as well. Gillard is going to make the situation worse.

  9. Peter Patton
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Gawd, it’s a funny old world. My own concern with all this to-do was the security risks faced by Julia and Tim flitting from their bijou civilian residences and The Lodge, as well as the security ricks of all those who are neighbors of their bijou residences.

    If they like/love each a real lot, then the PM should be ordered to dump the manky maisonettes, and move straight to The Lodge.

    I would also be sympathetic to pressure being placed on the PM to make their relationship somewhat more binding in the eyes of hoi polloi. It need not be marriage, but I will quickly tire of constant sightings of the pm leaving some dump bleary-eyed, before rushing back to The Lodge to frock up, and get a final blow-wave from her companion.partner, before of another day of de-poodling Chrissie Pyne. Of curse, The Herald Sun would NEVER tire of such photo-ops.

    This would be wonderful, indeed revolutionary for Suzie Everybody of Coburg. But not the Prime Minister.

    Mark my words. She will fall inti line. 😉

  10. Posted July 1, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    A clear case, for Bettina Arndt, of ‘YouFailStatisticsForever’. I’m glad you got something out of those papers, LE 😉 Just on that point, the research Lorenzo cites is very revealing…

    Also: put me down as someone who, very early, decided not to have children. My reason was simplicity itself — I don’t like them.

    I do think there is something in the objection of some men that their wish not to have children is not respected by some women. Arndt’s piece is written not only with the assumption that nearly all women want children, but also with the assumption that the men in their lives have to accede to the woman’s choice. There is nothing more awful than seeing a relationship break down because a woman wanted children, assured her partner that she was using contraception and then, ‘oops, I’m pregnant’. A large part of me has sympathy with a man who does not want to pay child support in those circumstances. What Arndt forgets is that the man may be very committed to the relationship, but not want children. His wishes ought, in my view, to be respected.

  11. Peter Patton
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Equally SL, as you allude, there is nothing more heartbreaking watching a couple you love, where we all know one is adamant about no kids, and that is not negotiable. Yet the other sticks around, thinking they will come around eventually. One of those two people will be crushed. It won’t be the one who never wanted kids in the first place.

  12. Peter Patton
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink


    I know of 4 women who have declared, “oh my, I am so shocked. I only found today that I am 4 to 6 months pregnant!

    And then there are those who lie to their partners about their known infertility.

  13. Peter Patton
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    I should add, both men and women lie.

  14. Miss Candy
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh Bettina… she’s just got a big fat bee in her bonnet and can’t seem to get it out. It’s all very easy to say, Bettina, and Bill Heffernan will back you all the way, but it’s much harder to prove. She just has so little credibility now.

    I have a number of friends – and a sister – who are looking increasingly likely to end up without children. For many this state provokes a certain “statelessness” (rather than the oft-cited “grieving”), and a feeling of somehow having failed everybody.

    In that sense I think it’s wonderful that our PM is a childless woman – she’s such a resounding success. I don’t have the balls to put my kids in care, and I watch my life pass by. I’m glad that there are women out there without children for those of us whose lives are irrevocably slowed to admire.

    Nathan and Peter you have my deepest pity. I hope one day you are subjugated to great love, for your sake.

    And Who’s Suzie everybody of Coburg? Quite possibly it’s me! But I’ll be blowed if I can work out what it symbolises – are we all Heral-Sun readers or communists? My Gran swore everyone’s a criminal out here. Can’t work it out.

  15. Miss Candy
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure at least half your readers hate this woman, but sometimes she just whacks that nail right on the head… Catherine Deveny on Bettina Arndt


  16. Peter Patton
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Miss Candy

    Why the pity?

    Suzy Everybody of Coburg is simply the young woman who can be as fickle as she pleases where, when, and with whom she spends the night.

    While I am delighted with whatever decision my PM makes about her womb, and object of desire, I will not have her carrying on like Suzy. Not because Suzy is bad,bit because she is not PM. I think being PM is a very big deal indeed. Despite her accent, she is now anything but ordinary

    She must at the very least move into The Lodge, and if she is truly keen on Tim, he must move in too.

  17. Peter Patton
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Catherine Deveney v Bettina Arndt. Oh dear. How naff can that vulgar pillock get?

  18. Posted July 1, 2010 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    if a woman is in a de facto relationship where she wants to have kids and the man keeps stalling…well, maybe she needs to consider what his level of commitment to her is. I’m reminded of the title of that book which was popular a few years ago — ‘He’s Just Not That Into You.’

    This attitude bothers me. Is it not possible that a man can be deeply committed to a woman, but have a different opinion about being a parent?

    Now, I’m not saying it would be unreasonable for a woman to part ways with her partner over a disagreement about having kids — it’s a pretty major and time-bound decision, and a woman may decide that being a mother is more important to her than staying with a particular partner who doesn’t want kids.

    However, I can think of a number of reasons a man might be “stalling” on having children that don’t resolve to commitment issues or being “just not that into” his partner:

    He may simply not be ready for fatherhood, for the same reasons a woman might delay motherhood: wanting to develop a career, or be financially secure first, for example. He may be concerned that his partner’s level of commitment to the relationship isn’t strong enough to father children by her (this could be a real concern, or a matter of insecurity). He may have genetic predispositions that he is reluctant to pass on to a future generation.

    And those are just off the top of my head.

    I’d say that if a woman seeking motherhood has a reluctant partner, she should attempt to uncover and address the causes of that reluctance. If such can’t be addressed — e.g. the partner is unreasonable, it is just a commitment issue that won’t get addressed, etc. — then by all means, re-evaluate staying in the relationship. But I just can’t abide advice that boils down to “if a man doesn’t want to be a father, he must not love his partner enough”.

  19. Posted July 2, 2010 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    Darren, my point exactly. Thank you for articulating it so clearly.

    And yes, as you’ve probably guessed, I support VERY liberal abortion laws. Turn and turn about is fair play.

  20. Patrick
    Posted July 2, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    An interesting take on Gillard’s comments is that her choice of words implies a natural law perspective on marriage:
    Standardly, to recognize some state of affairs or other is to note something that is established independently of the person or body doing the recognizing. In this case, however, it’s the law itself – the said ‘marriage act’ – that defines marriage as being (only) between a man and a woman. By speaking as she did therefore, and whether this was what she intended to do or or not, Gillard conveyed the impression that the marriage relation, as it has existed to this point in Australia, is a natural, rather than a legal, fact.

  21. Tim Quilty
    Posted July 2, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Re the father of children being responsible – As far as I am concerned, this is the entire purpose of the marriage contract. It is a commitment to take responsibility for the kids. If you are married when you father the child, you’ve signed up to be a dad. If you’re not, it isn’t your problem.

    Otherwise, what is the actual point of marriage? Of course in an ideal world people could work on their own marriage contracts, with their own conditions, but we’re a long way away from said ideal world…

  22. Tatyana
    Posted July 2, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Re: ‘If you really wanted to devote yourself to the job in the way she has, your children would have to be grown up, or you would have to leave the care of your children to someone else and barely see them.’

    This is interesting: it would be great to see a woman with young children active in a prominent political job. I suspect we’re not really ready for that scenario yet. If Gillard’s cohabitation arrangements and her marital status can prompt comments, and skewed pieces such as Arndt’s, I can imagine how appalled people would be to see a woman politician spend extended amounts of time away from her children. I hope I’m wrong. There are women in busy jobs already doing this, working extremely long hours, and for some this is a preferred style of mothering.

    The question of whether a woman who decides to mostly outsource the care of her children can understand the issues facing women who mother in a more hands-on way and also balance work, as well as women who decide to put their work on hold after having children is also an interesting one. I think you’re right to point out that there is some bias towards resuming a full-time career. As you say, policies should be constructed around giving people a variety of choices, reflecting the realities of the world we actually live in.

  23. Posted July 2, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    The career/motherhood dichtomy has only existed really since the 70s en masse. So that two, three generations at most. I have a young friend who is still an undergraduate and because she’s had the benefit of older experience she’s actually considering and decide now when to become a mother.

  24. davidp
    Posted July 2, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Tatyana, “it would be great to see a woman with young children active in a prominent political job.”

    We did – Natasha Stott-Despoja was very prominent as Senate leader of the Australian Democrats – but she got shafted by the conservative wing of the Democrats

  25. davidp
    Posted July 2, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    It’s bad for society and democracy to have people who cannot afford to become politicians. That’s why we pay them a generous salary (overgenerous for most of them when you consider the superannuation, but I think it is the ideological justification)

    Jobs, including MP and government Minister should be structured so that people who do not want to make the job their life can still succeed. As you have noticed, otherwise we get the career focussed people as our only “representatives” and they can easily misunderstand “the people’s needs”

    Julia Gillard provides a better role model for women than Kevin Rudd, John Howard and Peter Costello did, unless you agree that assertive women are abnormal like two pediatric endocrinologists think! see here

    B.T.W. if you want kids, start before you’re 35 if possible – fertility declines and risks increase fast after then.Starting by 30 is better
    Disclosure: Father of 3, wife’s career terminated by 2nd.

  26. Posted July 2, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Thatcher was also very skilled at managing her time; she once pointed out that the timetabling of the Commons allowed her to go home, read the kids a story and put them to bed, then return to the House.

    That said, she followed the traditional Tory woman model: one of the reasons there are a reasonably large number of high achieving women both from ancient societies and from 18th and 19th century Europe and the US — but that all of those women were upper-class — is to do with the presence of ‘help’.

    The numbers of high-achieving women actually dropped off for a bit in the mid-20th century as servants became unaffordable. A look at the dates of female Nobel Laureates is a quick and dirty way of revealing this phenomenon.

    Just as gender is often unspoken in class analysis, so is class (or slavery) often unspoken in gender analysis. Often this meant (historically) that upper-class women just didn’t have the same closeness to their children that we would consider ‘normal’ now.

  27. Patrick
    Posted July 3, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    LE, you wouldn’t believe how many Presidential nominees for how many positions have been derailed by that exact offence.

    Although presumably Obama would support a nominee of his who happened to have broken the law in that manner; he seems remarkably relaxed with applying the law to his friends.

  28. Posted July 3, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    That said, she followed the traditional Tory woman model:

    Yeah get someone else to do it: governess, boarding school etc. The process allows one to avoid all sorts of messy interaction that cause resentment. Sentiments do get out of control in a ‘normal’ family. This enables one to establish strict relationship lines where emotion and power are strictly seperated. It enables the family to run like a business or a minuture state.

    These days it’s becoming a bunch of people staring at (different) screens.

  29. Tatyana
    Posted July 3, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Re 31& 34: Sure, I discovered something similar after my daughter was born and have chosen to combine work and care for my children in a way where I can be around for them and also have interesting work. I consider myself lucky to be able to do that. But while I’ve done that, I’m impressed by women who decide to pursue busy jobs.

    I think the ‘physical pain’ aspect you mention changes as children get older (mine are school aged). Some women never feel this and can’t wait to go back to work. I wouldn’t call this abnormal.

    Then there’s ‘role reversal’? There are men out there who don’t mind sharing a lot of childcare and spending time with their children. It’s already happening.

    Class is an important consideration, sure. There are other studies that point to the fact that this is the first time in human history that women are parenting in great isolation, with not much support from others. Women have always left their children in the care of others for extended hours. They had things to do, jobs to finish.

    The US example you cite is interesting. A friend is an academic at a US university and she has always employed babysitters to mind her children at home; they don’t seem to have a well-developed system of institutional care there. In France, by contrast, where the quality of institutional care is very high (and heavily subsidised), this is still a preferred choice of care.

    What are the childcare choices for my generation of women, now, here: creche, nanny, family, share with one’s partner. Several of my friends chose to spend their entire incomes on a nanny, just to stay in the race. This is after tax dollars, with no option for tax deduction. Tax deducting childcare costs is still not possible in Australia. I think that’s a regressive policy. A couple’s combined income places them in a situation with little subsidy support, but the cost of childcare is extremely high. The situation becomes even more complicated for school-aged children during school holidays, where holiday care is virtually non-existent. (Long hours in institutional care for very young children may not be for everyone, it is difficult with long work hours, and is a problem when children get sick.) Spending one income just to remain employable is an extreme example, but spending a huge percentage of one’s income on childcare is not uncommon. Is this privilege, or another form of slavery?

    And this is only for women who want to ‘indulge’ in developing their careers while also attempting to raise children.

    Lives for women who have very little flexibility or options and have to work long hours or shift work just to support their families would be very hard indeed.

    And then there’s prejudice. Open and implied prejudice about what makes a good mother. The moral superiority of stay-at-home-mothers versus the working mothers is not a very appealing sight. I’ve heard comments made by mothers about full-time working mothers at my children’s school how their kids will have a lot of problems growing up because their mothers are ‘neglecting’ them.

    What examples of prominent women do we have that I can think of: Fiona Wood (the spray-on skin surgeon), six kids. I suspect she didn’t bake cupcakes during school holidays, I may be wrong. Did she do it on the back of another less privileged woman? It would be interesting to know how she did it.

    Other women in politics: Kirstie Marshall created a stir in the Victorian parliament when breastfeeding. Sarah Hanson-Young’s toddler got upset having to be separated from her before question time in the Senate.

    Nicola Roxon has a child, and a very busy job. I’m not too concerned that she is not spending more time at home.

    For those women who have the corleones, as you put it, to pursue a high-powered career while raising children, and many would say that Thatcher certainly had them—I’d say, go for it. Thatcher’s Dennis probably deserves some credit too. I personally wish we’d stop perceiving women in high power jobs as women with balls.

    Are we concerned that Abbott hasn’t been around to cook dinners for his daughters and check their homework as they were growing up? Nobody’s mentioned it.

    I don’t know much about other women in politics at the moment. I don’t think Helen Coonan has children (although she revealed recently on Q&A that she has two beautiful golden retrievers, with Peter Singer discussing some interesting ethical matters).

    Can we have it all? We all define what all is (my list doesn’t include a neat house as a priority); other women may not want to be hands-on mothers, and that’s fine too.
    Can a woman have children and a career: many women grow up expecting that they will, and it’s hard, but not impossible. Can a woman combine hands-on care of her children with a career? Even harder. Is the care of children and a high-power career a mutually exclusive concept? Almost, but that shouldn’t be the case, and it already isn’t in many industries (academia is one example). Will we see a female PM with children in Australia one day? I certainly hope so. Is a devoted mother only the one who is around for her children most of the time: I personally don’t think so.

  30. Patrick
    Posted July 5, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I am a bit worried by the class prejudice that seems implicit in some of these comments.

    What is so demeaning about domestic work or so ignoble about a career made possible only by domestic help?

    Most importantly, what else would the domestic help be doing and do you really think it would be ‘better’, as in either more fulfilling or safer than domestic work? Might s/he just not be working at all?

    Isn’t there a net gain from the helper getting better work than eg factory-work and the helped having a better career and presumably adding more to society than she might otherwise have?

  31. paul walter
    Posted July 5, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    It was a good article. Onya!

  32. Posted July 5, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    What is so demeaning about domestic work or so ignoble about a career made possible only by domestic help?

    Most importantly, what else would the domestic help be doing and do you really think it would be ‘better’, as in either more fulfilling or safer than domestic work? Might s/he just not be working at all?

    Isn’t there a net gain from the helper getting better work than eg factory-work and the helped having a better career and presumably adding more to society than she might otherwise have?

    I have no issue with the idea of ‘help’ in the traditional sense, and suspect in some cases it may be the only way around the often intractable gender division of labour. My main gripe is that it is often unacknowledged by people of all political persuasions.

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