Handy Mandy and the Gender Divide

Lol xmas smallI’m taking a week off to promote our album, The Last Waterhole, which is getting noticed after a national radio interview and a 4-star review in the Courier-Mail. Enjoy this piece by my trusty offsider,  Laurel Wilson, who learned a thing or two about carpentry and plumbing at her Daddy’s knee.


When Fred called the other day, Bob told me that when he picked up the phone he said “You’re lucky we answered. Laurel’s out fixing a leak in the caravan and I’m doing the Handy Mandyvacuuming.” Reportedly, there were no sounds of derision or disapproval from the caller – not surprising, given he is a man of taste and sensitivity. But this apparently somewhat unusual division of labour around our place does cause consternation at times.
It’s an old van and things go bung occasionally, usually when we’re a long way from our usual sources of reliable fixer uppers. On one occasion, we were having trouble with the 12 volt lights. Now, 12 volt systems are not to be trifled with and they can give you a bit of a belt if you put the screwdriver in the wrong place at the wrong time. But unlike 240v, which is best left to the experts, fixing 12v idiosyncrasies is usually considered to be within the capabilities of the dedicated caravanner. I’ve had the lighting system explained to me, I know where the battery and the fuse box are and have my head around the concept of the Anderson plug, unlike “He Who Usually Writes This Column But Is Having a Nap” (HWUWTCBIHAN or HWU for short).

Battery? What battery?

So, when we rolled into Mt Isa with a broken light bulb melted into the socket, I began explaining the problem to the (older) auto electrician. I don’t consider myself softly spoken, but for some reason this particular chap seemed incapable of hearing what I was saying. Surely it couldn’t be that he was ignoring me, in favour of discussing the matter with HWU? At any rate, having failed to elicit the information from the latter, OAE summoned his apprentice, who was quite happy to discuss the problem with me. He took out his mobile and used the ‘torch app’ to get a good look at the offending light (a very useful app, that one: Ed.) The result? One fixed light and evidence of a young man in a country town who has obviously adapted to the changing world of technology and the notion that women can actually have a clue about how to fix things.
Division of labour by gender probably had its beginnings in the Palaeolithic era, when men, generally being the stronger and faster of the two sexes, were the ones who went out slaying Mastodons, while the females stayed in the cave and nursed the young. But was this the case, or is it merely the supposition of (usually) male anthropologists? For all we know, there may well have been big, strong, fast women who loved hunting, as well as men who preferred to stay in the cave and look after the kids (and do rock-art:Ed)
But the conventional division of labour persists. For many, it still seems odd when women are the main bread-winners and their partners stay home to raise the children. Bob even wrote a song about it some time ago, called ‘Househusbands’ (which he was for a while). And as it happened, Fred (remember Fred?), was home looking after a sick child, utilising his employer’s parental leave scheme, which apparently does not discriminate.

The visionary head mistress

I was fortunate to attend a High School where the Head Mistress (as they were called in those days) was an advocate of higher education for girls. The expectation was that ‘her girls’ would continue their studies after Grade 12, attending university or teachers’ college if possible. This was not generally the case in the 1960s and earlier.
The percentage of females to males participating in tertiary studies increased from 23% in 1960 to 33% in 1972 and currently tops 55%. However this does not translate into equality at work. According to the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, women comprise 35% of all full-time employees, but earn, on average, 17.5% less than male full-time workers. And female graduates’ salaries average only 90% of men’s.
Just over 5% of women aged under 64 have post-graduate qualifications, compared to just under 5% of men, and women make up 45% of the ‘professional’ ranks, so, at least on the grounds of qualifications, there should be no reason for women to be under-represented in executive positions. But according to the 2012 Census of Women in Leadership, only 3% of chair positions and 3.5% of CEO positions in ASX 200 companies are held by women. As of 2014, just 17% of directors in these companies were women. Over 20% of ASX 200 companies have no women on their boards.

Peter who?

The Guardian’s take on this situation demonstrated a less conventional approach to statistics – on the 6th of this month, the newspaper claimed that there are fewer women at the head of top Aussie companies than there are men named Peter. Perhaps there’s an idea in there for women aspiring to higher positions – change your name to Peter.
The stats are better for Government board appointments – 38% of board members were women, as of 30th June 2102.
Australia’s population consists of 50% male and 50% female, (Yes, I know there are other options, but that’s how the statisticians write it.) So to have equal representation in government, one could expect the same ratio. However, as of 1 January 2012, fewer than 30% of all Federal Parliamentarians across Australia were women. The current Federal Cabinet has one woman. The Senate does somewhat better, with 38% of Senators being women. In 2012, the proportion of female State and Territory parliamentarians was 30% – slightly higher than the proportion of Federal Parliamentarians, but still less than a third.

The atavistic feminist

It’s 2015. There are still enormous differences between what one could expect for women, based on their educational and employment status, compared to what is actually the case at present.
Hm, that sounds like feminism – something with which Julie Bishop apparently disagrees. I find this somewhat surprising, as feminism could be said to be based on at least the small ‘l’ liberal view that a just society results from the free choices of educated and aware people; that social problems arise primarily from ignorance and social constraints on freedom of choice. Gender inequality, then, results primarily from socialisation that forces people to grow up with distorted and harmful ideas about males and females and from cultural ideas that restrict people’s freedom to freely choose how to live their lives.

Yup, on that definition, I’m a feminist, even if in some deeply hidden atavistic part of my brain, I secretly believe that HWU should know how to fix that leaky caravan pump.

One Comment

  1. Ahoy there from Mooloolaba …

    Now look my name is Peter … and Weston Trickett completes my handle … But most know me as Captain Tricko ( which was a registered business name until recently ) and I think your expression of gender imbalance is worthy of comment … So here goes ….
    Fair enough… blokes bringing a mastodon home for dinner is probably where sexism began … But some uppity cave woman surely got the cave bound blues one day and went out to help her fella when the kids where old enough to mash the lizards running free on the cave roof. My ex wife ( the English one ) claims to have beaten Germaine Greer in an arm wrestling competition at Reading University sometime last century … She thought Intellectual feminism should be balanced by demonstrations of muscular prowess … Think Reality TV shows … Think Madonna … Think Yvonne Goolagong

    Now I’m a sailing man who has worked as an instructor in a past life … I can’t tell you how many times the language of the cockpit has been brought to issue … By a keen girl looking to understand the terms and traditions of seamanship. The origins of which consider the vessel to be of the she variety. There were some legendary female pirate captains BUT they mainly disguised themselves as men… Once while delivering a nice old timber ketch from Yamba to Brisbane, the wind had picked up to 20 plus knots and I shouted at my English wife ( now the ex ) to change the sheets ( as we prepared to gybe ) … A less timely tantrum has never since been endured … She spent the rest of the foul night below decks ranting and polishing off the bottle of Shiraz she had brought along to celebrate her very first coastal passage . I managed to steer through the stormy night … alone at the helm …. whilst my now inebriated darling heart threatened to never share a cockpit with me again… Lord have Mercy !!!

    PS : I have played The Last Waterhole CD a lot , since buying it at Witta , a great concert in trying conditions and a great cd THANKS FOR THE MUSIC !!!

Comments are closed