Most of us grew up with a script about what it means to be a man or a woman.
For men, it can look like: ‘You’re tough, you’re in charge. You’re not sad - you’re angry. Your job is to earn. You’re a worker, not a carer.’
For women, it can look like: ‘You're caring and submissive – you’re nice. You're in charge of the housework, and you can expect less pay at work because you're a woman.’
When left unchallenged, these scripts set the scene for exhaustion, resentment, and inequality. They also contribute to the culture that drives violence against women.
The good news? A different ending is possible. We can free ourselves from outdated and rigid gender stereotypes by having conversations about respecting each other's time, effort and needs. At work, with your mates, and at home.
It might feel awkward to start these conversations. That's okay! Below are some ideas to get you started.
How often have you sat down at a staff meeting and helped yourself to a glass of water? Did you ever consider who took the time to set up the room, fill the water jugs and line up the glasses? What about taking notes, organising gifts for colleagues, or ordering catering? Kitchen clean-up, admin tasks and social duties are often presumed to be the job of women in workplaces, no matter their professional role.
When it comes to workplaces accommodating caring responsibilities, flexible work arrangements or parental leave are often seen as policies for women. This reinforces the rigid gender stereotypes of women as carers and men as workers.
How can we respect women’s time and labour, and recognise that men are more than just earners? It might look like forward-planning and not making assumptions:
“Let's start a schedule to make sure everyone is chipping in for team meeting set-up. Let me know orders ahead of time and I'll do the coffee run this week?”
“There’s a birthday in the tearoom this afternoon. Can everyone put some time in the calendar to help set-up?”
“Let’s figure out a new roster, he needs to start later this week so he can do school drop-off.”
Outdated and harmful gender roles have given society a script of what a 'real man' is. Dominant, in control, hyper-sexual. According to The Man Box study, 47% of young men surveyed agreed with the statement “Guys should act strong even if they feel scared or nervous inside” (*see footnote for source).
Rates of violence are higher when we hold onto rigid ideas of what it means to be a man. When men are free from harmful masculine stereotypes, they are more likely to enjoy healthy, respectful relationships.
How can we redefine what it means to be a man? It might look like questioning the status quo:
“Congratulations on the new baby, mate! Have you and your partner decided how to split parental leave?”
“That joke was not on. You don’t have to talk like that to impress the boys, you're better than that.”
“You seem a bit flat lately, is everything ok? I'm here if you need a chat.”
Running a shared household takes work and planning. It's one thing to wash the dishes, but who's making sure there's dish gloves and washing liquid in the cupboard?
These seemingly mundane details are important. Left unspoken, it’s likely one person is unfairly bearing the brunt of the mental and physical domestic load. A 2021 report found that in heterosexual couples with children, women do 21 more hours of unpaid work per week at home compared to men – regardless of whether they also engage in paid work (**see footnote for source). Women continue to do the lion’s share of the housework, parenting, and emotional labour.
So how do we make visible the 'invisible labour' of running a household, and find a balance that works for everyone? It might look like checking in:
“You've had a few late finishes at work lately, I can cover meal planning and cooking for the week if that helps?”
“It's so frustrating when the baby throws dinner on the freshly mopped floor! Let's cut ourselves some slack and make Saturday morning mop and vacuum time? We can alternate so one of us takes bub to the park while the other powers through the cleaning.”
“You know, I don’t mind listening to a podcast and cleaning the bathroom. Why don't I do that while you do the shopping?"
It can be hard to have these conversations and may even feel a little forced at first. Remember it’s always worth trying, and the more you do it, the more natural it will become. Check out our Facebook and Instagram for more ideas. Visit our Campaign page to see how Victorians like you are starting the conversation.
Holding on to rigid gender stereotypes keeps us all trapped. Challenging these stereotypes starts with a conversation, and is something we can all do. So let’s start talking.
*Jesuit Social Services (2018) The Man Box: A Study on Being a Young Man in Australia
**University of Melbourne (2021) The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 19