May 2018


Making women’s unpaid work count

By Anne Manne
Image of Women’s Liberation march, Sydney, 1972

Women’s Liberation march, Sydney, 1972. © Kevin Berry / Fairfax

Feminist economics pioneer Marilyn Waring on care and the unfinished feminist revolution

Marilyn Waring is down on her hands and knees in front of me. She is showing me what she did while caring for her father, who was suffering from terminal cancer, when he fell out of bed.

“My way used to be to go down on all fours, to say, ‘Dad, now put your hands on my back,’ and slowly, slowly raise myself up while he was hanging on to me like I was a banister, until he could get his hands onto something else.”

The person kneeling before me is a professor of public policy at Auckland University of Technology and is often considered the founder of the academic discipline of feminist economics. She was a Nobel Prize nominee in 2005, one of the 1000 women nominated around the world as part of a campaign to reduce male dominance of the prestigious awards. In 1975, aged only 23, Waring became the youngest ever member of the New Zealand parliament, part of the conservative National Party government led by Robert Muldoon. She could not have been a more radical political outsider: young, gay, feminist and female.

Her experience in politics was the basis of her groundbreaking book Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth, first published in 1988. It is a sharp-eyed analysis of how mainstream economics and the calculations that are the basis of gross domestic product – used as the universal measure of progress and a nation’s wellbeing – exclude and make invisible women’s huge contribution to society through their life-sustaining unpaid labour. These calculations, she points out, attribute no value to nature and fail to take into account the cost of “progress” on the environment. Waring is now famous, and a recipient of many honours around the world, and her fan club includes the environmentalist David Suzuki, the Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith and the feminist Gloria Steinem. “Marilyn Waring forces us to see that accounting systems create a form of slavery, and reward the destruction of the natural world,” Steinem tells me. “Be warned: you will never see values in the same way again.”

On the 30th anniversary of the publication of Counting for Nothing, it is time to consider afresh the issues she raised. I have come to the Victorian Women’s Trust in Melbourne to interview her. Every International Women’s Day, or when Australia Day honours are handed out, we ruefully observe that, despite decades of feminism, equal opportunity laws and a higher percentage of female tertiary graduates than male ones, we still have a gender pay gap and far fewer women in positions of power. We consider overt and covert discrimination, sexual harassment and other barriers to women’s advancement. Yet the central reason that the revolution is unfinished is right there under our noses in everyday life: women’s unpaid work.

For the moment, however, Waring has her practical cap on rather than her theoretical one. Slowly she rises, demonstrating how she got her frail dad off the floor and tucked safely in bed again, his arms around her neck, carrying his weight on her back. Upright again, she beams at me. Her mother has memory problems and could not look after her father, so Waring took leave from work at AUT and became a full-time carer before he died. Her love for both her parents is palpable, but she admits the emotionally arduous nature of around-the-clock care almost broke her:

“You’re never off duty … Every time you hear them about to fall out of bed at two o’clock in the morning … You’ve got to be at their side because it’s a hell of a lot easier to hold them up than it is to pick this very big man up off the floor. And you’re on your own to do that. My little 48-kilo mum can’t help me either. I’ve got to keep her right out of the way because if he falls again she’ll get hurt.

“You notice, this is what you do …”

You notice.

Noticing what women do is at the centre of Marilyn Waring’s work. It began in childhood, when she observed the unstinting unpaid labour that her mother and both grandmothers did, in raising their families, as wonderful housekeepers and beautiful gardeners, and as lynchpins of the small community of Taupiri. She speaks of them with warmth, gratitude and humility: “These women worked really hard and didn’t get a cent.” Her paternal grandmother was the focal point of all the volunteer work. “In a village like Taupiri we survived on voluntary work. If you had to paint lines on the tennis court or on the athletic track, nobody was being paid for it … people volunteered.”

Everyone knew everyone else’s business. The whole village turned up to enjoy the school concert. That close-knit community enabled a time of freedom while Waring was young. The children “ran as a mob”, with the Waring siblings enlisted to make up teams for every kind of sport. In warm summers, they floated down the river in rough-hewn canoes they had made from nailing corrugated iron to planks.

Waring remembers Taupiri as “beautiful”. Nestled among lush green hills on the banks of the river Waikato, it sits beneath a mountain where there is a Maori burial ground.

“Taupiri is the burial ground for the Tainui people, and so I was very influenced by indigenous values, and how they viewed the land, forest, rivers.

“The lingo we kids yelled at each other as we tore around the place had loads of Maori words in it, and it never occurred to me it was a different language. The holism of my childhood influenced me enormously.”

Waring, the daughter of a butcher, was the first person from either side of her family to go to university. She studied political science and international politics at Victoria University of Wellington; in that city she first experienced the clash between her home-town values and what was officially valued. She also had a fine soprano voice, and her parents hoped she would become a classical singer. Her choirmaster in Wellington thought she would have achieved national, and perhaps even international, stature. Life, however, took a different turn.

Waring became an accidental politician. She was a candidate for the National Party only because the New Zealand Women’s Electoral Lobby wanted to stand female candidates, even if they lost. Only 13 women had been elected in all of New Zealand’s history. “I thought I was doing my feminist activity and it wasn’t going to be serious.” She did not expect to win preselection in the very safe seat of Raglan, fiercely contested by nine older, high-status local men and one other woman before an all-male committee. However, unusually for that time, her father “thought girls could do anything” and gathered enough signatures for her to join the preselection process.

Waring had finished her degree and was a part-time parliamentary researcher with access to the library. Every evening after work she went there to read three months of back issues of the “little local bi-weekly papers”. After the preselection committee meeting, “the feedback was that everybody was so impressed by my knowledge across the whole constituency”.

Through to the next stage, Waring made house calls to all of the 23 female members of the deciding committee. One delegate, Katherine O’Regan, remembered the young Waring’s visit ever after. When Waring called, O’Regan’s toddler was acting up and she was battling to organise fresh baked scones, orange juice and tea for the men working on her farm. Noticing that O’Regan was trying to do two things at once, Waring offered to help by taking the child outside to look at the caterpillars on the cabbages. With the chores done, they sat on the steps and talked. O’Regan was impressed by Waring’s quiet helpfulness and ability to listen. It was such an unusual quality in a politician that she voted for her. This was the beginning of a long friendship. O’Regan became the member for Waipa after Waring. (Raglan had been abolished.)

Once elected, Waring found parliament “a very rugged place to be”. During her first and second terms she was one of only four women. In Three Masquerades, her book of essays published in 1996, she broke her silence on her experiences in an almost all-male parliament. While the men were old enough to be her grandparents, more often they behaved like “prefects at a boys’ boarding school”. She wrote:

Lunch could be a gross experience. MP number one: “How can you legislate against rape in marriage? It couldn’t be implemented.” MP number two: “That’s not the point, why should you be able to rape your wife in the bedroom but not beat her up in the kitchen?” MP number three: “Then beat her in the bedroom and rape her in the kitchen.” Honourable members: “Ha ha ha.”

Women were “expected to laugh along, to ‘be one of the boys’”.

Late-night sittings could be “physically frightening”. In the long, narrow corridors where they queued for voting, “it was not unusual for my 57 kg frame to be thrown against bookshelves or old leather couches as I ricocheted from being hit by some 100 kg hooligan ‘playing’ with his friends as we ran the country”.

Many news stories were not about her policies but about Miss Waring’s new hairstyle. Although Waring is clearly a sensitive person, she has a resilience too, a clear-sighted ability to analyse and put things in perspective. The stories of Victorian premier Joan Kirner and Democrat senator Janine Haines from South Australia made her realise that personal criticisms were not just directed at her. “No, this is happening to all of us. It took a while for that to get through but it gave me more backbone … No, this isn’t me. This is how they are behaving around the world.”

By 1978, in her second term, Waring was the only woman in the National Party caucus. Muldoon needed to “do something striking with me”, but a cabinet post wasn’t on the cards for someone so independent. He appointed Waring chairperson of the powerful Public Expenditure Committee. Barry Gustafson, in His Way: A Biography of Robert Muldoon, writes that Muldoon knew “that she had the intellectual capacity and drive to cope with complex investigation and analysis. He was also well aware that she would not be intimidated by ministers or senior officials.”

For Waring it was less about prestige and more the power of “access to information”. In this role she saw how invisible and marginal women were to the policy process, even though they were profoundly affected by the decisions the men were making. Working with Labour MP Ann Hercus, Waring asked for information about women, before putting questions to ministers in parliament so the facts would enter the public domain. It was the first time, Waring tells me, that the committee had demanded data of every agency specifically on women.

Attending the World Conference on Women in Copenhagen in 1980 was “the next really major change” in Waring’s consciousness-raising. Although the pro-choice Waring was unpopular with Catholics and conservatives, Muldoon had no option but to send the only woman then in government as part of the delegation. Confronting the reality of women’s lives around the globe, Waring suddenly saw that the invisibility of unpaid female labour was a much bigger human rights issue than mothering and housework. Women subsistence farmers worked from before dawn until after dark, carrying water and firewood long distances, caring for families in conditions of poverty, but only their husbands were considered farmers. Waring saw the importance of language in reframing things, of getting “your foot in the door” to further transformation for “the next feminist coming behind”.

One conference document talked about the colonisation and exploitation of and discrimination against the global South by the North. Waring slipped in a paragraph about the exploitation of women, arguing that they were discriminated against because the value of their unpaid care and household and reproductive work was made invisible. While the idea that reproduction was work proved a sticking point for the committee working on the final document, “the phrase ‘men don’t die in childbirth’ rocketed around the whole place,” Waring says. “Around the world, maternal mortality was huge.” The chair, a “real United Nations pro from Mexico”, said flatly, “It’s hard labour.” The phrase was left in.

Although not a lot had yet changed, “unpaid work was in the air now, you know, just that – the crack,” Waring tells me. “Dear old Leonard Cohen: ‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’”

Back in New Zealand, as chairperson of the Public Expenditure Committee, she had the authority to call Treasury to find out why GDP excluded women’s unpaid work. “So this guy comes over to talk to me. He was very special. One of his opening remarks was ‘You’re really on to something, Marilyn.’ There was a pause and he said, ‘My wife gave me The Women’s Room for Christmas. I’ve read it.’ As if to say, ‘I’m not here to oppose you. I’ve got some sensitivity around this.’”

The newly sensitive Treasury official told Waring that all GDP formulation came from the System of National Accounts. “‘Right,’ I said, ‘I want to see the rules then. Can you get me a copy?’” It turned out there was no copy in the entirety of New Zealand. “Because we have this inferiority complex, I can remember saying to him straight away, ‘Then get them for me from Australia.’ Within a fortnight he tells me there’s no copy of them in Australia either.” Waring was incredulous. “So all these nations are using the United Nations System of National Accounts, these rules that run the whole of the data that everyone uses, without anyone having read them … That’s what we call propaganda.”

Waring’s time in parliament, however, was coming to an end. Since 1981, she had advocated for New Zealand to become a nuclear-free zone. When the Labour Party sponsored a move in June 1984 to ban nuclear warships entering New Zealand waters, the National Party gagged Waring in the house debate. Outraged, Waring informed Muldoon that while she would not deny the government on confidence or supply she would cross the floor on this issue. The government had a one-seat majority.

Waring has described Muldoon as “a bully”. Barry Gustafson pieced together what happened next through interviews with the participants. The prime minister was furious, telling the chief whip, Don McKinnon, that Waring was “unhinged” and that he didn’t know how he could govern the country “with a girl like this”. Waring was summoned to a late-night meeting. In an uncompromising mood, she changed into a tracksuit and sneakers, and arrived armed with an apple. Muldoon had been drinking heavily. His opening salvo was “What the fuck do you think you are doing now, you perverted little liar?” Waring returned fire: “Those words leave your lips again and I’ll sue the shit out of you!” She took off her sneakers, put her socked feet on the coffee table and bit into her apple. Several other party members present were a “stunned, even horrified audience” to the torrent of vituperative abuse that then poured from Muldoon, despite Waring’s visible distress.

Faced with Waring’s defiance, an obviously drunk Muldoon called a snap election. It was quickly dubbed “the schnapps election”. On July 14, Muldoon and the National Party lost in a landslide. The new prime minister, David Lange of the Labour Party, made New Zealand a nuclear-free zone and was subsequently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. In her preface to the second edition of Counting for Nothing, Gloria Steinem remarks on the irony of Waring’s invisibility in Lange’s nomination, given that it was her actions in defying Muldoon that resulted in the change in policy.

To heal from the brutal experience of politics, Waring turned to nature and animals, becoming a goat farmer on a property north of Auckland. Describing how affectionate and mischievous her goats were, constantly causing mayhem by escaping into neighbours’ fields, her face breaks open with pleasure. Waring is honest about the trauma of political life. Her moral clarity, the ability to see through what she calls the “masquerade of equality”, comes from an unusual degree of empathy. There is a price to be paid for that – vulnerability. Yet she also has a sturdy kind of balance, a psychological poise that enables her to see that politics also “opened a lot of doors that wouldn’t have opened”. One of those doors was travelling to New York, prior to becoming a farmer, to investigate further the exclusion of women’s unpaid work from the United Nations System of National Accounts.

“As a feminist of the 1970s, discipline by discipline, we were uncovering the ways in which male experience spoke for all,” Waring said during a speech in Melbourne in 2016. “I suspected economics would be the same, and yes it was.” Waring expected to find one slim little volume of rules. Instead, she tells me, there were “one and a half encyclopaedic shelves”. Waring sat down and read “the whole bloody lot of them”. The assistant librarian told her that in the entire 21 years she had worked there no one, apart from the author, Richard Stone, ever turned up to read them. And yet every country was dependent on those rules.

Waring discovered that the “rules” did not count community or voluntary work. Women’s unpaid labour – like the work women did on the farms of Taupiri – was crucial to an enterprise’s survival, yet was not counted. Nor was housework, or the care of children, the elderly, the sick or those with a disability. Reading the 1953 edition, Waring came upon the passage that casually dismissed all the unpaid labour traditionally done by women as “of little or no importance”, justifying its exclusion from the System of National Accounts. How did she feel when she read that? “Oh terrible. Terrible … I wept when I came across this paragraph.” Of the anger she felt, she says “as long as it doesn’t go dark, you know, it’s a huge energy if you can use it”.

The famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith was an early supporter. In a 1998 interview with Dr Cathy Cavanaugh from Canada’s Athabasca University, Waring describes how she was “delighted that he was interested in my work” and poked fun at herself for wanting his approval: “However feminist you try to be, there are still old knee-jerk reactions like seeking permission from the ‘great man’.” She got it. Galbraith told her to stop trying to find definitive work on the question of unpaid labour because there was none. “You know enough, you write it.”

Settling in Katherine O’Regan’s beach house for the winter, Waring wrote Counting for Nothing. Gross domestic product, in excluding the unpaid labour of one gender, Waring tells me, is based upon “an ideology of applied patriarchy”. Because GDP only looks at activities in the marketplace it counts the work of drug dealers but not of hospice volunteers, the production of nuclear weapons but not women’s unpaid work. Human activities of great value are made invisible, treated as valueless. One of Waring’s famous examples is breastfeeding. Despite all we know about the benefits of breast milk, Waring pointed out that the more manufactured formula milk replaces breastfeeding, the more it adds to GDP. Since GDP is equated with progress, a loss is defined as a gain.

Long before our societies began to come to terms with climate change, Waring had already pointed out the terrible consequences of not valuing our environment. Economics did not count the preservation for future generations of our irreplaceable natural environment: air that is safe to breathe, clean and plentiful water, and pristine, undamaged ecosystems. Instead it counted and valued all those activities – the work of polluting industries and coalmines, even the clean-up of oil spills – that placed it in peril.

Waring’s book sold into the northern hemisphere under the title If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics to rave reviews. It was translated into Spanish, Japanese and Norwegian. In the United Kingdom there were reviews in “all the main places like the Financial Times, and The Economist ran half a page on it”. In the United States it became a New York Times notable. Waring still seems surprised. “It was an amazing reception for a book that I thought wouldn’t be a general read.” She wrote the book with many concrete examples, without “wheelbarrow words”, hoping that “my mother could understand every sentence of it”. A documentary based on her book, Who’s Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Economics, directed by the Oscar–winning Terre Nash, became the highest-selling film the Canadian National Film Board ever made. In one scene, Waring is delivering the Simone de Beauvoir annual lecture in Montreal. The camera pans over the shining faces of women in the audience as Waring illuminates the value of their work.

Waring’s influence was, and is still, significant. She has advised governments around the world and inspired human rights organisations. The System of National Accounts was revised in 1993 to include more aspects of subsistence farming, partly in response to Waring’s critique, and revised again in 2008, but “what remained utterly consistent was what was not counted”: unpaid work. The System of National Accounts made provision for separate but consistent satellite accounts that give an imputed value to this unpaid women’s work so it can be measured alongside GDP. An Australian Bureau of Statistics study in 2014 revealed that unpaid work in Australia was worth $434 billion, equivalent to 43.5 per cent of GDP.

Slowly, at least some mainstream economists caught on. After the disastrous global financial crisis of 2008, French president Nicolas Sarkozy “felt the urgent need” to “change the ways we measure our economic performance”. He brought together economists Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi to re-examine GDP in a high-level Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. In the foreword to Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up, a book based on their findings, Sarkozy wrote:

If we refer to a representation of the world in which the services people tender within a family have no value compared with those we can obtain on the market, we are expressing an idea of civilization in which the family no longer counts for much. Who could imagine that this won’t have consequences?

As Stiglitz told Jon Gertner of The New York Times in 2010, “What we measure affects what we do, and better measurement will lead to better decisions.” Among the commission’s recommendations was what Waring advocated back in 1988: the inclusion of unpaid work in all Systems of National Accounts. In her 2016 speech in Melbourne, Waring responded to the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi commission on the inadequacy of GDP as a measure of progress. “Well done, boys,” she joked, “you’re only 20 years too late!”

One problem with satellite accounts is that unpaid work is usually counted only at the minimum wage for unskilled workers over a 40-hour week, what Waring describes as “the ghettos where you find women”, rather than properly valuing the skilled labour of high-quality child care or elder care. Waring now thinks time use surveys are better at capturing both the gendered nature of unpaid work and its importance in understanding our stalled revolution. Men do some of this work, but women do much more of it, and it is this unequal load that is the issue.

Australia was one of the first countries to champion time use studies, but the Australian Bureau of Statistics stopped doing them after 2006. Lyn Craig, professor of sociology and social policy at the University of Melbourne, is Australia’s leading researcher into time use, and she agrees with Waring on the importance of unpaid work. In July last year The Sydney Morning Herald described her as being “at her wit’s end” with frustration when the ABS decided not to do another survey due to a public service savings drive. “The expectations on young women and people in general to manage everything, it is all too much, it threatens mental health and it should be made visible,” she said. John Goss, an adjunct associate professor in health economics at the University of Canberra’s Health Research Institute, pointed out that “Our GDP and our social and political commentary focuses on the three hours per day we spend, on average, at paid work … The five hours 20 minutes per day [on average] we spend on unpaid activity is seen as less important … but our world would collapse without [it].”

In March this year, Tanya Plibersek announced the Australian Labor Party’s commitment, if elected, to giving the ABS the $15.2 million it would need for time use surveys in 2020 and 2027. Citing the 2016 census figures, Plibersek said the average woman did 14 hours of housework and family organisation per week and the average man fewer than five, while women did three quarters of the child care, and 70 per cent of caring for elderly or disabled family members or friends. “The Australian economy, Australian society, rests upon women’s unpaid work,” said Plibersek. “As Marilyn Waring – the founder of feminist economics – once said, ‘What we don’t count, counts for nothing.’”

Julie Smith, a feminist economist from the Australian National University whose pioneering research has been inspired by Waring, shows that breastfeeding is worth an estimated $3 billion annually in Australia. It also takes time: having a baby adds about 44 hours per week to a mother’s existing unpaid work, and exclusive breastfeeding adds a further 20 hours. When Smith says “the invisibility of human milk production significantly distorts public policy priorities”, she compares Australia’s 18 weeks of paid parental leave to the World Health Organization’s recommendation of breastfeeding for at least two years. Many workplaces do not have lactation rooms and even child-care centres do not always support breastfeeding mothers, while those outside the paid workforce are regarded as doing nothing.

Or consider the time taken to care for the frail elderly. At one point in my interview, Waring leaps up and lunges at the pile of papers she has brought to my interview. She stabs at a vague little word tacked onto a well-meaning but wholly inadequate list of care work like meal preparation and cleaning up. She draws a circle around it. The word is “etcetera”.

“But I say, ‘I beg your pardon, what about my accounting, my advisory services, my emergency services, my environmental protection, my managerial work, my executive work, my administrative, secretarial and clerical work? What about arranging, organising, running? What about waiting, waiting for the speech therapist to ring me back … Waiting for the hospital ward to come back … Where’s all the travelling … and what happens to your life and health?’ As the months go on, you can feel your own health deteriorating. The stress is phenomenal. I’m … thinking to myself, I’m a skilled, resourced woman, and this is breaking me …

“That ‘etcetera’ is a real problem.”

Many other carers, taking responsibility for every aspect of a loved one’s life, would agree with her. During the campaign for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, mothers of children with a disability, who were then receiving little if any support from the government, began a “Mad as Hell” campaign. They challenged policy-makers to “walk in our shoes”, gaining long-overdue recognition for the labour of love that they performed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. While taxpayers debated whether we could “afford” the $6 billion price tag of the NDIS, we were making invisible this care work provided to people with a disability by predominantly female caregivers. This care was valued by Deloitte Access Economics at $43.7 billion in their report The Economic Value of Informal Care in Australia 2015, while the replacement value of the whole unpaid care sector was more than $60 billion. The report warned of an ever-widening gap between supply and demand, and predicted that by 2025 less than half – 42 per cent – of those with a serious disability aged over 65 and not in residential care would have access to an unpaid carer.

In neoliberal societies, we turn more and more to for-profit care services. Paid care workers still suffer from our continued expectation that care, having once been done for us for “free”, should still be done for love rather than much money. In an industry where corporate shareholders in 2016 were raking in $1 billion in profits, female child-care workers – the feminisation of care has not changed – are paid less than $20 an hour for this skilled and important work. That is half the national average hourly rate. They earn less than cleaners per hour. The recent national strike by child-care workers showed just how explosive this issue can be. In aged-care facilities, it is the same story of exploitation.

The invisibility and devaluing of unpaid work and care that Waring draws attention to has acquired a new edge. Carers outside the workforce are increasingly seen as the equivalent of welfare bludgers. In 2016, the then social services minister, Christian Porter, complained that young carers of parents with a disability or mental illness would cost taxpayers $500,000 if they remained “on welfare” for the next 45 years. The assumption was that they were really doing nothing. Yet if they didn’t do this care work, in many instances the government would have to provide a much more expensive institutional or nursing-home place.

The consequences of mismeasuring women’s lives can be dire. On International Women’s Day 2016, Time of Our Lives?, a report commissioned by the Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, noted that 34 per cent of single women over 60, having spent a lifetime caring for others, lived in “permanent income poverty”. In March this year, the ABC’s 7.30 program was showing that women in their late fifties were 50 per cent more likely than men the same age to have virtually no retirement nest egg. That is not surprising, given that superannuation is a contributory scheme and grows with uninterrupted, lifelong work – which has been the more typical male pattern – rather than the more interrupted work patterns of women’s lives. Australia has among the highest levels of female part-time work in the world, usually shaped around caring for children. The gender pay gap in Australia, revealed by the Diversity Council’s research to be a 17 per cent difference in lifetime wage, is, more than anything else, a “motherhood penalty”.

As we wind up our interview at the Victorian Women’s Trust, I find out that after her father died Waring took her mum, Audrey, on an African safari, and has brought the 92-year-old with her for this trip to enjoy the Australian Open tennis tournament. We worry briefly together over the heat, but Audrey sounds as tough as her daughter.

Gloria Steinem tells me, “Marilyn Waring should be advising governments and the United Nations on how to revise inhuman accounting systems. She should be a world force.” She is right. Waring is a genuine radical. If her ideas were implemented they would revolutionise our policies on women, work and welfare. ActionAid, an international non-government organisation working on behalf of women’s human rights, put her ideas into action with their “Making Care Visible” campaign in Nepal, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya. The core elements were to “Recognise”, “Reduce” and “Redistribute” care. By getting men and women to fill out time use diaries, it found that men were more likely to recognise just how much unpaid work women were doing and its role in preventing paid work. The women gained self-respect, while the need to redistribute care more fairly between men, women and government services was better understood. The unfinished revolution in Australia needs a similar campaign around unpaid work. We need to recognise the substantial impact on gender inequality, and develop a policy framework that ensures it is shared more equitably between men and women.

Feminists have long said that the personal is political. Establishing gender parity can carry underlying assimilationist assumptions. Men are more likely to occupy high-status, high-paying and powerful positions; they are presented as role models to emulate. Women entering public life are criticised for not conforming to feminine stereotypes – for example, not having children. Yet at the same time, to be taken seriously, they must also assimilate to the male norm: dropping the pitch of their voices, minimising emotional expressiveness, adopting traditionally male behaviour patterns and keeping care responsibilities hidden … somehow to become less female. As Waring’s or Julia Gillard’s experiences in male-dominated parliaments show, some male behaviour, far from being something to emulate, can be in desperate need of changing.

While Waring is one of the highest-achieving people I’ve ever met, she is without pretension, kind, with a capacity for hands-on practical care. Driving home, thinking about my encounter with her, I suddenly realise that I have just met a different kind of role model, one who shows in her life and work what all human beings might be like in a society where work and care-giving were shared, in a world where women truly counted.

Anne Manne

Anne Manne is the author of Motherhood, the Quarterly Essay ‘Love & Money’ and the memoir So This Is Life. Her most recent book is The Life of I: The new culture of narcissism.

From the front page

Photo of Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell outside Parlament House with rescued greyhound Graham

Dog day afternoon

Animal welfare concerns have long plagued the greyhound racing industry, but in Victoria a campaign from covert investigators now has a parliamentarian leading the fight

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Mars attracts

Reviving the Viking mission’s experiments may yet find life as we know it on Mars, but the best outcome would be something truly alien

Close-up photograph of Anne Summers, 2017

How to change a bad law

The campaign to repair the single parenting payment was a model of how research and advocacy can push government to face the cruel effects of a policy and change course

Installation view of the Kandinsky exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, showing three framed abstract paintings hanging on a wall

Kandinsky at AGNSW

The exhibition of the Russian painter’s work at the Art Gallery of NSW provides a fascinating view of 20th-century art’s leap from representation to abstraction

In This Issue

Image of Patrick White and Manoly Lascaris, Sydney, 1989

Patrick White’s immigrant language

White gained from his partner’s Greek Orthodoxy a sensibility that changed how he saw Australia

Image of Rhonda Deans exploring “the Squeeze”, Koonalda Cave, South Australia

‘Deep Time Dreaming’ by Billy Griffiths

This history of archaeology in Australia charts our changing relationship with the past

Image of Khvay Samnang, Human Nature, 2010–11,

The 21st Biennale of Sydney

This latest edition offers a contemporary take on elemental balance


Why Adani won’t die

The Carmichael coalmine is as much about symbols and interests as it is about jobs and money

More in The Monthly Essays

Members of the Kanakanvu tribe perform at a Saraya harvest festival, Donghua Village, Taiwan.

Who is Taiwanese?

Taiwan’s minority indigenous peoples are being used to refute mainland China’s claims on the island – but what does that mean for their recognition, land rights and identity?

Ash Barty with winners trophy, Wimbledon, 2021

Ash’s to Ash’s

From stepping away from tennis as a youth before returning to dominate Wimbledon and the Australian Open, to retiring as world No. 1 at the age of 25, Ash Barty has always owned her career path

Close-up photograph of Anne Summers, 2017

How to change a bad law

The campaign to repair the single parenting payment was a model of how research and advocacy can push government to face the cruel effects of a policy and change course

Photo of Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell outside Parlament House with rescued greyhound Graham

Dog day afternoon

Animal welfare concerns have long plagued the greyhound racing industry, but in Victoria a campaign from covert investigators now has a parliamentarian leading the fight

Online latest

Installation view of the Kandinsky exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, showing three framed abstract paintings hanging on a wall

Kandinsky at AGNSW

The exhibition of the Russian painter’s work at the Art Gallery of NSW provides a fascinating view of 20th-century art’s leap from representation to abstraction

Image of Margret RoadKnight playing guitar and singing.

The unsung career of Margret RoadKnight

Little-known outside the Melbourne folk scene for decades, singer Margret RoadKnight’s 60 years of music-making is celebrated in a new compilation

A woman rides her bike past the Australian flag, the Indigenous flag and the flag of the Torres Strait Islands, Canberra, October 13, 2023. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Beyond the Voice referendum

Looking towards the next 65,000 years

View of the High Court of Australia. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Guarding the power of the court in our democracy

The hidden forces agitating at highest levels to undermine judicial independence