Review: ‘The Wife Drought’ by Annabel Crabb

thewifedrought_cover

‘I need a wife.’

It’s a common joke among women juggling work and family. But it’s not actually a joke. Having a spouse who takes care of things at home is a Godsend on the domestic front. It’s a potent economic asset on the work front. And it’s an advantage enjoyed – even in our modern society – by vastly more men than women.

Working women are in an advanced, sustained, and chronically under-reported state of wife drought, and there is no sign of rain.

But why is the work-and-family debate always about women? Why don’t men get the same flexibility that women do? In our fixation on the barriers that face women on the way into the workplace, do we forget about the barriers that – for men – still block the exits?

The Wife Drought is about women, men, family and work. Written in Annabel Crabb’s inimitable style, it’s full of candid and funny stories from the author’s work in and around politics and the media, historical nuggets about the role of ‘The Wife’ in Australia, and intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia.

Crabb’s call is for a ceasefire in the gender wars. Rather than a shout of rage, The Wife Drought is the thoughtful, engaging catalyst for a conversation that’s long overdue.

I’ve had a bit of a crush on journalist Annabel Crabb for years, something that was crystalised when I saw her speak at an event last year. She’s an incredibly engaging and intelligent speaker, both funny and charming. At the time, the audiobook of The Wife Drought wasn’t yet available, and I never quite got around to buying the paperback. I was therefore very excited at the end of last month to discover that the audiobook had finally been released and that Annabel herself was the narrator.

The Wife Drought is both demoralising and insightful, often at the same time. It defines a “wife” as a part time or stay at home partner who does the bulk of the domestic duties — cleaning, school drop offs, dealing with tradies — so as to free the other partner up to pursue earning a crust. A “wife” can be a man by this definition, but the truth is that it is almost always a woman. And it’s a huge economic benefit to have one.

Annabel is a journalist, and you can see her thoroughness in this book: she draws on a number of studies that talk about pay gap trends, division of housework, divorce rates in relationships where women become suddenly successful, women in politics, social expectations on both the husband and the wife*, and much more. Interspersed throughout are often lighthearted and always illustrative anecdotes. A lot of the conclusions she draws seemed obvious to me once she’d pointed them out, but as I haven’t read a lot of feminist literature they were a bit of a revelation.

(* Note that this book is about the male and female partner dynamic. While Annabel acknowledges the wonderfully diverse society that we live in, The Wife Drought tackles the most common relationship structure. I am a single parent — no wife for me! — and I still found it fascinating.)

As one example, the book considers the idea that women are better at raising kids in light of the concept of specialisation and the human tendency to seek the most efficient or economical solution. Given that women usually stay at home with the baby in the first few months, they are the ones who get the early child-rearing experience. It’s not that they are genetically predisposed towards changing nappies; they just get more practice. As for why they stay home, Annabel points to the typical difference in pay between a man and a woman as the primary explanation. (She doesn’t touch at all on the push for women to breastfeed and how difficult that can be if a woman returns to work, which I thought was a curious omission.)

Another point that Annabel makes is that the expectation that fathers will go back to work after their children are born and, if anything, work even harder to support them is actually just as detrimental to dads and their relationship with their kids as it is to their wife’s career. The judgement (and condescending praise) heaped on men who do traditionally feminine childcare duties is a barrier to men who also want to “have it all”.

The overarching argument of the book is that women have seen a huge change in the way we get to live our lives. We are not banned from working while married anymore (yes, it used to be a thing). We are permitted — and often encouraged — to work and have children. But men haven’t seen a concurrent revolution in what society expects of them.

There isn’t an earth-shattering revelation for how to achieve this, of course. It’s a slow process, where men have to not only be given access to the same leave conditions but not be punished in the workplace for exercising the rights that they do have. The change is coming, enabled in part by the digital revolution and an increased ability to work from home. But it is slow.

Four stars


Review: ‘You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)’ by Felicia Day

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

From online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood.

The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world… or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs.

After growing up in the south where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons”, Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an Internet star.

Felicia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange world is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir.

Hilarious and inspirational, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should embrace what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for a digital misfit.

If you’re a fan of Joss Whedon’s work, you may remember Felicia from his hit internet web series, Doctor Horrible’s Sing-along Blog. She played Penny. *sniff* She’s also been on Buffy, Supernatural, and lots of other shows … but before she was on Doctor Horrible, she created her own web series, The Guild.

The Guild is inspired by Felicia’s own experiences in online computer games, especially  her addiction to World of Warcraft. I had a WoW addiction myself there for a couple of years (though I still managed to go to work), so the show and its characters really resonated for me. In fact, I quit WoW when I got pregnant because I “didn’t want to be a Clara” (the sweet but very neglectful mother in The Guild).

So I guess I owe Felicia a big thank you for saving my son’s childhood! Yay!

All of this is by way of explanation for why I picked up this book, and why I loved it — and Felicia — so, so much.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is a relatively quick read (or listen — I bought the audiobook, which is narrated by the charming Felicia herself). And it’s one I thoroughly recommend for geeks. If you didn’t understand my paragraph about WoW, then some of the stuff in the book may go over your head. Although Felicia does a really good job of making the geek jargon accessible, I am not qualified to say how good a job she did, because I already knew what she was talking about.

Felicia is very honest about herself, her upbringing and her failings: she describes herself variously as anxious, driven and a control freak, and provides many, many examples of each. The book reveals things about her that I didn’t know, including how awful things got for her after she got doxxed by GamerGate. (I wanted to give her a hug, and then set fire to certain parts of the internet.)

What she doesn’t talk about is her adult personal life. She mentions several times that she has a boyfriend, but if you’re expecting salacious details, don’t hold your breath — she never even says what his name is. On the other hand, given the doxxing, who can blame her? Likewise, she mentions that she’s no stranger to restraining orders and talks about a disturbed fan turning up at her house, but doesn’t go into details about any of it. Again, fair enough.

Still, if you want to hear funny anecdotes about her homeschool experience, singing lessons, university violin performance, acting experience and so much more, this book is wonderful. I especially recommend it for the embarrassing stories of Felicia geeking out over other celebrities at fan conventions. That made me feel so much better about my incoherent behaviour whenever I’ve ever met anyone even slightly famous.

Thanks, Felicia!

Five stars


Review: ‘Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography’ by Neil Patrick Harris

Today at Aussie Owned and Read I reviewed one of my current favourite books of the year, Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! I tried to reblog it over here so no one misses out on hearing what an excellent book this is, but for some reason I can’t get the reblog function to work.

I fail at internet today, people.

Still, click on the above link and check it out. Spoiler: I gave it five stars!

Choose Your Own Autobiography

 

 


Review: ‘My Story’ by Julia Gillard

MyStory

On Wednesday 23 June 2010, with the government in turmoil, Julia Gillard asked then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for a leadership ballot.

The next day, Julia Gillard became Australia’s 27th Prime Minister, and our first female leader. Australia was alive to the historic possibilities. Here was a new approach for a new time.

It was to last three extraordinary years.

This is Julia Gillard’s chronicle of that turbulent time – a strikingly candid self-portrait of a political leader seeking to realise her ideals. It is her story of what it was like – in the face of government in-fighting and often hostile media – to manage a hung parliament, build a diverse and robust economy, create an equitable and world-class education system, ensure a dignified future for Australians with disabilities, all while attending to our international obligations and building strategic alliances for our future. This is a politician driven by a sense of purpose – from campus days with the Australian Union of Students, to a career in the law, to her often gritty, occasionally glittering rise up the ranks of the Australian Labor Party.

Refreshingly honest, peppered with a wry humour and personal insights, Julia Gillard does not shy away from her mistakes, as well as detailing her political successes. Here is an account of what was hidden behind the resilience and dignified courage Gillard showed as prime minister, her view of the vicious hate campaigns directed against her, and a reflection on what it means – and what it takes – to be a woman leader in contemporary politics.

Here, in her own words, Julia Gillard reveals what life was really like as Australia’s first female prime minister.

This is the first non-fiction I’ve reviewed on this blog, and it’s overtly political. What could possibly go wrong…?

*dons flak jacket and face shield before continuing*

For those that don’t know, Julia Gillard was Australia’s first (and, to date, only) female prime minister. A member of the Labor party, our equivalent of the US Democrats, she came to power in controversial circumstances, replacing Kevin Rudd. Rudd seemed to present well interstate but here in Canberra, where the federal government is based, he had a reputation for being angry, disorganised and hell to work for. He did some good work with the GFC, but when he dropped the ball on environmental reform, his polling numbers tanked.

Consequently, I think Canberrans were among the least surprised when Gillard took his place as PM.

I was always fond of Gillard, especially when she was being fiery and speaking off the cuff (her canned speeches, on the other hand, were a cure for insomnia — sorry, Jules, but they were). Some of that was because her politics broadly align with mine. A lot of it was because of the abhorrent way she was treated by the conservative media and the lunatic fringe. I felt a certain girl power solidarity, you know?

So, with that huge disclaimer, what did I think of My Story?

Bits of it, especially the first third, were riveting. Bits of it were, as the blurb says, wryly funny. Bits of it — especially her insights into Rudd’s behaviour after he was ousted — filled me with righteous indignation. (Australia is in the grip of conservative government now, and it’s fair to say that Rudd is largely responsible for that. Thanks very bloody much, Kevin.)

But bits of My Story were kind of a cure for insomnia too.

This is the first political memoir I’ve read, and it makes sense that politicians in these kinds of books will be keen to establish their legacy, in their own words. And while I enjoyed the personal anecdotes and the insights into negotiations, I really zoned out during the talk of numbers and budgets and something about nominal growth? What? If I’d been reading the paperback, I would’ve skimmed the middle section, but because I was listening to the audiobook I slogged through the whole thing while cooking dinner and colouring in. (Adulting is hard.)

Maybe if I’d paid more attention, I would’ve gotten more out of it. :p

Still, Julia was gracious in acknowledging where others had done good work — even Rudd, in the early days. She was also honest about the places where the Labor government went wrong on certain policies and decisions, and accepted the blame where she had a role in those mistakes. I respect that, as well as her ferocious intellect and her resilience.

If you’re on the centre/left of Australian politics, this is worth a read.

Three-and-a-half stars