The Elephant in the Room

The debate about whether women can “have it all” is missing one thing: Men.

In a wide-ranging interview with News Ltd on the weekend, Deputy Opposition leader Julie Bishop stated baldly, “I’m in the Anne-Marie Slaughter school – women can’t have it all. They can have plenty of choices, but at the end of the day they choose something which means they can’t have something else”.

Ms. Bishop was referring to the controversial essay in The Atlantic by Slaughter – a former Hillary Clinton staffer and self-proclaimed feminist – in which she wrote, “juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible”.

But her message has been taken out of context.

Speaking recently at a Working Mother’s network event in New York, Slaughter said workplace culture must change to accommodate women.

“Flexibility isn’t just important; it’s indispensible,” she said.

If the coalition wins the federal election, Julie Bishop will become one of the most powerful women in the country.

It is deeply disturbing that she still believes women should choose between career and family.

I thought it was 2013 not 1913.

Ms. Bishop and her leader, Tony Abbott, do talk of “greater flexibility” in the work place, but only to benefit the employer.

“You do need more flexibility in your workplace arrangements,” Mr. Abbott told the ABC last year. “Workplace relations changes over the last few years… are making it harder for you to stay open on Sundays, after hours, on public holidays,” he said.

In contrast, Prime Minister Julia Gillard will legislate the right of mothers to request part-time work, and boost protections against sudden roster changes.

It’s something – but it’s not enough.

Bosses can continue to reject requests on ‘reasonable business grounds’.

Things like, “We need to make a big juicy profit so I can get my bonus this year” or “The customer demands our service 24/7 so you’ll have to give up your family time”.

The government should consider the recommendations of the Diversity Council, including flexibility for men.!/293

The DCA’s report, Mainstreaming Flexible Work in Australian Business, found men want more work/life balance, but fear career penalties.

Sound familiar?

Before anyone writes, “Boo hoo, poor men. Women still do more housework/parenting, receive less pay, hold fewer management positions,” stop! I agree.

But surely this is win-win?

Modern men want more time with their kids. Women want to build their careers. To me it’s mathematical: the perfect equilibrium.

There are also extended family members, friends, and neighbours who could be included in the equation.

It takes a village.

But we need more flexibility in our childcare and workplaces.

Take my household as an example.

When the kids cry out in the middle of the night, it’s for “Dad!” not “Mum!”

Hubby has always been hands-on. If anyone quit work to be a stay-at-home parent, it would be him. My sister calls me the absent-minded professor: I’d be reading a fascinating article in the New Yorker, while the kids sat in the corner smeared in peanut butter.

I’m sure we’re not the only ones.

Households are no longer traditional: I fear a coalition government would send us back to the 1950s.

Julie Bishop did not make her statements at the end of a long, adversarial interview.

She was the one who brought up Anne-Marie Slaughter; used her childlessness to make a political point; and painted black and white an issue with infinite shades of grey.

Then, she repeated her comments on Sky News.

Yes, Ms. Bishop, women can have it all. So can men.

It’s up to you: Would a coalition government support working families?

After all, I thought your party was all about the rights and freedom of the individual.