It's time to rethink how we judge work expectations, gender

​One hundred years ago, Manitoba granted some women the right to vote, and when Justin Trudeau was sworn in as prime minister, his cabinet finally attained gender parity.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s newly minted cabinet with gender parity a step toward equality

Justin Trudeau asked about gender parity in cabinet

7 years ago
Duration 1:13
Justin Trudeau asked about gender parity in cabinet

One hundred years ago, Manitoba granted some women the right to vote, and when Justin Trudeau was sworn in as prime minister, his cabinet finally attained gender parity.

 When asked why he prioritized parity in his cabinet, Trudeau said, "Because it's 2015." Indeed.

100 years after the first women (not all women) got the vote in Canada, Trudeau chose cabinet members to represent their gender in politics on a representative basis.

Let me clarify, not representative of the elected parliament, but representative of the Canadian population as a whole.

What is notable about this is, in many ways, representation of women is not yet equal.

Women still don't have parity with men in terms of earnings or in terms of job potential.

If one looks at CEOs and board representation, men still drastically outnumber women.

At the same time, women take on a disproportionate amount of childcare and household responsibilities. Countless studies reinforce this data, along with the information that this has shifted slightly — while women still take on the great majority of the work, some men now shoulder a small portion of the burden.

Further, in Manitoba, which has a waitlist of 12,000 children in immediate need of childcare, women continue to fall even further behind in terms of career and wage parity.

They must take even more years off to care for young children due to lack of other options.

This contributes to a loss in both provincial and federal tax revenue, due to women's lack of earnings during this crucial period for building both careers and family life.

Better government representation for women will hopefully help Canadians develop better family-friendly supports in law.

Yet, when discussing cabinet parity, many said things such as, "Will there be enough competent women candidates, since women are so underrepresented in parliament?"

This sort of response vastly degrades the efforts of the women who have made it to Parliament in the first place -- highly skilled and educated women who cope with these obstacles of juggling work with greater household and caretaking responsibilities to get to these positions.

If you look at images of Trudeau on Nov. 4, you'll notice his wife beside him.

Our society assumes a woman stands in support of her husband's professional efforts, but the reverse is not always the case.

Society doesn't expect husbands to jump in to take care of the laundry, dinner preparations and drive their children to school when their wives take on greater work responsibilities.

It is only exceptional women, with a good support system, amazing organizational skills and the ability to delegate, who make it to positions of power in business, government or beyond.

Beyond the skills of these extraordinary achievers, examine that statement again.

Why assume at any point that women are potentially less competent than their male counterparts?

If girls have equal access to education and, at least theoretically, job advancement, young women should start out on equal footing with their male cohort.

Unfortunately, women must be competent far beyond their male counterparts to achieve because the expectation is women should manage this professionally competitive workload and then shoulder gendered household and childcare obligations.

Do the partners of these women become willing help-meets, feeding the children, picking up dry cleaning and more?

The new gender parity in the cabinet offers a great opportunity to begin a cultural shift towards more home equality.

If women can be Canadian cabinet ministers or the U.S. Secretary of State, why can't men do the grocery shopping, meal planning and diaper changing on a more regular basis?

Beyond that, why does this need to be celebrated as worthy of accolades?

The last time I took my twin preschoolers to the bathroom, no one lauded me as a fabulous contributor to our home's functionality.

I'm reminded, again, of a conversation I had with my family doctor right after my sons started preschool.

I'd finally gotten enough childcare and reworked the schedule to make time for a necessary medical appointment.

When he asked how things were going, I explained that even with a few hours of preschool "off," I felt very pressed for time.

Despite a constant effort to streamline the workload, I never seemed to have enough hours to produce meals, keep our house somewhat tidy and fit in enough time to work — as well as get to the occasional appointment to stay healthy.

"Oh," he smiled, "Don't worry, you'll figure it out. Give it some time to settle into the new schedule, and you'll have plenty of time."

I still reel from that conversation and wonder when I'll get that time?

There wasn't an equal assumption that my husband's workload would need to decrease to pitch in.

While my husband helps manage our household, his work life is demanding. He suffered career setbacks because he did his fair share as we struggled to stay afloat during a family health crisis.

It's time to rethink how we judge work expectations and gender.

Prioritizing our families' daily physical needs first shouldn't be either gender's domain.

Neither should we expect that men are somehow innately equipped to better function as earners or in the public sphere.

Yet, I couldn't say it any better than Marilyn Adam did, in an Oct. 29 letter to the Winnipeg Free Press.

In response to someone who objected to Trudeau's efforts to attain gender parity in the cabinet, stating that we needed the "best, brightest and most dedicated," Adam said, "but to be totally fair, men should still be given a chance at 50 per cent of the representation."

To that, I say, Amen, sister, or as they say in Parliament, "Hear, hear."

Joanne Seiff is the author of two books. She writes, designs and teaches in Winnipeg.


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