A few months ago, my partner and I made the difficult decision to leave our home in Vancouver, where we worked and lived for 15 years, and move to Sydney. Having just completed my PhD, I was offered my first academic position at the University of New South Wales. He works in sales for a growing biotech company.
“Do what you think is best for career and we’ll figure it out,” he said with each and every new job application (and potential relocation).
Despite my talent and aspirations, both of which were drilled into me from a young age, I found myself thinking about all those things women are commonly told around the world. Men are the breadwinners. Women don’t put their careers ahead of their relationships and families. My 33-year old biological clock is ticking. Maybe I could make long-distance work (less so how we could manage our lives and intimacy together). And so on.
My partner, however, wouldn’t hear of it. “Do what you think is best for career and we’ll figure it out,” he said with each and every new job application (and potential relocation). And so, we did.
But it has not been without challenges.
On my first full day in the country, I broke my arm. Two days later, I showed up to work (in a full arm-cast no less). At the time, he was still packing things up at home, something he has done on more than one occasion (which worked to both our disadvantages this time).
Fortunately, my workplace was very supportive. What I realize looking back, however, was that I was less well supportive of myself, choosing strength and resolve over rest and self-care (“I can excel in my job as much as any man”).
At the time, I didn’t consider (as I do in my research) that circumstances unrelated to us personally, including gender and social injustices (e.g., inflexible working hours, lack of strong parental leave with full earnings for both parents), can hinder many of our abilities to engage fully and progress in our careers.
I also didn’t consider how many of men’s accomplishments—particularly those who are white, cis gender, and in traditional gender-normative heterosexual love relationships—are often (though not always) achieved with the help of women. These dynamics rarely feature in applications for academic tenure or other kinds of promotion (“I can excel in my job thanks to my wife and family”).
Since we started dating, we have always practiced balanced gender roles. We clean together. We get our groceries together.
In addition to confronting internal gender roles, we also both found ourselves without our friends, families, cultures, and strong professional networks. Luckily, moving here has offered us both new networks and work opportunities, and a fun adventure in this corner of the world.
I don’t find our decision to move to Sydney for my career particularly revolutionary, nor was this ‘non-traditional’ action new for our relationship.
Since we started dating, we have always practiced balanced gender roles. We clean together. We get our groceries together. We cook together—except on days when he has soccer, one of us has work, or neither of us is in any mood to cook.
We also communicate our hopes, feelings, and anxieties to one another. And now, we surf together! We’re terrible, but that’s beside the point.
Thankfully, we do not work together (in the same office nor the same field) and we make it a priority to have separate social lives.
Each of us are probably better at incorporating gender parity in our lives across different issues than the other. I, for example, wear my heart on my sleeve. He, on the other hand, doesn’t cry—except for that one time he ate a spicy noodley dish at our favourite not-in-the mood-to-cook restaurant, Noodle Box. Actually, he sobbed. And. It. Was. GLORIOUS!
Studies have found, in fact, that women more frequently than men give up their career, choosing to care for the home and their children.
When I look back on our years together thus far, I don’t recall spending a lot of time talking about how we would do things in our lives and in our relationship. And it goes without saying the balancing act of work and family is not always be easy and I’m sure will only get harder, especially if we decide to have kids.
Studies have found, in fact, that women more frequently than men give up their career, choosing to care for the home and their children. What’s more, when women do choose both, they often bear a heavier burden in childcare and chores around the house.
I know many women who have chosen to work at home and I wouldn’t rule it out for myself one day, at least temporarily. This can be a wonderful choice for many women (and men) and we need to give value to this kind of work for all genders alike.
But to achieve true gender equality, I believe we also need to consider how societal conditions and discourses can develop into unquestioned gender norms, stereotypes, and injustices, and, in turn, force these choices on some women.
We cannot remain quiet in the face of gender and other imbalances.
Gender inequalities operate at multiple levels (individual, interpersonal, institutional, and societal) and overlap with other injustices (e.g., racial, economic, age- and sexuality-based) to influence our position in this world and the opportunities and privileges afforded to us.
We need a critical mass of people thinking and talking about potentially harmful social processes and structures—privately and publicly. This work can’t be done in silos.
There are, thus, a lot of ways we can step up for women to ensure that they can step up the social ladder themselves, from ensuring they have a seat at all decision-making tables to a commitment to equity in education, employment, housing, health care, and political participation, not mention safety from all forms of trauma and harm (emotional, physical, sexual, colonial).
This kind of change does not happen overnight. It must involve a fundamental restructuring of how we view women and men and their roles in our society. But there are also small steps we all can take to move toward gender balance—and I think it starts at home, in our own families.
This article was originally published on Find Your Pleasure.