Home becomes new gender frontier for women

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As we all do our bit to fight the virus crisis, our advances in gender equity will be challenged during the imposed isolation and closure of schools, says KATE MEIKLE 

“IT’S like we are back to the 1950s and the return of the nuclear family,” says my husband. 

Many hold those “wholesome” and simple times up and romanticise them. But they come at a price for women, especially those with children. 

If we aren’t dealing with the coronavirus directly (my heart goes out to those who are) and I hope many of us will not have to, family and work life of some socially isolated kind must go on.

What is this going to look like for women? 

Many mothers are now thrown into a “stay-at-home” scenario whether they wanted to or not. Family violence is a chief concern as our networks and safety nets are not physically available to us as before.  

The division of labour between male and female partners and the tensión between work inside and outside of the house is highly politicised. 

Now we are experiencing a merging of both as some parents attempt to work from home and home school their children or in many cases a decrease or complete stop of paid work outside the home. 

Like many, I’ve been shocked, angry, frightened and stressed over the past three weeks like no other time in my career, all the while trying hard to be a “good” mum to our kids.  

We are all playing our parts, trying our best and I know that my children need me more than ever, but I mourn my lack of freedom, my decreased ability to work and a change in my identity after long days at home with the children, with the added cleaning that comes with having everyone home all the time. 

Families are now negotiating, doing the maths and working out how this new normal is going to be, especially in light of the public schools going online for term two. 

“It’s like we are back to the 1950s and the return of the nuclear family.”

Who will stay at home? Who will “work”? Who still has a paid job and how will we divide the increased home duties and parenting?    

Home schooling will test us all, but the ability to set young learners up with their tasks and support them when they cannot read very well, at the same time managing younger children or babies will be very hard. 

It’s a full-time job and parenting was never meant to be done in isolation. Good luck to those attempting to “work” their jobs at the same time. 

It’s encouraging that within my friendship group we are seeing many versions of sharing the load including dads at home full time when they never have been before, a 50/50 split between who is able to be on their laptop and who is in charge of the toddler and taking turns to work at night.   

“No one will ever ask what a stay-at-home mum did all day from now on,” says a meme that has been doing the rounds. I hope that as a society we shift our understanding and respect for those who care for and educate children, including stay-at-home parents.   

My three-year-old daughter decided to give herself a new fringe (think mohawk) with a pair of safety scissors as I was folding laundry in another room last week. 

It was a funny story to relay to friends and family, but I felt a pressure to quickly emphasise that I wasn’t doing something indulgent such as talking on the phone or checking my emails while she was doing it, that I hadn’t dropped the ball in my supervision of her, that I wasn’t a “bad” mum. More parenting “fails” will come out of this unusual scenario as we muddle on, isolated but united, I hope. 

I truly hope the 1950s aren’t here to stay. 


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Kate Meikle
Kate Meikle is a staff reporter for "CityNews"


  1. Rational, linear thinking has never been a strong point for radical feminists.

    The author, Kate Meikle, introduces this article by quoting her husband who, referencing family life during COVID-19, bemoans the return of the nuclear family from the 1950s. You know, the golden period post-WWII when living standards were high, economies were booming and wages were growing strongly; a period when families could afford the incredible luxury of choosing whether or not mothers would work. Given this financial freedom, mothers commonly stayed home, cared for children and maintained the household, while fathers worked full-time and provided necessary financial resources for the family.

    The article goes on to illustrate family life during COVID-19 (from a mother’s perapective), which doesn’t resemble said 1950s nuclear family in any way, shape or form.

    Many mother’s have been forced into a “stay-at-home scenario” the author advises, and family violence is a “chief concern” as a result. Sorry, 1950s mothers weren’t forced to stay home; they chose to and, unlike families today, could afford to. Not sure why family violence enters the discussion here? The author fails to draw a link to family violence in families from the 1950s and the reference to family violence is in direct contrast to the negotiation, cooperation and general functionality of families cited in the remainder of the article. If, indeed, mothers are concerned that staying home puts them at risk of family violence, then why is there no further discussion of the issue? Why are these women not encouraged to leave their violence-prone husbands? Clearly, the notion of increased family violence concerns is an opportunistic, ideologically-driven load of rubbish.

    The author goes on to advise that she was “shocked, angry, frightened and stressed” during the initial weeks of the pandemic and bemoans her “loss of freedom”, “reduced ability to work”, a change in her “identity after long days at home caring for the children” and the additional household cleaning burden. In the same breath, the author acknowledges that “we are all playing our part, trying our best”, that families are negotiating who will stay home, who will work and how additional “home duties and parenting” responsibility will be divided. Further discussion towards the end of the article cites families “sharing the load”, fathers being at home on a full-time basis and various other caring, work and household responsibilities being divided between parents on a 50-50 basis.

    The mind boggles?!

    If freedom, working and an identity unblemished by the tedious burden of parenthood and home duties are so crucially important to the author and she was “shocked, angry, frightened and stressed” when faced with responsibility for raising her own children, perhaps it was unwise for her to have children in the first place?!

    Putting that to the side, I again fail to recognise any hint of the referenced 1950s nuclear family. Indeed, the picture painted of families during the pandemic strikes me as the polar opposite. Families in the 1950s did not “share the load” and divide parenting, working and household duties on a 50-50 basis; mothers stayed home, assumed primary responsibility for caring for children and maintained the household, while fathers worked and provided for the family financially. Mothers from the 1950s didn’t cry foul of their parenting responsibilities or pursue identities that devalued their central and crucially important role as a mother. No, such mothers put their families and children first and, it must be said, were much happier and more satisfied with their lives as a result. There are numerous studies confirming the diminished life satisfaction of contemporary mothers when compared to those of past generations.

    The article concludes in a similarly confusing, disjointed and contradictory manner. The author sings the praises of the 1950s mother, citing the challenging and undervalued tasks of educating and caring for children. She insists we should all respect those performing such roles, after crying foul of the same fate being temporarily imposed on her during the pandemic. The final sentence of the article says: “I truly hope the 1950s aren’t here to stay”. The problem with all of this is, as described above, that the burden experienced by contemporary, pandemic-impacted mothers bears no resemblance to the role of mothers from the 1950s.

    The entire article is a feeble attempt to pour derision upon traditional gender roles by trying to draw parallels between the role of mothers in 1950s nuclear families and the increased burden of mothers during the recent pandemic. It fails miserably.

    Anyone with any sense knows that the role of mothers in 1950s nuclear families bears no resemblance whatsoever to the role of contemporary mothers during the pandemic; that mothers in the 1950s were infinitely more happy and satisfied with their lives than contemporary mothers during the pandemic; that the burden of contemporary mothers during the pandemic is a direct result of radical feminists’ insistence on the destruction of traditional gender roles.

    Anyone with any sense knows that women can’t have it all; that trying to juggle a career and raising children is a burden too far, regardless of the pandemic.

    Why do radical feminists continue to deny the obvious? Why do radical feminists, who claim to be championing the interests of women, continue to champion an ideology that indisputably diminishes womens’ happiness and life satisfaction?

    Kate Miekle, noone is buying your radical feminist propaganda.

    • I find comments along the lines of “Given this financial freedom, mothers commonly stayed home, cared for children and maintained the household…”, “1950s mothers weren’t forced to stay home; they chose to…”, “…such mothers put their families and children first and, it must be said, were much happier and more satisfied with their lives as a result..” and “mothers in the 1950s were infinitely more happy and satisfied with their lives than contemporary mothers during the pandemic” to be quite ignorant of the facts of women’s life in the 1950s.

      Matt, you seem to be unaware that it was standard policy among almost all employers that not only were women very restricted in their choice of employment – their only options were teaching, nursing, secretarial, banking (customer service only) or retail – until the late 1960s women were given no option to keep working after marriage and certainly never after having children. It was written policy in the public service and banking sectors that women had to stop work as soon as they married. If they didn’t resign of their own volition, they would be sacked. Hardly a situation where women “chose” to stay home. The only way a woman could be married and keep working was to have their own business, which was almost impossible when banks wouldn’t loan money or provide a line of credit or overdraft facility to a woman without a man to guarantee the loan – and sometimes not even then.

      Women in the 1950s – especially women of intellect – were not happy to be stuck at home with nothing to do all day except pick up after their husband and children. There is a very good reason barbiturates were dubbed “mother’s little helpers”. For many women the only way to handle the solitude and isolation of being at home all day with no adult conversation was to dose up with drugs or alcohol and spend their time in an all-day stupor.

      True “… the role of mothers in 1950s nuclear families bears no resemblance whatsoever to the role of contemporary mothers during the pandemic…” Women in the 1950s were given no credit for being intelligent enough to home-school their children, they did not have online meetings that allowed interaction with other adults and consequent intellectual stimulation and they didn’t have their husbands and children at home interrupting their planned-out work day with their own “priorities”.

      May I suggest you check out the ABC series “Back in Time for Dinner” to see the reality of family life in the 1950s.

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