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Some things change and some things stay the same

During the period of offsite learning this year, there has been much commentary in the media about the roles that fathers and mothers have played in the active support of their children’s learning from home and the greater impact that the pandemic has had on working women compared to the impact on working men. This commentary certainly raises again the questions around the role of men and women in unpaid child-rearing work and in the paid workforce.  

A recent report by America’s Institute for Women’s Policy Research showed that mothers do 300 hours more paid work per year than they did in 1977, while there has not been a converse significant decline in the number of hours of unpaid work at home. The author also stated that in addition to gender inequalities at home with regard to domestic and caring responsibilities, women’s increased work hours are “creating barriers to women’s advancement and promotion to senior levels”. 

The issue of equity in the workplace and equity at home is vexed and complex and is unlikely to be resolved soon. However, if we work on the assumption that parents of girls want their daughters to be given equal opportunities to boys in their future life and work choices, then it is important that we see how we can all contribute to dismantling the pervasive stereotyping we see every day and which has come into sharp focus during the pandemic.

I have talked about the benefits to girls of an all girls’ education and how it can support the dismantling of gender stereotyping. In addition to the great work being undertaken at girls’ schools, there are some important and simple things that parents of daughters can do at home to demonstrate their equal support for sons and daughters and equal high expectations of them. For example, family research clearly shows that there is still significant gender division by parents in the chores they allocate to their children, with the chores allocated to sons being still typically quite different to the chores being allocated to daughters. The research report, Hands up for gender equality, published by the University of Queensland in 2018, reported that boys are typically allocated "outdoor" chores like mowing and putting out the rubbish, while girls are expected to do "indoor" jobs like cleaning, cooking and child-minding. Of greater concern was the author’s finding that parents pay sons more for their chores than they pay daughters!

I found myself reflecting quite a bit on this last statement. I am open to allocating chores based on skill level, demonstrated competence and interest of children, regardless of gender. I accept that there are differences in the ways that boys and girls explore and experience life, as it is these very differences that enable schools like Ivanhoe Girls’ to provide an optimal learning environment for our female students. However, I find it impossible to justify the greater financial value of son’s contributions to those of daughters in a way that sends a clear message to each child about their self worth and about what they can expect from society in the years ahead. 

An Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia eBrief explored this concept further. The author noted that parents can unwittingly send clear messages to their children that “physical outdoor work is more highly valued than girls’ indoor work” and that “this reinforces stereotypes that ‘outdoor’ jobs like engineering and construction are ‘for men’, while ‘indoor’ and ‘caring’ jobs like nursing and teaching are ‘for women’”. 

I read an additional perspective on parenting gender bias in Stephens-Davidowitz New York Times article entitled, Google, tell me. Is my son a genius? He wrote that despite boys in America being 9% more likely to be overweight than girls, parents are more concerned about their daughter being thin than they are about her being intelligent, while they are more concerned about their son being intelligent than they are about him being thin. It was further noted that the result was unchanged across the education level, wealth, level of advantage/disadvantage or cultural background of the parents. 

As noted before, issues of gender stereotyping and gender equity are vexed and complex. However, despite the obvious challenges that society faces in bringing parity to all genders, I strongly believe that through collective awareness and genuine intent, we can continue to edge forward as a society to a place that will value each individual equally in all aspects of life, regardless of their gender. In the meantime, schools like Ivanhoe Girls’ will continue to provide girls with opportunities to question societal norms, believe in their ability to make a difference and to explore all areas of their interests and passions.

Dr Deborah Priest
Principal

References
  1. Fitzsimmons, T., Yates, M., & Callan, V. (2018). Hands up for gender equality: A major study into confidence and career intentions of adolescent boys and girls. Brisbane: AIBE Centre for Gender Equality in the Workplace, University of Queensland. Retrieved from: https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:dcee289  
  2. Hegewisch, A. & Lacarte, V. (2019, November 14). Gender inequality, work hours, and the future of work: Executive summary. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Retrieved from: https://iwpr.org/iwpr-issues/employment-and-earnings/gender-inequality-work-hours-and-the-future-of-work/  
  3. Stephens-Davidowitz, S. (2014, January 18). Google, tell me. Is my son a genius? New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/opinion/sunday/google-tell-me-is-my-son-a-genius.html