I love Michelle Obama. I love everything about her. Her class, her style, her confidence, her strength…..and I have spent the majority of these school holidays reading her autobiography, ‘Becoming’. I adore these holidays. The family, the massive Christmas lunches, the beach. But most of all, I love the available hours while the kids are watching Netflix or swimming, to lay on the lounge and read. I always put aside one or two books to devour. And this year, it’s been a fabulous and intriguing insight into the life of this ridiculously inspiring woman.
I have devoured every page, and now feel like we are best friends. I know her parents, her children, her husband and her friends. I cried when her father passed away, I laughed when she stumbled awkwardly through her high school years, and I smiled at the intimate and heartwarming family moments that she shared.
But then tonight, I had a moment. A moment where I looked at my husband and, not for the first time, let loose with my slightly (but sometimes not so slightly) feminist frustrations and questioning.
You see, at so many points in this amazing book, Mrs Obama refers to the ‘working mother’. Whether it’s her, or her friends, or her mentors, she talks fairly consistently about the role of a working mother. She refers to her friends and their struggles with the balance between motherhood and career, or the fact that her mentors had to work so hard to build or sustain their careers, all the while trying to raise their children, free of guilt and judgment.
I am now probably four fifths of the way through this great read, and all of a sudden it hit me. And I turned to my poor husband (who cops my equality rants a bit) and asked,
“Why doesn’t anyone ever refer to the father as a ‘working dad?”
This had never occurred to me before! And in reading this phenomenal life story, it suddenly hit me. This woman was married to a man who, when both of his children were school aged, became possibly the busiest man on the planet, heaped with the biggest responsibility of arguably any other human on Earth, and yet, not once is he referred to as a ‘working father.’ He has the same two girls, the same responsibilities as a parent, and yet, even with the extremely heavy workload that he took on, the hours that he would have been doing, not once in the entire book, or anywhere in the media has he ever been referred to as a ‘working father.’
I get it.
I get that initially, it has to be the mother. I have two of my own. I grew them, I birthed them, I fed them and I love them more than anything in this world. But with both, I made the choice to return to work (or uni with my eldest!), when I felt that both of us were ready. I was never one to be able to handle being at home full time. I wish I was, and I am jealous of those that could, but it wasn’t for me. And when I did, whether it was returning to uni to complete my degree, or to teaching after the birth my second bub, the main discussion that people, especially women raised with me, was the balance between career and being a working mum. But not once, NOT ONCE, did anyone ever refer to my husband as a working dad. Not once did they ask how he was managing the balance. That was on me. It was my responsibility to balance career and children. Not once did that responsibility ever fall on my husband. Just as it didn’t for Barack. My husband’s response to this was to state how alike he is to Barack Obama…..(eye roll*), but he too agreed that it had never really even been an option. That he would have loved some time at home with the kids when they were little, but being the dad, just felt like this wasn't the way things were done.
I can’t help but imagine how different our society would be if the mentality towards this was slightly altered. What if, after the growing and the birthing and the feeding was done, if the mum felt that both she and toddler were ready, what if it was widely accepted that the father had the option, if it was even encouraged, to go part time to allow the mother to continue to build her own career.
It was just a turn of phrase. A label that we hear every day. But in this moment, it was also another lightbulb moment, of why things are just that little bit harder when you’re the woman. There has been a few of those lately, and frankly, it’s starting to irk me.
Sometimes we need to just think further outside the square of what we can do for women to close the gap. Sometimes it’s about what we can do for those around her.