Monthly Archives: July 2008

Casual stressing

Last post, I wrote about being stressed by the juggle. I’m still stressed, and it’s definitely not by the work itself. The work itself I can do, and I enjoy it, and I’m sure that I’m adding value. I think my (temporary) colleagues are enjoying my input and my insights. So that’s all good stuff.

But the juggle is getting to me, far more so than when I was last juggling. And I think that it may be because I am a temporary, part time worker.

There is a whole research centre for Work and Life, part of the Hawke Research Institute at the University of South Australia. They have just put out a report titled, “Work, life and workplace culture: the Australian work and life index 2008.” It’s downloadable as a PDF, but it’s 3.3 meg, so you might want to skip to the media release. And here are some choice bits from the executive summary.

… women are especially rushed and pressed for time. A majority of both full-time and part-time women often or almost always feel rushed. We saw in 2007 how much of this general feeling of pressure amongst women employees related to their caring and domestic responsibilities beyond the workplace. Given how little these have changed in the past decade of more, it is of no surprise that many women – indeed the majority of working women, whether full-time or part-time – continue to feel an overall time strain in their lives.

The suggestion that casual workers have better work-life interaction than permanent workers is not supported by our findings; casual workers have worse work-life interaction than permanent workers when we statistically control for casuals’ lower working hours. In addition casual workers have no greater access to flexibility about when they work than permanent workers. Casual terms do not protect workers from feeling overloaded; they have the same incidence of perceived overload as permanent employees.

I am not overloaded at work. I have plenty to do, but not too much. So that’s not a source of my stress. I think the stress comes from trying to fit my work commitment into limited school hours. I am required to spend a certain number of hours at work each week, full stop. If I get sick, if one of my daughters gets sick, if their teachers go on strike (due to happen next week, and actually, I do support them in their reasons for going on strike), then somehow, from somewhere, I have to find the time to make up the hours.

Given my particular workplace, I am sure that if I really needed to, I could ask for work less if necessary. Of course, I would be paid less, but that seems fair to me. Nevertheless, I would be reneging on my commitments – not a good thing to do, especially given that this is the first serious job I have had since arriving here in Adelaide. (Long time readers know that I have been doing some lecturing and tutoring too, and while I take that very seriously too, universities are far more used to employing people for an hour here and an hour there, and my time actually in front of a class is limited. Moreover, even if you are sick, it’s not so bad lecturing for an hour and then staggering home to bed. I know this, because I have done it in the past.)

It’s the casual thing that’s doing me in. With that thought in mind, once this stint of work is over, I may not look for more work for the rest of the year, but look for a permanent part time job instead, ideally on one of those limited week contracts. (Helen’s got a nice post up, explaining the concept.) It’s not even that I particularly want sick pay and annual leave. It’s more that I want to be able to take time off, even if it’s unpaid, to care for my children, and myself, and my partner, when needed.

In the meantime, some other interesting bits from the research report.

Patterns of work hours differ for men and women depending on their parenting status: fathers work longer hours and mothers work fewer hours than their counterparts without children. When these differences in work hours are statistically controlled, gender differences in the impact of parenting on work-life interactions are apparent.

Mothers are especially affected by work-life conflict. Controlling for differences in hours, mothers have worse work-life interaction than women without children. However, there is no difference between men’s work-life interaction whether they are fathers or not.

Single mothers are especially affected even when we allow for their lower work hours: they have the worst work-life scores, higher than any other family type and significantly worse than single fathers.

Well, that’s a NSS* finding if ever there was one.


Partnered workers with children (especially fathers) are least likely to have a good fit between their actual and their preferred hours.

I’m interpreting that as in part the male provider instinct kicking in, and in part employer expectations, and possibly self-expectations, about what fathers ought to do, putting hours pressure on fathers too. It’s a classic instance of something that feminists have always claimed, that if we can sort out this problem for women, then men will find that the world is a better place for them too.

In the meantime, at least the extra money I’m earning pays for some good wine.

* NSS – no sh*t sherlock

Why do I do it?

Cross post

You would think I’d learn. But seemingly, I don’t, because I keep on doing it. Getting into paid employment, that is.

I’ve taken on a temporary, part-time job, doing some interesting policy work. But with the work comes the attendant problems for me, notably insomnia (which is however, very good for blogging) and stress-related back-aches. The back-ache is a beauty. I get a sharp pain that starts in my upper back, then translates into my chest, and can leave me breathless with pain. In a good attack, the pain can spread up into my jaw, and in the very best attacks, from there into a band over my head. I haven’t had one of those attacks (yet) this time around, and hopefully, I will avoid them. And yes, before you leap in with helpful advice, I do sit correctly, I have had my desk and chair properly assessed, I do take micro-breaks, I do stop and stretch, I periodically swap my mouse hand, I swap between working with pen and paper and working with a screen, I do all the right things. I’m fairly sure that the back attacks come on because when I am stressed, like many other people, I tense all the muscles in my back.

It’s not the work itself that’s stressing me – it’s well within my capacities, given my education and my previous experience. I learned how to do policy in a hard school – a very rigorous policy shop. It’s the juggle that’s doing me in. Get up early, have something to eat, get the girls fed and dressed, get their lunches made, get a load of washing through the washing machine and into the drier (no time to hang it on the line), get myself flossied up for work (not very flossy, BTW – just standard business wear), get everyone organised and out the door. All with Mr Strange Land of course – I’m not in this alone. Work hard until 3pm, taking a brief lunch break, then leave the office in a frantic rush in order to get to the girls’ school on time. Come home, more washing-cleaning-cooking, help the girls with their homework, make beds, fold clothes, pay bills, all that rigmarole. Do my best to make sure the girls don’t miss out because I am working, so make time to read to them. If things go well, they will be in bed by about 8pm, and I will have some time to sing, to read, to watch a little TV, before heading to bed and hoping that this night, I will sleep all night. (Not tonight though.)

I could make some different choices, such as putting the girls into after-school care two afternoons a week instead of one, but that means they would have only one afternoon at home a week (the other two afternoons are taken out by ballet and drama lessons – one set of lessons per child, but in order to get one child to her lesson, the others must come with me, because they are far, far too young to be left at home alone). I think the girls need down-time at home, just space in which to rattle about and be kids. I could pay for someone to clean the house, but the job only lasts for a few weeks, so that seems silly. I could drop the tutoring work I will be doing this semester, but that’s on-going employment, and it will probably lead to more tutoring and maybe more lecturing work next year. Or I could drop my own singing lessons, which I am enjoying enormously, and which have been one of the things which have kept me going this year as we settle into this new country.

The money of course, is very nice. It pays for the extra things we like to have, such as the aforesaid lessons, and it contributes to our household, and it will help us to afford a trip home at the end of the year. But we could probably manage all those things anyway, with a bit of juggling and very careful budgeting.

So why take on paid employment?

It’s partly about not just living off my husband’s income, and expecting him to provide for us. The provider-pressure that many men experience is real, and if I am to believe that my feminism creates chocies and a better way of living for me, then I also want to do my best to ensure that Mr Strange Land doesn’t have to wear this aspect of the patriarchy. (NB: I’m not about to worry about him being oppressed – read this interesting post about patterns of oppression at Feminist Philosophers for more on the difference between experiencing one sort of oppression, and being subject to oppression.)

It’s partly about being able to support myself, and my children, in good times and in bad. I don’t know what chances of fate may befall us, and I know that even if something rather bad happened, our families would help. Nevertheless, I want to be able to provide for my children if necessary. And that means that I need to keep my hand in at work, keep myself match-fit, ready and able and willing to earn a living.

And it’s partly about modelling how women can live for my daughters. I want them to grow up seeing that women can and do support themselves, that they can and do live independently, that if they do, then relationships with other adults, male or female, are a matter of choice, not a financial necessity.

On the other hand, given the stress this is creating at present, I think six weeks will do for the current bout of employment, and I will look to spend the remainder of the year nurturing family and partner and myself and home, before trying to find a less juggle-intensive job in the New Year. That could be a very good thing to model too.

Reminder – 3rd DUFC coming up

A reminder – the 3rd Down Under Feminists Carnival is coming up soon, hosted by Audrey at Audrey and the Bad Apples. Closing date for submissions is the end of the month. So look through feminist blogs that you read, and your own blog, and submit some posts to the carnival. To submit, go to the carnival submission page, and fill in the form.

And yes, this is the second DUFC in a row hosted by an Adelaide based blogger.

Breaking my heart too

A friend of mine wrote his doctoral thesis here in Australia. He made a promise to some of the people who talked to him and gave him their stories. When he was over here a few days ago, he kept that promise.

He has written a post about it, and it is heart breaking. Most of my New Zealand readers will already have seen his post – it’s up on one of the big group blogs there. It’s also on his own blog, and I’m hoping that some of my Australian readers will go and read the story there.

That long and winding road

Friday Feminist – Naomi Wolf

Cross posted on The Hand Mirror

A woman wins by giving herself and other women permission – to eat; to be sexual; to age; to wear overalls, a paste tiara, a Balenciaga gown, a second-hand opera cloak or combat boots; to cover up or to go practically naked; to do whatever we choose in following – or ignoring – our own aesthetic. A woman wins when she feels that what each woman does with her own body – unenforced, uncoerced – is her own business. …

Can there be a pro-woman definition of beauty? Absolutely. What has been missing is play. The beauty myth is harmful and pompous and grave because so much, too much, depends upon it. The pleasure of playfulness is that it doesn’t matter. Once you play for stakes of any amount, the game becomes a war game, or compulsive gambling. In the myth, it has been a game for life, for questionable love, for desperate and dishonest sexuality, and without the choice not to play by alien rules. No choice, no free will; no levity, no real game.

But we can imagine, to save ourselves, a life in the body that is not value-laden; a masquerade, a voluntary theatricality that emerges from abundant self-love. A pro-woman redefinition of beauty reflects our redefinitions of what power is. Who says we need a bierarchy? Where I see beauty may not be where you do. Some people look more desirable to me than they do to you. So what? My perception has no authority over yours. Why should beauty be exclusive? Admiration can include so much. Why is rareness impressive? The high value of rareness is a masculine concept, having more to do with capitalism than with lust. What is the fun in wanting the most what cannot be found? Children, in contrast, are common as dirt, but they are highly valued and regarded as beautiful.

Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth, 1990

Moments of enculturation (3)

Every evening, at about 10pm, there is a scuffle, thump, thump, thump, scuffle, scuffle, on the roof. A possum, making its way from the back yard to the front.

I no longer curse it.

Cakes and jellies and other birthday goodness

Stef asked for food pron, and who am I to refuse? The Misses Six recently became the Misses Seven, and we celebrated with a party at home for about 12 very excited six, seven and eight year olds. Miss Nine, and one of her friends, bless them, ran games – Pass the Parcel, Musical Statues, a treasure hunt, all the usual party palaver, but with one or two extras thrown in, such as chalk drawing on the pavers outside – while I got the food organised.

The first course was the usual – sausage rolls, cocktail sausages, chippies (crisps), fairy bread, and to assuage my food pyramid guilt, small ham and egg club sandwiches, made with wholemeal bread. The children, as usual, devoured the sausage rolls, cocktail sausages, chippies and fairy bread, all with lashings of tomato sauce (ketchup), and ignored the healthy sammies, except for one lad who thought they were wonderful and ate about six.

For dessert, I made tiny meringues, traffic light jellies, and my favourite fruit and lolly kebabs, marshmallows and mini chocolate fish in between chunks of fruit. Sadly, I can’t get chocolate fish here in Adelaide, so I had to make do with fruit jubes. However they were very well received all the same, by the children, and by Mr Strange Land, when he got the left-overs that evening.

And the cakes, which I think of as the cakes that taste forgot. But the girls liked them, and in reality, they tasted delicious. They both wanted chocolate cakes, again, so I used my utterly reliable yoghurt chocolate cake recipe.

People who have been reading my blog since the start may have recognised the food. It’s virtually the same as the food I served this time last year, at the girls’ request. It seems to be a very successful formula – the children go away happy, and on not too much of a sugar high. As long as the girls keep asking for it, I will keep on making the same food for their parties every year.