The Wife Drought

Annabel Crabb

The Wife Drought
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The Wife Drought

Annabel Crabb

‘I need a wife’

It’s a common joke among women juggling work and family. But it’s not actually a joke. Having a spouse who takes care of things at home is a Godsend on the domestic front. It’s a potent economic asset on the work front. And it’s an advantage enjoyed - even in our modern society - by vastly more men than women. Working women are in an advanced, sustained, and chronically under-reported state of wife drought, and there is no sign of rain.

But why is the work-and-family debate always about women? Why don’t men get the same flexibility that women do? In our fixation on the barriers that face women on the way into the workplace, do we forget about the barriers that - for men - still block the exits?

The Wife Drought is about women, men, family and work. Written in Annabel Crabb’s inimitable style, it’s full of candid and funny stories from the author’s work in and around politics and the media, historical nuggets about the role of ‘The Wife’ in Australia, and intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia. Crabb’s call is for a ceasefire in the gender wars.

Rather than a shout of rage, The Wife Drought is the thoughtful, engaging catalyst for a conversation that’s long overdue.

Review

Journalist and TV personality Annabel Crabb is interested in the domestic lives of the career-driven. Her television show, Kitchen Cabinet, takes us into the kitchens of some of our most powerful politicians, and The Wife Drought delves deep into the domestic sphere of ordinary Australians. Crabb argues that having a wife at home to raise children and take care of the housework is as crucial to a woman’s career as it is to a man’s. Yet more often than not, women don’t have the luxury of a wife and as such they are unable to put in the same hours afforded to men to advance their careers.

While this in itself is not a new argument, Crabb doesn’t want to focus on the usual barriers for women entering the workforce but rather the barriers men face on leaving it to stay at home. Popular thinking on the subject, such as the bestseller Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, tends to focus on why women aren’t encouraged to be more career driven. Crabb’s point is that we are looking at things the wrong way around; instead, she questions why men aren’t encouraged to stay at home. It’s an interesting way of looking at the problem and reveals the ugly truth that domestic duties just aren’t valued (either economically or socially) in the same way as paid employment.

Crabb is a great writer and she successfully manages to illustrate her arguments with statistical research that, rather than making for dry reading, is presented with characteristic humour and intelligence. This book makes an important contribution to the debate about women in the workforce, particularly as it doesn’t rehash the same old arguments but approaches the topic from a refreshing and important angle.


Kara Nicholson works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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