Identity: Are Women Really “Better” than Men in Caring Role?

Early last month, former Prime Minister John Howard said 50/50 gender balance in politics is unrealistic because women have more responsibility in the “caring role”.

“I’m not sure that you will ever have a 50/50 thing because it’s a fact of society that the caring role, whatever people may say about it and whatever the causes are… women play a significantly greater part of filling the caring role in our communities, which inevitably will place some limits on their capacity,” Mr. Howard said to the National Press Club in Canberra.

“Some people may say: ‘What a terrible thing to say’. It’s not a terrible thing to say, it just happens to be the truth.”

In the same event, Howard also said, “I don’t believe in quotas, as you know, and you can talk about targets and aspirations and goals and I would like to see a natural process whereby there are more women.”

What many women would see as “the truth” is the fact that they are socialized to see caring role as one they have to take on all their lives – that if women do not fulfil these responsibilities, they are seen as lesser.

“There are certain jobs where it’s a requirement, where there is no training provided, and where there’s a positive bias towards certain people – women – doing it,” said sociologist at Columbia University, Jennifer Lena to the Guardian’s Rose Hackman. “It’s also the kind of work that is denigrated by society at large.”

Annabel Crabb has criticised Howard’s statement in an article on Sydney Morning Herald. The writer said:

Imagine if [Howard] had said this:

“Australia as a nation has always relied on women to do a greater part of its unpaid work – caring for children, looking after sick or elderly parents, doing the million and one jobs around a family home that keep it running. Unfortunately, this has meant that women are under-represented in our great national Parliament. Like many of you blokes here in this audience today, I have had the great luxury – unimaginable to many women considering political office – of a devoted spouse whose preparedness to forgo a career and devote the bulk of her attention to our family has permitted me to have both a demanding, inspiring, rewarding job and three children…”

Women’s greater part in caring responsibilities might be “the truth”, but it is ironic to expect “a natural process” of increase in representation when women are still sidelined due to these expectations.