Read Harder Challenge – Task #18

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As task #18, a book that has been recommended to me, I chose The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb – recommended by so many people, but most emphatically by one of my book club girls.

“This is free-and-easy, egalitarian Australia’s intriguing little secret; our attachment to the
male-breadwinner model is deep and robust.”

The essential premise of The Wife Drought is that while we, as a society, have spent lots of time, energy and money getting women into the workforce and improving equality in that regard, we are still not fully supportive or accepting of men leaving work to be the sole carer in a family unit. Stay-at-home dads are considered anomalies, viewed either as intruding on the ‘female domain’ or conversely seen as heroes for accomplishing basic everyday tasks. As Crabb states, “Why do women with a helpful spouse often feel like they’ve won the lottery, while men with a helpful spouse seem unremarkable?” One of Crabb’s key points is that until we support men as being the ones to stay home and look after house and home, until that is thought of as normal, we can’t expect much to change for women rising up the ranks of the workplace. Crabb also posits that one of the key reasons there are still more men in upper management positions is that to perform in that kind of role and also have a family, you need someone at home taking care of the kids and the housework. Depressingly, studies show that this person is still overwhelmingly the woman.

Before you start to think that this book is just an extended lament about ‘women doing all the housework and men doing none’, I’ll tell you now that it’s far from it (although, just quietly, the statics showing how much more housework women do compared to men are still pretty alarming). It’s not a man-hating missive or a woe is me tale – it’s a balanced look at why, as Crabb puts it, “women need wives and men need lives”.

Crabb is a fantastic writer – despite the serious content, her prose is engaging and accessible. She never gets bogged down in the data, and presents it in ways that are meaningful, interesting and often amusing. I had quite a few chuckles in this book, particularly at Crabb’s fictional job description for a wife, which includes the lines: “Some tasks may be repetitive. Formal performance assessment very limited, though applicant may self-assess regularly in bleaker moments”.

Crabb is Australian, thus the focus of the book is on Australian families and statistics, but the data seems to be fairly similar worldwide, except in Norway – where, apparently, life is awesome regardless of your sex.

I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would – it was never dry, always interesting, at times alarming and others self-affirming. While I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, I don’t think you have to be particularly interested in the subject matter to enjoy and appreciate the prose.

And with that, two books down in my Read Harder Challenge. I’m doing it.

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