I let my nine-year-old daughter stay up slightly later than usual to watch the live television coverage of Valerie Adams belatedly receiving her Olympic gold medal. Not only was the event an important slice of Kiwi history but, like a classic fairytale, it represented the triumph of good over evil. I doubt the message that cheats do not prosper and rightness will prevail in the end could have been better scripted by Hans Christian Andersen.
Perhaps most importantly when you're a little girl, it also portrayed a powerful female role model at the top of her game. It was just one moment in time but it represented many things. It showed what can be achieved with talent, hard work, determination and persistence. It showed why it's important to have dreams, goals and self-belief. The messages inherent in Adams' story were pure gold.
All was going well as we flicked between television channels chasing the best coverage until we witnessed Adams' biographer Phil Gifford speculating aloud that perhaps getting married and having children lay in Adams' future. There's nothing wrong with this per se: getting married and having children, of course, happens to a lot of people. It was the sexist message implicit in Gifford's words that was at odds with the party line we try to spin to our child which created dissonance for us.
No one would ever voice such a sentiment about a male athlete. No one would ever suggest that a male Olympian's choice is so stark, that he must choose between further athletic achievements on the world stage or becoming a husband and father. Such manufactured dichotomies are reserved for women to grapple with.
Dita De Boni explored the effect children can have on our working lives in When it's kids or career. One (presumably female) reader commented that people had asked: "Why are you bothering doing all these university degrees? You'll be married with kids in a few years." Another noted: "I'm always struck that, when a male colleague announces he's expecting a baby, no one ever asks him if he intends to stop working, which is the first question asked of a female colleague in the same situation."
The Economist article The mommy track: the real reason why more women don't rise to the top of companies describes having children as the biggest obstacle to women getting ahead in the workplace and suggests that flexible working hours could help stop women being penalised for becoming mothers. But that solution is surely just the equivalent of sticking a plaster on the problem rather than addressing the root cause.
We need to go a step further and stop regarding childrearing as "women's work". More fathers need to take on their fair share of the responsibilities of parenthood. Once the dads are shouldering 50 per cent of the childcare burden then women will no longer be singled out for needing special consideration at work just because they're a parent. Until raising children is more about parenting and less about mothering, women won't be able to achieve true equality in the workplace.
What's your view on sexist attitudes towards working parents? Should employers be more understanding about the needs of employees with children or is that unfair for people without children? Why do mothers seem to take on more of the burden of parenting than fathers? Isn't it time more men stepped up?