The latest concept to close the gender pay gap suggests men work fewer hours than women. This is already happening, but outside the office in a manner difficult to quantify. More on that later.
First, a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a UK think tank, has found a pay gap in 80 per cent of clearly defined occupations, with seniority being the critical driver of wage disparity. The same story in Monday's New Zealand Herald said in 2017, pay disparity between men and women in New Zealand sat at 12 per cent and has been stagnant the past decade. The Green Party has announced a plan it says will make New Zealand the first country to bridge the gender earnings divide. Employers would be required to reveal the gap between women's and men's pay under a Green government.
Many of you reading this are thinking, bah-humbug. No such thing as a gender pay gap, and if there were, it's women's fault for taking time out to have children. When even National Party politicians acknowledge the existence of and need to eliminate wage discrepancies between the sexes, it's time to reconnect with old friends from the Flat Earth Society. Throw them a rope before they slip over the horizon into the great beyond.
It's not just unequal pay at work that disadvantages women and their families (including the men in their lives); asymmetrical division of labour at home can be another burden for partners (usually females) who take on the vast majority of unpaid duties: cooking, cleaning, child-rearing… It's the second shift we perform most days on autopilot, much like a self-driving vehicle, but with fewer fatal crashes. This is when we realise "having it all" might implode our craniums, just like all-you-can-eat buffets might clog our arteries.
We tell ourselves we'll change the balance next week when we have time to create a spreadsheet and discuss a more even distribution of chores.
Something else that's entered the vernacular the past couple years struck me as a truism worth discussing: the notion women in heterosexual relationships do most of the emotional labour - not just time and energy spent on unpaid, logistical functions such as managing a household, but work that involves processing your partner's emotions as well as your own. It might sound like another pop-psych idea you don't want to know about.
Stay with me a minute. In this context, the job of emotional labour glues a partnership; it cements a home. Some experts liken it to cooking potatoes. In most cases, women provide the kitchen, preheat the oven, season the potatoes, check to ensure they don't burn, then plate and serve them. Men show up with spuds - unpeeled, unwashed spuds.
In this example, potato preparation is a stand-in for active listening, asking empathetic questions and being attuned to someone's sensitivities.
Consider emotional labour in your own relationship: who spends more time probing and assuaging feelings? Which partner does more sulking, and which one tries to ease hurt pride? Who's doing most of the problem-solving?
Relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein told website Bustle women are often the ones doing the emotional labour in a relationship.
"This can be very draining on women and isn't good for the men either. Men need to learn to be more responsible for their emotional life and women need to learn to be less responsible for their emotional lives!"
If only. After a day at a paid job, followed by a supermarket shop, bank balance monitoring, bill paying, gift buying, scheduling doctor and veterinarian appointments, managing car pools, arranging get-togethers and holiday plans, cooking, organising home and car repairs (add your own tasks to this list)... it's no wonder the partner who does most of the second shift work is less than thrilled to spend her third shift playing amateur psychologist after 8pm. "No, please...tell me what's really bugging you."
Emotional labour is the extra chore that, if left to one half of a duo, foments insoluble resentment - the kind that doesn't dissolve in a glass of Merlot or Eno and water.
"If your partner walks around angry and brooding, [it's] up to them to be a grown-up, identify their feelings, and share them with you," Hartsein says.
Years ago, my father dispensed relationship advice along the lines of, "Men need lots of reassurance... " Ask yourself how much time you spend stroking your loved one's ego. Then ponder whether it's really helping you - or him (her).
While politicians pledge to winnow the gender pay gap and business leaders front up or scramble to hide employee wage data, there's something all of us can do to improve the work/love balance at home: talk about whether one of you is sinking beneath emotional labour's burden and strive to change that.
You peel potatoes and listen. I'll season and spill my guts before we change places. Together, we can bake, broil or barbeque healthier, tastier spuds.