The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb

For the non-Australians in the room, Annabel Crabb is a well-known Australian political journalist and commentator. I first read one of her articles in the Sydney Morning Herald when I was in high school and have been following her ever since. I love her humour (and the fact that she’s never mean, only clever), her fair and firm assessment, and that she injects a healthy dose of her personality into all her works. I saw this and I had to have it. And I have not been let down.

We are currently living in an era where significant advancements have been made in women’s rights, not only in terms of the workforce but also within the domestic sphere. For example women are no longer required to resign when they are married under the assumption that the hubby will take care of their monetary needs and men now pitch in with the occasional housework. Yet despite all the equalities embedded into our legal system, women are still under-represented in the upper-management and in particular fields (such as government roles).

And Crabb argues that the reason why working men are able to advance in their careers is because they have all had the benefit of a “wife”, that is, a partner with a less demanding career and is able to handle all the smaller household and family jobs such as remembering when children’s projects are due and staying at home when the plumber needs to arrive. However working women don’t seem to have this benefit, that is, a spouse or “wife” that will assist them on all the domestic chores. And it is this so-called drought that is holding women back professionally.

But this does not mean there have been no repercussions for the men. Due to restrictive and outdated gender role expectations, men have been unable to experience the same quality family time as women have, and face heavy barriers into the domestic frontier should they approach their workplace for greater work-life balance.

Crabb has not introduced any radically different idea; as someone who is constantly reading feminist think pieces, Crabb’s arguments didn’t realign my universe, but it did reinforce my beliefs with data. It’s not news to me that women do more housework than men, even when both are working. But I didn’t realize that once a woman’s income exceeds 66.6% of the household’s income, she will do more housework than her counterpart who makes a lower contribution, due to the fact that her husband might feel emasculated by not being the breadwinner.

She never sways from her thesis but it never feels repetitive. The concept of ‘The Wife Drought’ is thoroughly considered from all angles: Crabb has considered the economic value of a wife, and the impact having children has for a man’s career versus a woman’s, amongst other ideas. Crabb has also peppered her books with a mixture of personal anecdotes and research. On top of statistics and studies, she has used scenarios encountered over the course of her career, interviews, and personal anecdotes. Her thesis feels simultaneously personal and professional.

Crabb’s writing style is exactly how I want to write. I love her droll wit, and how she effectively marries a conversational tone with cold hard facts. I laughed out loud on the train when I read this:

Australia’s twenty-eighth prime minister, Tony Abbott, took office in 2013 promising to help marginalized Australians, including ‘women struggling to combine career and family’. (He was immediately as good as his word, appointing a Cabinet that did not create work-family issues for a single Coalition woman.)

To understand how huge this is for me, I never laugh out when reading. And I found myself shaking with laughter on the train.

I generally find non-fiction to be more difficult to read than fiction; I have to take pauses in my readings to let the new idea simmer slowly in my brain and flip back to previous chapters when I lose my flow. But with ‘The Wife Drought’ I found each idea to be carefully research and articulated in a manner that is engaging and candid. Crabb’s book is not built on indignant rage but a calm and assertive voice.

 

On Another Note

Despite my growing mountain of TBR books (I’ve never had so many unread books at once) I had to read it right away. See, the thing with non-fiction is it can be exceptionally topical and therefore, date very quickly, especially if it’s referencing statistics or any other topics that change drastically such as politics. And I think if I had gotten a hold of this a few years later, I would have found some of the references and jokes dated. Which is no criticism on Crabb, it’s just that the nature of her chosen topic was in a field where nothing ever stands still and to give an example, I have lost count of the number of Prime Ministers we’ve had over the last five years:

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