Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Modified Maternalism: Nurses and Their Families Managing Work and Care in Australia

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Modified Maternalism: Nurses and Their Families Managing Work and Care in Australia

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Work life, family life and care are all being re-shaped in Australia as they are in other postindustrial societies. Family life is changing in response to labour market de-regulation, the growth of non standard work schedules and shifting gender relations in the paid labour market. In this paper we focus on Australian nurses and their partners to explore the extent to which domestic gender relations are being reconfigured, or "undone" in their everyday management of work and care (Deutsch, 2007). We develop the concept of "modified matemalism" to explore the couples domestic and work arrangements.

"Matemalism" can be understood as discourses and ideologies which exalt women's capacity to mother and view women as primary carers (Orloff, 1999). Maternalist policy developed after world war two has been substantially eroded since the 1 970s and Australia is following the US rather than the Nordic or other European countries by radically deregulating working hours but providing little support to families (Orloff 1999; Drago, Piretti and Scutella 2007; Maher, 2008). With labour market de-regulation in Australia non-standard working schedules and "casualised" labour1 have increased but childcare availability remains patchy and expensive and family friendly workplace policies are limited (Lindsay and Maher, 2005; Pocock, 2003).

Despite this the maternalist culture where mothers are viewed as the primary and preferred carers for children continues to have a strong influence on Australian family values (Everingham et al., 2007; Probert, 2002; Harper and Richards, 1986). Ideas about good mothers being perpetually available and dedicated to their children's needs continue to resonate for contemporary mothers (Pocock, 2005). There is evidence that expectations of mothering have paradoxically intensified as women moved into the paid labour market. Contemporary mothers are expected 'be there' and to adopt high standards of childrearing and 'concerted cultivation' to launch their children into adult lives (Pocock, 2003 ; Gillies, 2007). The maternalist culture in Australia is also reflected in the high priority given to childcare within the family and particularly to care provided by mothers at home (Broomhill and Sharpe, 2005; Probert, 2002). Paid childcare in Australia has historically been seen as a poor substitute for maternal care and in the 21st century and these ideas continue to have currency. In Australia the gendered division of domestic labour continues and women undertake three quarters of the routine indoor housework tasks and two thirds of childcare tasks in families (Baxter and Gray, 2008). Moreover Australian women have feminised employment patterns with women significantly over-represented in part-time and casualised employment in comparison with other OECD countries (Bardoel et al., 2007; Watson et al., 2003; Gaze, 2006; OECD, 2002). The work/care arrangements made by nurses offer an important opportunity to consider these patterns as many nurses work part-time or casually (AIHW 2005).

By contrast fathers "being there" and caring for children is a relatively new expectation in Australia and the US. The father as breadwinner ideal was emphasised in the post war years and participating in childcare or domestic labour was not expected (Drago, Piretri and Scutella, 2007; Williams, 1999). Since the 1970s expectations about "new fathers" have emerged. According to Singleton (2005), "The new father is expected to be caring, approachable and emotionally available to his children, and ought to achieve an equitable balance between work and family life" (p. 144). However, time use research demonstrates that fathers continue to spend much less time with their children than mothers (Craig, 2006). In general men tend to undertake more paid work and earn more and women undertake more domestic labour and child care in contemporary Australian families (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2007). It is therefore apparent that domestic gender relations have changed with the emergence of the "mother/breadwinner" and "new father" identities but re-gendering or 'undoing gender' is not complete (Deutsch, 2007). …

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