THE UGLY SIDE OF THE CHILDCARE INDUSTRY
Jenny Wang candidly discusses her experiences of sexism whilst working as an au-pair.
There is one conversation that sticks in my mind from high school. He was a family friend, and attended an all boys school, and I attended an all girls one. At that time in my life, one of my favourite subjects in school was Home Economics. I really enjoyed learning about nutrition and found it very satisfying to be able to sew and mend things. I was proud that it was one of my strongest subjects. I asked my friend if he enjoyed taking it as much as I did.
“They don’t offer home economics at my school”
“Why not? How are boys supposed to learn how to cook and sew or do things around the house?”
“I’m not sure… I suppose we’ll just get wives that will do that for us”
That conversation has always stayed with me. When I was younger, and more naive, it added to the pressure I felt to become a good homemaker for my future husband. But as I got older, I started to unlearn my own beliefs and realise the blatant sexism behind the difference in school curriculums. And now, as I’ve started pursuing a career in childcare, this sexism has, scarily, become even more clear.
I’ve been working as an au pair for over a year now and am currently working with my second family. For most parts, it’s the best job I have ever had. Not only do I get to travel, but also enrich the lives of young children, help them learn about the world and understand new things, and more importantly, be a good role model for them. It is, however, incredibly stressful. Some days it becomes very hard for me to cope, as looking after three children can be demanding. But what adds to the stress more than anything is the sexism I am exposed to every single day in this industry.
When I first started to apply for au pair jobs, it shocked me to see that out of around 4000 profiles worldwide, less than twenty percent of them were male. Considering the job is a chance to travel and learn about new cultures, it genuinely surprised me that more men weren’t interested in the position. From my understanding, it seems as if the reason behind why men don’t go into childcare stems from toxic masculinity and heteronormative gender roles. Throughout history, womxn were expected to look after children as they were the birth givers, but now with a stronger push for gender equality, why haven’t we seen much of a change in this industry? Men generally enjoy working in roles that are challenging, which they can see rewards for their efforts. What’s not challenging about managing the lives of children and seeing the rewards in their growth as people? Growing up, I never saw that many men in childcare positions, but I figured that that was twenty years ago and things would be a bit different now.
One of the most shocking things someone once said to me was: “aren’t you too much of a feminist to work in childcare?” It seemed like they were assuming that it was an easy job women do because they don’t want anything more challenging or that they don’t have another choice.
Firstly, I am grateful to all of the wonderful feminist womxn before me whose sacrifices and activism means that I have the right to choose my own career. Secondly, it is by no means
“easy work”. As an au pair, not only do I have to manage my own life, my future career aspirations, my social life, romantic life, hobbies, and relationship with my family— I also have to constantly be thinking about the lives of three others: when they’re hungry, how they are feeling, if I’m teaching them the right things, helping them do well in school. Childcare is not easy work, and for womxn to not be put on the pedestal they deserve for their hard work truly shows the sexist assumptions of the industry.
Living with these two families has also caused me to see how much labour womxn have to put into running a household. For somewhat “open minded” and “liberal” families that I worked for, I was shocked to see how much extra was put on to the mother of the family, even though she also worked full time. The mothers I worked for not only had their own careers to pursue, but they were the ones that booked all the doctors appointments for the children, did all the shopping for the children, organised the housework on the weekend, went to all the school meetings and were the ones I always answered to in regards to what needed to be done.
Even though womxn today are encouraged to chase their careers, I realised that they are still given most of the responsibility when it comes to running the family. I also noticed that men are under a lot less scrutiny when it comes to child care. They are praised for doing the most basic tasks, and can get away with a lot more parenting mistakes than womxn can. The father of the house would make a mistake with the laundry and get away with it, whereas I would be told off. It’s these differences which translate across to the childcare industry, and I haven’t even begun to touch on the way the young boys I looked after viewed me as a female carer for them.
Childcare is a difficult industry for anyone to work in and the fact that womxn are not given the recognition they deserve is just a reflection of the sexism that is so abundant in society.
This sexism begins in the school curriculum for womxn at a young age which later then extends into the households they are part of. Personally, I believe if more men did join the childcare industry it would help alleviate a lot the sexism me and other womxn face on a day to day basis. I can only imagine that more supportive, available male role models can only add to a healthier environment— for both the womxn working in it, and the children growing up in it.
Image Artist: Christian Robinson. All rights reserved to the artist.