I have finally read the luminous Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought. Annabel Crabb is an utterly reassuring person. What she contributes to our collective, Australian psyche is hard, I think, to overestimate. The fact that she has also reproduced (both the paper kind and flesh-and-blood kind) gives me hope in our collective future. She is the new kind of Aussie Character, taking over from the “Aussie Battler”, smart, energetic, witty, well dressed and so, so nice with her self-effacing grin softening every probing question.
How could you not totally adore her.
I have long loved her via Kitchen Cabinet, that rare gem of good television (thank you, ABC, you little ripper), and this book firmly entrenches Annabel (let’s not defer to last names here) as my number three celebrity crush. (Adam and Hugh are alongside her in equal ranks. Adam because, like Annabel, he effuses a new kind of Australian: eloquent, engaging and erudite. Hugh because as much as I like to see upandcomers do well it’s also good to see a nice British toff get all environmentalist and reformist, though I’m sure he makes a bit of cash off the back of it. Nevermind. I like him.)
So, I guess you can see, I rate the book. I do. She offers stats, data and interesting little anecdotes supporting the need for more help for women wanting to get back into the workforce. She relates to our common humanity, my favourite line: “My definition of breaking point is when you communicate exclusively in shrieks and can only work while drunk.” Oh yes, you get us, don’t you, Annabel! You know what it is like to be totally and unshakeably human. She does not downplay the challenges in living a balanced, or even unbalanced, life in Australia. She knows the statistics tell personal stories. She knows these matters are complex, and often personal, so she gives them careful treatment in all their shades of grey.
Not least she skirts very close to something I have long held questions about. That is that, yes, people do need the fulfillment of meaningful work, people do need to invest in their super so that they can retire without having to go dumpster diving (though some might enjoy that…aging hipsters?) and yes, careers can be fun but…men too need lives…and so she flirts with the unstated question: Do women actually have it pretty good in being (culturally acceptably) able to take several years off work (notwithstanding what that does to one’s professional life), but are men, therefore, missing out? So, perhaps then the single thing keeping women out of boardrooms is not just inequality of opportunity (i.e. no wives). The opposite side of that coin is that, well…maybe women don’t want to be competing in the workplace, not because it’s too difficult, but actually because they’ve got it worked out: family life is the good life! (If only it paid Super) It’s the unasked question that Annabel doesn’t utter. And in uttering it myself I can happily say that I gladly “took time off” to raise kids (eight years in fact) and didn’t doubt myself or utter curses at the universe in the process. I wanted to do it. I would do it over. It would be nice if someone had contributed some super while I was doing it but…it was worth it. Many of the other mums I’ve met on the giggle and wiggle circuit feel the same. When I’m still working at 70 I’m sure it will still be worth it, because I’d rather work then than then, if you know what I mean. In fact, now, spookily mirroring the words of this book, my husband wants a turn. Having Annabel’s words cheering me on and validating this new turn of events is giving me the confidence and empathy to, why not, let him have it! It’s time for me to move over and let a man have a go, to switch the terminology around.
Despite only fully unpacking one side of this coin, Annabel moves between stories like mine and national statistics (or lack thereof) taking us along on a rollickingly good ride with herself as the compere. She does a bloody good job of it and by the end she has us all convinced (not that we weren’t already) that yes, women do need wives! And also, yes, men need lives! I’m all for her advocacy of a little bit of switcheroo happening in the spirit of give-and-give so that we can all ride the merry-go-round together in a spirit of sharing the load, whether that’s domestic servitude or corporate slavery, power broking or block building.