Thoughts on unpaid overtime

Unpaid overtime is a problem that faces a growing number of workers – and it’s something that Australians in particular struggle with. However, it was only recently that I realised why the notion of unpaid overtime really bothered me, particularly when it came to industries that have a “culture” of overtime (for example, most STEM fields).

Typically, what this “culture” equates to is an entire industry working “until the job is done” – regardless of whether they are being paid or not. Whether it be fixing a virus or marking exam papers out of hours, people within these roles will stay at work until the problem is fixed. It could be that they feel pressured to stay because everyone else is doing so, or it could be because they want to create a good impression within the company.

Technically, these hours are seen as voluntary. I say “technically”, because you can usually bet that if one of these workers kicked up a stink about working unpaid overtime, they would be out on their butts come the next hiring period. At the very least, they would be viewed as not chipping in to the same extent as their overtime-working colleagues. So, overtime may not be mandatory – but it can definitely be expected of workers.

The problem I have with this expectation lies within the individual worker’s ability to then meet these expectations. If you want to take a feminist’s viewpoint on the issue, then you can consider the following example:

A young, unattached, white, straight, single male works within a STEM-style field – let’s call him Alex. Alex has been at the company for a few years, and is slowly working his way up the corporate ladder. He occasionally does overtime, and says that he doesn’t mind because it’s “his choice”, and it’s “expected of him” (which, by the way, are two separate things. If Alex had a “choice” to go home at 5:00pm without any consequences, you can bet he’d do so). Alex has no one else dependent upon him, and so has the luxury of working overtime and picking up take out on his way back to his apartment.

Alex, although he may not realise it (and would probably disagree with you if you pointed it out to him) is drenched in privilege. He’s white (tick), straight (tick), young (tick), man (tick, tick, tick) in a traditionally male-dominated field. He puts in the extra hours and surprise, surprise, sooner or later he’s given a promotion.

Now, our next example: a single woman who has three children, working within the same STEM-style field – let’s call her Juliet. She’s been at the company for the same amount of time , except, of course, she has three children (cross), and is single (not necessarily a cross, but definitely difficult). Now, it’s 5:00pm, and Alex and Juliet are both asked to work overtime. Alex turn around and say “sure thing, boss!” – because he has no one dependent on him. Juliet, on the other hand, needs to be home to cook dinner and help her kids with their homework. so, what can she do? Well, she can either go home (which then creates the impression that she’s not working hard enough), or she stays (which then potentially creates the impression that she’s a “bad mother”). Either way, she loses out. Juliet’s already working in a traditionally male-dominated field – so how to you think it looks when she doesn’t put in the extra hours?

Do you see how this “culture of overtime” really only benefits a select few – and those select few are those with the fewest number of “consequences” for not staying behind? There are people who we work side by side with – mothers, carers, people of different abilities – who cannot work overtime. They simply can’t afford to do so. And the rest of us who do work overtime for free? We simply reinforce this culture. By not standing up to it, we say that it’s okay to judge us on the amount of “extra effort” we put in outside of work hours – when it’s not.

Boobs, boobs, boobs

Bonds Australia have recently launched an ingenious advertising campaign. And by “ingenious”, I really mean “somewhat uninspired and completely insipid”.

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We get it. Bonds sells bras. Bras = boobs. Therefore, popping the word “boobs” on giant billboards around the countries somehow equates to an ingenious marketing campaign, yes?

Unfortunately, no. But to make matters even more interesting, Bonds have launched an entire range of bras to accompany their “advertisements”. This range of bras veers towards the “Spice Girl” approach to product creation – there’s a bra for “sporty” boobs, a bra for “mama” boobs, and a bra for “super” boobs (and no, I have no idea what “super” boobs do either. I assume that they give you magical powers, a la Wonder Woman).

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If Bonds are going to attempt to venture down this particular path, I would make one small suggestion to them. And that suggestion is a little thing I would call “realism”. Let’s all take a moment to collectively ponder whether we would be caught dead buying a “wow” bra. Because if you’re anything like me, you probably can’t stomach that particular thought (if, however, you are inclined to purchase a “wow” bra, you can now feel more fully informed! You go, Glen Coco!).

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce to you my brand of Realistic Bras (TM):

“Sunday morning hangover” bra

You got home at 3:00am and fell into bed completely dressed – only to wake 8 hours later with your make up smeared across several sheets and pillow cases, and your cat licking your hair (or is that just me?). To make matters worse, you forgot to take your bra off – so your torso feels like you’ve just emerged from a particularly gruesome medieval torture device. What your boobs need in their current hung over state is something starchy and carby – sorry, I mean stretchy and comfy. This line would come in a set of neutral colours, of course. You don’t want to make that head ache any worse by staring at brightly coloured tropical prints on your bra, right?

“My eyes are up here” bra

Haven’t we all had this particular moment? You know, the one where you’re attempting to have a conversation with a person, only for them to stare, rigidly, at your breasts. That’s when you need the “my eyes are up here” bra.

Ideally, this bra would shoot bullets from it, a la the Fembots from Austin Powers:

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However, short of this, I’m happy to settle for it to simply dole out abuse to every single unsuspecting pervert who can’t make consistent eye contact with me. Insults along the line of “Yo, fuckwad, my face is 30cm north of your current gaze” would be broadcast at the press of a button. How convenient!

“Sore boobs” bra

Again, this is a common problem that bras could endeavour to fix – if they weren’t too busy trying to make my breasts look “wow” or “super”. Whether it be PMS-style soreness, or “I played mixed netball last night and got elbowed in the norks five times”- soreness, we’ve all had tender boobs. Hell, one time, I couldn’t walk down some stairs because the bouncing was too much for my sore breasts. What I’m saying is, I feel your pain.

The “sore boobs” bra would come with three layers of cushioned padding, and another layer of steel-styled armour – just in case someone else tries to elbow you. The bra would hold you snug, enabling you to conquer any form of “bouncing activity” without pain!

“I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly” bra

You know when you need this bra. You’re feeling bootylicious (probably as a result of having just listened to three hours solid of Destiny’s Child AND Beyonce). You’re ready to go out and conquer the world, one wheel of brie at a time. So, what do you do? You throw on your “single ladies” bra.

This bra would have every single accessory known to mankind attached to it. It would magically boost, plump, and sparkle-ise your breasts. It would also come with that immensely annoying accessory – the cleavage jewellery. You know, that little dangly sparkly thing that comes attached to the centre of bra, right between the two cups? There’s literally no point to that bit of sparkle - except in the case of this bra. In this bra, the sparkly dangly jewellery thing enhances your breasts, and everyone who views them will leave feeling both astounded and enlightened. Who knew that cleavage jewellery held so much power?

There’s so much potential in this “realistic” bra line. If only Bonds had bothered to survey some actual human beings before they launched their “wow” bras, they may have realised this. Instead, I am left feeling distinctly underwhelmed, and longing for a “sore boobs” bra.

Three days in Australia, or, “Sexism. Sexism everywhere”.

Ever since Julia Gillard was elected, Australia has been forced to shine a light on its attitudes towards women – and more specifically, women in power. At times the ride has been exhilarating and empowering, and at times it has drifted towards the ugly and downright rude.

But the last 48 hours have really demonstrated to me just how far we have to go. So, without further ado, I present to you the last two days in the life of an Average Australian Woman:

Tuesday morning: Wake up, make a cup of tea, and read the front page of the paper. Try to keep your toast down as you realise that the murderer of Jill Meagher was on parole, and had been convicted of 16 other counts of rape. Your mind immediately jumps to how many others serial rapists are currently “rehabilitated”, and are now out in public.

Tuesday afternoon: You read that Julia Gillard has attempted to start a “gender war” – and remain somewhat confused, because you were under the impression that this particular war was started centuries ago. You realise that Julia Gillard is concerned about Tony Abbott’s views on abortion, which is, in all honestly fair enough. The man does have a track record.

Wednesday morning: You read the victim impact statements from the Jill Meagher case, and wonder if it will stretch on years. The answer, of course, is yes. You will think about it next time you’re walking down the street, or next time a strange man approaches you when you’re alone.

You jump to the next news section, only to read that the Australian Socceroos coach has told a press conference that women should “shut up in public”. You wonder what his mother, wife, and other female friends and family members think about this, before realising that it doesn’t matter – their voices probably won’t be heard in the media, anyway.

Wednesday lunch time: Your social media feeds spring to life, with the words “menu” and “Mal Brough” cropping up. It only takes you a minute to work out that yet another LNP member has had a serious lapse of judgement – this time, in relation to a menu, of all things. You scan through the articles until you finally reach the image of the menu in question – and find the phrase “small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box”. Your thoughts sway between immediate, explosive outrage for the PM and a sense of disgust that the menu ever reached the public eye. You also take a moment to note that although Simon Crean, Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd are also mentioned, none of their menu ‘items’ feature a reference to their appearance (or, indeed, their genitalia). 

Wednesday afternoon: You hear your two male colleagues laughing at something on a computer screen. You glance over, only to see an enlarged version of Brough’s menu appear. Your colleagues then ask you if you think it was funny – and when you reply that you don’t, are told that this sense of humour is “just the Australian way”. You point out that none of the male politicians that appeared on that menu were sexualised, or had attention drawn to their physical appearance. You then exit the room to get a coffee and bang your head against a wall.

Wednesday evening: You avoid watching the news or hopping on Facebook, because you don’t wish to buy into everyone’s outrage about a menu. You’re just as outraged as your friends and family members – but you’re also tired of nothing ever changing, and would prefer to spend an evening pretending that offensive menus never existed.

Thursday morning: You wake up to the news that a restaurant owner has taken responsibility for the ‘offensive menu’, and that the LNP party has “condemned the menu in the strongest terms”. You wonder if the LNP keeps a document on its shared hard drive entitled “Apologies for Sexism”. What would it read like? Perhaps, as this: “We apologise for [sexist comment] made by [sexist politician] here. We will try harder next time. Plz vote 4 us, c u in September, kthanxbai.”

Thursday lunchtime: You venture back to the wide world of the mass media, only to read the news that 17 Australian Defence Force personnel are under investigation over “offensive emails“. You don’t need to read any further to guess that the emails were related to women. Instead, you wonder how common these “offensive emails” in workplaces are, and recall the incident with the menu in your workplace yesterday.

Thursday evening: The media wrap-ups for the entire menu-related affair start coming through, and you brace yourself for a mention of the term ‘menu-gate’. You then reward yourself with a coffee when News.com.au and the ABC (yes, the ABC) follow through on your expectations for the most unoriginal journalism.

….. And these are just the local examples. I thought about including some of the international examples of sexism within this run down, but then I realise I would be typing this until midnight.

What does it say, when this is almost an “average” day in Australia? Firstly, it says that gender is still an issue, and will continue to be for quite some time (indeed, until the election results are counted). I’m grateful for the focus on the topic of gender – but some intelligent debate wouldn’t go astray. I’m tired of the petty name-calling, the exaggeration and simplification of all “news” content to suit the biggest audience. I’m sick of attention-screaming headlines, and “gender wars”. What I would like is an honest, forthright discussion about the current treatment of women within Australia. One that carries on up until the election, and spans across the issues of rape, domestic violence and sexual assault, attitudes of victim blaming, the representation of women in the media, the issue of female CEOs and politicians, paternity leave, equal pay, single parent (and mother) payments, and everything else I have simply missed. Of course, this is a vast discussion – but it is one that every single problem raised earlier shows we need to have. What we don’t need are any more infantile “menus”, or sports coaches with jacked-up opinions on whether women have the right to a “voice”.

Women as public property

Three separate things have happened to me in the last few weeks that have basically lead me to believe that I’m operating as a form of public property – you know, something that anyone can feel free to comment on. And, quite frankly, it pisses me off. Above and beyond the fact that everyone reading can probably say things along the lines of ‘BOO HOO’, and ‘welcome to the real world’, I’ve reached a point of absolute frustration with this shit. A point at which I’ve start side-eyeing random strangers, suspicious of that the fact that they may be poised to make some stupid, crude or idiotic remark to me when I DIDN’T EVEN ASK THEM.

Case number one: About a week ago, I ventured out for one of my standard morning runs. I’d just hit the 7km mark, and was sweating up a storm. Earlier, I had run past an older man. He had waved his hand at me, and said something – but as I was running past him and had my earphones in, I didn’t catch. I didn’t really think anything of it, because people often nod and say ‘good morning’ to me.

Anyway, at the 7km mark, I ran back past this man (I had turned around at this point, and so was running towards him). He waved at me again, and so I slowed down (I thought he might have been lost or confused).

The man carried on to tell me that he has “often seen me out running” (which is correct, I have seen him before, and he has similarly waved at me then) and that I “frighten him” because I am “so sweaty”.

At this point in time, the expression on my face was rather like this cat’s:

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My response to this guy was something along the lines of, “well, yes, I’m running, of course I’m sweaty”. I then turned around and kept running. The thing is, this isn’t the first time someone has felt the need to tell me how my body/my clothes/the books I’m carrying are “funny”, “frightening”, or “dirty”.

Case number two: Three days prior to the running incident, I’d swung by my local university coffee shop after visiting the library. I was loaded up academic-type books with titles such as “Feminism Methodologies” and “Qualitative-Based Methodologies for Feminists” – you know, standard fare for anyone doing a PhD in feminism (which, coincidentally, I am). I proceeded to dump these books on the counter next to me as I fished my wallet out of my bag, only to hear the young guy in front of me start laughing. I asked him what was funny (I had suspected it was something to do with the barista, who tends to come up with ridiculous nicknames for his customers. My nickname is usually Jessica Simpson or Jessica Alba, for example…). He then proceeded to tell me that those books looked very “interesting”, whilst, well, sniggering.

ewLook, I’d like to think that this guy had a genuine interest in feminist methodologies, but somehow, I suspect that this wasn’t the case. This guy’s main interest appeared to be commenting on how much ‘feminism’ I was literally carrying.

Case number three: Two to three weeks prior to this happening, I was walking to university to have a meeting with my supervisors about my PhD. I’d put on a brand new, pale pink dress for the occasion. On the way in, I walk past a guy in his mid to late 20′s, who says to me, “you’re looking good today, Miss”. To which I said, “What?”, because he-half mumbled it. He then says, “You’re showing your pink bits, you dirty bitch!”. Because you know, GET IT, I was wearing a pink dress.

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(Even Julia Gillard is unimpressed by this one).

Street harassment isn’t exactly uncommon. It happens all the time, everywhere, to woman (and men!) all around the globe. And whenever it happens to me, I’m reminded of the fact that I’m not just a ‘citizen of the world’ (so to speak) but I’m also a woman. Which of course, means I’m up for objectification and harassment. I don’t have a solution to street harassment – and if I did, I’d bottle it and distribute it to every woman on the planet. What I hope and wish for is some form of witty comeback for each situation. As it stands, I tend to be struck dumb by common sense, and end up replying with the obvious: “I’m sweating because I’m running”, “I have feminist books because I’m studying feminism”, or “I AM wearing a pink dress…”.

What I would LIKE, what I wish I COULD do, is completely lose my shit. I’d like to go completely and utterly bat-shit crazy on these men. I’d like to screech, scream, and holler at them. I’d like to tell them that their behaviour is disgusting, and that they don’t have the goddamn right to comment on me, my body, or even the bloody books that I am carrying around university. But then, of course, I’d just be conforming to the stereotype of the “crazy paranoid women”, when of course these men were just trying to “be polite”, or “make conversation” – except that they weren’t. And then, of course, there’s the fact that I’m too polite to confront men in this manner in public (even though I shouldn’t be).

See the bind that women are in?