Book Review: Leaning Out by Kristine Ziwica

About the Book:

In Leaning Out, respected journalist Kristine Ziwica maps a decade of stasis on the gender equality front in Australia, and why the pandemic has led to a breakthrough. As the historic 2020 Women’s March attests, a generation of younger women are speaking truth to power and changing the way we think of women in the workplace. This is the third book in The Crikey Read series from Crikey and Hardie Grant Books.

For ten years Australian women have been sold a dazzling promise: through sheer ’will’ and individual self-empowerment they could overcome decades of gender inequality in the workplace. The hard, structural work didn’t need to be done; all the solutions could be individual. Yet leaning in, power-posing and speaking up (and being spoken over) at the boardroom table have made very little difference for the great majority of women, still underpaid and overworked compared to their male colleagues.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shockingly revealed the fragile foundations of women’s working lives. It’s also given us a rare opportunity for a reimagining. But Australian women are still being told to ‘Lean In’ at precisely the moment when so many are ‘leaning out’. With the majority of all jobs lost in the pandemic being held by women, and successive governments unable or unwilling to address the ‘gender issue’, we are at crisis point. Leaning Out is a manifesto for what we can – and should – do with this moment. 

From Crikey and Hardie Grant Books, The Crikey Read is a series that brings an unflinching and truly independent eye to the issues of the day in Australia and the world.

Published by Hardie Grant Books

Released September 2022

My Thoughts:

‘In Australia, the ‘motherhood penalty’ was already deeply entrenched even before the pandemic. In fact, it was getting worse. This penalty, an umbrella term coined to encapsulate the myriad of injustices that contribute to mothers’ inequality in the workplace, captures all of the things that have long contributed to a career cliff edge of sorts for too many working mothers, forcing them onto a ‘mummy track’ of poor pay and poor prospects – if they manage to continue working at all.’

I am an over educated and underperforming Australian woman. My entire working life has been a serious of choices that have led to me working part-time in order to raise my children without using childcare, effectively maximising my ex-husband’s progression up the career ladder and minimising mine. I have now reached the point where I am working in a job that most definitely does not utilise my qualifications but which I enjoy because I have effectively given up on the idea that I will ever have an actual career. I have a job, period, full-time now rather than part-time, but it’s not a career. It will remain as it is, like most jobs. I toyed a couple of years ago, at the time when my marriage ended, with the idea of going back to university and qualifying in a different field. Starting over! Make the right choices this time! The logistics of this combined with the financial aspect proved too much, so I abandoned the idea and just found a new job with more working hours that I (fortunately) enjoy. The simple fact is, I made a series of choices throughout my early working life and then my marriage that exponentially made it harder and harder for me to get off this track I set out on. I know I’m not the only woman who is on the same track – the ‘mummy track’. This year is my youngest child’s final year of schooling. By May, he should have his driver’s license, effectively ending my school run days. No more juggle! Too bad I’m too tired to do anything about it at this point in time.

‘The pandemic has been absolute hell in terms of women’s mental health…. the increase in anxiety disorders, depression disorders, alcohol use disorders, eating disorders, they have all really escalated in women – and that’s across the globe; and even when the infection and financial aspects of the crisis are more under control, this is going to be something that really hurts for quite some time.’

‘Likening what mothers experienced to the kind of ‘moral injury’ frequently experienced by physicians (moral injury is the concept that systemic problems in the medical industry prevent doctors from doing what they know is right for their patients), Lakshim wrote that the crushing toll on working mothers’ mental health, in particular, reflected that level of societal ‘betrayal’. While burnout places the blame (and thus the responsibility) on the individual and tells working mums they aren’t resilient enough, betrayal points to the broken structures around them.’

This is a real little powerhouse of a book, clocking in at just over 100 pages, it covers a lot of ground and makes a whole lot of sense. The subtitle of the book, ‘A fairer future for women at work in Australia’, isn’t just a title, this book is like a roadmap on how to get there, whilst also detailing the journey so far and particularly, where that journey has gone pear-shaped and steered us into the wrong direction. Needless to say, much of it spoke to me on a very personal level, but my life experiences aside, this convergence of the political with the societal is an enduring area of interest to me. Kristine Ziwica also writes with such accessibility and utter common sense. The whole book is so well researched and sourced, it’s truly a brilliant read.

‘It’s really important that we look at the higher-level factors that have led to all of this,’ Dr Adele Murdolo, the executive director of Australia’s Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, told me. COVID caused lots of stuff, but it also just exacerbated a lot of inequality that was already there. It showed up and it made it more apparent to everybody.’

‘At the ballot box, women abandoned the Coalition in droves, clearly rejecting the ‘choice’ feminist solutions it had on offer, the kinds of solutions that largely blamed women for their own inequality and left it to them to fix the problem, on an individual basis.’

‘Women would simply not be gaslit into believing they were more economically secure when the reality of their daily lives told them something different, especially for the women on the front line of the pandemic in undervalued caring professions. Nor would women be persuaded they were better off when many were all too aware of the fact that women over the age of fifty-five were the fastest growing portion of the homeless population.

Women raged, they marched, and then they voted.’

Highly recommended reading for all Australians. There’s so much more in here that I haven’t even brushed the sides of.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Leaning Out by Kristine Ziwica

  1. Good stuff!
    You know, old feminists like me would look at the rubbish younger women were spouting and wonder where we had gone wrong. All the successes we had in the 70s, according to Anne Summers, were because we worked collectively to get them. Individual empowerment is a con.
    Let’s hope this message spreads…

    Liked by 1 person

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