Overtime for Wives
There is a certain quaintness, from a woman’s point of view, in the insistent modern demand for a shorter working day. The daily worker in the cities has long luxuriated in a toiling allowance of eight hours, and celebrates teh fact yearly by making solemn procession and oblation, in which festal proceedings his wife takes a due and submissive part. Now that the march of the centuries is bringing still further enlightenment, a Labor conference has passed a resolution in favour of reducing the hours of prescribed work to six; while sundry members of teh New South Wales legislature have expressed iwth some definiteness of opinion that four hours of work constitute as much as should be expected in any one day from any man. While admitting that many Labor members can accomplish sufficient in four hours to keep their constituents ruminating for as many months, the question naturally arises as to where woman comes in.
Man works till set of sun,
But woemn’s work is never done.
sang some observant sage in days before man had agitated for a curtailment of his tol of labour. But it is not recordeded that at any time has Woman seriously demanded a lessening of the impost laid on her by nature and custom - task mistresses who insist to the full upon the handicap of sex. The progress of civilisation brings no change to her position as bearer of the innumerable small burdens of life. Throughouhe ages she has worked overtime, and so will probably continue to work; and not even the most excitable trade union worries about it.
The time table of a woman’s daily occupations would probably surprise even her husband if she found lesiure to record her operaitons in the domestic field for a week. Hers may be the life of little things; but it is none the less strenuous, and the demands it makes upon her energy and her organizing powers are often out of all proprtion to her physical fitness. A mothe rof a family who is without household aid performs perpeutally the task of Sisyphus - a task of whcih the constant monotony robs her of that sense of achievement which is the finest reward of labour. Moreover, she works with the knowledge that, toil she ever so strenuously, she will not accomplish more than a proportion of the duties that straitly beset her. There will always be things ahead to do, and many of them will always remaind ahead, waiting fo thte day when the housemother shall have a little more time. The pride of work is some recompense. But its quality ma dulled by the incessant conviction of incomplete accomplishment.
It is not to be denied that the man of the house has troubles of his own. His is the constant responsibility for keeping things giong, witht eh fear that untoward circumstance may rob him of his fitness or of his opportunities. But in the majority of cases the actual cares of his wage earning are limited to his hours of labour. He goes to his work in the morning well fed and cared for; he returns in the evening to comfort, rightfully entitled to his meal, his pipe and slippers, his easy chair and papers. He is apt to consider himself aggrieved should the baby be tactless enough to break across his calm with ill-considered wails. He has definintly put aside work until the next day.
To the average housemother a restful evening is almost an unknown luxury. The work of her day culminates towards night, when the Man and the children come home to her, to be fed and tended. There are a hundred little services to be performed, a hundred things to remember and to watch for. There are babies of all ages, tired like herself, to be put to bed; nor must she neglect necessary preparations for next day, since she probably realises the advantage of beginning each day with a cahse balance in hand of overnight achievement. If she be prudent, she realises the importance of meeting the Man with a smiling face, and of lending an intelligent ear to his conversation - even though that ear be distracted by the sound of Tommy and Gertie in deadly conflict, or of the overboiling of some cherished preparation on the stove. Should the latter calamity happen, she loses part of her dinner. She has the annoyance of disappointment of wasted work, and she has the consequent task of cleaning the stove. The Man merely loses part of his dinner. Yet it is on the Man’s account, and not on her own, that she grieves.
That a wife should work overtime is so ordinary a matter thato phrase her habitual custom would probably excite ribald masculine mirth. Not all unusual is the type of man who expresses more or less mild amazement at his wife’s occupations. He is prone to recall with unction the prodigies performed by his grandmother, remarking, ‘I can’t think what on earth keeps you busy all day in a little house like this’. No more valuable lessons can be given him than the necessity of carrying on the household work himself, should his wife be suddently disabled. ithout managing to accomplis one half of her daily routine, he will find himself kept extremely busy, and possibly suffering no small amount of fatigue and anxiety. He will learn how completely the comfort and welbeing of the home depend upon the exertions of one pair of hands and one watchful mind, and how much contrivance is needed to make the money he earns cover the multitude of household requirements. Beyond these attainments, he wil leanr how rare and difficult a thing it is to preserve to the very end of the working day the serenity and cheefulness that make a house into a home. For man tkwes the big things in life, and lets the little, worying ones go past him; but woman’s very existence is a compact of details - none of tremendous import, but each a thing that must be remembered. To comprehend her point of view is a very healthful thing for the average man.
It is the lack of comprehension that is apt to make the wife’s overtime a labour of weariness. Work itself is largely a matter of course to the housemother, and she would be more than faintly surprised if some beneficent fairy accomplished for her the mutlitude of daily chosres that make up her existence. She knows that in no case can she finsih her day early. No branch of labour entails heavier and longer hours than dairy famring, and the men who make a living with the aid of the cow are loud in their self-pity. It’s ‘a dog’s life’, say the men; and, without doubt, it leaves no time for any of the softnes of existence. But, despite the fact that it is now almost impossible to obtain men for dairying, the burden of it lies heaviest upon the women - since the men must be fed before they begin work in the dawn, the day is never long enough for itstasks, upon a farm, and long after the men come in at night, and have setled peacefully to their pipes, the women are still at work washing up after the evening meal and preapring for the morning. It is overtime, of course, but a woman’s overtime is not a thing that really matters in the scheme of exitence in famring, or, indeed, in many walks of life It is only when definite payment is made for a thing that it assumes importance.
Not that women gruble at male misunderstanding. The amount of their work and its value are not quantities that they themselves are wont to estimate in words. THey merely contine to work, for home and children mean to them somthing that no man can quite estimate, and sacrifices for home and children do not count as loss. Nevertheless, the strain is not a little hting, nor does it ever slacken. It is more wearing than man’s work for its keynote is monotony. Overtime is necessary - there are branches of work than never begin until the husband has finished his own day’s work; much that cannot be attempted until the children are out of the way, safety tucked into bed. Physical fitness or unfitness are details that must to a great extent be disregarded. Yet, being part ofa woman’s life contract, work and overtime are ordinary matters, to be dealt with in a spirit of decent cheerfulness. THe ability to maintain this depends largely upon her wages - and more partiuclalry upon the overtime wages.
The fact that wives are not paid in cash by no means infers that as labourers they are not worhty of their hire. The payment that really counts iwth them is not cash, but kindness; the guerdon of unfailing appreciattion of their efforts. Rewards more tangible - the little unexpected gift, the thoughtfully planned outing - may be out of the question in cases where income has all tha tit can do to keep pace with expenditure. But even poverty is no bar to the one thing that makes work worhth while and takes the sting out of fatigue or failure. Recognition of what the dial struggle means to a woman, coming from the man for whose sake the struggle is undertaken, makes the hardest task easy; while the wife who works in the knowledge that her husbnad fails to notice the unselfish service that makes her life, toils under a handicap compared with which all others seem as nothing. The one is a partner - the other a servant; and only in partnership are work and overtime undertaken in the spirit that makes them mere details in the big scheme fo existence.
From The Age, 24 September 1912