We are tired, burned out, and angry.
Late yesterday, Alberta’s Minister of Finance, Travis Toews, announced the province is looking to roll back the wages of nurses.
Yes. Nurses. Like the people who have been putting their life in danger, working around the clock during the pandemic to keep us — you know — alive.
Travis Toews made a statement about the proposed rollback saying: “AHS is offering job security to nurses, despite record unemployment in the province due to the pandemic.”
While Travis Toews made this statement to nurses, he very clearly is making it to women. In Canada, nursing is a female dominated field with 91% of regulated nurses identifying as female.
This is not a group of men who are currently being told to work harder for less money and appear grateful in the process.
These are women.
And women around the province — rightfully so — are angry right now.
Alberta MLA Rakhi Pancholi writes, “I am DONE with women being expected to accept “thank you so much, dear” as compensation for their work.”
Alberta neuroscientist, public education and healthcare advocate Dr. Wing Kar Li writes, “I read it as, just be thankful you still have a job & accept this devaluation of essential (largely female) labour.”
Should we be angry with Travis Toews for even thinking it’s okay to roll back nurses wages after a global pandemic? Yes.
Should we be angry with Travis Toews for gaslighting us, saying in the same article that nurses should be grateful for having a job? You bet.
But we also must understand that this is a systemic issue. This is an issue that we as women know very well. As do our mothers. As do our grandmothers.
This is not isolated to the nursing profession.
Ten years ago, I was sitting in a staff meeting as a teacher in a public school in Alberta. Our male principal looked out at a sea of female teachers after a brutal meeting which highlighted resources that were being pulled. He also outlined increased expectations of teachers. He ended the meeting by saying, “It’s a lot of work—but you get paid one of the highest teaching salaries in Canada. Be grateful for that.”
In Canada, teaching is also a female dominated field with 84% of elementary school teachers and 59% of secondary teachers identifying as female.
This expectation to be eternally grateful (even as work increases without financial compensation) is not isolated to the teaching profession either.
The book Burnout, by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski, explores a concept called ‘the human giver syndrome.’ According to Nagoski, the human giver syndrome is a societal expectation that women will be “attentive and loving subordinates.” Women, as human givers, “are expected to offer their time, attention, affections, and bodies, willingly, placidly. The giver’s role is to give their whole humanity… They must never be ugly, angry, upset, or ambitious, or attentive to their own needs.”
Although I doubt Travis Toews has read Burnout, he is absolutely familiar with the concept of the human giver syndrome — he’s doing a phenomenal job of perpetuating it and capitalizing on it:
Nurses — are you exhausted?
Nurses — are you are mentally and physically burned out?
Nurses — Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to cut your salary. And I’m going to remind you that you are lucky to have a job at all. After all, your job as a woman is to give. And to give willingly and without complaint. Be grateful for any compensation at all.
Our provincial government has invested $1.5 billion dollars in an oil pipeline that was never built.
Our provincial government has invested $30 million dollars in a war room designed to promote the energy industry. It has had little to no success.
And yet, when is the last time we’ve told those working in the field of energy that they need to work harder for less and be grateful in the process? When is the last time we’ve told engineers they need to take a paycut while being happy to have a job?
While this dangerous double standard is present in the workforce, it’s also running rampant through our homes. It’s present in the invisible and unpaid work required to run a household and raise a family.
If a woman’s husband takes time off of work to help out with the kids, she should be grateful.
If a woman’s husband changes diapers or cooks dinner, she is exceptionally lucky.
If a woman’s husband walks their kids to school in the morning, she is considered fortunate.
Yesterday — the same day that Travis Toews told the nurses in our province to be grateful for a salary rollback, I mentioned to a family member that I was going to go away for a week to work on my next book. The family member’s response was, “What about the kids?”
WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS!?!
My husband has traveled throughout the world for his work, and he has never, ever ONCE been asked, “What about the kids?”
Nor, at any point during salary negotiations or negotiations for promotions, has my husband been told that he should be grateful.
Here’s a brief summary how the human giver syndrome is playing out for women in Canada:
-Women in Canada spend on average 17.5 additional hours of unpaid work running the household and caring for members of the family each week than their male counterparts.
-Women in Canada who are employed full time earn on average 78.6 cents for every dollar men make
-10 x more women than men have fallen out of the Canadain labour force since 2020
This double standard for men and women has many women, mothers, and female professionals tired, burnt out and mad as hell.
So, Travis Toews, we are not grateful to have a job in this pandemic. We are too busy trying to run our family, raise our children, and pay the bills while you make our lives more challenging.
Oh yeah — and we are also working incredibly hard to vote you — and any other individuals looking to capitalize society’s harmful double standards toward women — out of office.
Politics is personal. Especially for women in Alberta right now.
Lisa Bush is the author of City Hall: A Dr. Ada Logan Mystery and Teaching Well: How healthy, empowered teachers lead to thriving, successful classrooms. She is the creator of the Working Mom Wellness Podcast.
Statistics Canada: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/dai/smr08/2018/smr08_220_2018#a9
Canadian Women Foundation: https://canadianwomen.org/the-facts/
Statistics Canada: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/54931-eng.htm