Do we need heirarchies?

A conversation between a daughter (D) and her mother (M).

D: What do people mean when they say ‘women these days want it all’?

M: They mean that women want to have careers and have babies.

D. Oh. But they say it like it’s a bad thing.  Like when you say, ‘How many times do I have to tell you to put your cup in the dishwasher!’ Is it bad to want a career and babies? What is a career anyway?

M: A career is a like a job, or one job after another. If you have a career you get to do harder work as you get older and you get paid more. And you might get to be the boss of other people and help them do their jobs. So Mr Jacobs [the principal at the daughter’s school] has a career as a teacher. He started out teaching a class and now he is the boss of the other teachers and helps them do their jobs.

D: So Mrs Elliot [her classroom teacher] doesn’t have a career as a teacher?

M: Well, she does too. Some people like teaching a class so much, they just keep doing that.

D: So if Mrs Elliot had a baby she’d ‘want it all’?

M: In a way. But usually when people say ‘women want it all’ they don’t just mean a job like teaching one class, they mean a job like Mr Jacobs, where you get to be especially important. They mean that to want to have children and to want to be an important person at work is a bit greedy. Well, if you are a woman.

D: How do you get to be an important person at work?

M: It is different for different kinds of work. You have to do whatever it is that is most important for that kind of work. What do you think is most important for teachers?

D: Helping children. I know, I know! It is helping children develop their full potential and grow to be contributing citizens!

M: Where did you hear that?

D: It is written on our website. It says that is the mission of our school. But I don’t think Mr Jacobs really helps children. The children are scared of him. Mrs Elliot helps children though. But she isn’t as important as Mr Jacobs is she?

M: Well she is just as important, but her job isn’t as important.

D: I don’t think Mrs Elliot is going to a have a baby. She is really old.

M: I don’t think she is going to have a baby either.

D: So she can have an important career then and people won’t say she is greedy.

M: That’s right. But she might just like helping children. The school needs lots of teachers who want to help children, but it only needs one principal. So it is good some people don’t want to be the principal or else all the teachers would be competing with each other to try to be the principal and they might forget to help the children and they would feel sad because most of them wouldn’t be the principal. Like when you go to a birthday party and play pass the parcel and only one person gets the prize.

D: When I got the prize at Kim’s birthday Kim cried.

M: Yes Kim did.

D: But Mrs Elliot doesn’t just like helping children, she likes planting trees too. She is the teacher in charge when we go to plant trees at Kauri Park. She tells all the other teachers what to do. So why isn’t her job as important as Mr Jacobs?

M: Well it’s because organising things like planting trees is not as hard as the things Mr Jacobs has to organise.

D:  Oh. What kind of things does he have to organise?

M: Like who to give the job to when the school needs a new teacher and how to spend the money the school gets to teach you, things like that.

D. Are those things harder than teaching a class and planting trees?

M: I’m not sure. But only one person at the school can be the principal, so maybe that is why it is the most important job.

D: Oh. So important jobs are the jobs that most people can’t have and that is why they are important?

M: Sort of.

D: And people who do important jobs get given more money, right?

M: Yes.

D:  Do you think it is greedy for women to want to have babies and get important jobs?

M: No. Well maybe it is a little bit greedy for anyone to want to have an important job. Because you want something that not everyone can have, a bit like wanting to win pass the parcel.

D: But when we started to play pass the parcel Kim’s brother goes, ‘Who wants to win the prize?’ and everyone went, ‘Me!’ and he smiled like that was good. 

M: Yes, it’s quite confusing…

D: [Interrupting] … and someone’s got to do the important jobs. If Mr Jacobs wasn’t there we wouldn’t be able to buy stuff or get new teachers, right? Like when Ms Samuels left, her class would just play all day, because they wouldn’t have got Ms Wong to be their teacher.

M: I guess that is right. And it is okay if only a few people want the important jobs. It only wouldn’t work if everyone wanted those jobs, because they would stop doing other things – like if Mrs Elliot wanted to be principal she might stop helping you so much with your reading or stop organising tree planting because she would want to show she knew how to spend money and the things you have to do when you are principal.

D: I don’t want her to stop helping me with my reading.

M: No, I don’t either.

D: So I am glad Mrs Elliot doesn’t want an important job.


D: I think I agree that it is bad for women to want it all.

M: Really? Why is that?

D: Well, because if they don’t want it all, then they will still help children and stuff like that which isn’t important.

M: But they won’t get paid as much money as men or get to be the boss, do you think that is fair?

D: I don’t know. I guess it isn’t fair. But hardly anyone gets to be the boss. So it isn’t going to be fair anyway.

M: Well yes. Do you think there is a way to make it fair?

D: Can’t it be that they say the stuff teachers do is just as important as the stuff the principal does?

M: They could. But then it would be hard to pick a boss and to pay that person more money.

D: Oh.


D: Can I have a hot chocolate? I promise I’ll put my cup in the dishwasher.


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