Domestic inequality, under-appreciation of women and the consistency of the problem have created an ‘epidemic of inequality’, according to a leading author.

“Every society in the world is built on the unpaid or underpaid work of women,” Dr Anna Funder told an audience at the University of Technology Sydney on International Women’s Day.

“If it was to be paid for, it would cost, by UN estimates, $10.9 trillion a year.”

She added that despite this ‘value’ in an economic sense, there was little value in a social sense.

“It is no longer a private matter. It is an epidemic of inequality, and it needs a society-wide response,” she said.

The author of the global best-selling and award-winning book Wifedom and UTS alumni, Funder said time had given us a ”faux-comfort of distance (surely we are more evolved than that?) along with a frisson of horror: things have not changed nearly enough”.

Wearing a bubble-gum pink pantsuit, Funder announced to an audience of over 200 in UTS’s Great Hall, that she was channelling Barbie” . 

“Barbie is a work of genius,” she said. “Part of its cleverness is that the movie posits two worlds.

“One, in which Barbies (women) can be anything they choose to be. They are supreme court judges and park rangers, doctors and barristers and presidents, dentists and pilots and plumbers. And another, the real world, represented by contemporary LA, where men are central and women are peripheral.

“… This is the kind of frontline, basic abuse that is the most obvious way that patriarchy tells us, loud and clear, on the street or in the boardroom, that men are central and powerful, and women are to be defined by them, in their interest.” 


Dr Anna Funder. Photo: Georgia-Marie Wardan.

She said women continue to encounter barriers in various spheres of life, particularly within the home, painting a vivid picture in which inequity within marriage contributed to the under-appreciation of women

“One person’s time to work is created by another person’s work in time,” she said. “The more time he has to work, the more she is working to make it for him.”

In her speech, Funder challenged prevailing cultural narratives undermining the contributions and capabilities of women, denouncing the passivity of women and uplifting their assertiveness, leadership, and strength.

She said the stories of women that had otherwise been deemed dispensable and invisible, needed to be told properly. 

“How is it that this work, that is so indispensable, can be so invisible?” she asked. “One reason is because patriarchy attaches the work of care to the definition of what it is to be female.”

Funder said women’s underpaid ‘work’ isn’t really working.

“When we say a woman, wife or mother is ‘decent’ or ‘good’ those things have other meanings, which are attached to the care, work and time she gives those around her,” she said.

“You can be a decent bloke without doing any domestic or care work. But you could never be a decent woman, mother or wife without caring for others.

“This is the swift and dirty trick of patriarchy: to attach work done for others to the definition of what it is to be you. It’s not really ‘work’; it’s just you proving you’re a decent (female) person.”

She said her critically acclaimed book Wifedom, which examined the marriage of Eileen O’Shaughnessy and George Orwell, depicted the pervasive influence of the erasing of female perspectives in history.

“[It was fascinating] how the work of a brilliant, highly educated woman could be, apparently, invisible to her husband at the same time as it was, intellectually and practically, indispensable,” she said.

It was an omission Funder said was not only the fault of Orwell but also by many of his biographers. 

Sparking long and loud applause, Funder, referred to Ken’s comment in Barbie of horses leading the ‘real world’ and finished by saying: “Power and privilege were never given up easily, only taken justly…. Patriarchy is the man extender, the imaginary horse they ride about on.

“We know what to do to get them off their imaginary steeds and to invite them to share with us the work of life and love and our time together on this planet. Time, as I say, is valuable because it is finite. It’s time this was over.”

Main image by Georgia-Marie Wardan.