Women lose out on leisure

August 7, 1998

YOU arrive home late from a long day's lecturing. What is the first thing you do? Go to the gym or evening class? Watch television? Or start getting the children's supper ready, help them with homework, get them into bed then start adult supper?

If you ticked the last option, do you mind? That is one of the questions leisure expert Sharon Todd hopes to answer in an ongoing survey of women academics. How do they balance work and family with their own leisure needs?

"Feminist research that has investigated higher education has tended to focus on the employment and career progression of women academics, on their public rather than their private lives," said Ms Todd, a lecturer in leisure management at Brunel University. "The question of how to achieve some quality of life through finding some time and space for leisure is largely ignored."

Ms Todd had to rework classical definitions of leisure for her research. Instead she identified four main forms of leisure.

For many of the respondents leisure was an extension of work. So conferences, drinking and eating with colleagues and networking were all mentioned frequently.

Then there was so-called partner leisure. "I was surprised how often this was separated out," Ms Todd said. It was often referred to as "grown-up leisure"; going out to a meal or a film, walking or simply a conscious decision to synchronise diaries and relax together. This type of leisure was demarcated - it began after children had gone to bed - and was usually organised by the woman.

Perhaps the most significant leisure category was family leisure, which usually consisted of being with the children, going to parks and playgrounds, visiting children's friends or simply taking the dog for a walk. "For women who do not work this type of 'leisure' is perceived as part of their day job," Ms Todd said. "But these women were reporting spending time with their children as their leisure."

Personal leisure comes a poor fourth in the pecking order. Activities included health and fitness, racket sports, climbing, eco-tourism, walking, tennis, arts events, etc. For the women with family responsibilities, frequently it just never happened. "The combined pressures of paid work and domestic obligations for women mean they feel the time squeeze more than men," Ms Todd said.

A number of the respondents said their partners assumed their entitlement to leisure in the evenings and at weekends but the women had to struggle to make their needs for rest and relaxation understood and supported.

"The women in this study are all highly organised, used to multi-tasking and believe in their abilities to manage both academic and family life," Ms Todd said. "But all are aware they would have to organise, instigate and negotiate time and space for themselves and resist the increasing pressures on them."

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