Q&A with Prof Cordelia Fine

WLIA Fellow, philosopher of science, psychologist & writer


Professor Cordelia Fine is a Professor in the School of Historical & Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her work analyses scientific and popular biological explanations of behavioural sex differences and workplace gender inequalities, explores the effects of gender-related attitudes and biases on judgements and decision-making, and contributes to debates about workplace gender equality.

We spoke with Prof Fine about what’s been keeping her busy, hopeful and entertained recently – including the new Working Father’s podcast.

Hi Cordelia, thanks for chatting with us today. We’d love to know what is occupying your time and brain space at the moment?

My current big project is finishing my fourth book manuscript, which takes aim at two influential narratives in debates about gender equality in the economy. According to one perspective, women and men are now largely “different but equal”. The other approach is a business-friendly corporate D&I perspective, identifying things that need to be fixed but overlooking many key mechanisms that generate gender inequalities.

The book draws on theories from a range of disciplines to offer an alternative account of how to understand gender relations in the economy, why they matter, and what moving towards greater gender justice might involve.n

What keeps you up at night?

There are a lot of theories in the book. A lot. Occasionally, I fret about this to my partner and he will say something sensible like, “Well, can you take some of them out?” Then I will get offended, as if he has just accused me of helping myself to more than my fair share of the humanities and social sciences, and tell him that I can’t take any of the theories out, because I need them all. (I am not a lot of fun to live with when writing a book.)

And what is giving you hope?

This is a strange answer to a difficult question, but I have been reading about evolutionary perspectives on human behaviour. There is something hopeful in the reminder from that field that what is unique about our species is the extraordinary scope and scale of our cooperation.

You recently released the Working Father’s podcast. What inspired you to create it?

We wanted to address an area often underrepresented in discussions around gender justice – fathers. Traditional debates often focus on women’s participation in the workforce, but we delve into the substantial barriers to fathers becoming more involved caregivers. This part of the gender revolution has yet to happen.

From cultural constructs around being a “good father”, to tax laws reinforcing traditional gender roles, the obstacles are significant. We weave historical, anthropological, philosophical and economical perspectives to provide a comprehensive look at modern fatherhood. nnIt sounds like a really important resource. Who should listen to it?

Dads, managers, policymakers, among others. But also anyone interested in a somewhat neglected but fascinating topic. (Listen to the podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google, or wherever you get your podcasts.)

Finally, what are you reading or listening to that you’re enjoying and would recommend?

I recently finished reading all the novels of Dorothy Whipple, whose books were originally published in the first half of the twentieth century. I felt quite bereft when I reached the last one.

Listen to the Working Fathers podcast where Prof Cordelia Fine, Assoc Prof Dan Halliday, Dr Melissa Wheeler and Dr Anabelle Baldwin unpack the many different roles fathers play in contemporary Australian families and how policy can better recognise, value and support.

Find it on Apple, Spotify, Google, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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