This womans work

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I was sitting in the multicultural education class I TA the other day - and we were talking about gendered issues. Not simply in education, but in life. The article we were discussing involved the higher rejection rate of female applicants to the "upper tier" colleges and universities. The problem? Women are over qualified. This leads to tougher competition among female applicants.

While this, in and of itself is not a problem - the unintended result is a problem. Young men are being accepted with lower, less stellar transcripts/academic backgrounds in order to keep the gender balance on campuses.

"Hmmm", I thought to myself. "This is intriguing."

In education, of course, we see FAR fewer men in the pool of undergraduates. Even fewer of those will choose to teach elementary school, preferring High School or Physical Education.

It may be a status thing - I know my family's reaction when I announced I wanted to teach Kindergarten was "Why are you wasting your intelligence on KINDERGARTEN! You are incredibly smart - you could do anything you wanted!"

And well, Yes. I COULD do anything I wanted. And I wanted to teach kindergarten. After all, I reasoned, wasn't this where is started? Don't we need the best and brightest teaching our youngest children?

It may be a money thing. Very few male (or female) teachers support a family on their salary alone. Almost all are part of working "families" - two incomes combining to sustain a household.

As I pondered these things in my head, the discussion was occurring around me. While these students read and understand the article, I know that for the young women in the room - their lives both professionally and personally are going to be filled with moments that they will find difficult to envision now.

If, like myself, they are smart and articulate, they will be labeled unfeminine. In one interview, I was told "off the record" that they just wished I was "warmer" - you know, not so "direct".

This is code for "You don't act like a girl and we don't like women who don't act like girls."

As a teacher, I felt guilty for asking for a raise when I earned $7.50 per hour for caring for other peoples infants. I apologized to the parents when their tuition was raised so I could have a .25 cent an hour pay raise.

As a mother, although I worked in child care and early childhood education, there existed unspoken expectations that I not take "too much" time off to care for my child if she was sick/on vacation/home for a snow day. I was expected to be at my post ready and willing to do my job.

As a writer, I am told "There are no experts and we don't pay for any writing". I take this as more code that the work of parenting, the work of "women" should be given freely, with good cheer and a happy heart. After all, aren't we all in this together? Lend a hand, help a fellow woman out! Smile while you do it, dammit!

No, I think the issue is the same shit, different day.

Raising and Educating children is not something that is valued - regardless of the bullshit rhetoric spouted by the politicians...and yes, even parents. Everyone WANTS the best schools for their children, but nobody wants to pay for it. Everybody WANTS dedicated professionals who have Master's/PhD degrees in education teaching their child - but what crazy person is going to invest that kind of money to earn 40K a year?

By extension, the work of mothers, of women is expected to be given freely and without complaint. When you point out that women are still discriminated against in the workplace in a variety of ways, you get called an "angry feminist". When you point out that the educational system is failing our girls by asking them to achieve the highest they can - AND STILL REJECTING THEM what can that mean for these future mothers, partners, wives and women?

I suspect that the cult of womanhood will tell them that there "are no experts, and no one is paid" for the work they will do.

5 Baleful Regards:

Mitzi Green said...

this is a subject that never has and never will fail to piss me off. and it will never change, because too many women are perfectly content to maintain the status quo if it means not rocking the boat. as much as i'd like to be carrying a girl right now, i'd almost rather this baby be a boy--so it won't have to endure the ongoing gender-related bullshit of this world.

Ruth Dynamite said...

The cult of womanhood needs to grow some balls. (Sorry.) But that's the truth. We need to demand more for the excellent work we do and services we provide.

Bobita said...

Also, although dominated by women, most administrative positions in education are occupied by men. This fact makes me want to chew nails.

Most women, disillusioned into believing that men are the only ones suited for power positions, contribute to the perpetuation of appointing men to such positions. If only we were able to see past the woolen veil and accept the idea that we are both qualified and capable!

So many years of deception can be a powerful force. I can only hope that women will soon come to a collective conclusion that we are stronger than the lies that have been told to us.

Fingers crossed...

E. said...

Preach it, sister! I find it so frustrating that the professionals we entrust our youngest children to are so fucking underpaid, while the relatively pampered folks who teach our self-sufficient college-aged kids get the big bucks (comparatively speaking). Our values are fucked.

(And on a title-related note, let me just say that "This Woman's Work" was the first and last song on the "labor mix" that we listened to while I birthed my daughter recently. The first song Maxwell's cover, and the last Kate Bush's sublime original version...)

Anonymous said...

As an >ahem< "older" woman (soon to be 56), this line from your post struck me: "This is code for "You don't act like a girl and we don't like women who don't act like girls.""

I have noticed a great deal lately of that habit men and women alike have of calling groups of women "girls" - I'm not talking about groups of little girls, or even teens -it's "the girls at the office" or, "the girls on the team" (at least there IS a team!) The women being referred to are 20s, 30s, often much older.

This is a habit I associate with my mom's generation. Weird. How are we getting back to that? And, Dawn? I don't mean your line I quote above is doing that - it's obvious that what you meant is exactly what I'm saying; people (men, and apparently even other women) only feel comfortable diminishing women they're speaking to and about in that way.

And people say there's no need for feminism anymore...

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