When my children all began school, I foolishly thought that I would have more time. Instead, it introduced a new pressure: parental volunteering. I’d never had children in school, so when it came to anything related to this experience, I, mom-in-headlights, did it. Book fair? Yes! Fieldtrip? Yes! Bake sale? Yes! I felt like a skirted flip-book stick figure that someone else was maniacally flipping. I said ‘Yes” because saying “No” filled me with maternal guilt. And, I wasn’t alone. Everywhere I looked women were frantic, engaged in contrived activity, exhausted by work, vigilance and maternal frenzy. What I saw around me in schools were women, talented, energetic and smart, often creating inefficient systems to pass the day in an effort to make up for workplace systems that made it as hard as possible and financially irrational for them to work once they’d become mothers.
…However, a 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics study revealed that, regardless of age, education or race, women volunteer more than their male demographic peers. (Volunteer rates for women and men are 23.2% and 29.5% respectively.) Schools benefit hugely from the unpaid labor of mothers – most of whom, today, don’t have the luxury of not needing jobs. The pressure to donate unpaid labor at schools is inextricably entwined with ideas about mothering and work. Every time volunteer cultures are gender imbalanced it is almost certainly a symptom of women’s work being taken for granted, invisible and unpaid. The “maternal labor” credit that gets applied to school budgets feeds into a lifetime of sex-based wealth and wage gaps and sex segregation in the workforce.
School volunteering and unpaid female labour
January 22, 2014 by blue milk