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International Women's Day

So, it’s International Women’s Day. I’m going to start this note by saying that it would probably be better for me to spend the day listening than speaking—there is no sense in which my take on International Women’s Day or the US Day without a Woman action is more important or relevant or insightful than those of the various women who are writing about it just fine, thanks. So.

Still, I want to support women and equality and International Women’s Day—I’m wearing red, although I wear red shirts often enough these days that I don’t know that anyone will read it as support—so here are a couple of thoughts. The point of the Day without a Woman action is, to my mind and (less irrelevantly) on the mission statement, to recogniz[e] the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system. With that in mind, and with the notion that the cost to many women of taking the day off is so substantial that they are working (paid and unpaid) whether they support the action or not, here are some of the ways in which women have added value to my particular socio-economic world today.

First of all, of course, my Best Reader did (by my count) four distinct household tasks before we left the house at 7:30 this morning. I could certainly have missed some; I usually do. She will do more before I get home. And then she is the primary earner for the household, so in that sense everything from the roof to the foundation, the heat and the electricity and the pantry full of food was value she added.

My children went to school this morning: my Perfect Non-Reader has two male teachers this semester (I think) but is mostly taught by women. The administration at her high school is entirely comprised of women, as far as I know: the Principal, the Vice-Principals, the office staff, the counselor, the nurse… at the Youngest Member’s school, things are much the same, although there is less administration, and if I remember correctly (I don’t) there is one male working in office support but only one male teacher in the whole pre-K-5 school. One of the female crossing guards was not there this morning, and was replaced, as occasionally happens, by a male police officer. The other female crossing guard we usually see was there, standing in the rain, and waved cheerfully at us as we went by, as she always does.

I made it to work today: there’s a shit-ton of invisible work that got me here, and I have no idea how much of that was done by women. The road crews and their dispatchers; whoever does and whoever schedules the maintenance of the traffic lights; even the woman who makes appointments at the car tune-up place helped, tho’ not today (so far).

At work: the 27 people employed at the library that employs me include 20 women and 7 men. Of the thirteen people in the building right now that I might conceivably have work-related interactions with, I am one of three men. I supervise 19 student workers, of whom four are male; the scheduled shifts for today are 7 female to 1 male.

Also at work, more generally: at the University level, the entire payroll department and the entire human resources department are staffed exclusively by women; those are both important to me. The person assigned to provide computer and network help to the library is a woman, although I believe she is out all this week. Women run the café across the way here and the campus store next door (where I often will purchase a snack in the afternoon) and make up the majority of the staff, perhaps two-thirds or more, although I don’t know everybody there and my count doesn’t include people who work behind the scenes. My contacts at the budget office, the financial aid office, the registrar and the bursar are all women, as well.

Not really a Digression: The Director of the Libraries is a woman, which is nice, but at the next level down, two of the three department managers are male, meaning that the top four in the hierarchy are split two-two while the rest of the staff is 18-5. I don’t know the numbers for the staff around here generally, but I think that’s probably fairly typical. The President of the University is a man, as is the incoming President who will take office this summer. The acting Provost is a man; two of the three Vice-Presidents are men; four of the seven colleges are led by male Deans at present and the Deans of Enrollment, Graduate Studies and University Programs are all men, as is the Director of Budgeting. And what’s amazing is that there has been progress during the last ten years: the three female Deans have all replaced male Deans during that time, and the two female V-Ps also replaced men holding more-or-less those positions. End not really a Digression.

To leave my workplace and gather some more added value: At Temple Beth Bolshoi, as I call it, where my children will be this afternoon, the Associate Rabbi is a woman, as is the Cantor, although the senior Rabbi and the two Rabbis Emeritus (Emeriti?) are men. There are women serving in all of the staff positions except custodial work: women run membership, the library, the education program and do all the paperwork. The President of the Congregation is a woman, too. Oh, and my P-NR teaches at the school where the YM is learning, so that’s added value, too.

My mother-in-law adds value—she is picking the YM up from school, overseeing homework and snack, and then taking him and his sister to Hebrew School. Amazing upaid labor, just part of the social structure.

Over the course of the day, I’ll be entertained by the bizarre and wonderful twitter feed of Ursula Vernon (@UrsulaV) and the theater writing of Lyn Gardner in the Guardian or Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s Yarn Harlot blog. I might read Sarah Kliff’s health-care reporting over at Vox or Adele Stan’s political commentary over at The American Prospect, or I might get a chance to read some Lois McMaster Bujold or Elizabeth Gaskell on my phone. In the evening, I expect I will listen to music, and although I have no idea what will come up on the old shuffle, it may include Imelda May or The Nields or perhaps the Baltimore Consort, whose members include Mary Anne Ballard and Mindy Rosenfeld, possibly with Custer LaRue on vocals. Or maybe watch an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, starring the late lamented Elisabeth Sladen. Or any of the thousands of other women writers, musicians, performers, actors, songwriters, journalists or filmmakers who make my life so much more pleasant.

Before I’m done, I’ll add—I have no idea, but statistically, it’s likely that the bulk of the labor done to make the clothes I wear, the sheets I sleep in, the satchel I carry my goods in, even the components of the computer I type this on, was all done by women. The work of getting the food to the grocery stores in purchasable form—not so much driving the trucks, although of course there are women doing that, too, but the processing in the food factories nobody wants to think about, as well as the places that put the spices into the little bottles and the places that fold the cartons and bag the lettuce and can the tomatoes. We don’t see any of that stuff, and I suspect that most of us in our culture tend to think of that kind of work (that is, factory work, repetitive and stressful, interacting with large and noisy machines) as men’s work, but I believe the bulk of it is done by women, here and around the world. Not that we see it.

Does that seem comprehensive? It isn’t. Not even close. I’m not talking about either the direct effects (the institution that employs me could not survive without women paying tuition or funding grants) or the knock-on effects (how many—just to pick a single f’r’ex—of my favorite books, by men or women, would have been published if there weren’t a market of women readers) of women in the marketplace. And one of the things I have been trying to get at is how invisible (or just taken for granted) much of women’s labor is in our culture, and I am surely part of that, will-I nil-I.

Which is why I should probably shut up for a bit and go back to reading and listening.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Not really a comment: your non-digression reminds me, yet again, of how unusual it is to work where I do: Our president is a woman, all 5 or 6 of our VPs are women (though that may change soon [knock wood]), our Dean is a woman, two-thirds of our faculty are women, the vast majority of our staff are women, and of course all of our undergraduate students are (nominally) women.

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