The attentive ones among you may have noticed that this post first appeared a few days ago. Still trying to figure out precisely how blogger works... *sigh*
Several years ago, when I was at the major conference for my discipline, I attended a session on Women in the [Field]. There was a panel discussion among five or six scholars at all ages of their careers, and they provided witty and insightful advice about navigating the gender gap in our field. When I asked what advice they would give a graduate student or untenured professor trying to sort through the gender dynamics in a hostile environment, the panelists all hemmed and hawed a bit, deferred to each other, and then the most senior scholar, professor emerita after a distinguished career, looked me straight in the eye and said:
“Don’t clean up.”
Her words stuck with me. If you want to be seen by your [male] colleagues as a colleague, then you behave as they do. They don’t clean up, so you don’t clean up. If I am here as your peer, I will not do your dishes nor your laundry. I will not take messages for you, or organize the transportation to other events. I. Will. Not. Clean. Up.
And I thought of her again last night, as after a department reception, I looked around and saw I was one of four students who had stayed to help clean up: three women, one man.
When I first arrived in the department *cough* years ago, 2/3 of it was comprised of men, 1/3 of women. That's evened out now to roughly half and half, and yet the women in the department still do the lion's share of set up and clean up for every event, as they did when they were the significant minority when I arrived. Especially clean up.
I know all this, and it is crazy-making, and yet I do it. So why do I clean up? I've figured out a few reasons: I'm good at it, I notice when it needs to be done, I have a strong sense of community loyalty, I like to do what I'm requested to do, I feel terribly guilty about leaving someone else with a mess to which I (by virtue of eating cheese and crackers and drinking a glass of wine) contributed...
And there are all sorts of subsidiary problems here, particularly problems of class and economics. Why is cleaning up such a menial task? Why do we disparage those who do it? What kind of privelege are academics embodying if we are defined as people who can't pick up after ourselves?
Is the best solution really to plead senior student status and retreat before the time for cleaning up draws near?