A couple days ago Matt O’Brien at Wonkblog dropped an article on us about the decreasing female workforce in the United States. It’s a short piece (check it out here) but it delivers a mouthful. He asks why it is that the female portion of the US workforce is dropping when basically everyone else we consider an ally or an equal is continuing to increase. The answer is what many American women have been yelling ceaselessly for years: “It’s the childcare, stupid.”
See, there it is. Italy is on the mild decline. But seriously, what is our problem? Our problem is the United States of America’s need to shove its fingers in its ears and yell “lalalalalalalala” anytime someone wants to talk about social safety nets. Affordable childcare should be a serious part of our social safety net. These things are a genuine benefit to our economic stability. Another benefit would be any guaranteed maternity benefits at all, but that’s a story for another day that I’m sure I’ll get to because pregnant women face discrimination all the frakking time. We’re really getting women coming and going.
And this leads me to an article by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg from earlier this month in the New York Times in which she talks about women and office housework. What’s office housework? If you’re asking that question you’re either a man or you’re a woman who’s never thought about it because it’s too fucking depressing. The cookie-baking, the party-planning, the behind-the-scenes assistance. These are the things that we expect of women because women are caring nurturers and we want to do all this shit, right? Wrong. Okay, not necessarily wrong. Sure, some women (even me sometimes) do want to do these things. I love mentoring people. I don’t mind planning things occasionally. I even like to bake a cookie sometimes.
Here’s a fun example. I’m a Democratic Party County Chair. My male predecessor did not plan our annual fall banquet. His wife and a committee (largely, if not exclusively women) planned it. I got elected this summer. Guess who was heavily involved in planning? Me. It wasn’t just me, of course. I would probably have jumped off a nearby building had it not been for one of our committee members who is a teacher, political activist, parent, and overall badass super shero. After the banquet I got a lot of congrats because it was so great. Here’s the thing though – if I were my predecessor, I would have gotten those same congratulations even though I wasn’t actually the planner. He’s a pretty nice guy and he probably would have pointed out that his wife did most of the work but that’s not really the point. The larger point is that women also do these things in paid work situations when they are under no obligation to do so and they get no discernible benefit from it, other than not being perceived as not-a-jerk.
What’s the answer? Well, affordable childcare and not expecting women to do all the extra work around the office. How do you start though? Next time Sheila (because now I’m taking a page from the Australians and using Sheila as my generic lady-name) can’t plan the office holiday party and you’re about to think, “(internal eyeroll) Sheila is such a jerk.” – instead try thinking “you know, Sheila is probably really busy. Maybe next time” and then go ask a dude.