Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Work, Part II: Unpaid, Is Volunteering Anti-Feminist?

  When I left work, priority No. 1 was to volunteer more at my son's school. It didn't take long -- all of a couple of weeks -- before the PTA moms homed in on me. Now that I wasn't working, how about taking on the newsletter and publicity for the various parent activities and fundraisers?
  I was all smiles on the way to the volunteer altar.
  Sunday, I worked on cutting and pasting copy for four hours straight. I was still in my pajamas at lunch time -- which caught the attention of the resident teen, who makes sure to remind me whenever I grumble about stuff I have to do that I'm supposed to be retired. It took two additional hours after dinner to fine tune the newsletter. The next day, I worked three more hours to make sure everything looked just right in the template and proofed it. The bossband was holding his tongue, but he clearly does not see the value in this endeavor. Then the next four days demanded innumerable emails and adjustments to confirm the format was set up properly. Finally, the newsletter went out -- two days late because of technology issues.

Make Your Own Newsletters, Middle School and Up (25 Reproducible Fill-in Newsletters)  What did I get out of it? Certainly not monetary compensation. I'm not working for pay, I'm working for free. When I told a friend that editing the newsletter was like a job, she winced. She questioned giving hours to a project that went unpaid. It was the feminist in her, I think. Why is it that we women are so willing to spend oodles of time for schools, religious organizations, community groups, extracurriculars, you name it, for zilch pay? The minute a well-educated, professional quits the workforce, or goes part time, or sometimes even if she's still doing her 40 hours, she's called upon to help out at school and usually says yes. Women warned me about this when I said I was leaving the workforce. Men certainly do their share on the athletic fields, but the vast majority of school support comes from women -- often in activities that do not involve direct involvement with their children.
  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the volunteer rate in 2009 in the United States was 30.1 percent for women and 23.3 percent for men. Those 35 to 54 years old are most likely to volunteer, and the higher the educational level, the higher the volunteer rate. In other words, highly educated women in the prime career years are giving time and talent to keep religious, educational and  youth services -- the top three organizations that get the most volunteer hours -- running successfully.
  What's the reward? Not money and definitely not admiration from the bossband, who thinks way too much time goes the way of the school newsletter. And he never really cared for his own Sunday mornings spent in hard labor over the Little League fields. It isn't bonding with my child -- unless you count the pleas for help with Word template issues and the irritated, "Mom!" as in how clueless can you be. And it isn't a Mother Theresa moment, either. While the newsletter is most certainly helpful, it's not saving the world or any one person.
  The satisfaction comes down to a job well done. It's my own little -- and we do mean little -- newspaper that's visually pleasing (when the pictures align with the text) and full of important information for the school community. The unsolicited compliments make the good girl in me beam. I'm helping my son's school succeed. And I'm keeping my writing skills sharp and even gaining some new tricks of the trade as far as editing and mastering that monster known as Word.
  Of course, that's part of the problem. Even in the workplace, compliments too often take the place of raises or bonuses. Women, too often, get sucked into giving away their skills for low wages or free. And ultimately, doesn't that devalue the work of women, especially in a culture where skill is rewarded in dollar and cents?
  I have to admit that my friend's unhappiness with my volunteer work has me thinking. And I don't see an easy solution.
  I'd love to ponder more, but I've got to go. Deadline for the next issue is three days away.

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