Imagine, being in a foreign place, acting as an instructor for a STEM related summer course. One of the students, someone that you know relatively well professionally, gets very sick and he has to go to the hospital. His condition, while stabilising, requires care, and naturally, the expectation is that I care for him, meanwhile doing the job I was paid to do in addition.
I’m reaching that age where I am moving from maiden to mother and I guess it should be no surprise that also means that I am perceived as a natural caregiver. Partly it is my disposition and circumstance. I do actually care about this student and want him to get better and I am wiling to make sure that he has the proper medication and the support that he needs and I know him better than anyone else here. I cannot imagine the anxiousness of being in a foreign country needing medical attention and navigating things in a language one does not understand, but I also know that, even if I bring it on myself, I won’t be paid more, either monetarily or in esteem, for playing this role.
If anything, I’m merely assuming my more “natural” position, it being weird that I should be a teacher of technical things in the front of the classroom to start with.
But what bothers me the most, I guess, is that when my payment comes, the money I get for instructing summer school will represent the thing that I have decided to commit my time and energy to and yet I will have had to work more, if I include the services I am expected to give to others. This is the double burden. This is how we fail women. We make them work harder and call it an equal playing field.
And truth be told, I value these caring roles. I like taking care of people. I want to make sure the student that is suffering is okay. I find that caring is a meaningful and fulfilling way to connect with other beings — to give them love and to ease their anxieties. It’s just while performing these roles, the attitudes of those around me shape-shift and the way people talk to me changes. People start to talk down to me in ways they would never do when I am playing the role of Frau Dr. Professor. They are patronising. They are expecting. They are presumptuous. For example, one student, someone very much my junior looked at me and said, “well someone has to take care of him” suggesting I fill that role instead of offering himself for that position.
It’s not just that we have a pay gap, ladies and gentlemen, it is that we have its a gap in our respect for feminized work and those that perform it. We have a gap in our understanding about how much time someone like me, despite not having kids, despite prioritising my career, still has to (or is expected to) spend in the service of others even though we try to limit it with our choices. Its symptomatic of what we call “an unequal playing field.” It encourages micro-agressions. It perpetuates stress and contributes to the leaky pipeline. It takes the value away from tasks and jobs that are essential to our wellbeing as individuals and society.