Feminism | Posted by Alison L on 07/17/2013

The Job You Never Realized You Had

One time the engineering class at my all-girls high school (yes, my school was that awesome) went to a near-by all-boys school to hear a speaker give a presentation about entrepreneurship, financial independence and math/STEM related topics. At one point during the presentation he asked for the students who had jobs or work experience to raise their hands.

Almost all of the boys raised their hands… and almost none of the girls did.

It was a little jarring. Were girls lazier than boys? If we lacked job experience—what else did we lack? Is studying not enough? Is this why men have more opportunities and potentially better careers than women?

Before my thoughts spiraled into a full-fledged feminist identity crisis, my teacher turned to my classmates and shout-whispered to us, “Girls! I know some of you have babysat before—what are you doing? Raise your hands!”

A few hands belatedly shot up into the air, but it seemed like the damage was done. At this all-boys school, the message received by the general public was: girls don’t work and boys do. It was like the 1950s all over again.

However, the message to me was: woah, babysitting is a job? Then I thought about it more and DUH BABYSITTING IS A JOB. Since I am not exactly maternal or obsessed with small children like some teenage girls, I think babysitting is less than thrilling and can be pretty painful (especially when a little boy starts playing “Whack-a-mole” with your head). However, babysitting teaches many valuable lessons and skills. Babysitting requires punctuality, attention, care, and creativity. It is a huge responsibility to watch and protect someone else’s children — their pride and joy, etc. and truly is real work, a real job.

And speaking of the boys who raised their hands and had jobs: I had to wonder if maybe some of the things that to them qualified as jobs were similar to things girls do but don’t consider a skill or task worthy of pay. For example, I’d be willing to bet that a lot of these boys raised their hands for being paid to mow lawns or clear snowy driveways, while girls were similarly busy helping out with making dinner or taking care of siblings or cleaning — things boys generally don’t do at home and things girls don’t expect to get paid for, but do because it’s just part of growing up girls.

And yet, none of us girls recognized these things as work. I don’t know if that is because we are conditioned to see things like babysitting or house-cleaning as a rite of passage, or if we weren’t “leaning in” a la Sheryl Sandberg, or if this is just an example of how little regard people have for the profession of childcare and housekeeping. It is “natural” for us, and for some reason that seems less impressive than caddying or working at a grocery store. I have a few friends who have put their nannying and babysitting experience on resumes–and I was skeptical at first. “What does that show? What experience do you have from that?” Besides learning patience, maintaining positive energy, and becoming a great bedtime negotiator, babysitters have to balance fun and safety and resources and cleanliness and chaos.

As the daughter of a stay-at-home mom and a former babysitter, I know that childcare is hard work—and after this realization, I will be sure to acknowledge it as such.

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