Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

26 March 2009

Working as a Professional Feminist

This post is for the Fem2.0 "What is work?" blog carnival.

I've never stopped to think of what work means to me. It's just one of those words that you take for granted. But as I stop to ponder my relationship with the word, it's amazing.

As a Latina of Mexican heritage, work is not a four-letter word. Lazy is. Despite the stereotype of Mexicans & our siestas, we work hard. In fact I didn't know what a siesta really meant until I got to Spanish class in 7th grade. A siesta in my household meant taking five minutes for some iced tea. I haven't studied our relationship with work to know if Latin@s are taught to work hard to fight against the stereotype or we just work hard naturally. Pollo - huevo. Either way, it was drilled in me early on that we work hard for what we have. And that continues to this day.

I know that I am privileged in a way that sometimes overshadows my very humble lower income background. I have a bachelors and a masters degree. I am married to a man who is also a college-educated Latino. We met before either of us had our degrees. Considering that only 12% of Latinos have college degrees (pdf!) I would say that's quite a privilege in this economy.

I am mostly privileged in that I call myself a professional feminist because I have a job that allows me, wants me to do feminist work every day and I love it. Yes, it's work in that there are days where the clock just creeps by. It's work that I have to raise money so that I can do work. My salary might be paid by the state, but the programs I plan are paid by funds I raise. It's also very hard work getting students to come out for a program that they request, but somehow life gets in the way of them attending. I like to describe my job as being a grassroots organizer for women majoring in science & engineering. I have to herd them and sometimes bribe them with pizza. It's hard work.

I also have to break their hearts and that's really the hardest part. When a students asks me why we don't have infant care. When a student asks me why a general science course is so "hard" and doesn't understand why a 50% is passing in college. The cold truths of academia breaks some of them and my job is to tell it like it is, but also instill some hope that if we all work together, maybe, just maybe things will change.

And that's why I call myself a professional feminist. I'm not professional in that I'm churning out book after book. I'm not professional because I get paid thousands of dollars to speak (althou if you want, just ask!). I'm professional in that I get paid to work for educational and economic equity by supporting young women who want to be scientists and engineers. Some days that menas helping them network. Some days that means seeing yet another student tell me how her professor let the men in the class "be boys" during lecture.

I'm a campus feminist, but I'm sending my students out into the world and arming them with feminist tools.

Now as a new freelance writer/pro-blogger, work is different. That work looks frivolous to many. Images of sitting in a wifi'd cafe come to mind and honestly, that is where some of my best work is born. But some days it is harder than herding undergraduates. It's almost like always being in graduate school. Research, citations, editing and then waiting for validation in comments or emails from readers. Or the rejection email. It's still work, but it's invisible to most.

Yet the most invisible of all my work is mothering.

Oddly it is the work that I think moms get the most recognition from.

People may ask how I do so much or give me kudos for doing so much, but rarely do people want to hear the gory & hilarious details of mothering. Currently I've discovered that if I fall bask to sleep after I wake up my daughter, she wants to surprise me by getting dressed & washed up. This allows her to come, wake ME up and then I say, "Oh! You're dressed!" This does nothing to speed things up in the morning, but it does bring the "Come on!" and screaming down to almost nothing. And honestly, that's worth the extra 5 minutes we're always running late by.

Mothering is a lot of work and the emotional toll is the hardest part.

Do I think we should get paid for mothering? No. Do I think we should have paid leave, paid sick days and affordable child care? Yes. There's a world of difference between being paid to have children and having a society that values all children.

So what is work?

Work is the stuff we do each day for our loved ones, to pay the rent and in order to take a vacation once every few years. Work is work. You know what it is because it makes you sweat.

1 comments:

Your university job sounds really interesting, and important, too. Keep up the good work, on ALL your work fronts. (I wish that getting ready for school trick worked at our house.)