Do you ever have those conversations with people where you realise they just have absolutely no clue, but a hell of a lot of words to say about it anyway?
I keep finding that those conversations happen, a lot, around the invisible work of being a woman*.
For instance, I am in the last year of my PhD. I also picked up some teaching, some freelance work, I have a book chapter and a journal article due, all in the next three months. All of which is getting done in the 32 or so hours my daughter is at school, and whatever other time I can eke out around the edges. I also have a household to run – the beauty and the horror of the PhD is the freedom. I can take my daughter to school. Sounds idyllic right? Except, like Bluemilk illustrates, it’s actually a series of stupid, tedious, stressful tasks that you have to get out of the way then hit the ground running when you get to work.
I’m ‘lucky’ (god how I loathe that) because my partner gets up with our daughter, feeds her breakfast, while I shower. Then he leaves – usually with a lunch I bought while doing groceries, or leftovers from the meal that I cooked – and I am the one getting her dressed, trying to instil a routine so we don’t lose readers and library books, making lunch for the pair of us*, remembering what she’s doing today – is it starting in Japanese or English, they do their morning tea differently depending, does she need a family photo? a book? vegetables? is it swimming or library? how many more days will the bread last oh wait it’s mouldy already great, have we got enough fruit, a million small decisions before I’ve even had breakfast. ‘Front load decisions’ my arse.
And god forbid one of us is upset at any point in the morning. Because then both of us are – again, the curse and the horror, this time because my daughter and I are highly empathic.
Then, when I finally hit my desk, I have to move myself out of the domestic space and into the intellectual. Did I mention the dinner decisions being made in the morning as well? And chores too – uniforms need washing, dishes need doing, these are the non-negotiables. Don’t look at my floors and there’s no five second rule at Chez Wolf. Then, after five hours, I bolt for the bus and pick up my daughter and listen to her read and talk about her day and hang out that load of washing, if I remember to hit go before I left, do the dishes if I didn’t get a chance in the morning, play with my kid and maybe get something read while she’s otherwise occupied. Sometimes that looks like her playing Skylanders while I make notes and cheerfully affirm how awesome it is she’s powered up again or vanquished a boss on her own. Sometimes that looks like begging her for peace and quiet because French feminist theory needs more than a cursory read. Sometimes that looks like TV and me hiding in the kitchen. Because I also prep dinner, so in a twisted mimicry of my grandmother’s life, I can have dinner on the table for my hungry hungry husband. It also means I can get another solid 30 minutes after dinner of work, maybe. All in a tiny house listening to them play, obviously.
And I’m mum, so I get all the questions, I have all the answers. Am I in the kitchen with my hands full and headphones on? Now is definitely the time to ask me where something should go. What we’re doing on the weekend. I’m some goawful mix of Executive and Executive’s Assistant, and that isn’t actually going to get fixed by chore charts or dishwashers. It isn’t fixed by making sure I don’t burden my partner with more work – which is what most of the BS advice about time management for mothers comes down to. Outsource, hire someone, lower your standards, just never expect your partner to work like you do.
And this is all work that I do. On top of the 40 hours I’m supposed to put into the PhD. On top of the 3 paid/5 in reality at least that I teach. On top of the freelance work.
But some ignorant asshole knows far better than me, and since my kid is so ‘nice’ and ‘quiet’ I can get heaps more work done when she’s around – never mind she’s so engaged because I engage with her instead of ignoring her. That I can just do my work at night, after she goes to bed. He did that you see, programming, obviously much harder than just reading and writing, right? He couldn’t work when the kids were awake – even though his wife was actually there and doing the bulk of parenting and housework – but obviously I can. He got to change his sleep patterns, and leave all that other stuff to the missus, but obviously it’s the same, right? Work comes before the child.
My child deserves better than that. I deserve better than that. I deserve better than some asshole with no clue about my industry, with no clue about how to run a household, telling me how to do my work.
So I change the subject and move on. Shit like that doesn’t deserve my emotional labour. I’m better than this, better than he would ever, will ever, give me credit for. And I do it one handed, backwards and in high heels, with a child at my breast or my hip or my feet, with the weight of the world telling me I’m doing it wrong.
*I think it’s probably the same for non-white people, and people with disabilities, and so on. I know it happens around mental illness for me as well, and parenting, and class, so I assume it is pretty endemic along the axis of privilege.