I Never Signed Up to do “Men’s Work….but…

Perhaps, those who know me maybe surprised that I am making genderized statements. After all, I am that kind of girl often pigeon-holed as a Feminist. You know, feminism does not come with collar popping praises, similar to capitalism. It is too loaded, too abhorred by plenty, as much as it is celebrated and revered by others. To some, it is the “Coming of Age of a Woman as a [Public] Person”. To others, It is the end of Womanhood, as we love, know and expect of a good and worthy woman. I personally chose to stand aside and let the battles rage on.
I am a very proud woman; it is my third or fourth identity after: 1) Human; 2) Muganda; 2) Black; 4) PanAfrican; oops it is 5) Woman, in order of my identity. No one can ever take away from me the fact that I am born human; the rest I have annexed as I come of age into this world. It is possible that Black comes before Muganda, though my unequivocal allegiance to Ssabasajja Kabaka – King of Buganda supersedes my cling onto blackness. Biko grandpa got this
Then, if my “woman” identity is so far off, why I am making genderized statements that I Never Signed Up to Do Men’s Work..?
As I repeatedly say, to be human is to be contradictory. I hate to be pigeoned-holed into any form of identity, thought process, time period or affiliation. My thought process, my understanding of life, my allegiances, my desires and my commitments are as transient as my geographical belonging.
There was a time I thought it matter greatly that, My Mechanic is a Woman. Not anymore! I want my mechanic to be as knowledgeable, courteous, consistent and cost-effective, as possible. I do not know so much about cars, otherwise I would be fixing them like I do with parenting. Whereas I detest social constructionism, and repudiate structuralism, many a times, I cling on to certain structures with nostalgia.
I reminisce about the days when men and women lived their social lives in their equal right, without necessarily having to compete with each other for recognition. Men enjoyed things men do [hanging out, playing soccer, flexing muscles, and women did the same [chatting, laughing hysterically, and cooking meals], stories I learned through experience, passed on to me as tales from my mother or my social circles, or have read about.
As a woman, my grandmother, who did not go to school, commanded the house to order. My grandmother guaranteed that food was planted and grown on family land by family labor – boys or girls, gardens weeded, four Sonic 13 on all six lanesood harvested and cooked for the family to eat. She ensured that every member of her household actively engaged in household chores, kept them grounded with respectful behavior for elders, adults and the neighborhood, and supportive of one another. She was The Boss Lady in the household, who never shied away from sparing the rod..and… No! She did not climb trees to harvest the mangoes, or ladders to construct the houses and barns and kitchens. She did not fix broken bicycles or pans, or build cars with children. She was a good Muganda woman, with the necessary mechanics for sharpening a blunt knife.
My grandfather took on his role as the overall in-charge of the household, especially the financial provider for the family. He went out to work for financial compensation, paid his monthly tax burden, school tuition for over fifteen children and bought the meat, sugar, bread, whenever he could afford. He also bought the land on which his family house resides to date. Prior to his death, he demarcated a plot of land equally to each of his children regardless of their sex – girls or boys.
I can say the same about my father, who took to [not heart but] muscle being The Head of the Household. While not without his faults and shortcomings, my father ensured that school tuition fees were paid, land purchased to farm family food and build family houses, and builders paid. He bought food home, especially his favorite fish and meat, and clothed the family and toiled himself into retirement.
My mother contributed greatly to holding the family together and supported my father’s financial pursuits. She provided a clean and reliable supply of my father’s wardrobe, wore the pants and dresses whenever my father was away from home or traveled for work, supervised builders on site and ensured abundant supply of water and other building material, planted food, managed the farms and gardens and brought food on the table, contributed to the children’s wardrobe, scholastic needs and upkeep, and run the general household. She was Superwoman!
Then enters moi, who came into feminism embracing its mantra as, The Radical Notion That Women Are People, a bumper sticker on a Senior Female Law Lecturer that I greatly admired as a feminist and scholarly activist. That summed up all my attraction to feminism, as a young girl. I did not want anyone restricting the length of my dress, the style of my hair, the offices I could step into, the words I could public say, the arguments I could engage in, or the causes I chose to defend. I did not want anyone defining my public lifestyle and pursuits. I wanted to climb trees, speak about human rights violations, wear my knee-high dresses or saggy jeans pants, rock dreadlocks, party hard, and drink to this and that, whenever I felt like.
But NO! I did not want to take responsibility for climbing ladders to build or paint my house, fix my bulb, repair my car, wash my car, shove snow from the driveway, build cars, carry loads of household equipment, mow the lawn or pay my bill at a restaurant on a date. That is what men do. Nor did I sign up to be my son’s playmate, especially in ‘boys games”, or build his cars. I love watching and learning vicariously through him, but do not enjoy being the center of making it happen.
Fast forward, and here I am: dressed up as a Ninja, playing flash, sonic, spiderman, supergirl and batgirl. I am the ‘adult partner” to his Cub scout meetings, building cars, building rail tracks at home and anything boys do. I do not mind climbing trees, and chasing him around the yard. Though, I do not want the entire weight fitted onto me. I want him to build cars with boys and with males. Perhaps then, we will have a winning car in the next Pinewood Derby Car Race.Team Biko Sonic 13 at the Pinewood Derby Car Race

Job Interviewing Taboos –

We have all been to a job interview. By the time you get there, you have done a little bit of research about the institution you are interviewing with. At the very basic, you know a lot about the job profile and requirements, whether it requires travel, and have an idea about its clientele. You are told it is taboo to ask about ‘compensation’, until the prospective employer brings up the topic. Even then, it is safer to bounce the question back to the employer, and let them tell to you how much worth they think of you. Another ‘silent taboo’ is talking about family life at a job interview. Perhaps, if you are a man, indicating  you are a family man during a job interview could present you fairly, as a good family man, who wants a career to afford a good life for his family.  More than likely, if you are a man, you are not expected to spend most of your life as CEO of Home Affairs. Even in ‘liberal’, women are the primarily child rearers and homemakers/ home managers. But how about if you are a woman and a mother?

I recently read an article, “US Foreign Policy Gender Gap” by Sarah Kendzior writing in Al Jazeera, that perception and money affect the number of women in senior level foreign affairs positions. According to Kendzior, perception is related to the assumption that women are particularly diplomatic, or empathetic, or kind, while money dictates that one should be able to afford their way around, especially when competing for an internship in the nation’s major international affairs hubs like New York or Washington. As well, one should afford to fly to interview with The Economist in London or take up an unpaid internship with the United Nations involving temporary relocation to expensive global cities.

What we learn is that while money affects male or female alike, very few ambitious and talented young professionals or students from poor backgrounds can afford these opportunities, even worse mothers with small children. Already, Anne-Marie Slaughter, writing for The Atlantic in summer 2012 told us “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, not because they are not super-ambitious but due to a lack of structural support to juggle family and work life.

But something these two writers did not mention was the “deafening silence” to the “Don’t Talk about family life when job interviewing Taboo”. Sure, we can liberally give the prospective employer our physical address, indicate that we are an email or phone call away to “further explore our job interests with the recruiter”, and are “available to start work immediately ”. But we are not exactly at liberty to talk about our family situation, although I have encountered men who ‘comfortably sneaked” in their family life during a job interview. My assumption is they do it because, it projects “a responsible family man”, who prioritizes his family obligations as central to his career success. But for a mother seeking paid employment, it is quite taboo talking about “family life” in a job interview.

Picture this, you are a single mother, with a toddler and would like to be in his life, while equally working a 9-5 job, the standard full-time work hours. I have no doubt that plenty of single parents have had to ask themselves these questions, and many have excelled at work. But I doubt any or many ever brought up their marital status and family life in their job interview, maybe until after the job was offered.

I have been living abroad for the last four years in three different countries, working excellently at my job, with a balanced family, work and “me” life, thanks to the flexibility of my scholarly research career. While living abroad, I scooped plenty of interviews, and job offers, even when I brought out my family status at the first interview. At one job interview, I stated upfront that I am was a single parent, and wished to balance “family, work and me life”, and asked for a flexible work schedule that would allow me drop off my son at school, and pick-up him up at the end of the school day, before the typical end of work day, and also take a personal day off each week. I got the job on my terms, with my son at the center, and with me as a single mother.

Now that I am back in the United States with a richer career experience, I am having trouble articulating “my three-tier life” to any prospective employer. In typical consultancy or NGO employment, plenty of work is done offsite of the employing office – we carry office work on our mobile phones, at home, on the plane and in coffee shops. And while we sign up for a 9-5, we usually put in more hours than we are paid. For one of my employers abroad, I had agreed to a 10:00a to 3:00p from Monday to Thursday work schedule. Yet, I arrived two hours earlier every work day, and also worked on some Fridays, my weekly day off. Whenever I went out to conduct field research and training of village communities away from my office and home base, I spent three days away from my son, without compensation for the nights-out for work.

So, why is it a taboo to ask a prospective employer to factor in the life of a single parent, trying to balance work-family-and-me life? I am aware that having an international career and a degree from a US university might have reflected favorably to my employers abroad, most of whom were in the international affairs realm. But I would like to be accorded similar consideration from employers in international affairs back here in the United States. Most probably though, employers in the US have in the back of their mind concern for, “who will take care of her child while she is at work”, especially when she has to travel to sites away from home? Similar concerns exist whether one is applying for international affairs positions, as a waitress at the local Red Lobster Restaurant, or as a Sales Associate at Walmart.

But all is not lost for single “family-centralist” mothers. As Sarah Kendzior says, for women, [and for single mothers [or single fathers] one has to recreate their professional ambitions, by perhaps becoming a writer or blogger. I know plenty of [single] mothers who have quit lavishly paying and professionally rewarding careers to go on their own and have afforded the ability to put their children’s central. Handy and artistic work is another option that single mothers could pursue. If you are into academia, there are possibilities of teaching, student counseling, or organizing summer camps and student internships abroad, with a flexible schedule. However, getting your footstep in the door is the first mighty step to take. Still, that might not come easily, by telling the prospective employer that – “I am a single mother and I have a five-year old”. That is still a Taboo to Job Interviewing! Image