Tuesday, November 18, 2008


... an uninspiring topic for Spoken Word?

I have exactly one poem about work, but instead of also reading one or two off-topic pieces--I like the big picture a theme can bring to the evening--I decided to search my bookshelf for someone else's words on the subject.

It's no secret that I haven't done a whole lotta "work" since finishing my MFA last spring, but I try to make up for it at home: laundry, dishes, all the daily straightening I can stomach, the mundane and unpaid rituals performed by most women. I don't know if Naomi Wolf occurred to me before or after I thought of that, but one thing's for sure: I hate to miss a chance to share The Beauty Myth. This passage comes from the first chapter aptly titled "Work:"

"'While women represent 50 percent of the world population, they perform nearly two-thirds of all working hours, receive only one-tenth of the world income and own less than 1 percent of world property.' The 'Report of the World Conference for the United Nations Decade for Women' agrees: When housework is accounted for, 'women around the world end up working twice as many hours as men.'

Women work harder than men whether they are Eastern or Western, housewives or jobholders. A Pakistani woman spends sixty-three hours a week on domestic work alone, while a Western housewife, despite her modern appliances, works just six hours less. 'Housework's modern status,' writes Ann Oakley, 'is non-work.' A recent study shows that if housework done by married women were paid, family income would rise by 60 percent. Housework totals forty billion hours of France's labor power. Women's volunteer work in the United States amounts to $18 billion a year. The economics of industrialized countries would collapse if women didn't do the work they do for free: According to economist Marilyn Waring, throughout the West it generates between 25 and 40 percent of the gross national product.

What about the New Woman, with her responsible full-time job? Economist Nancy Barrett says that 'there is no evidence of sweeping changes in the division of labor within households coincident with women's increasing labor force participation.' Or: though a woman does full-time paid work, she still does all or nearly all the unpaid work that she used to. In the United States, partners of employed women give them less help than do partners of housewives: Husbands of full-time homemakers help out for an hour and fifteen minutes a day, while husbands of women with full-time jobs help less than half as long--thirty-six minutes. Ninety percent of wives and 85 percent of husbands in the United States say the woman does 'all or most' of the household chores. Professional women in the United States fare little better. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild found that the women in two-career couples came home to do 75 percent of household work. Married American men do only 10 percent more domestic work than they did twenty years ago. The work week of American women is twenty-one hours longer than that of men; economist Heidi Hartmann demonstrates that 'men actually demand eight hours more service per week than they contribute.' In Italy, 85 percent of mothers with children and full-time paid jobs are married to men who share no work in the home at all. The average European woman with a paid job has 33 percent less leisure than her husband. In Kenya, given unequal agricultural resources, women's harvests equaled men's; given equal resources, they produced bigger harvests more efficiently.

Chase Manhattan Bank estimated that American women worked each week for 99.6 hours. In the West, where paid labor centers on a forty-hour week, the unavoidable fact to confront the power structure is that women newcomers came from a group used to working more than twice as hard and long as men. And not only for less pay; for none."

I did get my usual jitters, the shaky voice and fumbling hands. It may even have been worse than usual because I was reading such a notoriously feminist text with an academic tone at an event meant to delight and dazzle. The last thing I wanted to be was a downer or heavy handed. But I pushed through it, replacing the citations with "blabiddy blabiddy blah," some nervous smiling and giggling. I even let my hair down to appear more feminine. Choosing to read such a passage at Spoken Word was a risk, but I also think I underestimated my audience. A few people thanked me for the enlightening reminders. One woman, French I think, even came over to my table before she left and asked for the name and author, wrote down Shakespeare when I told her I bought the book at the famous English bookstore, at which point I couldn't help but think, "My work here is done!"

It was only slightly easier to read my own words. I wonder what Naomi Wolf would have to say about my one poem about work. In any case, it's a published prize winner--California Quarterly's annual contest last year--so I can share it here... with you. If you'd like a copy of the magazine in which it appeared, (vol 33.4) click here and contact Julian Palley via email for ordering info. Be sure and tell them I sent you! (Note to self: Send more poems to CQ!)

Keep Them All

When you wait tables or teach, you don’t quit
one job for another. You keep them both,
keep them all because you need the money.

You skip a lot of meals because you're broke
or busy. You eat a lot of fast food and feel guilty
when you wait tables or teach. You don't quit

believing it will get better. You don't quit
drinking either. You drink and save up bottles,
keep them all because you need the money.

And you say you do it for the environment—
all that saving, reusing—you do it with people too.
When you wait tables or teach, you don’t quit

stockpiling lovers who ask nothing of you,
lovers you never leave and you never ask to stay.
Keep them all because you need the money.

Let them buy you dinner. Meet them for lunch.
Have sex. Keep living. Keep believing that
when you wait tables or teach, you don’t quit.
Keep them all because you need the money.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Oh, I love:

"You drink and save up bottles,/
keep them all because you need the money."


"you don’t quit / stockpiling lovers who ask nothing of you, / lovers you never leave and you never ask to stay."