'Tis the season for PTA overdrive - parties, auctions, Summer Fairs etc.
Our school just had their marquee fundraising auction event, and the handful of people who were in charge of it were, of course, mums. Working mums at that, all with multiple children (one with 4!!). They did an absolutely amazing job, pulling off a well-orchestrated and fun event and raising a whopping £100K+ for the school.
Lately, though, I've been thinking a lot about why, exactly, the absolute busiest people end up taking on these tasks, and why they're all women.
I've done my fair share of volunteering for the PTA over the years. When my oldest son started at the school nursery, I dutifully signed up to volunteer to be a rep because...well, I don't know why other than an instinctual sense of duty to help. And even though being a rep inevitably results in me questioning why the hell I decided to do it, I go back and do it again. Again - that almost pathological sense of duty and desire to help.
Lately though I've been thinking harder about this impulse. I'm very curious and maybe envious of all those mothers who feel no need to volunteer. And the dads - well, no one really expects them to volunteer...certainly not for the PTA - so the thought probably rarely enters their mind. (I don't like to stereotype so will acknowledge that dads do a lot of volunteering in the sports arena; and at our school the PTA secretary is a dad, which is great.)
Do these people have it right, and I, and all the other mum volunteers, have it wrong? I have always prided myself on my willingness to help, I have a very strong impulse to give back, I love the sense of community this volunteer work creates. But I am also keenly aware, and concerned, that it's even more unpaid labour that women shoulder (on top of the domestic duties), at the expense of our careers, our earning power and our social power.
I did research on what the stats are about gender differences in volunteering - and was surprised to learn that, contrary to my immediate experience, there aren't big differences in the level of participation among women and men, though there is variation depending on full-time/part-time employment status and other factors. There is also a difference in the types of volunteering men vs women will do and, as in other spheres of life, men are more confident that women about the value of their contribution.
But I think this Reddit thread perfectly sums up the thinking i'm increasingly tempted by: