‘It’s Women’s Work’ And Other Reasons I Hate The PTA

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PTA meetingI just joined the PTA at my daughter’s preschool. Well, the modern-day equivalent of the PTA – which is to say, a subcommittee of the Parent Teacher Association. Even though I am a freelancer who works from home and has a lot of free time, I’ve been avoiding participating more in the PTA. Partly because I’m not a joiner, partly because I’m lazy, partly because I’m a little bit allergic to my assumption of what PTA would be: A bunch of stay-at-home-moms with too much time on their hands forming committees for which I’d be aggressively recruited.

But when a mom whom I like (and who has a demanding full-time job) asked me to join her committee, to help put on an event that seemed fun and cool, I decided I really couldn’t make excuses any more. I don’t have a busy schedule right now, and this project had a short lifespan (the event was just a few weeks away). I decided it would just be lame to say no, and then have the mom watch me trot off to the gym.

During the second committee meeting, I was miserable. The committee comprised about 10 women: diverse ethnically and socially, and all interesting individually, some with full-time jobs, some part-time, and some with work status unknown to me. But within the group, I felt uncomfortable and claustrophobic, as I suspected I would. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, though.

The meeting felt meandering and chaotic. There were lots of ideas floating around, people sharing anecdotes, engaging in sidebar conversations, and not getting to the bottom of any of the points needing resolution. The personalities were dominant, dynamic, sometimes confrontational. There were too many leaderly types and not enough consensus. It reminded me of meetings I’d had at full-time jobs, at magazines that were what we called “top-heavy” – too many senior people, too few mid- to lower-level executees.

I left the meeting and promptly emailed the committee head to ask if we could have a physical agenda next time, and possibly some ground rules for speaking, and apologized if I was being “too corporate.” She agreed about the agenda and gave me the authority to make some decisions as a subcommittee head.

I realized what was bugging me about the dynamic was something I’d read in women’s magazines but hadn’t experienced myself. That volunteer work is real work, and that depending on what you do, you should put it on your resume, particularly if you’ve been a mom who left the work force and wants to return to it. That skills used in committee meetings on the PTA are valuable skills used to run businesses. And then I had to wonder, why aren’t all of these women running businesses – or at least helping to? In fact, many of them are. They’re also volunteering to make the school more efficient, effective and successful in their free time.

One of the things that’s always bugged me about the Parents Association at our school is that there aren’t any men in it. I’m not sure why. My first thought was it’s because the men are busy at their full-time day jobs that they are being paid to do, and they can’t afford to give their time away. But I know men do volunteer, and I know some of them must volunteer at their kids’ schools. But why don’t I ever see them? Is it the same reason that there aren’t as many male teachers as there are females – that education is still largely considered the purview of women?

I know this thesis is going to irk people who jump up and say, “But my husband volunteers!” Am I being narrow-minded? I asked a friend whose husband stays home part time with their kids, and she told me that he does volunteer for the school – he coaches their T-ball team – and that if fundraising was needed, he’d organize a March Madness pool or a softball league between teachers and parents.

In addition to coaching sports team, men serve on boards of corporations in their free time. Is it because those activities – making business decisions and playing ball – are considered more “male?” Of course, women are on plenty of boards of companies, too, and they’re coaching the sports teams as well, but they’re still also largely running the PTAs – and working at their full-time, or part-time jobs, and probably still mostly running the households, too. I know I’m making a lot of generalizations here about institutionalized sexism but, in the case of our Parents Association, I think the purpose of the activities, besides fundraising, is to create community and a sense of family within the school. Are those values men don’t find important to pursue?

I’m going to stay on my committee and try to do good work there. I don’t know if I’ll put it on my resume, though, because will it actually help me get paying work? I just can’t imagine it ever would.

(Photo: Digital Vision)