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‘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)

6 Comments

  1. Roxana Rusowsky

    February 15, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Feel the same way!

  2. sweetpea

    February 15, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Im a stay at home mom and Im on two committees at my kids` school. I also do lunchtime duty (which is a paid role, tho not much). I understand your point about how these meetings go, and the fact that men are non-existant in these situations. men tend to volunteer in physical ways. there is one man who does lunch duty at our school but he`s a grandfather of one of the students. all other volunteers and lunch crew are women.
    i have been out of the workforce for 10 years, and im starting to get my feet wet out there again. i have put all my volunteer work in there because it shows that i havent been sitting around eating candy and watching soaps, which is the impression i think a lot of people have about stay at home moms. but more importantly i think i shows that ive been involved in fact finding and organizing, im actually the head of one of the committees. that meams something to me, and i think it shows i have leadership ability.

    • Frances

      February 16, 2012 at 10:39 am

      I think it’s important to put volunteer work on your resume. I used to volunteer at a domestic violence crisis shelter in the Bronx. I put this on my resume and it’s helped me to get numerous writing gigs for women’s charities. From what I’ve seen, PTA work can be serious business. I would definitely take it into consideration if I was looking to hire someone.

  3. Frances

    February 16, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I tried to do the PTA thing at my daughter’s school a few times, and I always left feeling terrible about myself. I was a younger mom, and most of the other women were 10 years older than me, or more.

    I would get shafted on being included in unscheduled meetings about upcoming projects, and when I asked about it I would get a condescending ” We assumed you’d be working…you know in your situation”. What situation? I’m a married woman who freelances from home. I always felt like I was back in high school, and I wasn’t part of the “cool clique”.

    It’s sad, because I feel like I have a lot to give. I’m thinking of trying it again in my daughter’s new school, but as much as I want to help make the school a better place for my kids, I don’t know if I can face the rejection again. A friend of mine told me they already assume I’m either a second wife and that my oldest is my step child (I’m not and she isn’t) or that I must have been 14 when I had her (I was 20, I just look like a teenager, lol). I’m college educated and I have a great career, why do I feel like a piece of crap next to these upper middle class SAHMs?

    • sweetpea

      February 16, 2012 at 1:59 pm

      Frances, its a shame that you had that experience. I was afraid mine would be the same, but luckily our school is relatively middle class, and not a lot of people do volunteer.
      Perhaps you should try again, and maybe spearhead something you`d like to see done; others of like mind may just decide to join you and balance things out against the snobby moms 🙂

  4. ptadad

    November 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    I’m male and I’m on the board at the PTA at my son’s school. I’m also a business owner. I’m convinced the reason that more men don’t join the PTA is that the women drive them nuts. The meetings go on forever, and they’re too social. No one shuts up long enough for the men to get a word in edgewise. Men want to see results when they volunteer, not talk about things ad nauseum.

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