So we just had our "end-of-the-semester" holiday party for the Social Sciences division. Lots and lots of food (Hugo had two brownies and a slice of apple pie). A great chance to socialize with one's colleagues and former colleagues; retired members of the division always come back for food and fun.
This morning, one of my students in my women's studies class asked me, bluntly but politely, if I just "talked the talk" of feminism or if I "walked the walk." I was clear that to the best of my ability, I do walk that feminist walk. And lo and behold, in the thirty minutes before the division party began, I found myself in the "party room" setting things up. I was with six of my female colleagues, but I was the only male prof participating in the "set-up."
We're a good-natured department, and like most college departments, we like to eat and drink together. But almost all of the time, the work of setting up and cleaning up is done by women. Our secretaries are not asked to help (though they do); most of the women who do this work are also faculty members with the same teaching loads and obligations as their male colleagues. Today, as I carefully cut pies with a very dull knife and laid out dips and veggies, I realized that I'd rather be in my office checking the Internet. But I can't very well preach egalitarianism and then leave the domestic chores of parties to my female colleagues.
I'm not asking for praise for a few moment's work. I'm simply recognizing that it is so easy for me and for other men to "not think" about who puts on the parties, lays out the napkins, slices the cake, and makes sure that the trash can has plastic liners. It's so easy to just "disappear" into the office until it's time to eat. But even though they aren't actually present, I often feel the eyes of my students on me; I know they are curious to know if my actions and my words are congruent. And though feminism is about a good deal more than small tasks of the sort I did this morning, those little chores are not insignificant, either. Next year, I'm dragging my male office mate with me to "set-up time."