On Friday afternoon, I went into the main branch of the Tacoma Public Library to check out some digital media equipment (film camera, tripod, extra cables, mic, etc.) for a no-budget film collaboration. I hadn’t been planning on doing this. I had written the script, worked on graphics, found a last minute location, and was now figuring out the AV equipment we would need to do our shoot. I was anticipating my collaborators on the project would take care of some of this, but as the day wore on, I was feeling more and more like I was back in seventh grade and stuck in a bad group project. [By the end of the day, I decided to move forward on the project solo.]
The intake process took two hours: 15 minutes, interrupted by the staff person’s scheduled break, then another 30 minutes. For part of this time, my ex, a media technician at a university, was present because he was going to help carry equipment. He couldn’t stay the full time as he was just trying to help on his lunch break. So, it would be me alone, juggling our daughter, the stack of books she and I wanted to check out, and the equipment. While my ex was present, the staff member asked me some questions about my background, and announced, “Oh, so it sounds like I don’t need to tell you basics like the rule of thirds…” I agreed he did not.
The staff member then asked if I had experience teaching: I do. I taught ESL in Japan, was a Teaching Assistant for the University of Washington’s Study Abroad Film program in Athens, Greece, and more. He was excited, because they have a summer film program for kids where they guide kids in translating Newberry Award Winners into minute-long films. Would I be interested in teaching? Of course, I would be interested in being considered for any paid positions they may have.
“Great! The number of MAs [Masters of Arts] that come through here can be counted on one hand. I’ll contact you next time we need a volunteer.”
My ex heard it, too.
He heard me state I was interested in paid work. And the staff member said he would contact me later to ask me to work for free.
He did not make the same request of the Media Technician.
The male staff member saw a woman with a high degree of education and experience in multiple fields, who was already engaged in unpaid childcare at home, and thought: “Let me add to that.”
He’s not alone.
I have done my time working for “exposure.” I have put in more hours than I can count volunteering for social justice causes. For unfunded arts organizations.
I have been saying no to requests for my unpaid labor since leaving my last job: which in large part was because I was tired of being underpaid and overworked, and seeing my checks go in large part to paying for childcare.
In my early twenties, before I had a child, I had a strict diet of a can of corn, a can of beans, and a cup of rice stretched over several meals: repetitively, sometimes with burrito shells and cheese, because that was how I stretched my paycheck from the local community colleges I worked for.
It was always with the idea that if I worked my ass off then, someday it would pay off.
If I did unpaid or underpaid labor then, someday, I would not be struggling.
It was bullshit then. And it’s bullshit now.
I have passion projects that I will work on for free. I have collaborated on projects in order to build my skills in areas, or just because it’s fun. I am creative, and I like making things. Like oversized turtle and cardboard robot costumes. Or parties that celebrate women artists. Or logos for a friend trying to help refugees in his home country.
But when I have skills that others recognize are valuable, I want those skills to be treated as valuable.
I have invested years in learning how to manage a classroom, lead projects, write, edit, explain basic and advanced grammatical concepts, structure stories for a wide variety of audiences, do layout, design, and get projects ready for print.
I have skipped concerts and time with family because I was interviewing protesters in Russia, reading books on political science and law in the corners of libraries (and bars, which are sometimes quieter given undergrads can’t go there), writing essays and presentations, dragging the pen tool, cleaning work paths, and squinting at pixels.
I have spent years on phones and computers tracking resources for others struggling to make ends meet.
I have done the work.
I have proven my commitment to others and the community.
But a community that keeps asking me to work for free for some fake future reward down the road has not shown any kind of commitment to me. To be honest: if I accepted this opportunity from the library, which would involve a several week commitment, I would have to work for less than free. I actually would have to pay for this volunteer opportunity. It’s not free to park downtown in front of the library. It’s not free to take the bus there. It’s not free if someone else has to watch my 7-year-old so I can volunteer with teens.
It’s not right to make demands of women’s time and labor without fair compensation.
Especially if you wouldn’t expect a man to do the same.
In response to support from others to this idea, I am initiating an incubator to provide the kind of institutional support that women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ independent researchers and artists currently lack in our community. Join me in getting this off the ground.
Writers, artists, researchers, and historians from underrepresented populations are losing out on opportunities in terms of access, money, and more. Much of this is due to not being welcomed and/ or feeling comfortable participating in the established institutions that officials first look to for experts. When individuals from underrepresented populations do show up, we find events led by white men, who primarily talk about other white men (dead or alive). When women are discussed, all too often we find it’s in the context of being wives of either the presenter or the subject, victims, or visual aids (women greeting returning soldiers on docks). Queer and people of color are often entirely erased from our city’s historical narratives. Women, queer, and non-white narratives are often presented as one-off or special events, and not interwoven into the larger historical context. Research has shown that in order to be considered for professional opportunities, women are often expected to have much higher levels of education than men for similar roles. Despite various agencies’ calls for equality in funding, we face sexual harassment, gender discrimination, ageism, and more before we can even get to the point to apply for funding. Without the support of established networks, we don’t have the same reach for resources that come with membership in these older institutions. When women are left with the added duty of childcare, we don’t have the resources to attend networking events, particularly those in the evening, which further separates us from those in decision making roles.
In order to begin to address some of the long-standing problems, the incubator will be designed to:
- Engage in thorough analyses of cultural activities and funding based on gender, race, and other factors.
- Provide quarterly platforms for presentations of research and creative projects across a broad spectrum of fields, including but not limited to: social justice, environmental science, math and technology, art, film, media, history, and more.
- Host working salons for those seeking feedback on works-in-progress with experts in the related fields.
- Provide assistance in form of grant writing workshops, partnerships with city and other large organizations, and more.
- Provide training to local institutions/ arts communities regarding removing barriers for women getting into the STEAM fields.
- Help secure partnerships with larger institutions for incubator participants by speaking to quality of participants’ work.
- Help secure childcare, transportation, equipment, and necessary membership/ association fees for participants who want to engage field research.
- Provide professional workshops for women, transgender, and non-binary individuals at no-cost.
- Encourage and provide the support necessary to mother researchers to stay engaged in work across a wide spectrum of fields.
- Provide a printing press for anthologies and solo works by selected incubator participants.
- Provide child friendly networking events so that parent researchers can engage with peers.
- Engage in fundraising activities as necessary to secure the longevity of the organization.
(*The above list is a starting point and is open to revision.)
If you want to help with this project (volunteer, host organization, sponsor, etc.), please email email@example.com with the subject line “Incubator.”
Our initial meeting with be Saturday, June 22, at 11 a.m. Location to be determined based on number of attendees. A Facebook event will also be created for RSVP purposes.
Feel free to share.