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As a young feminist who tries hard to be politically conscious and active, and who recently finished reading the fabulous book you co-wrote with Jennifer Baumgardner, I have a question about feminism and the volunteer force. I am one of the recently chosen co-directors of the Student Volunteering and Service Program at my university in Atlanta, and the vast majority of our volunteers (around 70%) are female. I understand the argument that this type of work can actually reinforce the idea of a women's unpaid workforce, but I also feel that it's important for students of all genders (at this wealthy, private school) to go out and volunteer. Especially since we try and emphasize the Mutual Gain Theory of community service in hopes of breaking down stereotypes about poverty and other issues of class, race, and even gender.

My question is, how can I help to alleviate the gender gap in service work? And what type of encouragement should we be providing students with, so that they begin to educate themselves on the politics of volunteering? I don't want to necessarily specifically target boys because I feel that would use up resources on just one gender and might send out the message that the boys who AREN'T helping us are somehow more important than the girls who ARE.

Furthermore, I don't want to neglect those young women who are just coming into the university and might sense that our target for new members of the volunteer corps are the males in their class. One staff member suggested that boys maybe just need more encouragement to volunteer and we should be planning events for them, but that brings me back to my first concern. Do you have any suggestions on how to attract males, reiterate the importance and value of females, and educate people on the fact that volunteering is only the first step and should lead to more political activism? Before I end this, I just want to take a moment to thank you and Ms. Baumgardner for a wonderful and inspiring book. I am recommending Manifesta to all of my friends to read, and so far they have all reacted as positively as I did. Congratulations on an important work well written!


Piper Beatty

Dear Piper,

Your job actually sounds great and sounds directly related to Jennifer's and my next book -- tentatively titled Recipe Tested: An Idea Bank For Activism. This book is a natural outgrowth of Manifesta's last chapter -- What is Activism, and is a direct response to the many queries I had received at Ask Amy, at lectures, through Third Wave Foundation (which is people writing and asking How Can I Get Involved), etc... The desire is there and the issues needing of attention are certainly there, but what's missing is tangible ways to actually engage people. For instance, when someone does take the time to make an initiative to get involved, the usual response is "call your politician, give money and volunteer", which usually amounts to gift bag stuffing. It's not that volunteering is inherently wrong, but if it's not meaningful it doesn't create systemic change and it usually creates disillusionment among the volunteers. I maintain that people want more. They can volunteer, but that they want to feel that they are giving more than their time. I hope that there is a way for you to explore this through your program. This is what we are attempting to do in Recipe Tested and actually if you have tangible examples we would love to include them, so please share if you have time.

The point that we were trying to make in Manifesta could actually be applied to other disciplines, not just volunteering. Sadly it seems that anything that is more than 70% female is inherently less valuable. For instance, nursing vs. physician assistant, bookkeeper vs. accountant, volunteer vs. activist. The point isn't to do away with it or any of these things, but to add value to them. One of the ways to do that, as you have identified, is to engage men. Perhaps men stay away because they sense something and judge it to be a "female thing". In fact, most men probably do associate it with their mothers and it's not that they aren't interesting, but they don't always see it as inclusive of them. So the trick seems to be to make it accessible to them. For instance, by calling it "activism" or by highlighting the actual tasks that need to be done, we make these tasks appealing to men so that they might engage in them. Enjoy.



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