“Mrs. Marlowe, we’d like you to be part of our new committee!”
Most of you who work in any office know that that sentence doesn’t bode well. The correct way to respond is to throw yourself on the ground and curl up into the fetal position while sobbing.
The committee I was being asked to be on was the “Sunshine Committee.” I was being asked by an administrator whose secret nickname among the staff rhymed with, uh, Rick, so let’s just call him that. He was standing in front of my desk in the librarian, where I deliberately sat while checking in books to show him I didn’t have time to talk to him. I looked at him with a faint smile on my face and said, “Why?”
The question clearly caught him off-guard. “What?”
“Why do you want me to be part of this committee?”
“Oh, well the Sunshine committee will be in charge of helping with birthday celebrations and spotlighting employees that go above and beyond –“
“Right,” I interrupted, “I get that, but why?” I kept smiling, but now it had a bit of an edge to it. Sunshine? Clearly this wasn’t going to be something that fit my personality.
“We feel it would be a fun way to recognize –“
“No, I mean, why do you want ME to be on the committee?” I had an idea why, and I knew it wasn’t going to be fun, but really, I just wanted him to articulate it.
“Oh, well, since you’re the librarian, we thought it might be something you’d enjoy.” He then named five other very FEMALE teachers who were going to be on the committee. I was pretty sure none of them volunteered, and also pretty sure that not a single male teacher was asked to be part of it, even Mr. Cohen, who was gay.
“So it’s going to meet each Monday afternoon, and you’ll collect donations from the staff to get cakes to celebrate birthdays once a month. Also –“
“I don’t think I’d be the right person to have on the committee. I don’t even celebrate my own birthday.” This was partly a lie, but partly true, because I never mentioned my birthday to my co-workers and took a personal day when it came around each year. The best way to celebrate is in a place where one is happy, and TCS certainly wasn’t it. Plus, I was irritated by the blatant sexism of it. Why would he think that because I’m female, I like buying cakes and planning birthday parties? I can’t even wrap a present properly.
“That’s not a problem; you’ll just need to –“
“Wouldn’t it be more helpful to bring in a teacher who’s been here longer than I have? I would assume you’d want someone who knows the staff members well and who has a bit more free time.”
“That’s why we thought of you!” Rick had a big smile on his face, which made it clear that he hadn’t listened to what I just said, and made it even more clear that I needed to punch him in the face.
“I’m not sure why, because I don’t have any off periods.” His smile began to sag a bit. I could tell that he hadn’t talked to anyone. Maybe I should have asked him who the “we” was.
“Uh, you don’t have any off periods?” he asked lamely.
“No, because the principal wants me to keep the library open when I’m not holding class, and I have yearbook meetings after school, so I’m not sure when I’d have time to meet with the committee, much less to go out to buy cakes during the school day.”
“Oh, don’t worry about the details, we can work that out later once you all start meeting.” I felt stupidly impressed by how he was still smiling and refusing to go down easily. I shook my head and was about to respond when it became clear that he didn’t want to talk anymore. “Mrs. Lawson will be contacting you later today to talk about when you’ll meet.” He started to turn away.
Now I was furious. “Great, because I’ll have some suggestions for her of who she should ask instead.” I turned back to my pile of books and started scanning them.
He turned around, blinking. “Well, the committee is set.”
The heck it was. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to help because of my previously ASSIGNED duties, like the yearbook and the library. But I’m sure there’s someone else who’d be a real asset to the group. Have you asked Coach Beeker? Or what about Mr. Cohen? He loves parties.” I watched as Rick stared at me, uncomprehendingly.
“I doubt they’d be interested. They’re pretty busy,” Rick said dismissively.
Busy because they're men? I was silent, hoping that he would realize what he just said. He just stared back at me and after a second or two, I said quietly, “All of US TEACHERS are busy.”
“Oh, yes, of course!” I could see his mind working frantically behind his glasses.
“I’d suggest asking Coach Beeker or Mr. Cohen because I’m sure you’d agree that we need a DIVERSE group to represent the school. It wouldn’t look good to have only FEMALE teachers on the committee, don’t you think?”
Rick opened his mouth and then stopped. I think he was about to respond, but realized what I was saying. I stood up and said, “My students are about to come in for class. Can we talk about this after school?”
“Okay,” he said shortly and walked out.
The good news is that I didn’t GET to be on the Sunshine Committee, but sadly, neither did Coach Beeker or Mr. Cohen. According to Mrs. Lawson, the committee met for a month and then never met again, after Rick had said they needed to get staff donations to pay for the monthly birthday cakes. The staff didn’t like this idea because birthday cake never tastes as good when you pay for it yourself.
But I did buy two packages of Oreos and take them around to the former members of the Sunshine committee to celebrate its demise.