The Unseen Layers: Gender Bias in Home Baking Requests: Re-evaluating Parent Volunteerism in Schools
Volunteering at schools is an age-old tradition that serves to support the educational institution and provide parents with an opportunity to be involved in their child’s school life. Volunteering takes many forms, ranging from a canteen/ tuckshop roster to helping at fundraising events, from assisting teachers to requests for home baking for tuckshop or events. It is the request for home baking that needs a fresh look. While it may seem innocuous on the surface, I argue that it carries a subtle undercurrent of gender discrimination and contributes to the already heavy mental load borne predominantly by women.
The Default Expectation
Schools often rely on volunteer parent committees to organise events such as bake sales, school fairs, and after-school activities. These tasks not only demand time and effort but also necessitate a high level of emotional labor. Home baking, for instance, requires planning, shopping for ingredients, and the actual act of baking, which is often squeezed into the tight schedules of working mothers.
These traditional expectations subtly reinforce outdated stereotypes about gender roles, furthering the idea that women are inherently better at caregiving and nurturing, while men are suited for more logistical and manual tasks. While some may argue that these are voluntary tasks and there is no explicit rule that women should undertake them, the inherent expectation creates an unfair and stressful situation for many women. Women are also more likely to experience a sense of shame when they can’t do everything they ‘should’ be doing.
The Mental Load
The mental load, according to an article published by the ABC, is all the mental work, the organising, list-making and planning, that you do to manage your life, and that of those dependent on you. And yes, it includes baking for school events. This often unseen work predominantly falls upon women.
In our society, it is usually women who bear the brunt of these emotionally draining tasks, creating an extra layer of stress and fatigue. When schools request home-baked goods, they unwittingly contribute to this already imbalanced load, further solidifying gender inequalities. It inadvertently sets an expectation that mothers must not only fulfil their professional responsibilities but also cater to the home and community’s demands.
The need for a Shift
For a society that is striving to achieve gender equality, these subtle biases should not be overlooked. It’s time to recognise and address this unbalanced mental load and either abolish it completely or find ways to redistribute responsibilities more fairly.
The preferred alternative is to simply purchase whatever baked goods are required. If your service makes a profit of any kind, absorb the expense into your budget. If you employ staff, invest in the hours required to have a baking and freezing day each term. Yes, it eats into your profit, but relieves not only the mental burden we speak of, but will keep your volunteers fresh for other important tasks and ease volunteer burnout.
If you have no option but to request home baking contributions, make sure the requests are more thoughtful, asking parents (explicitly not just the mums) to contribute to baking tasks. Parent committees could also broaden the type of contributions they are asking for, considering alternatives that aren’t gendered in their nature.
Additionally, don’t forget Fundraising 101 – to provide flexibility in how parents can contribute. By providing a variety of options such as contributing financially, or volunteering time for different tasks, schools can help to distribute the mental load.
While home baking requests seem like a small component of school activities, they are a part of a larger, systemic issue that contributes to the gender imbalance in emotional labor. It’s time to stop making these requests ‘just because we always have’ and think about whether there is another way. Your communication with families should not be dominated by home baking requests that, even when they are ignored, add to the mental load and shame that mothers experience.
Let’s re-evaluate these traditions and be mindful about how our messages can promote gender equality, reduce the emotional burden on mothers, and encourage a more inclusive and balanced school community. The changes may seem small, but their impact could be profound.
Written by Mandy Weidmann aka the Fundraising Whisperer
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