Today is Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work Day, a holiday started in NYC in 1992 by Gloria Steinem. According to the National Women’s History Museum, the goal of the day (originally titled “Take Our Daughters to Work Day), was to “show girls that gender was not a prohibitive factor to their desired profession.” Below, writer Judnick Mayard discusses what the day means to her.
I’ve been watching women work all my life. As a toddler, I faintly remember my mom’s job as a nanny. There are pictures from days where she brought me into work with her, pictures to prove that the TriBeCa loft and Montauk flashes I recall are true. Mostly, I remember feeling the contrast in space. The rich white kids had a huge loft and their own rooms, while I shared the master bedroom in a two-bedroom apartment with my sibling and, eventually, my grandmother.
I’ve been watching women work all my life. Not in the theoretical sense, but literally bearing witness. I can say that, save for the few who are psychiatrists, I’ve seen every single black woman in my family at her place of work. I’ve seen them as maids, as nurses and as teachers. These experiences not only taught me about physical labor, but also about our place in the world as black people, as woman. I’ve witnessed the range of jobs the women in my family got as immigrants, as women, as black people. I’ve studied the faces of their coworkers and employers who watched them work. And though they spent the whole time telling me that they never wanted this life for me — one that pays so little for such much physical energy — I had much respect for them. They taught me the things that made me, about how much harder I would have to try and how many more jobs it would always take to maintain myself and to exist. They taught that no job was a small job, or an insignificant one, and to always speak kindly to hotel staff, janitors and crew. They taught me that not everyone would.
Watching these women work has made me aware of life’s frailty. Never mind the expectations, whether they be emails or toilets — inserting yourself into non-safe spaces that repeatedly demean your labor at any level is traumatic. I’ve seen people treat my godmother as if she was invisible because she cleaned trash cans and watched my mother lose her lifelong job so a hospital could be turned into a condo. Many times, the memories of watching them work made me choke up. I’ve witnessed what it’s done to their bodies. I’ve seen all the ways that working has broken down muscle and mind. I’m aware of the labor of work.
Yet I also remember what they taught me about myself, about my capacity to work. They asked me to work smarter but certainly never any less. They asked me to seek happiness in work and to make it so that I was always present. They taught me to seek work that brought reward and not just obligation, and in all this, they taught me to seek these same things out of life.
Adapted from Judnick Mayard’s blog, Sermons of the Side Eye. Illustration via Getty Images.