Women are buying “Essential AF” T-shirts and I am here for this!

Women are buying “Essential AF” T-shirts and I am here for this!

If someone now fancies making an “Undervalued AF” T-shirt, go for it, writes Kristine Ziwica. Because it's about time female-dominated work is fairly recognized.

There is a certain style of writing that has dominated the women’s blogosphere and publishing that I have tried hard to avoid. I am a very serious writer, you see, on all manner of gender equality issues… thank you very much. Have you seen all the statistics and jargon (women’s workforce participation rates anyone) I use to craft a persuasive argument?

But today I will make an exception. Given the circumstances, I really feel no other choice of words would sufficiently communicate my enthusiasm and utter delight. (I do, however, concede that I should qualify that statement by confessing that I, like most of you, don’t get out much these days, so it doesn’t take much to enthuse or delight me).

Here it goes: Women are buying “Essential AF” T-shirts and I am here for this!

According to the Atlantic Monthly, the “Essential AF” purple T-shirts are quite the hot ticket on Etsy, the online market for crafters. Also popular: “Essential AF” candles and engraved wine glasses. No one, to my knowledge, has yet tracked sales of the “Essential AF” candles compared to Gwyneth Paltrow’s now infamous vagina candle, a candle that in these new pandemic times does seem like a relic from another era. That might be interesting. But I digress.

If you find this form of words crass (I trust I don’t have to explain to your delicate ears what the “AF” acronym stands for), perhaps I can put it in more Shakespearean prose: Women, how do I value (or more aptly how have I undervalued) thee. Let me count the ways.

Since we’re getting to the stage in this pandemic where we’re starting to talk about silver linings, and there’s been a hot debate about whether the coronavirus will send feminism (and women) back to the 1950’s, here’s a thought: One good thing about the current situation is that it has forced us — as a society — to confront the value of women’s work and the extent to which we have traditionally undervalued it.

Judging by sales of those T-shirts (I note that “Feminist AF” was the previous slogan of choice) women are fixing to never let us forget that. Too right.

Consider a few eye-watering sums.

According to a new analysis by Oxfam, if women around the world received a minimum wage for the unpaid domestic and care work they do around the house, they would have earned $10.9 trillion. That exceeds the combined revenue of the 50 largest companies on the Fortune Global list. Women perform 75 percent of such work globally, and though we don’t yet have research, anecdotal reports suggest they are taking up even more of the domestic heavy lifting now that we are all in lock-down with schools and childcare services limited.

Then there’s the not insignificant matter of how we value women’s paid work and the professions they have traditionally dominated. Of the 30 lowest paying jobs, including food server, housekeeper and childcare worker (I prefer early years educator), 23 are female dominated. Might those be the types of jobs on the so-called “front-line”, the very kinds of jobs now deemed “essential”? Why yes, I believe they are.

The reason work traditionally done by women is undervalued is precisely because it is done by women, and, therefore, closely associated with stereotypical ideas about women in domestic and caring roles. The women in these jobs are perceived as ‘naturally’ good at the job, with insufficient investment in or recognition of their skills.

When a profession previously dominated by men, such as banking, clerical work or teaching, is opened-up to large numbers of women, the status and pay decreases. Working in a female-dominated occupation is more detrimental to your pay than being a woman per se – simply being employed in a female dominated occupation can reduce your pay by as much as 9 percent.

If someone on Etsy fancies making a coordinating “Undervalued AF” T-shirt, take it. The idea’s yours! I haven’t copyrighted it…yet.

T Shirt featured above is by Bella + Canvas on Etsy.

Kristine Ziwica is a regular contributor. She tweets @KZiwica

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