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While women in the U.S. workforce are struggling to break the glass ceiling, they’re also fighting to stop “scrubbing the glass floor” at home. American women are doing almost twice as much cooking, cleaning, caring, and volunteer work as men, even if they are working full-time jobs. Over years, these thousands of unpaid labor hours that women work fuel a cycle of slower career growth, lower pay, and personal stress. In her exhibition, For Neither Love Nor Money: Women’s Invisible Labor, artist Sawyer Rose shines a light on these systemic inequities and their repercussions.

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“In addition to the economic pressures that working women face, they also experience physical and emotional fallout from these disproportionate labor loads,” says Rose, who herself is a working mother. “Being constantly ‘on’ at work and at home takes a toll, causing some women to develop health problems including heart disease and diabetes, as well as anxiety and depression as a result of the strain they’re under.”

To spread the word about the true costs of gendered work inequity in the U.S., Rose builds large-scale installation sculptures using personal stories and work data collected from a diverse group of female-identifying workers from all walks of life. Participants record their work hours, paid and unpaid. Then, Rose translates each woman’s hours into a data visualization sculpture that helps viewers understand the vast number of hours each woman clocks at her paid job and at her unpaid home and/or volunteer job.

Reneesawyer af4b4Renée Stout (African American) is herself a sculptor and contemporary artist. Even with success in her field, she still struggles with keeping up with her paid work plus all the unpaid tasks required to run her business and her life. On the average, women visual artists earn $0.74 for every dollar made by male artists, and black women working in all fields earn on average $0.65 for every dollar made by white men. The + sign is an hour that Renee did paid labor. Rose adapted the motif from a cross sign that Stout uses often in her own art work. Each wooden box with a + on it equals one paid labor hour that Stout reported to Rose. Stout's unpaid labor hours (as can be seen in her portrait) are wire frame boxes – less visible and less weighty, as women’s unpaid labor is accorded less status and importance (and money) in society.

Once a woman’s data sculpture is complete, Rose takes the storytelling a step further by taking a photographic portrait of each woman lifting and carrying her sculpture, bearing the burden of her hours in a real, physical way.

Rose asks those viewing her art to broaden their understanding of women’s work inequity and also to take into account how factors such as race, age, and socio-economic class compound the effects of the problem.

“Despite large gains for women in the labor market, stereotypical gender norms and expectations still affect women at both work and home,” says Lucie Schmidt, PhD, professor of economics at Williams College. Schmidt is a labor economist who works on the economics of the family.

Loetasawyer 61ddfLoeta Robles, who is Peruvian American, drove back and forth from Chico, CA to San Francisco for years while earning her dental degree. While she was away during the week she would keep up with everything at home via FaceTime, even "attending" family dinner night with her Peruvian American parents and brother and helping her kids with their homework. Saturday morning, she'd leave the city at 3:30 am, returning home in time to make it to the kids' soccer games and 4-H events.

The value of this unpaid work is quite high. In 2016, Benjamin Bridgman at the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that if this value was included in national accounts, it would increase U.S. GDP by almost 4 trillion dollars, or 23%.

“Men today take on more unpaid labor compared to the generation of men before them. But women still do more,” Schmidt says. “Rose’s art is important because it helps us to clearly see the magnitude of this previously invisible labor.” 

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For Neither Love Nor Money, curated for Dominican University in San Rafael, CA by Sharon Bliss, runs through Jan. 17, 2020. It is presented by The Carrying Stones Project, a fiscally-sponsored nonprofit that educates the public about women’s labor issues through an ongoing series of sculpture, data visualization, and social practice works.

DawlineJaneSawyer 3146cDawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh is an art teacher in the Oakland, CA schools, at nonprofits, to adults with disabilities, and wherever she can get a gig to help make ends meet. At one point she was juggling six jobs and volunteering with a nonprofit that pairs kid authors with grown-up illustrators to publish their first books.

For more information, visit carrying-stones.com.

Top photo: Sawyer Rose

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Sally Douglas Arce is a writer and communications professional, who authors articles for newspapers and magazines and writes blogs. Sally uses her writing to foster health equity and instill a love of the arts.

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