Academic journal article Hecate

Been Workin' Been Workin': Labour and the Lesbian Librarian

Academic journal article Hecate

Been Workin' Been Workin': Labour and the Lesbian Librarian

Article excerpt

It's 1996 and TAFE is restructuring for the third time in six years.

Maggie, my boss, totters into our open-plan office and tosses her bag across the desk.

Morning Maggie, I nod, Monday again. She stomps over to the mirror we keep propped up on the fridge.

Yeh Monday. She purses her lips at the glass and groans. Same fuckin' lipstick. Then she strides back to her desk, dumps her bag in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. Same fuckin' lipstick. Same fuckin' train. Same fuckin' Harris Street. Ultimo on a fuckin' Monday morning. She turns her attention to this week's reader-ed roster. I can tell it's going to be a great day.

But first, let me describe this place. Please note the seating arrangements in our large open plan office, the drifts of postcards and photographs of grinning children, the positioning of filing cabinets, bulletin boards and in-trays, areas demarcated, personalized by individual ornament: You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps.

I am struggling to fill in my flex sheet: somehow the number of hours over four weeks has to add up to seventy and I'm nine minutes short. As I'm still temporary they'll make me take a quarter day's rec leave if I don't find it. If I'm nine minutes over, on the other hand, they'll happily overlook it. I rummage through my desk drawer for a calculator.

Somebody should invent a TAFE flex calculator, I say into the air, you know, one which works on the principle of sixty units making a whole number.

Bloody good idea, Maggie mumbles out of the side of her florid mouth, and while they're at it they should invent some robot to do these bloody rosters every week.

In this office we think of ourselves as professionals. We hold graduate qualifications in librarianship. Except for the odd man here and there, we are part of the huge slab of women who occupy professional jobs appropriate to our gender. In reality we lurk in the twilight zone, working somewhere between the real professions of medicine, architecture or the law, and the trades. Our natural allies in ambivalence are nurses and teachers - even pharmacists. We can't be real professionals because that implies giving oneself to the job body and soul, placing it before all else, and either being single and childless, or having wives to service us.(1)

When I was putting away some reference books last week I found a complete guide to nursery rhymes. It fell open at;

A was an apple-pie;

B bit it,

C cut it. . . .

Curriculum Vitae 1

Most of my professional career happened in England. Not quite what Nina Simone drawls - breakin' rocks out here on the chain gang(2) - but young and directionless, earning money for 45s and suede platform shoes with ankle straps.

At twelve I was sharing mum's cleaning jobs. Little offices up West Thurrock. We emptied metal rubbish bins and flicked dusters over giant ledgers. Once we had to scrub the vinyl floor, inch by inch, with solvent. The previous cleaner had polished the floor with something that left a layer of murky grime. For the boss it was a test of our mettle to see if we could remove it. And we did.

Mum was always fair. She cut the wages straight down the middle.

In our case, the idea that women did not participate in the paid workforce was a joke. For my mother and the vast majority of our neighbours, poverty crept through the house every day. It hid behind the skirting boards and ran up the fraying curtains. At night it scuttled everywhere. Mum was single-handedly providing for four children, juggling social security benefits with cash in hand jobs. She had left school at fourteen and had no employment training of any kind.

When I was fourteen I got a job in a fish and chip shop, three nights a week after school. It was rock salmon, saveloys and scotch eggs, all with chips. Always with chips. I rolled the packages tight in old newspaper. For a single portion I learnt the knack of making a cone with a layer of greaseproof and then the newspaper, and tipping in the boiling chips. …

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