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Why do we count what we count?

I have challenged myself in August to either hike 10+ miles or write 1,000+ words each day. (See pic from Saturday's hike.)

Yesterday, I sent a quick email that one recipient misunderstood. An irritable email came back and today I spent quite a bit of time writing some words to sooth the irritation and (hopefully) better communicate what had caused annoyance. Does that count towards my 1,000+ words?

My initial thought was no. The whole idea of this challenge is to get me focused on writing things

that really matter. I have a book to finish, papers to write and re-write, lots of obligations.

But why does one matter and one not? I had already wrestled with the idea of promotion reviews. While these are not what I was thinking of when I made the challenge to myself, as I plowed through them and realized the number of words and care they required, I thought, why not? Especially as they are so critical to the way our field works. And, in one case, I wrote of work closely related to my own in ways that I might use in the book and papers I hope to finish. So, promotions reviews became part of my count.

Emails, though? Surely no.

But why? Why is an email that communicates in a way that helps an organization I care about function better not similarly important to the institutions that make up our field?

Am I valuing writing I can “claim” more than writing that “simply” communicated? I don’t think so. I did, in fact, write the email. But I do think I am reflecting in my calculus how I think others evaluate me, embedded in a hierarchy that we could think of as quite gendered. Communication that can be individually evaluated, credited, counted, and is aimed at a public sphere reflect long standing associations with masculinity. While communication that is more informal, hidden, less likely to be counted or evaluated and aims at connections that shape interactions reflect similar association with femininity. There are, of course, many ways in which this pattern could also be thought of as colonial, aiming to keep some down in order to enhance the status of others.

Regardless of how we characterize it, there are many reasons to believe that failing to count women’s work – and more generally actions that prompt the care that we know is critical to productive interactions is bad for the institutions we need to manage in this world.

So, what am I going to do now? I am going to count it. But just to make sure it doesn’t go unnoticed I am writing about it as well. My intended focus in this blog on my (rather amazing) bread baking habit will have to wait until next week...

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