I'm starting this post off with a "caveat lector": this post is about women and women's work in academia, and about how we can and should support and promote it. Period. If you feel the need to put in a "what about the men?" or "notallmen" kind of comment, please see the first sentence of this short preface. Thank you.
Recently, I've been thinking about the work of a senior-to-me female colleague whose work is, in my opinion, vastly under-appreciated outside her field of specialization. Her own scholarship is wonderful. But the one thing I find myself coming back to time and again is her work as a mentor. She's got a couple of great books of her own, but she's taken time away from her own work to edit collections (that's plural -- when most people run from even one), chair important planning committees, and work to promote and informally mentor younger scholars in her field. It's almost impossible to find a young scholar in one of her fields of interest who hasn't benefited from her help and support.
This is the "women's work" of academia.
I don't just mean serving on committees or developing new teaching strategies or mentoring young scholars; I mean doing these things to the point where you know you could have had out another book or two if you'd just pretended not to be there when people knocked.
Because here's the thing: if you want to get a fellowship or grant or promotion or raise or other professional recognition, your scholarly output weighs most heavily. People who volunteer for tough committees makes things run. People who edit collected volumes provide outlets for scholarly work on a particular topic. People who mentor young faculty -- who take them under their wing with no conceivable benefit to themselves -- make academia a better place to be, and model civility and humanity.
Shorter version: if these people went away, we'd be fucked.
I'm about 50-50 on this. I try to be a good worker/colleague/mentor, but I'm also serious about drawing boundaries. No value judgement in that either way; just that's how I roll. But that's just a full disclosure, because this ain't about me. It's about the fact that women (and, in my own personal observation, gay men -- but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish) are the ones who set up and clean up, who take meeting minutes while everyone else looks at their shoes, who step up and say "yes, I'll do that work that no one will ever see," who take the time to check in with a junior colleague and say "How are you doing? Let me buy you lunch and let's see how I can help."
And every hour spent on unseen-yet-essential labor is an hour that we could be reading, writing, thinking. We may actually enjoy the service and mentoring. But when it comes time to be recognized, and you stack up our CV next to the male candidates, chances are that they'll have more publications than we will. And committees will think they're making objective choices: "He's just more qualified!"
So, women have been told to "say no." Which is great, but it only goes so far, due to decades of cultural conditioning combined with pressure from above. And who's going to do the work, if not us? And if the work doesn't get done? Well then, we suffer too. One solution is to apply "see something/say something": if the women in your
department are doing all the heavy lifting while the men get to be
scholars, say something to your chair if you can, and ask if something
can be done. Or say something to the men themselves if that's practical:
I find a lot of men are simply blissfully unaware of how much work goes
into getting things done.
So sure: we need to set boundaries to the degree that we can, and we need to point out inequities and agitate for change. But you know what we also need to do?
AS A PROFESSION, WE NEED TO RECOGNIZE WOMEN'S WORK. We need to promote its value, not just rhetorically, but also in terms of promotions, raises, professional honors, and all that other stuff. We need to point out the value of all this labor, and make sure that it gets taken into account -- really taken into account -- when it comes time to hand out tangible rewards.
 Here, I could insert some stuff about how I
know that men do blah-blah, and I know that not all women set their own
work aside to do work for others... but I'm not gonna. Because there are
lots and lots of people out there who say and write such things on a
daily basis, and I really don't feel like apologizing for my own
argument. Fuck it.