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A little while ago, I walked into the break room at work to get a cup of coffee, and saw one of our male doctors standing at the counter with a handful of paper towel and an “Oh Shit” look on his face.

“The coffee overflowed!” He said in an astonished and embarrassed voice.

“Yes, if the person making coffee doesn’t push the basket all the way down, it will do that.” I replied. He just looked at me without moving, a wad of coffee covered paper towel sat on the counter, and there were grounds all over the place. I knew he wanted me to rescue him. I really wanted coffee and figured that the longer it took to get this mess cleaned up, the longer I was going to go without it. He slowly started pushing sopping wet towels back and forth across the counter, which was not doing anything other than moving the mess around. Truman does a better job washing his place at the table with a wipey than this guy was doing. I decided to rescue him. “I’m sure you are busier than I am right now, I’ll get it.” I grabbed more paper towel and he happily fled the scene with a hurried, “Thanks!”

I cleaned up the counter, coffee pot, floor, and sink and re-made the coffee. It really wasn’t that big of a deal except that it got me questioning a number of circumstances that could have changed my handling of the situation. Would I have offered to help one of our female doctors in the same position? Had I, would she have darted out of the room as quickly as he had? Had I been male, would the doctor have bothered giving me those pleading eyes in the first place? Had I been male, would I have offered to help at all? I’m not really sure about any of them. I would like to think that I offered to clean up the mess because he is my superior and I was being respectful. I was not busy at the time and it wasn’t like it was cleaning up vomit or plunging a clogged toilet. (Which I have had to do at work before. Gag.) Would it have been right to walk out and leave him there to do it? I think not, however he had no problem leaving and letting me do it! I honestly don’t believe that any one of my male colleagues would have taken over the job. We have had numerous sponsored lunches from reps and the company owners, and guess who cleans up afterward? I’ve done it twice and other female employees have done it the rest of the time. The guys are not shy about helping themselves to numerous plates of food as well as packing themselves take home boxes, but they never put away leftovers, clean utensils, or wipe down the counters. Why is it assumed and accepted that a woman will do it? Because we always do. And we should stop.

At my last office, we had a similar situation. At the end of every night, all of the bathrooms needed to be cleaned, carpet vacuumed, hard flooring mopped, garbage taken out and counters and desks disinfected. There was one male and three females in the office. The only job the male did was the trash. Don’t get me wrong, we all appreciated not having to haul the bag out to the dumpster in triple digit heat, but he didn’t even clean the men’s room. HIS own bathroom! None of us ever used it, but we mopped the floor and cleaned the sink and toilet every night. It was no big thing, and we never questioned or complained. The tradeoff, I suppose, was when really nasty things happened, it was automatically his responsibility to deal with it. Things like killing large bugs, shoveling homeless people’s poop outside the building, painting over graffiti, and moving heavy stuff fell to him and only him. Even trade off? I don’t know! Every day cleaning versus once a month feces removal…I think I’d still choose the every day cleaning…and I think he’d still pick the feces removal.

As women, we struggle constantly to be taken seriously, receive equal pay and promotion, and it seems we have our rights challenged every step of the way. Change has happened and it continues to happen. The big issues have groups, organizations and committees all over them. Even if you are unaware of it, there are huge battles being fought daily on your behalf. But who is fighting the little battles? The cooking, cleaning, diaper changing, you-do-it-because-you’re-the-girl battles? Those are up to us. We need to make sure that we are doing things because we want to do them, not because it has been pounded into our heads that we should do it because of our gender.

I’m glad I cleaned up the coffee. I wanted coffee for myself quickly and he was taking a year to get it done, so maybe my motives were selfish but it was also the nice thing to do because that man is my superior and he was busy. But, the next lunch? I’m not cleaning it up, and I’m going to suggest the other ladies let it go as well. Change around the office needs to start somewhere, and I’m irritated enough to let it start with me. Maybe it will be a wake up call, or maybe I’ll be the office jerk, either way, I will NOT be the office cleaning lady.

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