I’ve been grumpy today that I have to prepare tomorrow morning’s lecture when all I want to do is have a proper weekend. Monday morning lectures are terrible: I haven’t once managed to prep it the week before but always end up sitting on Sunday night figuring it all out. And I hate that.

Lo and behold, an email from Flylady*:

Many of you use Sunday as a catch up day. Well there is no such thing in FlyLady land! We are never behind. Read this and understand it. It does not matter what you have on your list to do; you are not behind! Quit allowing your perfectionism to push you past the point of exhaustion. You have been missing the point of my messages. It is not to push push push! It is to stop pushing and allow your routines to help you. The timer is a fun tool but its main purpose is to tell you to stop and let it go! NOT OBSESS to the point that you drop. (..) When you push yourself; you are not getting more work done; you are putting on the role of a martyr. No one loves a martyr; not even you. So stop this behavior.

I’ve been wondering lately why almost everybody loves to insist on how much work they have to do. I do it myself, even to myself, and it annoys me: I would prefer to enjoy my life than complain about all those items on the to-do list.

Well, maybe it’s this martyr thing. Flylady’s been writing a lot about that lately, and I’ve always imagined the frazzled mother complaining about how much she does for her children, or that night I resented my boyfriend for calmly relaxing on the sofa while I made dinner, tired and not at all in the mood for cooking, completely forgetting that he had actually asked whether I’d like him to make dinner and that I’d said no, that it was fine, though it wasn’t.

I think there’s a version of this usually feminine martyr role that men totally buy into: I work so much. I work ever so much. I work more than you do and I have so much to do.

Last week I needed to know how to calculate 50% teaching so I could work out how much the other lecturers are supposed to be teaching so I could set up the schedule for next semester. The rule of thumb is 6 hours of lectures a week, 12 weeks a semester, but how do you figure advising into that? 20 hours a semester per student doesn’t quite tally against 6 hours a week, and I thought perhaps there was an easy standard, 30 minutes a week per student off the lecturing time, perhaps. So when I met one of the professors in the literature department, I asked him. He smiled at me benevolently (I was his student when I was twenty, I’ll never be his peer) and said casually, “Oh no, advising is in addition to those six hours. Why we teach six hours a week and supervise 10 or 12 MA students each, oh, and two or three PhD students as well!” I stuttered in horror: “But isn’t that much more than 50% teaching? When do you do your research?” His smile broadened. “That’s what nighttime is for, my dear. Find another profession if you don’t like it!”

I don’t think the professor was trying to be mean. He’s a nice guy. I’ve never heard an ill word against him. He was exaggerating, of course. There are 9 tenured staff at literature, and only about 3 PhD students in the whole department. I can’t imagine there are 90 MA students. But why would he want to make me think that he works far harder than I?

Bourdieu would say he’s merely defending himself against me because I’m a newcomer – he expects me to threaten him and try to redefine his field to exlude him and so he must fight me, its the battle of generations, inevitable. Heck, I even do electronic literature, which is such a threat the literature department pretends it doesn’t exist. He would probably be expected to see me as more of a threat because I’m a woman and because I was his student and am now his colleague. Telling me to find another job if I’m not willing to work through the nights is a rather transparent way of fighting me.

But this kind of exaggeration is far from an exception, and it happens in situations you’d expect to be more supportive too. Almost all of us do it. I complain here on my blog. My friends and family and colleagues complain. When I complain, others tend to be anxious to tell me how their jobs are even tougher. And yes, we really are exhausted. Do we do much about it though, apart from complaining?

I think it’s just another aspect of the martyr syndrome. Overworking is not a lot different to making dinner when I didn’t want to and nobody had asked me to and then feeling resentful about it. I think we’re pushing and pushing and pushing ourselves, aching for someone (anyone!) to notice and praise us and thank us for our dedication, and of course, nobody does, because that’s not how things work.

Either that, or this idea that your self-worth increases the more you work is simply patriarchy’s way of keeping us down.

Me, I’m going to stop being a martyr at work. It’s likely to take a while, but I’ll get there.

* Flylady‘s great. It’s pretty similar to Getting Things Done, but in a completely different tone and encompassing the home as well as the office (most women I know seem to have less of a compartmentalised approach to house and work than men I know). She sends out dozens of emails a day as reminders to clear your hot spots, check your laundry and all the rest of it. I filter these reminders straight to the trash, but love reading her essays and the testimonials from “Flybabies”. Since beginning to “fly” I’ve decluttered heaps of stuff I was neither loving or using, I can go to IKEA without wanting to buy anything (big change!) and my house is more or less tidyish, most of the time, which is so nice.

4 thoughts on “working martyr?

  1. jon

    Iíve been wondering lately why almost everybody loves to insist on how much work they have to do. I do it myself, even to myself, and it annoys me: I would prefer to enjoy my life than complain about all those items on the to-do list.

    my 1 minute take: it’s a fundamental problem with the human soul…we want to be acknowledged as important.

    good to ‘meet’ you, i’m jon. 😉


  2. […] jill/txt 13/3/2005 [action plan for demartyring self] Steps to stop being a martyr: At start of week, write down what needs to be done before next Monday Prioritise ruthlessly. A […]

  3. Martin GL

    Actually, I’m pretty sure there are 80-90 + MA students in comparative litterature. I seem to remember AK et al saying so at the latest fagkritisk thingy.

  4. Jill

    Oh. OK then. Yikes.

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