Making, gender, and doing

Deb Chachra, a brilliant engineer, teacher and thinker, explains why she doesn't identify as a "maker" — because when we elevate "makers" over maintainers, carers, and do-ers, we carry on the tradition of elevating traditionally male work over traditionally female work.

When new products are made, we hear about exciting technological innovation, which are widely seen as worth paying (more) for. In contrast, policy and public discourse around caregiving—besides education, healthcare comes immediately to mind—are rarely about paying more to do better, and are instead mostly about figuring out ways to lower the cost. Consider the economics term Baumol's cost disease: It suggests that it is somehow pathological that the time and energy taken by a string quartet to prepare for a performance—and therefore the cost—has not fallen in the same way as goods, as if somehow people and what they do should get less valuable with time. (Though, to be fair, given the trajectory of wages in the U.S. over the last few years in real terms, that seems to be exactly what is happening.)

I am not a maker. In a framing and value system is about creating artifacts, specifically ones you can sell, I am a less valuable human. As an educator, the work I do is superficially the same, year on year. That's because all of the actual change, the actual effects, are at the interface between me as an educator, my students, and the learning experiences I design for them. People have happily informed me that I am a maker because I use phrases like "design learning experiences," which is mistaking what I do (teaching) for what I'm actually trying to help elicit (learning). To characterize what I do as "making" is to mistake the methods—courses, workshops, editorials—for the effects. Or, worse, if you say that I "make" other people, you are diminishing their agency and role in sense-making, as if their learning is something I do to them.

Why I Am Not a Maker [Debbie Chachra/Atlantic]