Wednesday, February 20, 2019

women's work

I've been reading and thinking a lot about 'women's work.'

Care-taking is rooted genetically and historically in women because of our wombs. I have a lot of complicated feelings around this because I for one, have a very large (albeit, metaphorical) dick - and two because I've never really wanted children.

Women adopted work like cooking, clothes-making and cleaning because those tasks allowed them to be relatively stationary. Nursing a baby becomes tricky while tracking a gazelle for miles with a spear in your hand and it's hard to imagine running a sawmill with a toddler strapped to ones back. And yet something about imagining those ridiculous scenarios smells of the Sharon Sandberg approach to feminism or the working woman of the 80's running herself ragged in order to have it all. I know these women, we probably all do. And I want to help create a different scenario for them.

I caught up with a friend recently and explained that Eric was living in the city and that I was running Worlds End with only women in 2019. He paused trying of course to see how someone like himself might fit into that equation; I back-petaled in order to smooth it over a little (!) lest I sound like an angry (!!) man-hating second wave feminist.

He told me that sounded empowering. He was missing the point, and I was having a hard time explaining myself -- it's not at all about feeling empowered - I have a lot of power. This is about wanting to work with women to make something different for ourselves because it doesn't exist yet. What is it like to work on an experiment that values health and happiness over money and power?

Masculine energy deploys an army to build a wall. It problem solves swiftly with force, it assesses and decides and it aims for completion. Feminine energy considers the whole, listens, sees interconnections and complexity as wealth. The feminine sees that things never really finish. Of course, we need both. And we all have some equation of each.

Patriarchy has always depended on an imbalance of the masculine/feminine energies. It exploits people and resources - and through wealth and power accumulation, it has accomplished some very impressive feats. Modern medicine and men on the moon. But it also gave us the great pyramids (built by slaves) in a region often ruled by a woman! Which is to say that the patriarchy is our fathers house - but it's also our mothers house. Unpacking the complexity around it could require a lifetime. I'm not interested in that, just the same as I'm not interested in being angry at an entire gender. I just want to get to work making something different. I want to experiment with different expressions of power and leadership.

My father was just here. I love him like crazy he is a stubborn Finn, bound to fits of manly declarations and broad statements. Grunting about, he helped me lift things around here which I can't lift alone. We cleaned out the garage, made piles of tools. I brought the big tractor right up the house (what if I didn't stop and just plowed right through it?) and loaded the bucket up with things to burn; old wood, broken furniture and files from the old Saipua castle. Doused it in the rain with motor oil and threw a match.

A while later from the sheep barn up on the hill I could see the burn pile, now completely lit. An alarmingly bright spot in the gloom of late February.


Anonymous said...

Related/unrelated- are you an eldest daughter? I knew a farmer who preferred to hire eldest daughters because they had the kind of grit he liked in a worker. I know that birth order doesn’t define everything but as an eldest daughter myself I can appreciate the theory.

Anonymous said...

I’ve wondered about your stance on this-ish subject for a long long as I’ve been lurking around your writing that is. I didn’t have a child when I started reading your thoughts back in 2010. Since then I’ve had two pregnancies and one child. I find myself yearning for what you offer and selfishly wanting you to figure out how to include women who have offspring. I’ve thought of ways to put this in more intelligent terms, but can’t.

Anonymous said...

I bristle intensely at this! To say that you are resistant to children because you have a large metaphorical dick is to suggest that a) a "dick" is required to have power/charisma, to be able to take care of oneself, to blaze one's path forward, to desire to be independent and to be capable of it and that b) these characteristics are incompatible with the desire or act of having a child or children. Yes—it's not possible to have it all, or to have it all at one time. I agree with you that there's a better way than "leaning in." But I take a great deal of issue with the presentation that you—a childless woman—can show those pathetic women out there with children trying to make it all work how to do it better, or even differently. There's a tremendous amount of power in the act of raising humans, whether or not we do it as our main job, balance it with another job, choose to do it with a partner by our side or help that we bring in. You can preach liberation until the cows (or sheep, perhaps) come home, but until you can understand that you don't need a dick to be powerful or to rail against women who've made the decision to raise children (which, ironically, is one of the most freeing—and constraining—choices of my life), you're living in the master's house.

saipua said...

Anonymous - I feel you've missed my point. In what way have I labeled women who choose to have children as 'pathetic?' That's your word and I want to know where you're getting that from.
I think raising children is one of the most important political acts; I commend all women who choose to - I just don't have the biological impulse personally to do it myself but want to make a world in which care-taking for others (children, the elderly, each other) is not relegated to inconsequential 'women's work' that is taken for granted.

You sound angry. Maybe we should talk about why...

saipua said...

(I am the eldest daughter)

17 beats. said...

Wonderful read, per usual. Two comments:

1) I don’t believe women can have it all. I mean, obviously. There aren’t enough hours. And I fucking hate that I try— it makes me a monster. But maybe (in an effort to be grateful) I can recognize that it’s a privilege to think I could. There is no MAN, even a stay at home dad (IM GONNA SAY IT!) that can compete with the bonding I’ve experienced with my children. Growing them, from within and without... a father can never know that. But I still want my job, dammit. :-D

2) it shouldn’t matter that your friend finds your business decisions ‘empowering’. It’s what you want and it’s going to work. Maybe I missed this sentiment— you kind of tap danced around it. I look forward to hearing more.

Erika said...

Long time reader, first time commenter. Always a treat to read your words! I'm thrilled to hear that your farm/business will be run by all women this year. Women are taking on positions of increasing power across the agricultural landscape, most prominently in MA. Its crucial work for our world.

Also, I'm happy to see Linda Hamilton up top! She's been the icon for our queer fitness aspirations for years:

LC said...

I am also a woman who has never wanted or had children. The above comment from anonymous seems kin with something I've been noticing between myself and my friends who have had children: a lot of complicated feelings of resentment, judgement, frustration, relief at a near-escape (on my part), and outright rage.

For so many years we child-less women were the black sheep: judged and pitied by our culture. But something has shifted--child-full women seem to have way more complicated feelings about their place in this culture. Whatever it is is encapsulated in the comment above. I feel myself negotiating it a lot with my friends: endeavoring to strike a tone that keeps the peace between us: that values and affirms their choices, AND represents how much I love my choice and my life.

Who/What is driving this wedge between us? What is this resentment and rage? Why do I feel that I have to downplay how much I love my life at the risk of making my friends feel bad? Why do they feel so unappreciated and exhausted and resentful and a little envious at how scot-free I am?

Something very complicated is going on between we women-folk. I worry that all the complicated emotions we fling at each other would be better aimed at "the patriarchy". I can't speak for the child-full women...but having listened, I feel that our social structure makes their work personally limiting, isolating, exhausting, and full of either/or's. It's breeding in them rage. And joy and gratitude and all the other things. But, honestly, I often feel so damn grateful I never wanted children: motherhood these days seems complex, sacrificial, and mind-numbingly hard.

Should it be? The rage I think I feel in my friends is powerful. They have a right to it and it could change so many things that are wrong.

Anyway. This is not what your post is about. It's about the bigger forces of masculine and feminine in the world. So to that point: when any group starts to resent and spite each other for inner differences, I start looking around for what power is benefiting from our discord.

Sorry to ramble. It's hard to be coherent and concise editing in these little boxes.

Megan said...

What to do with this profound need for validation on both sides of the "to child or not to child" conversation? I see childless friends display a very visible aversion to even being around children at times, almost as if they might catch it if they get too close. Friends with children also tend to stick together, creating fewer opportunities for the childless in their community to find a way to fit into that equation comfortably.

As a childless woman, I still haven't decided if it's something that I want. I suppose time will ultimately make that decision for me. Though being "Aunt Meg" is quite satisfying, and I feel like I've started taking on a bit of a "Teacher-Crone" kind of role with the littles, which I think is fun and low-commitment. There are other ways to be maternal in the world and to have the emotional freedom to perceive that and put it into action is a gift. I see how friends with offspring grapple with how they fit into a world that seems rather intent on making their choice seem like a failure to do more with their individuality. I myself have struggled with projecting those feelings onto friends, and I realize how immature and unfair I was being at the time. I think we would all do well to absolve ourselves of the need for validation of our reproductive choices. Life is brief, and we should celebrate all of the choices that people have the opportunities to make for themselves.

To get to my point, I think the anonymous poster above may have been blowing off some steam related to some bad experience they may have had, which I am sure there are no shortage of in our current climate. I am sympathetic, but I did not perceive anything that Sarah expressed to be dismissive of the choice to become a parent. I am grateful that this conversation is being had and am enjoying reading other people's insights.

Dana said...

Thanks for this Sarah. I gotta say, for someone who has two children, I still couldn’t identify with these sentiments more. Especially the desire to ‘work with women to make something different for ourselves that doesn’t exist yet’ – something that prioritizes well-being, ‘considers the whole, sees interconnections’ etc. I know that for a lot of women, myself included, the weight of care-taking and nurturing responsibilities/expectations hit you like a ton of bricks, regardless of how ‘progressive’ or non-gendered your relationship is. The loss of (or shift in) identity that inevitably comes with mothering is often talked about as a gift of sorts – to surrender and discover a new, more-evolved you. I can’t help but respond to suggestions like this as complete BS and a plea to ask women to adapt to the imbalance of power in the status quo. The reality is that many women who choose to have children, lose their power - or have to reclaim it in ways they hadn’t intended to. All this to say YES – to paving a new way forward (in business and in life) with qualities of the feminine celebrated and at the forefront.

Anonymous said...

i'm someone who has been (metaphorically at least) running a sawmill with not one but two toddlers on my back (twins) - i don't have much to add except: animals never used to follow me and now they do. dogs and cats fall into line behind me. i'm still a quiet and relatively non-assertive person but something about my walk and my presence now says, you need to get into line behind me, or: i'm going where i'm going whether you're coming or not. this might be what big womb energy is, for me at least.