My grandpa always likes to tease me about (insert air quotes here) women’s work and about how I should be doing it, and I always like to give him a hard time back about how he is equally capable to perform the task being discussed. My sassy remarks become known early on as ‘editorial comments,’ and we still like to razz each other even though we both know that if Grandma tells us to do something we are darn sure going to do it.
Having grown up working in the garage with my dad, climbing trees and riding bikes and motorcycles with my brother I would define my younger self as a full blown tomboy and my older self as someone who knows I am capable of doing things both masculine and feminine (except makeup, I am pitifully unskilled in this department). I have more scars on my legs than most guys I know, either because I’m burly or I’m a klutz, but that’s not the point. In high school I was in auto shop, and restored and raced a car with my dad. I believe that bending these stereotypical roles was what ultimately earned me a scholarship to college, and so that’s become a very defining characteristic for me: I am not your typical woman, and the value of me doing the opposite of women’s work has literally been quantified.
Since having T, this blurred division of labor that I’ve engrained in myself has come to the surface many times and I am constantly having to convince myself that not doing men’s work is still valuable. It’s not the presence of women’s work that I struggle with, but the absence of men’s work.
I know the value of women’s work – I think about my grandmother and the warm, welcoming home that she works hard to maintain with a gracious finesse. And when I say ‘home’ I don’t just mean a building – it’s a place and a feeling that you always keep with you and that I aspire to create for my family. It’s a skill at which she’s masterful. The clean and welcoming room that’s always waiting for you when you visit. The delicious, special meals she makes for you because she knows your likes and dislikes. She would wake me up with back tickles (my favorite) when my brother and I would come to visit in the summer time. She taught me sewing and embroidery and ironing and making bread from scratch without a recipe. She’s selfless in a way that brings people together, and there have been many times when I’ve wanted to relieve her of the burden that I saw her carrying. I wanted her to get to go play outside in my place or watch TV or play cards instead of working, but maybe I was a little off the mark. While I believe that help with dishes and cooking and chores is very much appreciated and expected, maybe being completely relieved from it isn’t what she would want. While the ‘value’ may be difficult to quantify exactly in terms of dollars, what she does is valuable to her entire family and her friends, and it is absolutely essential. Similar to a principle of the Amish people: joy and value is found in work, not in the escape from work.
And so as I find myself limited in the type of work that I can perform here with T, I have to remind myself that my lack of (air quotes) men’s work is still valuable. When your small children are home (and nursing), and particularly when you’re living on the land, division of labor is the most logical and practical arrangement. It isn’t practical to take a small child out among dangerous animals or during rainy weather (unless you’re in Northern California and you have no choice) or let them roam free around piles of animal poo and electrical fences. It also doesn’t work to have T in the backpack all day so that I can do this type of work. It isn’t fair to him, and frankly, he’s heavy. While this division of labor wasn’t as apparent on Green Fire, it is very apparent at Deck Family Farm because of the presence of so much large livestock and the enormous size of the property. When T’s sleeping, I am limited by my leash of freedom and if a task is outside that zone then I don’t go.
All this to say that I might no longer believe that it was just an arbitrary line drawn in the sand that historically men got to do all the exciting work while women held down the fort. I believe that the nature of agrarian work makes that division naturally but nowadays this partnership is still important. In whatever balance that each couple might settle upon, whether it’s male or female staying home or working, ensures that the family is provided for and both sides are important. When E and I were both working full time engineering jobs before we had T, I felt that E had equal responsibility to do all the house work as well. It was as though we eclipsed each others’ functions and it made things complicated. In some ways, staying home with T simplified this greatly and made me feel like we were more complimentary to one another.
If my grandpa reads this, I’m sure he’s never going to let me live it down but that’s okay. One joke he told me that I still laugh at is: Why does a bride wear white? So the dishwasher matches the refrigerator. I know, I know, it’s terrible, but it’s still funny. We all do the dishes and we all cook, and truth be told, male or female, you will be the hero of the day if you have a warm dinner waiting when 10 hungry and tired people get done working for the day.