Women’s Work

Many of the things I do with my time are considered women’s work, or worse, hobbies. I am a stay-at-home mom (this is considered a luxury) who knits, sews, bakes, cooks, and is currently attempting to make butter (so far I have whipped cream and tired wrists).

Obviously I have nothing “better” to do with my time.

Here’s the truth of it: we can’t afford for me to not work, but we can’t afford for me to work either–my entire salary would go to daycare and hello, that’s crazy. (Please, please do not take this as a criticism of parents who both work; this is ONLY about my family.)

In the old days, women and men both worked. The men worked outdoors and the women worked indoors, if I may make gross generalizations. Men plowed the fields, built the barn, tended to the livestock, hunted, and otherwise used their physical strength to its best advantage. Women cared for the babies (being natural incubators and having built-in food and all) and clothed, educated, and fed the family. So to call what I do women’s work is not an insult as far as I am concerned. It is exactly what I want to be doing. Traditional roles make sense to me and work for our family.

(On a side note, I certainly don’t think that only women should do women’s work or only men should do men’s work. I think there is a ton of crossover and that we’ve definitely moved forward as a society in that regard. But I think we’ve lost sight of the good things that happened to exist along with the strict roles men and women were forced into. The tasks are not the bad guy here. The fact is that Will is better than I am at a lot of so-called women’s tasks and I am sure there is some traditionally masculine task I am good at. Maybe motorcycle maintenance.)

I find it really interesting that we as a society have turned our backs so firmly on the way things were even a hundred years ago that the “home arts” are considered undesirable. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and just this morning I stumbled on a video of the Yarn Harlot giving a talk on this very matter. A hundred years ago, she said, every family needed hats and they knitted those hats. To buy something you could make was considered crazy. Now, every family needs hats and they buy those hats. To make something you could buy is considered crazy. Frivolous. Making hats is a hobby.

My knitting, a hobby? That is an insult. Yes, I enjoy it tremendously. Yes, I often knit frivolous items. Yes, yarn is dreadfully expensive, and no, we are probably not saving much money by giving handmade gifts. But.

It is my goal for our family to become largely self-sufficient. It is not at all outside the realm of possibility that in five years Will and the hired boy will shear our goats and I will clean, card, draft, and spin that fleece into yarn, which I will then knit or weave into clothing for Sam. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that in the not-so-distant future I will grow most of our food and feed the garden with compost from the waste. I am not likely to grow my own grain and grind my own flour, but I just might bake all our own bread. And I will for sure make all our hats, just as soon as I learn to weave straw because, um, in the desert you really need a different kind of hat than I know how to make. (Oh, fine, I will probably buy our hats.)

I don’t want to withdraw from civilization. I don’t have any intention of giving up technology, I just want to run it off solar power. I am sure I will spend as much time on my computer at the ranch as I do here in town. I doubt I will wake up each morning excited about watering the garden and feeding the chickens. But I don’t wake up every day now jumping for joy that I get to play with a toddler who wants to nurse every five minutes, even though I love spending time with him. I have plenty of moments where I just want a day to myself, and I doubt that will change. What I’m saying is that I don’t think I have unreasonable expectations. I don’t believe I will become someone else when we build our ranch. Honest.

But a return to basics, a move away from the consumer-driven society and into a more self-sufficient lifestyle? That is just what I need. Though as I’ve said before: as long as there is wireless.

Yesterday I was perusing the real estate listings where we want to live. I found ten acres at the top of a rise with 360 views. There are no structures, no water and no electric. There is a well-drilling area. It is perfect. I am sure it will be snatched up well before we can afford it, but it’s the second such listing I’ve found since I started dreaming this particular dream, and I’m sure there will be another.

27 thoughts on “Women’s Work

  1. Katherine

    April 15, 2008 at 4:42pm

    If you didn’t have a kid, then I would consider what you do everyday to be a luxury.

    But with kids… it’s different. It just is.

    Katherine’s last blog post..Elephants Smell Everywhere

  2. Annika

    April 15, 2008 at 4:48pm

    A lot of people don’t seem to think so. I’ve gotten so many comments along the lines of “How nice that you’re able to stay home.” And it’s usually (but not always!) in this tone that implies that I must think I am better than women who have to work (or choose to), and that I must be some rich bitch. And that makes me so sad because these people have no idea why I made the choice to stay home or how very much we are not wealthy or even really scraping by. I’ve actually thought about writing about the things I don’t have that most people consider absolute necessities, but I don’t know–I’m sure someone would be all, “You made that choice,” even though that would be my point.

  3. Nell

    April 15, 2008 at 7:27pm

    The tricky part, I think, is finding a rhythm as a family and making that work for you, which it seems to me you and Will have done very well. It’s not about what is best for everyone, but what is best for you. Women’s work, men’s work, it’s all work, right?

    I used to dream about being self-sufficient, living in the woods, with lots of space. Parts of that dream are still linger, waiting for me to get close enough to reach out and grab them, but other parts have been recycled and absorbed into the things that I do both every day and in planning for the future. It’s a long road, but it’s good, and I have no doubt that you will persevere and create the kind of ranch that is perfect for you and your family.

    Nell’s last blog post..If getting all of my news from NPR’s “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

  4. yojo

    April 15, 2008 at 7:58pm

    Not terribly off-topic, but I seem to remember a recent-ish study made of ‘womens’ work’ and the market value of such…
    The equivalent wages of a stay at home mom were astoundingly high.

    I would hope that, if I ever had a kid that I’d get to stay home at least a year with hir, but I honestly don’t see it as an option. I know that your situation and mine are different. For me it would be a ‘luxury’ to be able to. But I know it’s not that way for you.

    yojo’s last blog post..Consider the writer in the room

  5. Amy

    April 15, 2008 at 8:05pm

    Have you ever watched the old (1970s)British comedy “The Good Life”? It used to be run on PBS. The couple, Tom and Barbara Good, gets fed up with living the posh lifestyle, or maybe the Tom loses his job, and they start living completely self-sufficiently and their neighbors and best friends are rich snobs. The Goods have goats and chickens and they recycle everything. I loved that show. Your post made me think of it.

  6. Christy/ MommaOnTheMountain

    April 15, 2008 at 8:16pm

    Annika, I have to say I am right there with you. I stay home with four children. I sew, bake, craft, I sometimes watch other people’s children. I don’t “bring in” an income, but I find ways that try to cut corners. My children’s ages are 13, 10, 5, and 3….I couldn’t imagine the daycare costs or the cost of leaving the older ones to thier own devices. There are always choices to be made, and we all do the best that we can. I applaude you and your husband’s efforts to disconnect from the “consumer” life. We just recently moved into town afer living rurally for several years: raising our own beef, chickens and the occasional goat (they are a pain!)…We had huge gardens and I home canned and froze as much as possible. I am also a member of the local gleaners group. I tip my hat to you, and I truly hope that your plans work out for you.

    I really enjoy reading your blog, and find your whit quite hilarious! Thanks for sharing these glimpses into your life!

  7. the slackmistress

    April 15, 2008 at 8:36pm

    As a parent you’re always working, end of story. It’s sad how hot-button this issue is – babies/children aren’t one-size-fit-all, so why should parenting be?

    I hafta say when I read “Will and the hired boy” I was thinking you were going to start writing some steamy ranch-style romance. ;)

    the slackmistress’s last blog post..Tribute.

  8. Annika

    April 15, 2008 at 8:38pm

    Oh, slackmistress. How do you know I am not already writing steamy ranch-style romance?

  9. Vicki

    April 15, 2008 at 8:38pm

    “Don’t come crying to me when civilization collapses and you’re hungry and cold” is my standard reply to people who mock my domestic pursuits. Although it boggles my mind that they are usually mocking me while I’m trying to give them my homemade jam/homegrown heirloom tomatoes/freshly baked bread/handknits. What the hell?

    Mike and I are moving towards more self-sufficiency; we’re getting our house ready to sell, and I hope we’ll be able to move back into the county soon (urban life just does not agree with me, I’ve discovered). I’d invite you and yours to join our compound, but I know how you feel about the cold. ;)

  10. Ewokmama

    April 15, 2008 at 8:44pm

    I despise most women’s work AND men’s work. Really I’d rather be on vacation all the time. With my next raise I am so getting a maid.

    There is absolutely no shame in doing what is right for your family. In my opinion, happiness is the ultimate achievement in life and it’s fabulous if you can find it!

    Ewokmama’s last blog post..A Toddler and a Baby

  11. Annika

    April 15, 2008 at 8:54pm

    Wait, I changed my mind. I like this vacation all the time plan.

  12. SilliGirl

    April 15, 2008 at 9:39pm

    Um, hi, can I write a novel? I think about this shit all. the. time.

    First, I agree with you about “traditional gender roles” and wish that issue could be discussed without the ever-increasing number of disclaimers that must come before it to avoid offending people. I never really tell people what I think about it.

    Second…Self Sufficiency, that cold-hearted bitch of a temptress. Having spent the better part of two years trying to be as sustainable as possible, and trying to reduce my environmental footprint to one, I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to be 100% fully self-sufficient without completely dropping out of mainstream society. Therefore, we are left with infinite choices which all boil down to choosing between being hard core and being a sellout. Most of us choose some level of sellout. It’s pretty disheartening, but I comfort myself by thinking through every decision and making the best one I possibly can at any given moment.

    Right now in my life, I am focusing on raising children who will steward the earth, with the understanding that I can’t possibly know what that will mean for them. I am also on a quest to be as local as possible, and every choice I make is based on that. That also includes building community with people who may or may not share my beliefs and values.

    SilliGirl’s last blog post..But what else should I have said?

  13. ladylinoleum

    April 15, 2008 at 10:56pm

    This is a very thoughtful post on a subject that I’ve been thinking about much as of late. Thank you for sharing your beliefs and experience. Lovely.

    ladylinoleum’s last blog post..Color Me Red

  14. El

    April 15, 2008 at 10:59pm

    “we can’t afford for me to not work, but we can’t afford for me to work either–my entire salary would go to daycare”

    I hear that a lot. It seems to be increasingly common; I don’t know, it seems like daycare has gotten more expensive lately. I guess if you can get a really awesome job (like “King of Human Resources” or whatever), then it’s worth it. But realistically most people will want at least one parent to work part-time while the child is very young, otherwise you’re out between like 7:30 – 6:00 and hardly see a kid going to bed at 8. And what part-time job is going to be that awesome? Nobody wants a part-time King of Human Resources.

  15. Delle

    April 16, 2008 at 2:41am

    “we can’t afford for me to not work, but we can’t afford for me to work either–my entire salary would go to daycare”

    This is why I feel so lucky. I have a pretty good salary and slightly subsidised work nursery, yet if my mum didn’t take Ro two days a week, I would be paying to work. I don’t know how others cope with this.

    Also, yesterday a couple of mums were talking about how the stay at home and I said that I couldn’t do that. Everyone started going “Oooh, can of worms” and suchlike, which I just don’t get. I didn’t say anything about anyone other than me. I meant that I’d wanted to stay at home, but I discovered that it isn’t right for me. Working part time is what works for me. Why should that be anything other than a piece of mildly interesting information about me?

    Delle’s last blog post..Moved

  16. SemiCrunchyMom

    April 16, 2008 at 5:10am

    Great post. I find it so frustrating that domestic arts are often thought to be ‘worthless’ or a ‘waste of time’. I’d love to be self-sufficient someday, although it often seems an increasingly unreachable dream.

    Have you ever read ‘Just a Housewife: the Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America?’ by Glenna Matthews. It’s a great historical study that looks at how and why housewifery became very valued in the first half of the 19th century (for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe used “the moral authority of the housewife” to speak out against slavery when she wrote ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’), then gradually suffered a decline in status, until in the 1950s a woman was ‘just a housewife’.

    SemiCrunchyMom’s last blog post..Signs of spring

  17. Anne

    April 16, 2008 at 6:27am

    Without discounting a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post, I’d also like to vote for the “vacation all the time” plan. Please.

  18. Sarah Bray

    April 16, 2008 at 6:54am

    Ha! Love this post! I often feel EXACTLY the same way…especially since I have a blog called “Today’s Homemaker.” When I first registered the domain name, I was like “Wow…this is awesome! No one has this name! What are the odds of that?” But now I’m always feeling the teeniest cringe whenever I type it. I often wonder what I was thinking and wish to change it, but to what? And why? Those are the hard questions.

    Sarah Bray’s last blog post..Inspiration Board

  19. Jenn

    April 16, 2008 at 9:36am

    This whole thing about people feeling like they know what all goes into “other” lives…. bah!

    I *know* that there are people who look at us and think we’re “lucky”. I think we’re lucky too, but mainly for the blessings of health and family and various systems of education and so on. But I think about buying a house and what all it has taken for us to be able to do this. And that some people here just think “ohhlala, you guys are buying a house” as the market here is insane. So, um, I’m rambling into the part where what you said about giving stuff up. We don’t have cell phones, we don’t have TV, we carpool, we don’t eat out (including take-out) – we did all these things to save up our down payment. We thought it was worth (and will be worth) the trade off to have a house of our own. And just the part where you feel that you can’t say that to some people (I agree) because that isn’t the point and it gets the whole thing off topic.. but at the same time it *is* about the choices that we’ve (you’ve) made. You know what I mean?

    So yes, I understand the choice not to work. And anyone who doesn’t think that you guys have weighed that choice and who thinks there aren’t trade offs – they’re stupid. And then in turn I listen to people talk about women like me who will go back to work after a year of mat leave (we get that here through the gov’t) and let “others raise my child”. But that is part of my trade off for us to have a house and live in this part of the country. And I know you’d never poo-poo my choice, and I’m totally down with yours.. so what is with these other people? I need some kind of bear spray to ward off their snarky faces.

    *womb solidarity*

    Jenn’s last blog post..Crazy Brain

  20. Kim

    April 16, 2008 at 12:47pm

    You know, I wonder if there’s more at work than gender here?

    Downloading of many of these tasks to mechanization and Chinese laborers has cheapened our value of many things. Our culture is so disposable that people don’t see the worth in creating things that last, but take time. It’s simply not possible to make many things as inexpensively as you can buy them.

  21. Grandmere

    April 16, 2008 at 8:32pm

    I so agree with you about alll you wrote. And knitting? A hobby? No way! My kids never had “store bought” hats, scarves or mittens when they were little. Even their sweaters were mainly from my needles or my mom’s. Knitting is my way of relaxing, my way of avoiding therapy, and my favorite way of showing love for my family…and some of my friends. I usually have several projects going on at once. nd now I belong to a charity group who knit lap robes and shawls for a local hospice and we supply the local soup kitchen with hats, scarves, and mittens early each winter. We all feel as if we are helping our community by doing so.

    I used to can and freeze vegetables when we had a yard big enough for a garden. I loved doing it. There was a sense of accomplishment that I can’t really describe. It also saved money…raising three kids on a teacher’s salary was not easy, especially in the 70s. We didn’t have money for trips to Disney World…and if I had stayed in my career, we would have. My pension would be larger…but I have NEVER regretted my decision to stay home with my children. I returned to teaching after 15 years at home…and proved to myself that I did the right hting. I could not have devoted the time I needed to spend on my lessons and my students, and had the time to be the kind of mom I wanted to be for my kids. I have friends who did both, successfully. I know I did not have the emotional and physical srength to do both…a bit of perfecitonist in my personality may have had something to do with it. Choosing to leave my career, just as Women’s lib…you can do it all…was peaking…not easy. I was trested as if I was an appendage without a brain and called “Earth Mother” by a former colleague.I still do not regret a moment I spent as a SAHM who practised and enjoyed domestic arts!!

    Grandmere’s last blog post..Recycling old plastic bags

  22. Jenna

    April 17, 2008 at 10:22am

    1. Incredible post.

    2. I also vote for a maid and full-time vacation lifestyle.

    3. The more I get into crafting (knitting, dyeing, soap-making, etc…) the more people ask me “WHY do you do that?” Here’s the thing: no one EVER asked me that question when I went to the gym 4 days a week, participated in book-camps or spent countless dollars on a personal trainer. That made SENSE to them.

    Jenna’s last blog post..Seriously, who’s with me?

  23. Jack

    April 17, 2008 at 11:18pm

    but we can’t afford for me to work either–my entire salary would go to daycare and hello, that’s crazy.

    The wife barely makes enough to make it worthwhile for her to work. Ok, after seven years at home she was ready to go back, but still the daycare costs are substantial.

    Jack’s last blog post..What is Your Favorite Pesach Memory?

  24. John

    April 18, 2008 at 7:28am

    I can’t think of a single smart-ass remark that won’t be taken wrong by somebody. I’ll just warn you that the more women’s work Will does, the closer you may want to keep an eye on what it is he’s doing with that strapping young hired hand in the barn.

    John’s last blog post..Now it can be told

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