I've been thinking about work a lot lately, specifically the fact that I have a pretty cushy job. And this even started before a man working on clearing a fire break behind my office was attacked by a hive of bees. (He's OK, but seeing that sort of thing certainly puts the occupational hazards of my job in perspective.)
It all started when my book club read Willa Cather's My Antonia, followed by Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls. In neither book is the back-breaking, never-ending nature of the labor of the female protagonists the main point, but it is an ever-constant companion to them, even after- or really, especially after- they have kids.
This ties into my thoughts about working mothers: i.e., that it is nothing new. Mothers have always worked at something other than mothering, and for most of history, women's work has been hard labor. As I like to say: have you ever read the instructions for making soap? Or churning butter? It doesn't sound like a lot of fun to me. I'm glad I live in a time in which I can go do something easier and (to me) more intellectually rewarding, get paid, and use that money to buy soap, and butter. And a dishwasher and washing machine. And- I know this bit is slightly more controversial- pay a cleaning service to do some of the cleaning chores.
Given my thoughts on this subject, it was interesting coming across a post about why, when a couple decides to go live "off the grid", it is usually the woman who calls it quits first. I found the post via Historiann's interesting post on the topic. The premise of both posts is that the women quit first not because they are wimpier, but because their role in the enterprise sucks more, because people tend to fall back into old gender roles, and women's work before electricity and modern appliances was never-ending, often invisible, and certainly hard. (Whereas men's work was at least visible, and involves discrete projects that actually end.) Some of the commenters on Historiann's post point out the parallels to the KPBS reality shows where they'd drop modern people into a homestead or a colonial house, or something, and assign them historically accurate roles. Apparently it was the women who first came to the conclusion that the experiment was no fun whatsoever.
I wish more people would remember this. My work life isn't perfect- but it is a lot better than washing cloth diapers by hand, scrubbing floors on my hands and knees with soap I had to make myself, or even cooking over a wood-fired stove. I have it pretty good, and frankly, even people with a lot less money than I do probably have it better than a homesteader. And yet we keep romanticizing the past, as if there was more time for parenting then and life was somehow better. It doesn't seem either of those things are true to me, but I'm no historian, so maybe I'm wrong. But from what I read, it seems like childhood is better now- day care included!- and life is easier now, particularly for women.
Perhaps we romanticize the past in this way because "women's work"- i.e., housework and the like- is traditionally invisible and not counted as actual work. Awhile back, Blue milk had a great guest post at PhD in Parenting on how society fails to value work inside the home, and how that impacts the rest of society.
Of course, none of this takes away the fact that it is hard to manage the competing needs of family and work, particularly since, as we discussed yesterday, finding work-life balance is still not a given. But it can be done (obviously, since so many of us are doing it). I came across a short post about how to actually do it. It didn't have anything new, really, and I think she is a bit unfair to women who choose to stay at home with their kids. Many of them find it rewarding, and if they do, then the rest of us have no business judging their lives. But the post makes some good points succinctly, and is worth a read.
And now, I suppose, it is time to start our weekend chores around here. Using our modern appliances, of course!