I keep reading these ridiculous reports, The State of the World’s Women, The World Economic Report, Gender Justice and Economic Equality. One thing that always jumps out at me is the complete disregard for women’s work, in fact, all these reports actually treat women’s work as if it were a Very Bad Thing that must be corrected by educating women and plugging them into the county’s economy and politics.
So what is women’s work? It’s whatever we happen to be doing at the time. Half this world’s labor comes from women, often unpaid, often unrecognized, often from women not formally educated in an Ivy League university. Women are working all over the world, some in agriculture, some in food preservation, some having babies, some raising children. Women are the keepers of culture, language, tradition, artisan skills, crafting, and the teachers of children. We are already scientists in kitchens where all the chemistry happens, in caring for the elderly, the sick, in healing often with few resources or supplies. We’re already practicing psychology, implementing math, leading people spiritually and politically. And women of course, get a pretty good education in biology, simply from leading our lives.
Without the work of women, the quality of our lives suffer. These skills that have to do with hearth and home and culture are not to be casually dismissed as the work of poor, uneducated, women who haven’t got any choice, but rather a phenomenal contribution to who we are as human beings, to civilization itself.
It’s somewhat sad to me, we tend to measure a country’s success by whether or not they have women in parliament, a female prime minister, formal education and employer provided maternity leave. The six million women quietly doing the traditional work of women, well they don’t even count. In fact they’re evidence of women’s oppression. They’re an embarrassment. Women only have value when they are engaged in jobs traditionally done by men and are receiving economic compensation for their labors, labors that really should not have much to do with the hands-on care of people, because people aren’t really where it’s at. That kind of work should fall on those who have little worth or value and really have nothing else to offer the world. People! Investing in people is perceived as the world’s slop work, something done by the uneducated because they have nothing more useful to do with themselves.
It’s no secret that if you get a job in banking, technology, or baseball, you will be compensated for it far more than you will if you get a job working in a pre-school or a nursing home. The world shows us what it values everyday in how it compensates people and it sure isn’t the people-work that gets recognized economically.
Last week I was watching a group of older women making soup. There’s a lot of skill required in making soup believe it or not, but that wasn’t it, it was the labor of love behind the soup that caught my attention, the motivation, the intent, the way the soup was being used as a vehicle to attend to people’s emotional, spiritual, psychological, social, and physical needs. We all know how comforting and warm soup can be, soup served in the company of people who care about you, who are willing to listen to you, who expect nothing in return, is simply the stuff of miracles. It’s not just about nourishing bodies, it’s about nourishing souls and warming spirits. No, no religious message my atheist friends, just some love for humanity served up in a bowl of soup.
That is the real work of women and it’s frequently unpaid work, but it has a value so vast that it cannot even be properly measured. That’s what some of the poor, uneducated, uncounted, women in my community were doing last week.
And those who have been properly and formally educated and taught a new narrative about where women’s value lies? Well, they were busy bullying a man to tears on twitter because of a shirt.