I finished reading The Woman in the Body by Emily Martin this past week. Its an older book (1987), but not yet outdated. Like many feminist books that study women’s experiences (here with menstruation, birth, and menopause) it explores the ways in which women are (and have been) oppressed by men and cultural myths. It is neither angry nor accusatory toward anyone specific, but reasonable, a plus in such cases. Martin does highlight the general American tendency to view bodies with a distinctly medical framework, but also a machine/production framework as well. She also wrote with a thoughtful Marxist interpretation (capitalist/laborer) and perspective.
Of particular interest to me was a reference to another feminist author, Nancy Hartsock, who “argues that … because of their deep involvement in the concrete processes of birth, childrearing, and housework, [women] experience life as concrete, bodily, natural, real, and changing.” (This she opposes to men’s experience in life as abstract, mental, ideal, and static)
I think it is a good reminder to remember that the traditionally feminine tasks done in life can bring about a certain perspective in life which cannot be had when they are not completed by women, or completed by anyone.
On the one hand, I am grateful for the ever increasing gender equality within marriage, which other Christian bloggers have touched upon (here and here). I am grateful for the ways in which I find my own marriage is often a meritocracy of chores, or where we divide along lines of least abhorrence. I am grateful that we accept these divisions without the need to spend long hours discussing who is doing “more” of these types of acts.
I am also grateful for the plethora of accepted options for women with children to stay home, work, or work part time and I hope to see further increases in both maternity and paternity leave in the future of American business. I’d also like to see more women in poorer nations be supported through education and business grants.
However, there are some tasks, which seem to have been taken out of the hands of a community of women and which are now placed into the hands of either gender and also now are performed as solitary persons and consumers. The things which jump to my mind most quickly are food provisioning, clothing one’s household, and providing entertainment (though that was never an only women’s task). These are the sorts of things I envy past women for in that these types of activities were performed in a community of family and friends and security of gender roles. I also envy some of the work that went along with these things. Now (and I take a large portion of these ideas from Harry Braverman), we are sent to the market to do all of these tasks, in some ways severing women from the connection of viewing things as “bodily, natural, real, or changing.”
Just a little lament amidst all the joys of being a woman.