Monday, July 20, 2009

Women's Work

It’s time for a change of reading material. I have spent most of my precious reading and study time over the past few years reading the words of men, the ideas of men, the perspectives and objectives of men. It is time to read and take to heart the words of women. Commune with the souls of women. It is time to return to the silence and darkness and stillness of the Women’s Lodge, to linger with my sisters and mothers and grandmothers in breathless timelessness until my soul is refreshed and renewed and reborn into the new self which has been struggling to emerge. (If I sound like someone in mid-life crisis, that’s probably because I am).

One of the first books I picked up was Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, originally published in 1955 and presented to me by my lovely Auntie Jazz on the occasion of my 31st birthday, my first birthday as a married woman (it was a while ago). Amazingly, I haven’t read it until now.

I randomly opened the book and started reading a chapter. Here’s what it gleaned.

“I walked far down the beach, soothed by the rhythm of the waves, the sun on my bare back and legs, the wind and mist from the spray on my hair. Into the waves and out like a sandpiper. And then home, drenched, drugged, reeling, full to the brim with my day alone; full like the moon before the night has taken a single nibble of it; full as a cup poured up to the lip. There is a quality to fullness that the Psalmist expressed: “My cup runneth over.” Let no one come – I pray in sudden panic – I might spill myself away!

“Is this then what happens to woman? She wants perpetually to spill herself away. All her instinct as a woman – the eternal nourisher of children, of men, of society – demands that she give. Her time, her energy, her creativeness drain out into these channels if there is any chance, any leak. Traditionally we are taught, and instinctively we long, to give where it is needed – and immediately. Eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim.”

And, here’s the kicker:

“Here is the strange paradox. Woman instinctively wants to give, yet resents giving herself in small pieces. Basically is this a conflict? Or is it an over-simplification of a many-stranded problem? I believe that what woman resents is not so much giving herself in pieces as giving herself purposelessly. What we fear is not so much that our energy may be leaking away through small outlets as that it may be going “down the drain.” We do not see the results of our giving as concretely as man does in his work. In the job of home-keeping there is no raise from the boss, and seldom praise from others to show us we have hit the mark. Except for the child, woman’s creation is so often invisible, especially today. We are working at an arrangement in form, of the myriad disparate details of house-work, family routine, and social life. It is a kind of intricate game of cat’s-cradle we manipulate on our fingers, with invisible threads. How can one point to this constant tangle of household chores, errands, and fragments of human relationships, as a creation? It is hard even to think of it as purposeful activity, so much of it is automatic. Woman herself begins to feel like a telephone exchange or a laundromat.”

And, finally:

“Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day. How revolutionary that sounds and how impossible of attainment. To many women such a program seems quite out of reach. They have no extra income to spend on a vacation for themselves; no time left over from the weekly drudgery of housework for a day off; no energy after the daily cooking, cleaning and washing for even an hour of creative solitude.

“Is this then only an economic problem? I do not think so. Every paid worker, no matter where in the economic scale, expects a day off a week and a vacation a year. By and large, mothers and housewifes are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class. They rarely even complain of their lack, apparently not considering occasional time to themselves as a justifiable need.”

Some things remain constant, even after fifty-four years and the modern women’s movement.

Okay, girls, who’s ready for a road trip?


  1. OhmygoodnessIam! Though I wonder how I'd pull it off. . . damn, that would rock, though.

    What a remarkable thing to open that book to. Striking words, and I can relate to them so much! I don't think I've quite hit the midlife crisis point, but I certainly feel the universal frustrations of motherhood. I've been trying to reclaim myself here and there, even as I try to get a better handle on my other responsibilities. It's sort of like cleaning my mental mirror, and being surprised how much more clearly I can see myself. It was pretty clouded.

  2. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  3. Thanks, Deborah. Nice to have you here :)

    Kit, I like the idea of cleaning the mental mirror.