Somewhere along the way, I absorbed the idea that ‘women’s work’ ie. work in the home, was less valuable than men’s work. It’s no surprise that I internalized this, I was a teenager in the 70s, the age of women’s liberation, readily available contraception and women were entering the workforce at unprecedented rate. I refused to take typing in school because I never wanted to get shunted off into a secretarial position. Little did I know how much we would ALL need that skill!
This attitude, coupled with lots of convenience foods, led many of us to stop doing many of the traditional things that our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers etc. did: knitting, making our own clothes, gardening and preserving the seasons. We didn’t want to get locked into those traditional roles, so we rejected them. It’s delightful to see how many people, across the gender spectrum picking up so many traditional women’s skills. Things like knitting, weaving, preserving, clothes-making.
Like many people, we started vegetable gardening during Covid. I wanted to for years, but was always too busy with church work in the spring to get one going, but when you are stuck at home… Each year we have expanded it and each year, while it is a labour, it’s more satisfying and exciting. This year, I ate fresh greens all summer long, I have dried and frozen tomatoes and peppers, I have hopes that our potatoes and carrots will last us till Christmas, and our onions will last till we harvest new ones next year. Tending a garden takes time, energy and commitment, but it’s not a matter of life or death if my ‘crops’ fail. For instance, we went on vacation, came home with Covid just when all the beans were ready to pick. I just left them there, they became to large and woody to eat, not a disaster at all. I did save the beans to plant next year, but I wasn’t going to go hungry because I didn’t harvest them when they were ready.
Last week, I canned 25 pounds of beets, the week before my husband and I bbq’d five dozen cobs of corn, took the corn off the cobs and froze it, earlier this summer, I made 24 pints of strawberry jam. Yesterday, I decided that rather than let the quince fall off the tree and lay on the ground and rot, the way they usually do, I’d try my hand at making quince jelly. So, I picked about 40 of them, they are a small, very sour fruit, not good for eating at all. I washed, quartered, cored, cooked, mashed them, strained the mash through cheesecloth for about 5 hours, then cooked the resulting juice with sugar for about an hour and wound up with 4 jars of quince jelly! Bounty from the earth, only my time, energy and some sugar.
Unlike our foremothers, I don’t have to produce and harvest most of what I preserve, I can get that quite readily at a farmers market, or my favourite place: Taproot Farms. Also unlike our foremothers, I have a stove, I am not tending a fire to preserve the seasons. Now admittedly, I’m fitting gardening and preserving into a life that includes a full-time vocation outside the home. But our foremothers also did all of this while tending to multiple children, tending a household, making all the clothes etc.
‘Women’s work’ was and IS work!