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A Cold Day for Women's Liberation

The only time I miss having a garage is when I have to scrape snow and ice and frost from the windows of the car before I can get going. Last week was a particular mess. An inch or two of snow with some frozen rain on top and some frozen slush below. Off to Augusta I went with the roof and hood of the car still covered. Just north of Portland the snow on the hood lifted off almost as a piece. As it flew back at me my head flinched into my neck. I looked in the mirror and saw the man in the car behind me also duck as I had though the snow fell to the road between us. A car that was just coming up on my left to pass pulled alongside and gestured to me. I couldn't see the gesture but took it to be a friendly kind of greeting. Something like, "Bet that scared you." or "Isn't winter in Maine an adventure?"

She completed her pass, just barely, and when she pulled in front of me she held her fist up with the middle finger extended. "Humm," I thought "Is she pointing at her roof to say, 'There is no snow on my car. Why don't you get a garage like I have?'"

No, I'm not that naïve. I know that gesture well. I was in the military after all. However, when I was growing up it was an aggressive gesture used only by men and women my mother would call "gutter snips". This woman did not fit the definition of a gutter snip. Never mind that I am a bit baffled by the reaction especially since she wasn't even in the path of the flying snow and I don't know in what way she was holding me responsible. Does she make the same gesture at trucks when snow flies off them? She looked to be old enough to have experienced snow flying off a vehicle before. Could she have been propositioning me?

After these thoughts had run their course in my mind I began to think about the apparent increase in aggressiveness in women today. Not just in experiences like this but in statistics of violent crimes.

I have long thought that so called women's liberation is having a negative effect on our society. Don't get me wrong. There has been much good in this movement. I have particularly applauded information about the value of domestic jobs. By now I'm sure I've raised some hackles with a couple of loaded phrases. But if "domestic jobs" annoyed you then you are just the person I want to talk to. You have accepted the garbage that domestic jobs are somehow less important than a "real" job. The opposite is true, I believe. I believe the most important jobs, the most meaningful jobs are those that are connected to our needs. These are also the most fulfilling and least frustrating.

How is it fulfilling to cook three meals a day and clean up after them? Well, if they are unappreciated or if the person doing them feels he or she should be making ships or bombs or doing brain surgery or suing an insurance company, then the job will be a drudge. If unappreciated, try communicating the importance of appreciation. If that fails, stop cooking or cook for someone else. There is no reason anyone should be made to feel unappreciated when they are doing an essential job and food and shelter are essential.

But how about the "bread winner." That was a stupid phrase. Going away from home, especially when children are involved, is not a positive thing. I did it, but I never thought it was a positive thing. It was necessary for a while in my life.

What I am getting at is that I think we started making a mistake with the industrial revolution. Men left the home to make money. Before that we were mostly an agrarian society. As children we watched our fathers and mothers at their work. Mom worked mostly in the house and Dad mostly outdoors but I don't think many men had the temerity to suggest that their job was more important than their partner's. How silly that would have been. "OK turkey, see how long you can go without food." Or "I'm going home to visit my mother for a few days. You know where the food is."

Keeping a house working is pretty nearly a full time job. Add children to the job and take "pretty nearly" out to the wood shed. When Barbara and I were living close to the land and starting a family there were times when I had to help her with her job and there were times when she had to help me with mine. It was a wonderful fulfilling life.

Going to work for someone else is barely a step away from slavery unless you are doing a job you enjoy. My guess is that men got a lot more aggressive once they started going to work for others and that we are seeing the same thing in women. Women's lib identified a problem, for sure. I just suspect that the solution was wrong.

©February 9, 1997



I knew my use of the term "women's liberation" in my last column would get me in trouble and I knew just where it would come from. Since I didn't have a better term I sent the column off without asking for my wife's comments. Maybe I was even hoping she wouldn't read it in the paper but she did. She ended up agreeing with the column but just thought the term, especially coming from the mouth or pen of a man, had a negative connotation. Sometimes I use loaded words or phrases with the intent of exploring and, hopefully exploding, preconceptions. I think we would all be much better off if we listened to what people were trying to say with a positive attitude, if we assumed that they were intelligent and that their ideas might well be of some value. For example, if you are a fan of President Clinton, you should assume that Mr. Gingrich is an intelligent man, and he is, and that what he says has some value and it does. If you are a fan of Mr. Gingrich, you should approach the President's thought and words with respect.

Anyway, last week in a nutshell I pointed out that before the Industrial Revolution most work was done at home generally by a partnership of a man and a woman joined later by their children. The family's needs were generally met directly, that is they raised their own food, made their own clothes and shelter and collected their own fuel. With the Industrial Revolution men started leaving the home to go to work for others. They bought more of their own food and clothing and fuel. Their work became less directly connected with their needs and the needs of their family. With the Women's Revolution (Barbara's and my answer for a replacement for the loaded liberation term) women started leaving the home to go to work for others.

First men left the home to do meaningless or near meaningless work and a couple of hundred years later women joined them. What, exactly, do I call meaningless work you might ask? There are a lot of ways to answer that question. It is more meaningful for me to serve you a meal of food that was raised, harvested, stored, and prepared by me. I think that is even more meaningful to you even though you are only participating by eating. It is less meaningful to go to the store, purchase a frozen dinner and zap it in the microwave.

Here is another example. I always thought people became pilots because they wanted to unlike some other professions which people enter because they think they will make a lot of money or professions people just fall into like selling. And yet here are pilots who receive an average of $120,000 a year doing, supposedly what they want to do striking for more money. They are already making 4 to 5 times the average wage and 10 times the income of people working at the poverty level doing a job they chose which requires following a schedule and mostly sitting down. They don't get paper cuts or calluses. They aren't even allowed to work overtime. Yet they are unhappy.

I have been there. Not in that profession but in another which I choose, which paid well, and which was envied by many. I found myself to be unhappy and found that making more money would compensate for being unhappy. It even made me think that I was happy. It wasn't until I quit that I learned what true happiness was.

Wouldn't it have been better if the Women's Revolution had brought men back into the homes where they could work together doing meaningful work? This kind of work, done in the presence of children, is, in my opinion, a pretty good way to instill what we are referring to these days as "family values".

©February 16, 1997

Mort Mather's Philosophy Essays

Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. He is a consultant for organizations. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.

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