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Monday, July 27, 2015

Women's Work

 Young Housewife by Tyranov


The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and buried in three measures of flour, until all of it was leavened.  Matthew 13: 33


Recently it occurred to me that "women's work" is not a phrase one hears anymore. I remember when growing up that women's work was referred to in a sort of demeaning way--the kind of thing that men should never do, as if it were beneath them. Today's married men often share in traditional women's work, such as changing diapers, doing dishes, preparing meals, and folding laundry. My husband helps with all of these things, except that we no longer have a child in diapers. In many households both parents work, and men share more of the burden of housework than in past generations.

That's a wonderful cultural shift in many ways, but at the same time, I am sensing a tendency in society toward bringing back the dignity of women's work. We are burnt out by the "extreme busyness disorder" of modern life and are sick with the gluttony and idolatry of consumerism. Women have been quietly leaving the trappings of career superwoman behind and coming home to be, once again, the heart of the family. They are reclaiming the traditional domestic arts--tending a kitchen garden, mothering, canning, knitting, baking their own bread...

We see in the Gospel of Matthew a parable told by Jesus, of the kingdom of heaven being like leaven that a woman uses to make her bread expand and rise. Surely a man can also bake bread. But evidently Jesus placed a high value upon this work of the woman in his day.

When I became a member of the Habeeba's belly dance troupe in Columbus, I purchased a costume that had accessories which needed to be finished. I paid another dancer $50.00 to do the bead work. I coveted her skill. I had to have a circle skirt just for practice, the fabric of which cost me $45.00. If I had made the skirt myself, it would have been a disaster. So I sent it, along with the pattern, to my grandmother, and she made the skirt, which had to be cut on the bias, whatever that means. One of the teachers at Habeeba's offered me $100.00 for the skirt! I refused her.

My grandmother is a professional level seamstress who was never paid to sew. As a mother of five, sewing was an indispensable skill to have. I was once a sales associate at the Lazarus department store in Columbus, and every single one of the women who worked in garment alterations was from Russia. American women, by and large, cannot sew. With all of the money I have spent on belly dance costuming, I learned to be in awe of the woman who is a genius with a needle and thread.

I am getting to the point in my daily round where I embrace my humble tasks. As I fold my family's laundry, I am doing the kind of work that women have historically done throughout the ages. And my family drools over my homemade French baguettes! Guiding my child to form good habits is not a waste of time; it is absolutely essential to her future life's happiness. One time my husband told me that when there is not clean underwear in his drawer, he feels like I don't love him. I have never let the underwear drawer be empty since! And isn't it wonderful how easy it really is to keep a man happy?

What the stay-at-home mother does is real work. It isn't lesser work than anything done outside the home for pay. Managing a household takes dedication, intelligence, love, perseverance, organization, creativity, and massive amounts of energy. Not to mention the virtues of patience and humility. Our work encompasses many professions rolled into one. Women who don't possess the skills necessary to do this work well feel the pain.

I remember it being said that women's work is a sacrifice, and the implication was that women shouldn't have to sacrifice anything. The Catholic worldview, on the other hand, is that we carry our crosses with joy. How radical is that?

Do not disdain the woman's work. It is the leaven of the bread that feeds the hungry soul.


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