This Woman’s Work

This Woman’s Work

Women are the culture-bearers. Women are the ones who raise children, who nurture them and give them the crucial formative years that form personalities. Women teach children how to read, they are there to clean up messes, fix cuts and bruises and wipe away runny noses and tears. If it's true that men cry out for their mothers on the battlefield, these are the reasons why. 

But men do not cry out for their fathers in war. Do you wonder why? Men do not get tattoos reading "Dad" on their arms: it's always "Mom." No one passing before a camera has yelled "Hi, Dad!" but always "Hi, Mom!"

Men do not love their children. Oh, is that too harsh? I'll rephrase it slightly: men do not love their children the way women do. Men pat themselves on the back when a child is born (and are relieved when it's a boy) although it was the woman bearing all the pain. Men prefer that women change the diapers: how many times have you seen the sitcom where the man is befuddled and terrified at changing a soiled diaper and proceeds with all the delicacy of a bull in a china shop? And this is played for laughs, mind you, but it's become such an ingrained image that people accept it as normal behavior. Baby puke and shit: that is woman's work. 

Men consider themselves as the primary breadwinners so their quick return to work after the birth of a child and those long hours at the office is a way to salve a guilty conscience that their wives are already starting the long path of raising a child doing 95 percent of the work. When a man reaches a certain age, he makes a great deal of noise about retiring to "spend more time with the family," but the truth of it is, the hard work has already been done. The children are raised and out the door. But we laud this sentiment as the measure of a man who "has it all," and has done it all. We celebrate it. A woman who continues to work is still looked at as a bad mother, or one who is not paying enough attention to her kids. We don't fête a woman who makes the same declaration of spending more time with her family: we ask why she didn't in the first place. 

Women are the caregivers, men are not. Have you ever noticed that when a family needs to make a visit to a loved one in the hospital, the man cannot take his eyes off the clock? When a woman enters a hospital for a visit, time melts away. Men see it as an unfortunate duty, so they calculate the minimum amount of time needed to make sure the obligation is met. Thirty minutes is the usual amount, but stay an hour, well, the man will trumpet that as if he charged San Juan Hill all by himself. At the beginning of life and at the end of it, women do the unpleasant, dirty work. Men excuse themselves ("I can't bear to see Aunt Jane that way") while women do not. Funny how men think they are suited for combat when it's women who first deal with birth, blood, piss, shit and death long before they ever do. 

But somehow, even little boys learn this behavior. A boy nurtured by his mother somewhere learns that certain things are "for girls." Perhaps it's some evolutionary hardwiring that boys want to be like their dads, even when they fear their authority. Mommy is always home for you, but daddy has a particular mystique that impresses little boys in ways that are hard to fathom. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Barack Obama's book was titled "Dreams from My Father," and his mother barely rated a mention while the dad was as absentee as you can get. She's the one who sent him back to Hawaii from Indonesia in order for him to get a good English-speaking education. So when little boys grow up and become men, they too will let their wives do the nurturing and the raising. They too will watch the hospital clock like a hawk. And they too will pat themselves on the back and say, "I was a good provider," never "I was a good raiser of children."

That's woman's work.