Feminism is about a battle for power and the search for a sense of self-worth or meaning. There is a crisis of being and maybe this is what feminism should focus on.
Thinking about feminism should start from a reflection on why human beings work, the purpose that work serves for the human person as well as what it means to be a man or woman. Maybe this discussion would not be necessary if human economic activity and pursuits were centred on the development of the human person as opposed to power, efficiency in profit making, and personal prestige and an identity based on how much money/wealth one has access to.
Concepts of Value and Self-Worth
Feminism is about a battle for power and the search for a sense of self-worth or meaning. There is a crisis of being and maybe this is what feminism should focus on. This has many facets but the focus for this post is on work and labour. The human being’s worth is measured according to one’s productive ability (economic value) or position in society. If we think about it, we all want to engage in work that makes us feel worthy or appreciated. If my value is commensurate to how much I earn, I would like to earn as much as I can. If my value is dependent on the position I hold in a company or the kind of work I do, then I will aspire to be the top. There is also a situation where certain kinds of work are deemed more important than others. In this case housework and childcare is deemed unimportant when it is the most important work. It would be wise to remember that any work done is in support and betterment of the human person. Would we want to invent if there was no one to benefit from the inventions? Would we have lawyers if law was not meant to govern the people? All these pursuits are meaningless when the ‘factory’ (the family) of human beings is deemed unimportant. Work serves the human person but we seem to make it more important than the human person. If we all focused so much on work for work’s sake and neglect childcare and all that pertains to the family, wouldn’t we be making money a small god? If work outside the home was not remunerated, would women still talk of a gender gap and inequalities? Yet as human beings we have an intrinsic value that is independent of anything. Feminism should be concerned with making the economy serve the interests of the family, not profit. It is possible to restructure our institutions in a manner that makes it possible for men, women and children to thrive, utilise their talents to the optimum without undervaluing women’s work. Imagine a world where money was not the measure of value or worth! In such a world women can learn to find the beauty in their vocation as nurturers rather than try to be what they are not even as they embrace their careers and makes use of their unique talents.
Gender as the how we should be rather than how we are …
In Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, “we should all be feminists“, she talks of a feminist as a person who sees a problem with gender as it is today and wants to fix it. According to her, “gender defines how we should be rather than how we are”. When we say that gender defines how we should be rather than how we are, it might seem to make sense bearing in mind that false concepts of gender see no distinction between what it means to be male or female. This is visible in a feminism that does not seek to create an optimum environment for women to be themselves but one that wants to make them unto men. As humans, we are beings and that denotes that there is a way we should be rather than accepting human flaws (the how we are) as predetermined. We cannot let the “how we are”define us. The problem then is not in gender but in gendered roles and how value is apportioned. Sharing of roles is essential in enabling the family to thrive. We cannot talk of the inability of a woman to cook or dislike for housework as the “how we are”. One might hate taking a shower but should one say that he/she has grown up with a dislike for showering when a pungent smell makes oneself and others uncomfortable? To shower, one must. To cook one must unless he/she is able to afford and employee to do that for oneself. These are the realities of the human condition. The “how we are” focuses on individuals in a vacuum and outside of a community or family, devoid of any responsibilities.
Should Men Do Housework?
Work is dignifying but it involves utilising energy. If we could, most of us would rather do without work but we have to work in order to eat or do anything creative. Some tasks are not gender specific and can be shared by both genders. I believe all should be able to help out in the home. Nonetheless, women by nature are nurturing and in this sense pay particular attention to the development of their offspring. A woman starts her nurturing in her womb, housing the young human life which is nourished from her. When she eats, she might eat a little more than usual bearing in mind that she is no longer alone but houses another life. After birth she nurses the helpless little one going on to feed it until it reaches an age where it is able to feed itself. Even then, as she thinks of what she’ll eat she puts in mind the little one. It is no longer about herself only. She has in hand the care and nurturing of human life. Could there be a greater honour than to raise human life to its full potential? We were all once helpless unable to feed, clothe, bathe or do anything for ourselves. Yet out of an inexplicable love, our parents did what they could in order to ensure we thrived, most of the time denying themselves some comfort so that we could experience a good life. Men on the other hand recognise that when a new life conceived, they will look out for the family. It’s no longer about them. They live their life in service to their family. Basically, this might be in terms of ensuring that while the woman is busy with the children (at at tender age), he can help with bringing food to the table, paying rent or whatever it is to supports her efficiency in nurturing. Meanwhile, the woman will be involved in other necessary chores.
It appears therefore that women are primed to receive and nurture (cf. Camilleri, 2003). This should viewed as an honour and more so, shouldn’t be the reason poverty has a female face. If any relationship is to happen and reproduction to follow, they have to be receptive. It is expected of men to do the chasing and women to decide whether to be receptive of any advances or not. Women can choose to act in ways that seek to attract men (isn’t this visible in overtly provocative dressing) but if I might be allowed to be crude, even male and female anatomy dictate that women are primed to be receptive. They receive and nurture and perhaps that is how gender roles have evolved. When a child is born, care is given to it, women are careful not to leave a child unattended. As a friend on face book opined , “making the decision to have a child is like having your heart walk outside your body, it falls, it bleeds, it’s mocked, it’s attacked physically, mentally and spiritually… and all these, a mom feels …deeply!” Women do not have to be pushed to do the nurturing, it comes naturally. Tied to child care for some time, then they must be able to receive from men in whatever way that makes sense in a particular context. Nurturing must lead to the growth of capable human beings who are holistically self-sufficient and humane. At some point children are able to help out and in the process they learn. When we have well formed individuals society becomes a safe place on the other hand if we focus more on economic activities than on the human person, society will bear the burden. You must admit, it is difficult to change one’s behaviour past a certain point. A child who learns to steal at an early age will find it hard to unlearn a habit. In African families children help their parents out whenever they are able to. Children also learn how to interact with their siblings and others in a just manner and mostly under their parents’ watch. They are supervised in the little activities of the day. Parenting is a partnership and parents consult each other on how to best raise every child. Somehow, all are involved in a certain capacity. It is not up to society to define gender roles, they evolve depending on the needs of the family. The market economy however has reinforced and bred female poverty. Ideally, both men and women should be able to juggle family and work responsibilities. With improved technology, we should have a scenario where production can revolve around the household for those men and women who prefer such an arrangement.
Camilleri, M. (2003). Woman as Gift. Retrieved from http://www.secondspring.co.uk/articles/camilleri.htm