Women’s Work

I’m zonked and my head feels like it’s full of static.  Does anyone else ever feel that way?  Like all of your fingers suddenly can’t grasp small objects properly, so everything you touch flies across the room, and then ricochets several times, and lands in an unexpected place underneath an awkward piece of furniture that you really don’t want to have to look under?

Today is one of those days for me, at least, and all of this static has made me ruminate on a craigslist ad that got my goat a few days ago.

An ad requested that another person reupholster a couch within the person’s home with fabric that had already been purchased.  Compensation? $75.

Can you imagine?  Can you just imagine putting in at least 10 hours of labour pinning and tucking and sewing and measuring and sewing some more for less than minimum wage after traveling to someone else’s house?  The mind boggles.

Which brings me to an old rant of mine:  the value of labour.  Specifically, traditionally female labour.  Jobs like sewing or knitting or making things that work are traditionally considered women’s work (even though that attitude isn’t really historically true, just look at stranded knitting in Ireland or European sewing guilds in the 1420s or sweaters in Norway or tailors in the 1700s) and are therefore unimportant: but the fruit of said labour is almost considered to be deserved.  I call bullshit.

Once upon a time, not everyone had more than one or two pairs or pants, and that makes sense.  There is a lot of work that goes into sewing pants, and because of that, pants were very expensive.  Now, pants are sewn by people who have no other option but to get paid very little to do a great deal of work.  Work that is important, yet undervalued.  After all, no one thinks about what life would be like without clothing, right?  Because everyone seems to think that clothes are just automatic, a human right, and if your pants wear out, just go to the mall and buy a new pair, never mind the people who wove the denim that’s keeping your bum dry and warm.  Where is this sense of entitlement coming from?

I’ve never understood why the paradigm related to textiles today is so… distorted.  There are so many steps in producing textiles (growing, harvesting, processing, spinning, dyeing thread, weaving or knitting or crotcheting fabric, cutting, pinning, sewing, and then the inevitable transport of whatever was made, not counting the resources that went into facilitating all of this work) that it’s strange that people don’t take more account of cloth and its origins.

And yes, now a majority of women work with textiles just like a majority of women work in healthcare and educational systems – and just like textiles are undervalued, the excellent labour women provide is overlooked financially.  I think that it’s because if we did analyze in detail all the work women do, we’d be overwhelmed.  Did you know that engineers get paid more than nurses, despite the comparable time spent in school and the similar value that they offer to the community?

One time, I helped table a bake sale at UNB with some folks from the Canadian Labour Congress in Fredericton, New Brunswick.  It was a Gapzilla bake sale, and we sold baked goods at 100% of the price to male bodied people and 60% of that price to female bodied people just to point out how differences in income made goods comparably more expensive for women.  I also liked how the baked goods tied in the idea of women’s work – after all, who typically bakes in a nuclear family?  It was awesome, and made a lot of the male customers pretty grumpy while the women laughed.

I’m pretty sure a tailor today, regardless of sex, would laugh at $75 for reupholstering a couch.

I’m going to go knit, cuddle some kitties, and crack open some wine.

 

an evening well spent

 

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