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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

II. Connecting Love & Labor

by Mary Catherine Bateson

What is the connection between Adam’s work and Eve’s labor?  And how is each connected to God’s call?

There is an ancient division of labor in human societies that goes back before the invention of agriculture and before human beings were able to live in permanent settlements.  In this division of labor, women were responsible for all tasks that could be done simultaneously with bearing and caring for children, while men were responsible for those activities that required leaving the children behind, mainly warfare and the pursuit of large animals.  In  some hunting and gathering societies, the work of the women as gatherers,  with infants carried on their backs, accounted for up to 70% of the diet, including nuts, roots, and other edible products of plants, as well as occasional small animals or eggs.  Women also gathered firewood and collected and carried water.  These tasks are rarely celebrated. Men hunted sporadically, but when they made a significant kill, the game was shared and greeted with celebration.  

Most theories attribute the invention of agriculture to women who returned repeatedly to harvest the same resources, while men did not get seriously involved in agriculture until the domestication of large animals that need to be taken to pasture and guarded.  When draft animals began to be replaced by machines, they too became part of the male sphere.  Thus we see the work of the women defined by child rearing and multitasking, and the contribution of the men treated as more significant.  

As humans shifted to permanent settlements, women have often tended vegetable gardens and kept small animals near the home, such as chickens, while men took charge of the field crops.  This was probably the pattern familiar to the authors of Genesis, so we have to imagine Adam engaged in fairly primitive agriculture under the hot sun of an arid climate, which did indeed bring forth thorns and thistles and weeds, and was threatened by locusts and by drought.  This is the model of “work” that is still with us today, and that still applies to many kinds of work, the work done by migratory laborers, builders, and so on, work that is minimally mechanized, done outdoors in all kinds of weather, depending on steady physical exertion, and subject to uncertainties. On the other hand, workers are less likely than in the past to be bringing home game or crops that would feed their families – instead, their work provides a paycheck to take home – the translation of work into love has become far more remote.  Still today, we tend to assign the jobs that involve danger or sudden exertion or travel away from home to men, and give them a greater value.  And we have only just begun to notice that where women used to say, “I don’t work, I’m just at home with the children,” they too are describing work, but work that is unpaid.  Often the love is recognized more readily than the effort involved, while skills may be thought to “come naturally.”

But how about the “labor” of childbearing?   

One of illuminating aspects of so-called “natural childbirth” (an approach invented by Grantley Dick-Read in the 1930s) is that the experience of pain is closely related to context.  When women are trained to engage with and assist the delivery process, to work with the process, their experience changes and the pain becomes manageable, especially when the process is shared by husband and wife.  Part of the benefit is due to breathing techniques, part is due to an understanding of what is happening and how the sequence unfolds, but the biggest difference is that pain becomes meaningful by being associated with effort and directed toward a loving and shared goal.  This is true of other kinds of pain as well, athletic effort for instance, as in running a marathon – which is something many people do for pleasure.  Indeed, many people work harder at their hobbies than at their jobs.  In “natural childbirth,” passive suffering is converted to loving effort – hard work – and becomes meaningful, and lonely effort becomes shared.  The availability of anesthesia also means that the pain involved in child bearing has been chosen, often with an understanding that the child will benefit.   

There is at present a consensus that anesthesia should be available to alleviate the pain of child birth, but in centuries past anesthesia was sometimes regarded as immoral because it “interfered with the will of God.”  Whatever the form of delivery chosen by the mother (or necessitated by medical conditions), an effort is made to support the mother’s positive engagement in the process, which also supports her ability to bond with the infant and to succeed in breast feeding.  In this sense, “natural childbirth” is a way of linking love and work.  But we still have traditions that suggest that work should be unpleasant, just as we have traditions that suggest that education (and exercise) should be painful and that medicine should be foul tasting. Perhaps the same imagination that Grantley Dick-Read applied to childbearing should be applied, to the extent possible, to all work.

Read Part I here: Connecting Love & Work

1 comment:

  1. ok, next time you have a headache, skip the aspirin. The pain will go away,eventually. Maybe.