Monday, June 6, 2011

A Woman's Work is Never Done

What IS it about this topic??
I'm taking a friend's advice again this week and once more treating my studio like the job it's meant to be. I say 'once more' because I used to do this, a few years ago when I decided to become a full-time artist.
At first, spending days on end in the studio was a breeze. I'd left my job (for health reasons) after a July holiday, and being at home then after years of crazy overtime was like being let out of school for summer vacation. Euphoria! My days were spent playing.
But it wasn't long before I settled into a routine. Stuff piled up around the house. Because James was employed part-time and away from Tumbledown for most of the week, I began to imagine that what he was doing was more 'real' and important than what I was doing, and I felt guilty. To justify my time at home (not to mention the fact that any money I was bringing in was sporadic at best), I tried to pick up the slack and pinch pennies. I did the house- and yardwork as best I could. I planned and planted a vegetable garden. I dried clothes on the line. I cooked from scratch. And soon all those tasks became my priority. (Not to mention being frugal is hard work!) And then my grandbug was born and art went way, way down to the bottom of the list....
Part of my problem is that I'm a woman, and women just naturally think they have to Do It All. And part of my problem is how I was raised. My mom won't remember this, but years ago when I began a new job I made the mistake of saying in front of her how happy I'd be to begin sharing the housework and childcare with my spouse, now that I would be working as many hours a week as he was. And in true June Cleaver fashion, she corrected me. There'd be no sharing. I was expected to Do It All.
And men -- up to and including those of my generation -- still live by different standards, even if they think they don't. If you compared my artist partner to me you'd see it at once. James nurtures his creativity first and foremost. He has no problem getting out of bed in the morning and going straight to his workspace without feeling the need to mow a lawn or wash a dish. Because in his mind, both he and his creativity are just that important. And an unmown lawn or unwashed dish doesn't faze him. Not like it does me. To me, that dish is proof that my nest is a mess. And that means there's something wrong with me.
To his credit, James is more than willing to share the work around here, but keep in mind that he's also a lifelong bachelor. And no offense, bachelors, but y'all gotta admit that your idea of 'good enough' isn't quite up to female standards. (To a woman, there's nothing comfortable about living in an Animal House....) And making him share the work seems hardly fair to me, seeing as how he has a job outside the home (these are my rules; they don't have to make sense).
Anyway, all this is making me think about those artists who've inspired me over the years who are men. Men who were left alone to happily draw and dream their days away because there was a woman in the background somewhere taking care of things. While those guys were busy creating, beds were being made, children were being nurtured, meals were being put together, a home was being kept. But did the creative women have someone doing that for them? How many times have I heard of women getting up at 4 A.M. to write at the kitchen table before sending their kids to school? Or drawing at night when they slept? (Even I've done that....)
When a new artist friend of mine recently blogged about what she called her poor time management skills, her words agitated me. I'm sure her time management skills are exemplary. I'm sure she's a skilled multi-tasker! It's just that, being a woman, she's probably already got more than enough on her plate.
Believe it or not, I've tried writing about this topic at least a dozen times and nothing I say about it seems to make sense, at least to me. Bottom line: Women shouldn't have to carve hours out of their sleeptime in order to make art! But aside from discovering a househusband somewhere, or hiring a staff, I'm not really sure what to do about it.
Any suggestions?


  1. Delayne! I LOVED reading this: you articulated exactly what I've been struggling with...and now I understand why you reacted so strongly to the 'personal assistant' comment...I'm enthusiastically awaiting further suggestions and comments on this, because even just now as I type this I'm realizing how many things I've made a priority before my art these past two weeks. I want to think more about this amazing post, chew on it and come back for more...but meanwhile I hope you won't mind if I re-post it! EXCELLENT and inspiring writing :0)

  2. Thank you, Kate! I always appreciate your comments. :)

    I tell you what: this dang topic eats my insides out! My poor Mom feels, I'm sure, like I give her the biggest portion of the blame, but I can't do that. By virtue of her gender, she's got the same problem, too, and can't help how she was raised either. Women forever have been wrestling with this Do It All (or die trying) system....

    Men haven't been helping, of course. And I think we did ourselves a bit of a dis-service over the years by fighting for our fair share of the workplace, because the guys (OK, MOST guys) aren't all that keen on adding housework and childcare (cooking/gardening/laundry/mending/fill-in-the-blank) to their resumes. So what we did was successfully add even more to our plates. Boo....

    1. So true! I feel that way all the time! While at the Renaissance Festival and other art fairs, other people's evil comments would make things worse. "The Renaissance Festival is only two weeks, what do you do the rest of the year?" Grrr! This pesky feeling keeps me from practicing music and so many other things. Posting your blog on my 'fridge will help to overcome these insidious thoughts!

    2. Pam, BIG thankyous for commenting (I get so few here that I sometimes fail to check for them)!

      Sadly, I can completely relate to the customer comments that you describe. I've also gotten, "Fest is only on the weekends; what do you do the rest of the week?" (*sigh...*) But just as frustrating is being asked, "So how was your year??", and for the life of me I can't answer that. And I think it's because I'm looking for something epic to tell them: "I moved into a new house," or "I put together my first art show," or "I cured cancer." When in reality my year was a storm/flood/torrent/tsunami of little moments instead of just a handful of big accomplishments. And sadly, telling them stuff like "I worked hard to make someone smile by sending them daily uplifting emails" doesn't impress anyone....

      It's been almost two years since I wrote this post and I'm still struggling with this hot topic. (At least it's hot for me....) I'd hoped to encourage a dialogue by writing this originally. And my goal then was to continue thinking about and exploring the subject and post updates here. But immediately after sharing this post I stuck my neck out and linked it to Facebook, where well-meaning friends (all female) challenged me, bless them. To paraphrase them, I felt like I was being told to 'suck it up' and that all this was 'just excuses for not creating.'

      Of course, I instantly began doubting myself. The thread sent me into a tailspin! I couldn't figure out what I was feeling. Did I feel let down by my gender? Had I not explained myself well? Were they seeing something that I was missing? Was I just in denial and they were rubbing my nose in the truth?? Gah....

      And then just two nights ago I watched Part One of a documentary called 'Makers -- Women Who Make America' (you can see it on the PBS website and I'd recommend it to ANYONE). A woman being interviewed there said (again paraphrasing), "Back in those days, a couple could come home after killing themselves protesting for women's rights and fall down on the couch, both exhausted, and the man would wipe tear gas out of his eyes and say, 'God, what a day!' And the woman would wipe tear gas out of hers and say, 'God, what a day!' And then she'd get up to begin their dinner."

      And watching that brought me full circle to all of this. And then the next day what do I see? A comment from you! So maybe this all needs to be revisited.

      Again, thank you, Pam!

  3. Hi Delayne, Thanks for your great reply. I suppose every line of work has its elements in it obstructing a person from focusing on producing as much as she could. For a person creating something out of nothing all I know is it sure ain't easy! The "I should be doing this" thoughts we have in our head come from a place that really get in the way. We are doing our work while thinking we should be doing other work. Turning on favorite music or reading supportive blogs such as yours really help. Those who love to tend a home as a top priority need to concentrate in that area and those working from home at other work as a top priority could use some healthy validation elsewhere from time to time. All I know is though writing this sounds logical, when trying to apply it I seem to be stuck back to guilting myself as much as ever!