Define “Women’s Work”

The idea that time and culture influence the meaning of words came home to me on a recent visit to Pecos National Historical Park in northern New Mexico. What remains there are ruins of a pueblo first constructed around 1100 A.D., and a church built sometime after the arrival of a Spanish Franciscan friar in 1621.

This church, big enough to hold all 2,000 residents of the pueblo, comprised some twelve million adobe bricks, no doubt made on site. Each brick weighed forty pounds. The builders? Women. It’s said that the friar attempted to enlist men to do the work, but they ran away rather than do “women’s work.”

In addition to being brick masons (masonettes?), the women covered the structure with adobe plaster. The exterior required re-plastering six times a year to shield the masonry from water that could seep into cracks, then freeze and expand, and weaken the building.

I’m reminded of a talk I heard the anthropologist Margaret Mead give one time. In studying varied cultures, she observed that each defined tasks by gender, so that in one society weaving was women’s work while in another it was men’s. Regardless of who did what, she said that universally men’s work was considered to be more important than women’s.

Remnants today?

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Quotable

No two persons ever read the same book.

–Edmund Wilson

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