Re­source­ful women

There’s a rea­son why ne­ces­sity is con­sid­ered the mother of in­ven­tion and not the fa­ther, says Lot tie Storey.

Project Calm - - Contents -

From sur­viv­ing wars to nav­i­gat­ing par­ent­hood, women are renowned for their re­source­ful­ness, find­ing count­less ways to get through life’s most dif­fi­cult times us­ing just a metaphor­i­cal ball of string and some stick­y­backed plas­tic. But why is this so?

In his book, Sapi­ens: A Brief His­tory of Hu­mankind, Yu­val Noah Harari ex­am­ines how we evolved, both as a species and as two dis­tinct gen­ders. De­spite the au­thor’s metic­u­lous re­search across 466 pages, Dr Harari con­cludes that pa­tri­archy re­mains cu­ri­ously in­ex­pli­ca­ble. The ac­cepted wis­dom is that men have the best jobs and the high­est salaries be­cause they hunted while we gath­ered. Men rose to power through male ag­gres­sion, strength and an in­her­ent com­pet­i­tive­ness over mates with whom to re­pro­duce. Didn’t they?

Dr Harari log­i­cally points out that none of th­ese traits are im­por­tant for be­ing a good leader. In­stead, he ar­gues that it is “the diplo­matic abil­ity to forge ties amongst var­ied groups” that makes in­di­vid­u­als suc­cess­ful, but phys­i­cal size, hot head­ed­ness and am­bi­tion are only loosely cor­re­lated with this. And they are not nec­es­sar­ily gen­der spe­cific qual­i­ties, ei­ther. For ex­am­ple, men of­ten sim­ply aren’t stronger, and women are of­ten more re­sis­tant to hunger, fa­tigue and dis­ease. Women’s famed abil­ity to em­pathise, ap­pease, and ma­nip­u­late ap­pears much bet­ter suited to lead­er­ship, and the fact women bear chil­dren should log­i­cally give us an ad­van­tage. Says Dr Harari, “be­ing the main care­taker means that you have more in­cen­tive to forge ties with other peo­ple, that you are more con­cerned to in­sure so­cial har­mony and ad­e­quate food-sup­ply, and that you have more to lose from wars and plagues.” So if the pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem has been based on un­founded myths rather than on bi­o­log­i­cal facts, what ac­counts for the uni­ver­sal­ity of this sys­tem? It is “one of the big­gest riddles in hu­man so­ci­ety,” Dr Harari con­cedes.

Riddle or not, the pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem is the main rea­son women have had to be­come re­source­ful and (to quote the say­ing about Ginger Rogers) do ev­ery­thing that men do but back­wards and in heels. No­to­ri­ously cre­ative and ex­cel­lent at multi-task­ing, women have pulled it out of the bag for cen­turies. World War II is one of the best ex­am­ples of women do­ing what­ever was nec­es­sary to sur­vive. The Women’s Land Army ( WLA) was dis­banded at the end of the First World War but then re­formed in 1939. Ini­tially, women were asked to vol­un­teer, but could then be con­scripted from 1941. At its peak in 1944, more than 80,000 land girls were work­ing 50-hour weeks in all weath­ers and could be sent any­where in the coun­try. The tra­di­tional im­age of the land girl is a ruddy- cheeked woman till­ing the fields, but many more roles ex­isted. Land girls worked in land recla­ma­tion, op­er­at­ing heavy ma­chin­ery to trans­form in­hos­pitable sites as part of the drive to pro­duce ex­tra food. The Women’s Tim­ber Corps em­ployed 6,000 ‘ Lum­ber Jills’ to source and pre­pare much-needed wood, while oth­ers worked in an an­tiver­min squad, trained to kill crea­tures that threat­ened food sup­plies. Sadly, in a tale fa­mil­iar to­day, land girls were paid less than men for the same work.

When the chips are down, women have his­tor­i­cally re­sorted to what­ever means nec­es­sary to sup­port and pro­tect them­selves and their fam­i­lies. Po­lit­i­cally, women have of­ten cho­sen dif­fer­ent means to men for get­ting their point across. The suf­fragettes fa­mously chained them­selves to rail­ings to se­cure votes for women, and de­spite the move­ment’s 1897 founder, Mil­li­cent Fawcett’s be­lief in peace­ful protest only, new meth­ods in­tro­duced by the

The pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem is the main rea­son women have had to be­come re­source­ful and (to quote the say­ing about Ginger Rogers) do ev­ery­thing that men do but back­wards and in heels.

Pankhursts and oth­ers in 1905 in­cluded van­dal­ism, tax avoid­ance and hunger strikes. Whether you sup­port th­ese more ex­treme meth­ods or not, their re­source­ful­ness too, is un­de­ni­able.

At the op­po­site end of the scale was the Green­ham Com­mon Women’s Peace Camp. Also fans of chain­ing them­selves to rail­ings, over 70,000 women came to­gether in 1983 to form a 14-mile hu­man chain around RAF Green­ham Com­mon this time in peace­ful protest against nu­clear weapons. De­spite hun­dreds of ar­rests, the women’s mes­sage prompted the cre­ation of other peace camps at more than a dozen sites in Bri­tain and else­where in Europe. The women- only protest was es­sen­tial as they were us­ing their iden­tity as moth­ers to le­git­imise the protest against nu­clear weapons in the name of the safety of their chil­dren and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The women chose to break into the male- only mil­i­tary base on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. Upon breach­ing the bar­ri­ers and en­ter­ing the base, the women were mak­ing the state­ment that they would not stay at home and do noth­ing, as women are tra­di­tion­ally ex­pected to do while the men take care of se­ri­ous ‘male’ is­sues. Their re­fusal to go home at the end of each day was a chal­lenge against the tra­di­tional no­tion that a woman’s place was in the home.

So what’s next? Flex­i­ble work­ing is one of 2018’s big­gest is­sues, with women look­ing to find ways to con­tinue their ca­reers post-par­ent­hood. And for younger women, re­source­ful­ness in the dig­i­tal world will be a hot topic in the years to come (which will come as no sur­prise to any­one who’s ex­pe­ri­enced misog­y­nis­tic trolling on­line). The de­gree of un­cer­tainty with which we will all be ex­pected to man­age is un­prece­dented. But with thou­sands of years of re­source­ful­ness be­hind us, we’ll prob­a­bly cope okay.

In the 80s, Green­ham Com­mon Women’s Peace Camp pro­tes­tors were mak­ing the state­ment that they would not stay home and do noth­ing, while the men take care of se­ri­ous ‘male’ is­sues.

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