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