Time for our Monday book club discussion. In chapter four of The Gift: Creativity and Artist in the Modern World, Lewis Hyde explores the feminine nature of gift labor.
Hyde, back in chapter three, distinguishes work from labor. Work, he says, “is an intended activity that is accomplished through the will.” We work for money (usually). Labor, Hyde says, refers “to something dictated by the course of life rather than by society, something that is often urgent but that nevertheless has its own interior rhythm, something more bound up with feeling, more interior, than work.”
I’m thinking of labor as more of a calling. So, along that line, “gift labor” refers to choosing a path in life that requires giving of oneself…more deeply than surface-giving…more than just punching the clock.
Hyde says that gift labor is largely a feminine thing.
Without being judgmental, he refers to “female tasks” as those types of jobs and services that deal with subjects that are difficult to quantify—nursing, teaching, social work, caregiving. These types of roles, Hyde says, require “…the kind of emotional or spiritual commitment” that is independent from market value. The relationships involved in these types of roles offer their own value; at least to most women. There is something inherently appealing about this type of work that calls to the feminine nature.
Hyde maintains that in male commerce, “relationship is a secondary concern”, and so, women typically fill these roles. Men prefer to deal in commodities, conducting their business independent of relationship.
Is this a good thing? Um, more importantly, is it natural?
Hyde briefly touches on this transition of males from the internal more spiritual matters to this capitalistic outlook: “…the nineteenth century saw a decline in faith coincide with the remarkable success of a secular, mercantile, and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Women tend the emotional world; men, the business.
It’s easy for us to accept that this has always been. But if we look at history, we see that men of the past did not shy away from “attention to inner life.”
Many of our greatest spiritual leaders and teachers were male. These guys were not concerned whether they appeared “manly” or not. Or perhaps their definition of “manly” was a bit different.
Jewish tradition holds that the father is responsible for teaching children the tenets of faith.
Yet, male Sunday school teachers (of children) are a minority today.
It’s women’s work.
Sigh. I’m not a feminist, and lest I be misunderstood I will limit this discussion. Suffice it to say that we would be better off to, as Hyde says, “…recognize that they are not ‘female’ but human tasks.” (Emphasis mine).
Sharing in the gift labor would likely yield more balance in our personal lives, as well as our society.