Monday, December 1, 2014

Woman's Work

It's been an adventure, this past year at work, but I haven't had much time off to do some of the things I love, like building things. This Thanksgiving holiday was the first longish stretch of days-off I've had in a long time, and I used it to get caught up on a lot of little chores, like fixing the front door lock, shampooing the carpet, putting up the Christmas decorations. What a luxury it is to check things off a chores list, and to do it at a leisurely pace. I got caught up enough, in fact, that I was able to get out into the garden and start a project I have wanted to do for a long, long time: putting in a small greenhouse.

I'm using a kit, rather than doing it from scratch. Twenty years ago when I started dreaming of having my own greenhouse, kits cost several thousand dollars. Building one from scratch wasn't much cheaper and it would take a lot longer. So I put the dream on the back burner and turned to other things. I still thought about it from time to time, though, often whenever I'd spot a greenhouse somewhere, which was usually when I was on a garden tour. I'd catch myself craning my head for a better look at it, instead of paying attention to the plant life around me. It's no secret to those who know me that the structures in the garden have always held more interest for me than the plants themselves.

Then, a few weeks ago, circumstances took to me to a website that had greenhouse kits for sale, and lo and behold, what used to cost thousands could be had now for just a few hundred. And while high-end greenhouses are still for sale, too, these less expensive versions use materials that probably rival the strength and durability of the ones that were out of reach to me before. So I ordered one and by and by it arrived. Now it falls to me to prepare the base and construct it. The latter I will do over the Christmas holiday break; the former I got to start this weekend after I caught up on the other, less fun chores.

I started this project the way I always start them--by reaching for my gloves:

 All of which leads me to something I was thinking about as I worked today, clearing the ground for the greenhouse. A few months ago the people from a glove-making company called "Womanswork" contacted me and asked me to review their product. I agreed to because I've always liked their gloves. Full disclosure, Womanswork gives out samples of their gloves at various garden events I've gone to--the first pair I got was at a garden writer's conference in Dallas; the most recent pair was at the Garden Bloggers Fling in San Francisco. I have about four pair, of various styles, and though I have many other gloves in my collection, the Womanswork are always the ones I reach for. The pair you see in the photo above--the ones I was using today--are the originals I got in Dallas in 2010. So they are, let's see, four years old.

I did that math in my head.

That they are four years old and still around should tell you something about their durability. It is not unusual for me to go through a pair of garden gloves in a single season. I carry rocks with them, dig in mud, prune trees, lay concrete, roll up barbed wire. But I've never worn through a pair of Woman's Work gloves. Never. And they are comfortable. They may be, in fact, the first pair of gloves I ever owned that fit my hands, a woman's hands. Now, of course, you can find good women's work gloves all over the place, but back in the olden days--five years or so ago--they were hard to find. Those I could find quickly fell apart on me, mainly because they weren't constructed to handle anything more than the occasional pouring of a mint julep while pretending to garden. I made do for a long time with small men's leather work gloves, but it was an unsatisfactory arrangement at best.

So there are a lot of brands around now, but I stay loyal to these, because they were the first I found that I truly liked. But mostly I am loyal because of the name, which I like because resonates with me on a lot of levels.

Woman's work. The phrase is often used in a derogatory way, as in, "That work is lesser than a man's work. It is reserved for women." When I hear it, though, I am reminded of an oral history in the book Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier, edited by Joanna Stratton. In this particular accounting, which described the daily tasks of homesteading women on the plains, Stratton makes an editorial comment along the lines of women's work being that of helping with the births, providing meals for the living, caring for the sick, and attending the dying. (I'm grossly paraphrasing here because I don't have the book in front of me and I'm doing this from the heart, which is the place where truth resides, anyway.) In short, women's work is about nothing less than life itself.

The irony is, of course, that the homesteading women were also doing "men's" work at the same time--plowing, feeding the cattle, doctoring the pig. As partners in a farm enterprise, women have always had to do these things, too, and they are important, to be sure. They just weren't "women's" things, which are deemed somehow to be of lesser value simply because it is primarily women are doing them, you see. But how can that be, if the things we do are about life itself?

This is what I think about when I wear these gloves. I pull them on to do something like hauling rocks for a patio, or digging a foundation for a greenhouse, or constructing a shed (or some other modern day equivalent to plowing a field with a team of oxen) and I am reminded that if it is about creating something--taking the raw material and making something meaningful and empowering and life-giving, the end result of which is a garden, a family, a house, a meal, a lesson plan, a farm, a neighborhood, a community, a country--well, then it is all life itself. It is all women's work.

And sometimes, if they are lucky, men get to do it, too.

A young woman out on the prairie, wearing Womanswork gloves while rolling old barbed wire as part of a habitat restoration project for the Lesser Prairie Chicken


  1. Oh, Susan! I am so excited for you as you put your greenhouse together. I will move your blog name to my list of 'gardeners with greenhouses' and anticipate step by step as you put it together.

  2. I am intrigued by your review of the gloves as I have an extremely hard time finding anything that will fit my hands (if small enough they are too tight, if not too tight the fingers are too long).

    Off to see if these are sold locally....


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