I’ve been out with a saw today, tackling a fallen tree. Yesterday involved spade work. I’ve always considered myself a bit of an amazon, ready to get to work with axe or shovel as required, not afraid of the heavier jobs – I had to be, the only way I’ve reliably had wood for the fire was by cutting it myself.
I can put in a good hour or two, working hard in intensely physical ways, and that’s about all I’m good for. Now, in that time I can get a fair bit done. I’m also aware that male ancestors not so many generations back, were doing that kind of thing all day, every day. Raising the topic with Tom before I set to typing, he talked about manual labour, and enjoying it. I can’t imagine working physically for that many hours. I’ve coppiced willow and planted trees, painted fences, and all sorts, but for eight hour working days? My body won’t take it. I was in a lot of pain today from yesterday’s digging, and no doubt with today’s sawing, I will hurt tomorrow as well. My hands are killing me, typing this – everything else I can put up with, but not that. I can work inside a house all day, or in less intensive physical ways, but I could not do what my male ancestors did.
Mostly, I’m not that drawn to gender difference as a concept, I see myself as fairly androgyne – especially in terms of how I think. I don’t believe in socially defined gender roles or assumptions about personality. There is more to life, and identity than what you have in your trousers. Even when I’ve been doing intense physical work on a regular basis, I can’t sustain more than a few hours a day, and it takes a significant toll on me. When it comes down to it, your average bloke has a lot more muscle power than your average woman. I feel like I ought to be able to keep up – I can’t – and that’s an uncomfortable thing to have to acknowledge.
At the same time, I want to recognise the strength that enables (some) guys to work in this way. Especially those ancestors who worked with their hands all their lives. The more I do, and struggle with, the deeper my respect for those who can and will do such work day in, day out. Nursing my aching muscles, I want to honour the men who use their strength productively, making, protecting, supporting and enabling others.
I wonder what my life would (will) be like, when I don’t have to take on what are traditionally male jobs. I’ve hefted a lot of coal… How would not having to do the heavier work affect my sense of self, my gender identity? Will that bring a sense of loss, or will it enable me to be more feminine? I don’t honestly know, but it will be interesting to explore and find out. How much of my sense of self has grown out of necessity? I don’t know. How much of how I think I should be will change when it’s not needful for me to be out swinging an axe or wielding a bow-saw? Time will tell.