Washing the dishes takes up a lot of time if you’re going to be a genius.
There are multiple explanations to why women have been forgotten throughout history. There are plenty of systematic procedures that forget women when their achievements look like they don’t belong to them. Women inhabit a society that is not built for them. We inhabit the cracks of systematically masculine society of which, sometimes, we can eat the leftovers. But being realistic, women are one of the biggest engines ever invented by humanity.
When I say engines maybe race cars, trains and airplanes might be the first thing that comes to mind. But that is very very far from what I mean. I want you to think of all the stressful situations you have had to overcome. A difficult exam, a bad day at work, an argument with your partner.
I know I can say from personal experience, and I’m almost certain most of you can too, that there is not a more assuring presence in one’s life than a mother. Of course, this is different in every case, and each individual perceives motherhood in very different ways, depending on what your individual relationship with your mother can be.
That is not the point I want to get to. I have used the example of motherhood because it is, perhaps, the most universal application of an unconditional caretaker. Someone who is always there to pick up your pieces, no matter how many times you fall. These are the engines I am referring to.
The UN states that: “from cooking and cleaning, to fetching water and firewood or taking care of children and the elderly, women carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men.” Still in 2021, still in the 21st century, where we believe women are equal to men in several aspects, females still find themselves having the weight of the other sex on their shoulders.
The association between caretaking and femininity is as old as history itself. If it hadn’t been for the silent caretakers, probably none of us would be here today. Failure is one of the most difficult feelings to overcome, and yet, most of us are lucky enough to confide ours in someone else. For most of history, the person that has picked up the pieces after everything falls apart, has been a woman.
I have grown up in a household where there were barely any differences between my mum and my dad. They both had full time jobs, they both had the same power of decision-making withing the household, and both their voices were heard. And still, it has always, automatically and naturally, been my mother who has done most of the silent work that allows a household to sustain itself.
A generation that has critically moved on from female exclusion still carries the weight of the caretaking work that has always been associated to women. They say there is always a great woman behind a great man. And as much as do agree that all great historic characters have had someone by their side, I wonder, why is it always us?
We live in a society where caretaking and silent work are inherently female. As women, have had to take a step forward and inhabit, as well as we could, a labour market that was overwhelmingly masculine. But as we took a step forward, the masculine world didn’t take a step back. If one wants to eat, food needs to be cooked. And let’s be honest, nobody likes living in a disgustingly dirty home, not even first year university students.
We have, for centuries, provided the stairs through which men climb to glory. We have silently smoothed the path through which they walk, and they don’t even notice. Most women don’t even notice. We provide for the conditions that make genius arise, as a general rule. And while it is true there are exceptions to every rule, this role should be recognised.
That is why, on this international women’s day, I would like to remember all the silent figures that have been the engine of the world we live in. They have, and still do, provided us with the comfort and the assurance that we need. They have made the path to glory. They have been the engine that has powered all of humanity, and for that, they should always be remembered.