I recently listened to an NPR interview with an archeologist discussing research she and her peers had completed on hunters/gatherers years ago. They discovered that 80% of the women were also hunters and even had a favorite weapon. Their children were taken with them and learned at a very young age to hunt. The archeologist said that roles for men and women were intermingled and there was no assignment of either-or. It was about survival.
Clearly, my rural family was not considered hunters nor gatherers, but our responsibilities while growing up on a farm in Nebraska were also mixed. It was our mother who sought employment after our cornfield was decimated two years in a row due to hailstorms. She “pulled up her bootstraps,” as she liked to say, took a typing and shorthand class and applied for a job at our small bank. She worked there over forty years. At the same time, our father worked the cornfields once again, hoping for summer rains, minus hail. He “put up” hay for the animals’ winter feed, kept the machinery running, a constant job, and took care of us kids while Mom was at work. He wasn’t really babysitting; it was more taking us with him to work the fields.
When Mom arrived home from work at 3:00, Dad drove the pick-up to the house and they both drank a big cold glass of sun tea. Mom changed into working clothes, tended garden to prepare for canning fruits and vegetables, while Dad hoed the weeds and helped pick green beans. On the weekend, they dressed chickens with Dad killing them, pulling the feathers and Mom dressing them. At 5PM, they headed to the barn for the evening milking while we kids fed the cows, baby calves and loud squealing pigs.
During holidays, both worked at fitting a big turkey into the roaster. Mom made the rest of the sides and pies. Dad made a load of different types of candy. All of us cleaned the house for the upcoming event. This lobbing of back-and-forth roles was just natural and without it being said, we all understood that helping each other and doing what was needed to survive was just a way of life, one intermingled. “That’s a man’s job,” or “a woman’s job,” just didn’t surface in our home. I’m glad it didn’t. It certainly tamped down ideation on defining who and how someone should be.