Women’s Work and Being “Neighborly”

stereotypical 1950s white American family in their yard

I recently had lunch with a conservative friend of mine. (Yes, I do still have some conservative friends. I’ve dumped the libertarians, though. Those people are just self-centered assholes.)

He and I got talking about the “decline of community.”

You know about this phenomenon. “Nobody knows their neighbors anymore.” Bowling Alone. Suburban isolation. Car culture. Fragmented society. Overwork. Too many hours commuting. Blah blah blah.

I pointed out that at least one major reason why it happened is that women took back their unpaid emotional labor.

My friend either didn’t understand, or pretended not to (or didn’t want to). He came back with “but all these guys in my neighborhood seem to be avoiding their families by spending excessive time on lawn care.”

I didn’t let him get away with it, and came back with a fairly stern, “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

“Everyone” wasn’t more “neighborly” in some hazy, largely imaginary, more communal past. WOMEN were, whether we wanted to be or not.

My dad was not the one who built the connections with the neighbors (and neither were those dads in my friend’s neighborhood) – it was the moms. They baked the cookies to welcome the new family that just moved in and threw the baby showers and made the casseroles when the baby arrived or the mom got sick (because OF COURSE the dad can’t be expected to know how to cook or be willing to do it after a hard day at his desk job) and watched the kids before and/or after school for the moms who worked outside the house and organized the block parties and cookouts. They did this even when they didn’t like to, didn’t want to, even in cases where the moms themselves worked part or full time outside the house. Community building, “neighborliness,” was yet another instance of unpaid emotional labor required of women.

And in our rapacious capitalist society, women are less willing – and less able – to do unpaid emotional labor in 2019 than they were in 1959.

Two things:

  1. Men, do you miss community, knowing your neighbors, those weak/casual connections where you’re not best friends, but you know each others’ names and kids’ names and ages, and feel comfortable sharing a beer on the front stoop? You’re perfectly capable of doing the emotional work to create those connections. It’s not something that’s magically attached to a double-X.
  2. We need more time banks.

What are time banks? Glad you asked!

Time banks are places where you store time-based currency.

So what is time-based currency? According to Wikipedia, it is:

an alternative currency or exchange system where the unit of account is the person-hour or some other time unit. Some time-based currencies value everyone’s contributions equally: one hour equals one service credit. In these systems, one person volunteers to work for an hour for another person; thus, they are credited with one hour, which they can redeem for an hour of service from another volunteer.

In other words ALL types of labor are valued EQUALLY. And, as a recent Washington Post article points out, time banks inherently build community.

Founded by a University of the District of Columbia law professor in 1995, TimeBanks USA allows local communities to set up their own time banks for an extremely small fee, which then, per founder Edgar Cahn, allows people to “value what it means to be a human” – and make visible the value of the unpaid care-taking work that’s traditionally been required of women.

Sounds like a good start to building community to me.

Image found here.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter @MrsWhatsit1.

4 responses to “Women’s Work and Being “Neighborly”

  1. Oh yeah! Thank you for this post, Mrs. Whatsit. And thank you for sharing it, HD.

  2. I never thought about this but it’s exactly correct. The neighborhood moms ran the neighborhood. My dad worked 2 jobs and had a nodding relationship with the man next door.

  3. Did your lunch buddy ever ‘get’ it?

    • Not sure, but he did concede my point about the fact that our dads weren’t the ones building relationships with the neighbors.

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