Tag Archives: pink-collar-work

Kindness is subversive

This week has been overly busy with some progress on the job front, my son’s 21st and a couple of celebrations of International Women’s Day. My one “study day” was spent mainly networking rather than writing which o an introvert like me would have seemed like a nightmare if I had planned for just how busy and social I would be this week. But it was fine (partly because the only people I had to mix with were ones I genuinely like). So I haven’t written a reflection on the next part of the mass, though I have thought a lot about the next one of those I will write (hopefully in the coming week).

I have also thought a lot about pink-collared work and about glass ceilings, especially the self-righteous kind of glass ceiling the patriarchal churches all have one way or another. I have thought about how I have a huge university debt but am paid like I just need to buy the odd pretty frock, not as though I am the one and only “bread winner” (so there has been less to go with the overpriced gluten-free bread this week). I’ve thought about the hard physical, mental and emotional labour that gets dismissed as the ultimately feminine “caring” for the youngest, oldest and most vulnerable members of society. For me caring almost becomes a dirty word, when it becomes a label trivialising hard work as just part of my nature. In this way it is steeped in the reek of exploitation.

I want to not care, I want to be tough and shiny and competitive- the minute I walk through the door into a room full of toddlers whose faces light up to see me and who ask “where are your special books to read to me” or demand a cuddle I know that as hard as I work my emotions are tangled with these exceptional people and that we do all “care” for each other after all. This knowledge is highlighted the minute one of my colleagues notices I have not had my ten-minute break or asks to swap places with me as I have been out in the sun too long, or takes over a boring cleaning task so I can do an activity with the children. Their treatment of me reminds me to watch out for who needs back-up or breathing space or just a kind word. A storm is coming so the boss sends home anyone who can be spared in the order of who has to travel on public transport longest. She says it “doesn’t count” as leaving early because she is genuinely concerned for their safety. Those who have to stay longer as parents are having trouble getting there on time. Noone complains, noone is charged for the time.

Because this is the fact of being human, like it or not we do care. There is something there that can’t be quantified and given a price tag and I feel sick with worry about that in a world where increasingly people are treated as disposable rubbish. Noone “cares” about the carers. You are supposed to be a “lifter” or an “entrepreneur”. Leaners and those leaned on have less and less value to the ones who like to stack the odds in their own favour.

But at uni this week, at a collective supervision meeting one of the students outlined her plans for her thesis. I swallowed my envy at how articulate and with-it she is and how many steps ahead of me after a shorter time and listened because I could tell she was going to be interesting. And she started with a provocative statement: “Care is subversive, kindness is activism”. She went on to talk about the neoliberal vision for the university (for the world), about the fearfulness of people to speak out and though she did not quote Freire the “banking model” of education was behind what she was criticising.

It’s a bleak view when you look at the patterns of power in the world but she has chosen to focus on activists and what makes a person one, and she seems to believe from the beginning that caring and kindness have a lot to do with it and are the loose cannon on the deck of the organised and self-interested capitalist world. It’s a romantic sort of a thought, a “love conquers all” sort of a gauntlet to throw down but I guess if I am to have any faith in God whatsoever then that is the right sort of grounding for it, and for hope.

So happy International women’s day to the carers and the sharers, the kind ones and the unselfish ones. To the ones who wipe the face of sorrow and the ones who bind wounds or teach little hearts to sing. To the unsung heroines, the weary and under-appreciated subversives, to the older women who encourage the younger women and the sisters who are stronger together.Our caring will conquer economic rationalism, our kindness is laced with a growl of righteous anger for our children. Every meal we cook, every word we write, every selfie we are laughed at for taking. We will care for ourselves, each other and the world. Our values belong to ourselves and we will not let fear and self-interest find a permanent home in our hearts.

He was little, weak and helpless

Baby Jesus,

I remember being taught as a child to kneel to you because you were Lord and God and Almighty and Better than us and all the rest of it. Kyriearchy I mean.

I bought it because it came with a very convincing side of inferiority which quickly fermented to self-hate and that seemed logical in terms of the bigger picture in so many ways.

It was not until I was about 17 that I had a close friend who questioned religion and refused to see herself as “unworthy”. No more kneeling to grovel before a judgemental monarch. I began to feel uncomfortable with the classist aspects of religion.

But there was the stable scene at church with almost life-sized statues in real straw and we knelt to see it, to see you as a baby and all the figures that surrounded you in love and awe. We looked at the joy, the sparkle and the mystery and we were little ones ourselves we did not deconstruct this story and all the ways it makes no historical sense.

What we saw as we knelt was everyone’s eyes downwards to a baby: the beauty of God. We felt inspired to kindness, to live a better life with each other and see sacredness even in animals and stars and straw.

That my little Darling was the other side of kneeling.

Now I am all grown up and I work in early childhood and I had my own children who were so little but now I have to look up to talk to them and reach up to hug them. But at work I spend much of my day close to the floor on seats that are too low. I crouch, kneel even crawl all day because the little ones I am working with and teaching are so small. To really see, hear and notice them I often have to get down a level or two. To participate with them I have to also give up the adult dignity of standing (also give up comfort).

So then kneeling in my profession does not mean worship of the powerful dictator, it means getting down to give voice to the vulnerable, talking at a respectful eye-level, being authentically with someone small and in need of protection.

At work baby Jesus you would relate with my day where I sit in the sand and pretend to eat meals the little ones prepare. I construct a better train track for their trains, do up their shoes and wipe their noses. I find ants to watch, sweep up tempting but dirty crumbs and sit with children crowding onto my lap and snuggling in from all sides complaining “I can’t see the story”. I sit on the floor between two mattresses patting tiny backs to stillness while quiet music plays. I crouch down to take a picture that isn’t “from above” or to clean a variety of messes or to see what is out of reach (and move things as needed).

And that is “kneeling”.

So how then do we kneel down to the level of vulnerable and emotionally needy, the ones who are you little baby Jesus? How do we touch the little heartbeat of wisdom that needs care and nurture and even reassurance? To me this is one more call to social justice. Any adult can walk into a room and perform the basics for the child- hand them food, tell them off, even smile and clearly like the child and perform a variety of services for the wellbeing of the child but it is just not the same when we don’t get down to their level (your level, my God) and deeply listen.

All our Christmas charity to the poor and general “niceness” to people is fine, we ought to still do it because it is like feeding and clothing and keeping the child safe. The weather is particularly bad in my city this year and I will take them something if I can and it is good but it is not enough.

Who are we to give out our generous gifts from above people? Who are we to decide for others as an adult decides the fate of a child?

Baby Jesus, you need a closer encounter, for us to get down on the floor and enter with you into play- to hear and see and know the vulnerable of the world, to share laughter and tears as well as the leftovers of our bread. Like any child, you are demanding Word of God.

Even when we are exhausted may our hearts allow your little fingers pulling at our clothing and reaching for our hands and calling us back into play with cuddles and smiles and sometimes tears. Like the childcare workers who well and truly earn their ten-minute breaks just to get out of the room and try to restore sanity after a few hours of it, or like the parent who has been sleep deprived for many long months we don’t always respond to you as quickly and tirelessly as we want to.

So we restore ourselves this Christmas with good food and good company and Christmas carols and lights and all the rest.

But what about those who can’t? How do we work together to support each other’s work and self-care? What love and attention can we bring to you Jesus in the “least of your siblings”, in the babies who need better supported families, in the women whose gifts are rejected by their society or church, the homeless people, the refugees, the unemployed and unemployable, the aging or dying and those who used to make Christmas wonderful for others and now barely manage to enjoy a moment of it because of age or stress.

That is where we kneel, we can’t solve all the world’s problems but we be with Jesus and with the “least of my siblings”. We come down to eye level when the baby cries. Sometimes there is no solution there is only love and presence.