Sacred, Radical Needs by Meredith Wade

Hey Life Together fam! I'm writing this the day after it was due (sorry Sydney!), with 51 unread emails in my inbox and an ever-expanding to-do list. In other words, my life is the opposite of together. And as my housemates know, my stress management strategies of choice are cooking and cleaning. This weekend, I culled our impressive collection of plastic grocery bags and engineered a hanging dispenser for them out of an old tissue box. I spent my Sunday afternoon de-cluttering the kitchen counters, while rice and beans simmered on the stove. Just last night, I procrastinated writing this very reflection by boiling dumplings for my housemates.

I say all this not to fish for praise - none of this behavior is unusual in Life Together. (Weirdly enough, if you gather people who want to make social justice their life work, most of them will be generous of spirit - and a large fraction will be decent cooks, too :)) Here at 40P, coming home to Melee’s hearty lasagna or Lily’s latest bread creation is an everyday occurrence. And we've basically made a spiritual practice out of decorating our common spaces to keep our home warm and welcoming. Rather, I want to draw our attention to the sheer amount of day-to-day labor - and love! - that goes into maintaining a household and making sure a community is fed.

Historically, the kinds of work necessary to keep a family or household running has been devalued. Needless to say, it is also work that has been historically associated with womanhood. Even in community organizing, where feeding people is often a politically radical act, this work is made invisible. Historian Charles Payne notes the persistence of this erasure in the civil rights movement. He notes that many Americans are unable to imagine women’s involvement in the black freedom struggle beyond a few key symbolic figures, and argues that this blindness to women’s leadership aligns with a refusal to see women engaged in “women’s work” as women working:

“Arlene Daniels, among others, has noted that what we socially define as ‘work’ are those activities that are public rather than private and those activities for which we get paid. Under this taken for granted understanding, much of the activity in which women are expected to specialize – caring for children and the home, seeing to the fabric of day-to-day relationships – does not qualify as ‘work’ and is thus effectively devalued.”

Daniels and Payne make an important point that the separation of even movement work into domestic and public spheres reinforces the idea that women are skilled at and interested in cooking and childcare by nature, and that they are not choosing to put active effort into these activities. The stories we hear about successful movements or political figures focus on work that took place in the public sphere rather than the intimate minutiae of feeding the body and soul. I don't think it's a coincidence that service programs like Life Together attract an overwhelming number of people socialized as women, nor do I think it's an accident that social justice work is so grossly undervalued compared to other career paths. Which is why I hope in the remainder of this Life Together year, our communities can continue to honor the sacred, radical need for good food, welcoming spaces, and deep relationship.