It may be that the most fundamental distinction in how humans spend their life on Earth may reduce to whether they are primarily producers or primarily nurturers.
Producers in this context are those who strive to mark the world with their presence. They choose one craft or many and place into that craft the force of their essence. Whether explicit or implicit, though, their goal is to be felt. The goal is to have an affect on history and/or those around them.
Producers may be called ambitious or selfish. They may pursue highly respected professions. They will likely try to be seen in writing, or in film, or in other tangible ways—often to as many people as possible. But the most identifiable characteristic is that they are defined by their work. They derive their self-worth primarily from how they measure their offerings to their society and the world.
Nurturers are quite different. Where creators are primarily inwardly focused, nurturers focus their energy on improving those around them. They grow others. They see to their needs. They assist. And when asked what they have produced, their response is invariably that they derive deep satisfaction from seeing success in those they have helped along.
As a mechanism for simplification, I wonder if we cannot frame the issue of women’s rights in this way.
While no gender, and no parent, is purely a nurturer or a producer, I think it would take a considerably naive or biased observer to fail to notice that throughout time women have been the nurturers and men the producers. And this remains the case in most of the world. A glance to most any society in Asia, Africa, or South America will reveal a surgical incision that separates these roles.
To call it out plainly, men are encouraged to disconnect from family and emerge themselves into their work for hours or days or weeks at a time. There will be murmurs of neglect no doubt, but this passion for work will be taken as a signal of dedication and, well…masculinity. Assuming it bears some measure of fruit, it will be respected, even when it is disruptive and difficult for those who depend on his presence.
Not so with women.
A woman who would do such a thing with a husband and children would be considered selfish and despicable in nearly any part of the modern world, including Berkeley, California—even if some did intellectually defend her right to emulate a typically male behavior.
Is this not peculiar?
It’s not strange that its true. It’s strange that it’s so obvious when described in this way. We all know of this double-standard, but it is difficult to give it a name. And our inability to name the issue makes it difficult to discuss.
But I think this is it.
There are two main ways for a human to spend one’s life: as a producer, or as a nurturer. And if you’re a woman you aren’t really allowed to be a producer. It’s not written down anywhere, but it might as well be so.
When you take modern discussions of womens’ rights we can see this being discussed without being named. There is all manner of talk about career women, and how they’re looked down upon by men and women alike.
And much has been said about how women who choose to put energy into a career also feel considerable guilt or lack of fulfillment. This is a feeling that often results in them withdrawing to focus on, or start, a family. How much of this is external vs. internal is not something I can answer, but I can say it’s likely a healthy mixture of both.
Importantly, most of this discussion emanates from a small handful of western(ized) countries. In India, East Asia, Africa, and most of South America, women simply identify as mothers. If given the question of whether they were producers or nurturers, they would likely respond that all women were nurturers, and that men were the producers. They’d probably likely add that women who were confused about this were misguided and bad women.
I’d guess that’s something like 90% of the planet’s women, but if I heard a well-argued number that was significantly lower I would probably accept it.
It should also be mentioned that many women in Asia are devoting themselves to careers in significant numbers. But as an observer I don’t often see from them the producer’s fire. What I often see instead is the dedication of a nurturer who is simply assisting in the accumulation of wealth and influence for her children.
I have known dozens (that’s not data, mind you) of Asian women from India and China, for example, who absolutely got the masters degrees and who absolutely do phenomenal work in whatever technical fields they are in. But when you ask them about where they’re speaking, or what books they’re writing, or what contributions they’re making to their field, they tend to turn the focus to their family.
The purpose seems to be to make more money so that their children can attend better schools, get better jobs, etc.
So I wonder how much of this type of push into traditionally male professions by these types of dedicated mother types are actually a testing of the boundaries vs. a simple expansion of their methods of nurturing.
To be clear, I have also known many women who are simply and purely producers. They don’t have family and aren’t interested in it. They are in love with their craft and it shows in every motion.
One of my points here is that it seems significantly easier for men to have both benefits. They can tell their families that they want to make a mark on the world, and try to earn money, and try to be famous, at the cost of time with the children and his wife. And he’ll be respected. He’ll be thought of as a “great man”.
Then when he does come home with the story books to read at night, he’s considered the best dad in the world. “He didn’t have to do that.”, they’d say. It’s considered exceptional.
For the women it’s violently different.
For the woman she damn sure better be reading those bedtime stories. And she better be there every moment for her kids. From birth to 18 years of age the kids are her primary responsibility. This seems to be known and accepted worldwide.
And if a mother says one day that she wants to be, say, a recognized author on a subject that fascinates her, and that she wants to spend months in deep research and study and writing, and that the husband would have to care for the children…well, just think of it. Imagine her coming back from another long day away doing writing with a storybook to read at bedtime.
The man probably isn’t going to say, “Wow, that’s exceptional.” He’s probably going to say (or at least think), that if she wanted to be a writer then she shouldn’t have had children. And this is one step away from saying that if she didn’t want to have children then she shouldn’t have been a woman. Which is peculiar, since I’m not sure how much choice women are given in that regard.
Women are expected to be nurturers is what I’m saying.
Deviation from this path is tolerated to some degree in a few of the more enlightened countries, but even there it is just that…tolerated. Even where it is encouraged it is often done so with a tinge of intellectual necessity—almost as if everyone knows it goes against nature and should be done sparingly (and preferably by someone else).
Now that I think about potential reasons for this, I wonder if it’s simply because women (mothers) are considered to be essential to child-rearing while fathers are considered a nice-to-have. That would make some kind of sense in terms of the history of the sentiment.
Alas, all that was something of a tangent.
I was mostly wanting to write about the idea that most individuals’ life forces are directed towards either producing or nurturing, and that it’s perhaps useful to ask oneself which you are.
So are which are you?
Are you a producer? Do you obsess over a discipline? Do you struggle to master something? Do you wish to raise that discipline in a tangible way and have your name associated with the advance?
Or are you primarily a father or mother? Is your primary purpose to see your offspring thrive? Are all your actions mere steps in achieving that goal?
It’s a fascinating question.
And it’s made more complex by the realization that nobody is completely one or the other. Many fathers, for example, put in tremendous hours at work when they’d rather not, and they do it so that they can provide for their families. And millions of mothers are just the same.
Does that count as producing or as nurturing? I’d put that in the category of the newly minted technical career women of Asia, actually, and call it an expanded interpretation of nurturing. It’s simply nurturing through providing vs. nurturing at home. Producers are different in that their focus is not on the family but on the work and the impact it will have.
Reducing even more simply, is your focus on improving yourself and the world as a whole, or on improving those immediately around you?
Put this way we see an interesting flip become possible. Could the nurturer then become the selfish ones because they are focused internally on their own family, while the producer looks to make advances that will help thousands or millions?
Perhaps, but I think the opposite is usually more true.
In general the producer is more inwardly driven while the nurturer is more dedicated to helping others (although that group is often limited to family).
It’s a complicated mix.
I’ll part with a few questions that may serve to enlighten:
- Are you a producer or a nurturer?
- If you’re a man, and you are a working nurturer, does that bother you?
- If you’re a woman and you’re a producer, does that bother you?
- If you’re a woman and you’re a nurturer, do you desire to be a producer?
- If you’re married, could you imagine your mate as the opposite role? As a wife could you imagine your husband as the nurturer and you as the producer? And reverse it if you’re the husband.
Answering these questions could be quite revealing and could help illuminate the path to, at the very least, more vigorous and fruitful discussion.