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  • Writer's pictureThe Feminist Times

Gendered Time

My mother holds a Master’s degree in political science and then went on to attain a

Bachelor of Education degree later. However, she never took up a job to become a part of

the workforce outside home. Time and again whenever I've asked her the reason behind it,

I’ve gotten only one reply - “ There was no time for it.”

Time has been one of the main factors in defining one’s life and because of the central position that it holds, the politics involved behind it goes unnoticed. The politics of ‘who gets what, when and how’ involves access to disposable time as well as other scarce resources. (Bryson, 2007). Time governs our everyday lives and us at such micro levels which we sometimes do not even realise. The assumption is that time is equal and just to everyone and thus, it is the sole responsibility of the person it is being given to, to use it however they want. But it ignores and overlooks the various power dynamics and hierarchies involved in it and how it is not the same for everyone. By the above example that I gave, it is clear that my mother is convinced that after marriage and after having kids, she did not have time to go out and work while my father on the other hand (who also married and had children) worked the entire time and never felt that “there was no time for it.”

In her article, Brigid Schulte talks about the time that men get because the women in their lives sacrifice that from their own lives. The illustration that her article provides is that of a man and a woman sitting on a ‘see-saw’ with the woman piled up with the household chores of washing dishes, mopping the floor and also at the same time taking care of the child while the man could be seen busy with his writing and smoking the pipe. “Women’s time has been interrupted and fragmented throughout history, the rhythms of their days circumscribed by the sisyphean tasks of housework, childcare and kin work – keeping family and community ties strong” (Schulte). Women’s contribution in household labour is invisibilized and not included in the economy while the men who are apparently contributing in the economy mostly have someone (usually women) back at home who clear their table of all the household interruptions. Valarie Bryson in her book - ‘Gender and Politics of Time’ argues that we should value and reward time spent caring for others as an important economic and civic activity (2007, p 2). The salaries and employment should be provided by not keeping men and their time as the focal point but should be inclusive of various activities performed by the other genders as well.

This differentiation and division of time also comes from the notion that men and women are biologically different and thus, women are born with qualities like that of nurturing,

cooperation and conflict resolution while the male attributes are of self interest, aggression and competition (Bryson, p 51). Men do not give childbirth but its significance and physical experience is socially produced and on the other hand many women do not give childbirth in their lifetime and therefore, claims saying that women have different time and share a different relationship with it due to different bodily experiences are untenable. Simone de Beauvoir rightly said that “one is not born a woman rather becomes one.” The differences between men and women are socially produced and thus roles played by them in the society are also very much interchangeable. We have to realise that time has been ‘gendered’ by the social forces(hierarchy, socio-cultural, economic, political) and thus, the notion that it is binary in nature stands rejected. The concept of time itself has undergone a massive change and the methods used to measure time have also kept on changing - caveman tally marks, hourglass, sun-dial etc. We also need to understand that the time used by men is seen as the ‘proper linear time by clock which is measurable’ and the time used by women is understood in respect and in reference to that. Women’s lack of time is seen as an extension of their gender and is inevitable and thus, women find and derive various ways to balance inside of the house in order to work outside their homes.

Another argument has been of ‘Women’s Time’ and it as a concept. It is clear that there is no clear binary of sex and gender and thus, any distinction between men’s and women’s time should not be understood in “dichotomous terms, both because our experience of time is inherently fragmented, fluid and multi-layered and because women and men are not closed, unitary categories”. (Bryson, p121) However, due to different social experiences there has been a distinction between men and women’s time and that the former will always be the dominant, standard time while the latter should conform to male temporal norms. One of the major factors that gave rise to the concept of ‘women’s time’ was women’s biology. Jay Griffiths claims that “the menstrual cycle gives women a differing experience of time” (Bryson, pg 123). A certain biological clock is attached to women and their bodies which perpetuates the notion that women’s bodies come with an expiry age and there is always a certain time for experiences that a woman goes through-menstruation, reproduction and menopause. Valarie Bryson here also talked about Linear time and Cyclical time where the former is usually linked with men while the latter with women. In very basic terms, linear time is seen as goal oriented and linked with production in the public sphere/economic workforce where events keep happening one after the other and the last stage here being ‘death’.

Linear time “by definition involves a kind of transcendence that trivialises the specificity of

the finite moment. It requires a kind of estrangement from the present that entails dematerialization, abstraction and disembodiment”. On the contrary, cyclical time is

characterised by repetition and never reaching an identifiable goal, so that a woman’s work is never done (Bryson, p136). It involves the same routine that was followed by the earlier generation and will be followed by the next. There is no context involved because cyclical time will just not get affected by it. Linear time is marked with dynamism, growth, change and transformation and thus is linked with men. We need to realise that one can not understand women’s time ever if it is always studied or defined in respect to men’s time.

In order to conclude, we must acknowledge that male and female time should not be seen as stable, dichotomous and biologically based categories. Issues pertaining to women can not be tackled in isolation and it is important to study various other social forces acting on that time attained by women. There should be a redistribution of time away from any type of political or social inequality. Also, the claim that women’s temporal sense reflects their menstrual cycle is also flawed by its basis in a particular stage in women’s lives that is never experienced by all; as such, it ignores the experiences of post menopausal women and the minority who never menstruate. And if time is distributed in a just and equal way then it will be easier to also break away from the stereotypical ideas of gender norms, and the concepts of masculinity and femininity.

- Anushka Kumar

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