The Audacity to Ask – Thoughts

I hope everybody is as well as can be these days. I am – I got coffee. I was the second customer this morning, and I know in my heart that I can do better tomorrow. Whatever the doomsayers have warned about the difficulties of returning to one’s pre-pandemic routines, well, they are wrong. I bounced right back to mine.

Another routine I have been trying to keep up during lockdown is some kind of daily exercise. I am hopeless with self-discipline, as in I don’t have any, so downloading all kinds of workout videos and then mustering the willpower to actually do them was never going to work for me. I was relieved to find out that my pilates teacher gives virtual one-on-one classes so that I could carry on with at least that.

I practise tap dancing as well, and my teacher sends out weekly rehearsal videos to our class. In addition I follow many professional tap dancers on IG, and lately they have also started to give online classes and courses.
There’s a notable difference between women and men dancers who give classes, though:
Men charge money and make it known upfront in their IG posts: “I do classes that cost $10 each”.

If women do charge for their classes at all, it is only made clear at a very late stage of the inscription process, almost as if it was something embarrassing that has to be hidden until the very last moment.
And just to be clear: I am talking about professional teachers whose job it is to teach dancing. Their IRL master classes used to be expensive and almost impossible to get a spot at. As things stand, these dancers basically have no income from the job they have dedicated their entire life to.

I don’t get why online classes should be free in any circumstances. The teacher still has to prepare for them – it’s not like they can stand there, unprepared, waving their two hands (or feet, in this case) for 45 minutes while a global Zoom-audience looks on. Similarly beyond my comprehension are people who refuse to pay for subscription for online newspapers and magazines and complain about paywalls.
Surely no-one is expecting to get a paper copy of a magazine for free at a shop, right?
OK, I’m deviating.

There are similarities with the production of non-medical face masks that are quickly becoming compulsory in many European countries as well as in the US. In the beginning of the pandemic large-scale voluntary sewing projects were launched to scramble together some kind of minimum protection for care home workers and people working in similar conditions.

Sewing is almost 100% done by women. As the number of countries and cities requiring the use of face masks increased, so did the demand for for masks by regular citizens. Where to get one? Could not the crafty ladies start spewing them out and hand out at street corners for free, as a service to the humanity?

Two things before I continue:
– Campaigns to enlist volunteers with sewing skills to help those carrying out their work in difficult and risky circumstances are commendable. We should all do what we can to help our communities survive shocks like this. Most of us can donate or volunteer, and should. This is one thing.

– Face masks for the general public have already become a business, and a very lucrative one at that, given that everybody will be required to wear one, sooner or later. Nobody should be pushed, or required, to make masks for free, no matter how easily they seem to be able to put them together. This is the other thing.

Sewing, considered a trivial, highly unnecessary and, more specifically, uncool hobby in the 21st century has suddenly emerged as a critical ability. Because sewing is traditionally something that women do, it has zero valuation as far as work goes. Why would things like €5 T-shirts exist otherwise?
I am very skilled at sewing, but would never make a T-shirt from scratch for five euros.
Would you?

I have a vested interest to follow the face mask discussion, because I make them as a lockdown activity. It was my friends who reasoned that I should start charging for them – until then I was very much the woman who thought it my feminine civic duty to spend my time making free custom-made face masks for people.

Now my mask-making has become a small charity project, which sparks joy, because this way I can donate more money than I had initially planned.

The point, however, is not my mask-making or whether I ask money for them. (In the contrary, people have been very happy to pay for the masks, given their exclusivity and the fact that they make a donation at the same time.)

If there was a universal need for a DIY-product that traditionally is something that is made by men, do you think they would hand them out for free? Would you expect men to do such work for free, including spending their own money on the raw materials?
Do you not think that by now the financial newspapers would be full of stories about clever guys who turned their little tinkering workshops into big businesses in the midst of pandemic?
This is the point.

Ideally no-one has to work for free. And again, I want to be clear with the separation of voluntary work and working for no compensation. I hope that each of the women tap professionals will start taking money for their work like their male counterparts – and doing so with pride, instead of hiding it somewhere on their website.
Alas, I’m more sceptical about the valuation of handcrafts – that ship has sailed with fast fashion and mass-production (why would anyone pay for design furniture when we can buy rip-offs for a tenth of the price and put it together by ourselves for free??)
I doubt crafts of any type will ever be appreciated enough for people to voluntarily pay for the actual work that goes into making things.
Even if the world were to return to more conscious, sustainable, clean and slow lifestyles as some would have us believe, ordering bulk online for a fraction of the prize will forever remain the preferred option for the vast majority.
I also secretly hope that I might be wrong.

Now, more coffee.

2 thoughts on “The Audacity to Ask – Thoughts

  1. I found your post very interesting, as usual. I agree every type of work deserves to be paid. What about music? Nowadays most people seem to think it should be available for free. What about all the girls (and boys) who create and play music? Now on something completely different, and to show some boys are giving free classes, Stuart Sandeman @breathpod (he’s a man ;)) gives free breathing sessions on Insta which leave me blown away every time I try them ;))) Take care (and I am interested in your masks). Valerie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fully agree – being paid includes musicians and all other creatives and artists. Admittedly it’s becoming less straightforward because of the streaming services and people buying less records. But yeah there’s sometimes the strange notion that anything that’s online should automatically be free…


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