Becoming genie. Cave Broad and the Pot: The Invention of ‘Women’s Work’

One hot summer day I was struggling through the rooms overlooking the rental house next to my Inn.  As all the windows were open, I had ample time to listen and occasionally watch one of the tenants as he grilled the main course for lunch.  Once or twice he called for his wife to come out and ‘watch the meat’ while he attended to personal business.  Later, I heard the raves of guests and family about the wonderful meal he had prepared.

Of course as we all know, everything other than the meat was prepared and served by the woman who stepped in to relieve him from the chore of ‘watching the meat.’  The table was set, the house cleaned in preparation, everything, including the meat to be watched, purchased and brought to the little cottage by the same woman.

But, the glory goes to he who has watched the meat.

It got me to wondering how this division of labor, merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg of the overall division of labor, came about.  And, I got the vision of our primal ancestor:  Cave Broad.

One day Cave Broad was busy, as usual, hunched over the fire carefully cooking the meat for her family’s meal.  She had already gathered the wood, started the fire, and the day before foraged through the area finding other edibles.  These were her primary responsibilities.  In her spare time she prepared skins for bedding and clothing, and kept her children alive.

Cave Broad looked down at her rather tattered, soot and grease stained frock and suddenly thought, “If I didn’t have to watch the meat so long, I would have time to make more clothes.”  The thought grew as she glanced around her little clearing.  “If I didn’t have to watch the meat so long, I would have time to clean the crud out of the cave…I could teach the children how to behave…I could make dishes to eat off, and…and I could make a nicer life for us all!”

But, Cave Broad had to watch the meat, or it would burn and the food would be ruined.   “If only,” she thought, “there was some way to cook the meat so that it could be left without burning.”  And, Cave Broad invented the pot.

With the pot and some water meat could be left over the fire and would not burn.  Additionally, the roots and berries she collected could be put in the pot with the meat, so all preparation could be done at one time, and Cave Broad was free.  Free to sew, clean, raise children, tend to the sick and lame, learn how to plant the seeds she found and create a garden, make pottery, tame animals for milk and meat.  Everything.

Meanwhile, Cave Man kept the family safe from intruding animals and other men.  He went on hunts for large animals and invaded other’s lands or protected their own with his buddies.   When they returned, the men would gather in special caves where they drank, smoked, danced around telling their parts in the adventure, and sometimes scribbled on the walls so future generations would know how brave they were.

How different if she had not invented the pot!

One day Cave Man comes home and notices the bed skins are in a mess on the cave floor, which is strewn with bones from distant meals and not smelling very well.  “Humph,” Cave Man says to his wife.  “The cave is a mess.  You should clean.”

“Yes,” replies Cave Broad.  “I noticed that, and I agree.  But, as you see, I am watching the meat so it doesn’t burn.  Would you rather I clean the cave?”  Cave Man looks at the meat hanging above the fire.  His belly growls a bit at the delicious smell.  “No!” he says.  “You watch the meat.  I will clean the cave.”

Another day Cave Man comes to his wife as she is cooking the meat.  “My clothes are getting very dirty.  You should clean them, and make some new ones.”  “My clothes are also greasy and old,” replies Cave Broad.  “I was thinking how nice it would be to learn how to clean them, and to make more.  But, I am watching the meat so it doesn’t burn.  Would you rather I clean the clothes and make some new ones…or watch the meat?”

And, Cave Man assumed the task of cleaning and sewing the clothes.  In like fashion he took on child rearing and myriad other tasks.  He still had time to hunt and make war. And drink and dance with his friends, but only on Saturday nights.  Cave Man and Broad’s neighbors soon followed suit, and Civilization and Keeping Up With the Joneses was born.

In this alternate Universe, where Cave Broad did not invent the pot, one day a young man was cleaning the rooms in his Inn and glanced down at the rental house next door.  A woman was on the porch with a beer in one hand and a long pair of tongs in the other, watching the meat on the grill.  Several other women were gathered around her, beers in hand, marveling at her expertise.  Inside the tiny kitchen men could be seen scurrying around preparing salads and other side dishes, loading dishes and glasses and flatwear onto trays, all the while keeping an eye on the group of children laughing and romping through the little house.  Occasionally, one of the men would excuse himself as he rushed to aid or scold a child.

The young man knew that soon everyone would sit at the picnic tables in the backyard and rave about the meal.  The woman would be complimented on her skill at preparing the meat.  And, the young man wondered, “How did everything but watching the meat become ‘Man’s Work’?”

Genie Jennings

About Genie Jennings

My identity was stolen. We define ourselves by what we do, and on the worst day of my life, I lost everything. In October 1986, the meningioma that was growing within my spinal column was finally diagnosed and removed. Before that, despite the movements that were increasingly disappearing from my repertoire, I had been a gym rat. Earlier in life, I had worked as a physical therapy aide, so I knew a lot about exercise and recovery.  I could not wait for Monday when my own pt would start.