Posts Tagged ‘women’s work’



I come from the last generation who ironed. Ironing fell into that category of necessary but not particularly noteworthy labor which characterized “woman’s work.” It was incredibly time consuming. Liberation for women came coincidental with the coming of synthetic fabrics and the demise of ironing.

Like many things defined as being woman’s work, ironing can be so tedious, boring, and without glory as to be identified as a form of slavery. I’m as grateful for miracle fabrics as the next woman, but I have a confession to make: I loved to iron.

In the first place, since it was necessary, I never had to feel guilty while I slaved away at the ironing board, breathing in the steamy vapors of fresh laundry, Tide detergent and Niagara starch, and that “back in the good old days” scent that can only come from line drying outside in sunny breezes. But all of that was atmosphere. The real reward was performing a task that requires a certain amount of mastery and still have one’s mind free to do with it exactly what one pleases. Things like talking to God, and contemplating the nature of reality. And things which, without this necessary labor, I would have neither the time nor the clear conscience to indulge. Things like listening to Billie Holiday and Odetta on my stereo, and classical music and opera, because I wanted to be an intellect, which of course, also included listening to the news on the radio. But I preferred the blues. Still do. Most important, while standing at the ironing board, I made up poems.

In the second place, I discovered it to be a perfect location from where to work out my point of view and later, when I went into business for myself I discovered that the ironing board was the ideal vantage point from which to view my operation—my catbird seat. Let me explain:

A man who supervised big construction jobs, like dams and highways, gave me some very valuable information. He said that when he was on a new job, the first thing he did was find a spot that would best position him to be able to tell what was going on. He called it the “catbird seat.”

He took me out to one of his highway work sites and to the catbird seat he was using at that time.  He pointed out that not only was it the high ground from where he could see everything that was going on, but could also hear what was going on. I stood there with him listening to what he called his symphony. If any of the heavy equipment operators was not up to par or any of the machinery not running well, he could locate it in seconds. For me, it was a “peak moment” that continues to inform how I operate, not just in business, but life in general.

Evidently “catbird seat” is an American phrase originating in the south, meaning “a superior or advantageous position.” The actual Catbird belongs to a genre of birds called the mimic thrushes, which include mockingbirds and is named for its ability to mimic a cat’s meow. They seek out the highest perches in trees from which to observe their terrain and sing and preen in relative safety. This is most likely to be the derivation of the term which may also be the source of an earlier term with much the same meaning: “sitting pretty.” Early on the phrase was used in association with the sport of baseball.  In the forties Red Barber announced the games over the radio using expressions like “sitting in the catbird seat” meaning sitting pretty like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. But I’ve had it explained to me—by those who should know—that the expression originated and circulated in prisons in the early forties. This makes life and death sense, doesn’t it?

When I was liberated enough to choose my own form of slavery I formed a corporation and designed and manufactured women’s apparel. I looked for my catbird seat. In my operation it turned out to be—you guessed it—standing at the ironing board, and I periodically worked that spot throughout my career. It was central to the flow of production. Not only could I tell how much was being produced, but how fast, and the quality of the workmanship.

In my old age, I have finally become the writer and poet I used to dream of being, and practiced to be, while standing at the ironing board doing “woman’s work.”  So, since I am still a woman, it seemed only right to continue to use the desk with which I had started. I found a great old wooden ironing board in an antique store that is easy to manage and light to carry. I take it with me to my poetry readings and make a bit of a show whipping it onto the stage, setting it up, and scattering it with my chap books and readings and announcing that I am ready to get down to some real woman’s work. This  has been so much fun and so successful that publishing my  poetry and other pressing commentaries under the name “Ironing Board Press” seemed perfect.

Now, in honor of the hours I have spent with the ironing board as my catbird seat where, though I do have a great view and can see everything that is going on, I continue to mix my metaphors and peddle my puns in the hope of bringing you something to warm your heart or fire your mind. This woman’s work is presented  hot off the press.

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