Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

Division of Labor: Chopping Wood

with 3 comments

For those of you in the American heartland, you know that there is a pretty strong wood-chopping culture in America.  It’s waning a bit, but theres a certain romance about the flannel-lined, jeans-wearing, boot-kicking frontiersman out chopping trees for firewood.  It’s an American stereotype that has pervaded advertising for a long time.  And it carries with it an air of distinctly American masculinity.

Turn that stereotype on its head.  Instead of the rugged frontiersman, replace him with the middle-aged Azeri woman in an imitation-fleece house dress and shower sandals.  Give her an ax and a few stumps of wood.  And then put her in my backyard.  This is the state of chopping wood in Azerbaijan.  The closest I’ve seen a male come to taking an active role in cutting up the trees is my downstairs neighbor holding the stump while his wife swung the ax wildly over her head.

I’m sure there are myriad examples of both men and women chopping wood here, and this is not to say that men and women should respect some sort of gender role when it comes to chopping wood.  Instead, I think it’s interesting that I’ve never actually seen a man chopping wood here.  Is the act one relegated to women?  In my apartment building, there is no gas, so heat in the other apartments is fed by wood stoves.  The neighbor ladies can be seen in the yard chopping away, with little in the way of skill or agility with the ax.  I’ve been watching a few people around here chop by just hacking away at the stump of a small tree, instead of trying to carefully split each chunk of lumber, as I’d watched my father do for years.  It looks pretty reckless and unpracticed.

Many of the gender-specific tasks in Azerbaijan seem to fit in with Western notions of what a gender-roled society would look like, with women pouring tea, serving food, cleaning, and staying at home; men out of the home, tooling with cars, working to be the breadwinner.  This wood-chopping business is outside of that neat little picture, and I’m curious as to what other gender-specified tasks don’t necessarily fit an American’s conception of genderized roles.  If anyone has any examples, I’d be glad to see them in comments below.


Written by Aaron

December 26, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. An example that popped to my head is how women also seem to manage a lot of the family finances. This is just coming from living with 3 Azeri host families so it’s a small sample, but whenever I tried to give rent money to the man of the household they always told me to give it to his wife. “She’s the one who handles the money.”

    In my family back in the States, my dad would always sit down every month with his checkbook to pay all of the bills.

    By the way, do you think you could write a post about the “Kredit” system in Azerbaijan? It seems that pretty much anyone with an ID card can get credit for anything from computers to furniture. How does a system like that work with no credit scores? How are contracts enforced?

    Another interesting area I’m trying to figure out is how quite a few Azeris participate in some of type of “lotereya” system with their co-workers where they place a percentage of their paycheck every month in a pool that rotates to one worker every month. Does this make any economic sense? Couldn’t someone just set aside that money under their bed every month and use it when they need it? I’ve got to be missing something here.

    Thanks, Aaron. Keep up the good posts and watch out for those axes.


    December 27, 2010 at 7:02 pm

  2. Aaron, I’ve really been enjoying your blog – I like your humor and I like your angle on it – as an Azeri American in Wisconsin, I love seeing it through your eyes.


    February 4, 2011 at 4:27 am

    • Hey Sofya–thanks so much 🙂 I’m enjoying writing here, so it works both ways. I’m happy to hear any feedback, so thanks for the comments, too.


      February 5, 2011 at 9:15 am

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