Division of Labor: Chopping Wood
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.