by Alison Reiheld, Assoc. Prof of Philosophy and Director of Women’s Studies at Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville
Writer Brigid Schulte first came to my attention through her article “Why time is a feminist issue.” Schulte describes a time-use expert’s claim during an interview: Schulte had roughly 30 hours of leisure time every week. Upon hearing this, Schulte says, “I sat in my chair, phone to my ear, jaw open, and utterly frozen in disbelief.” Why? It didn’t feel anything like that between her kids and housekeeping duties—“laundry, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the child care drop offs, the dry cleaning, the bills, the pediatrician appointments, the summer camp planning"—demanding work, and a boss who “liked to say the best workers were always in the office until 9 and 10 at night.” When the time-use expert sat down with Schulte, they actually found 27 hours of what the expert called ‘leisure’ and Schulte called “bits and scraps of garbagey time… five minutes here… ten minutes there.” Even waiting by the side of the road for a tow truck, the expert said, counted as leisure. This is where Schulte coins an extremely valuable term: time confetti.
Schulte finds several explanations for time confetti. Drawing on research, she says that women don’t have a history of culture or leisure (unless you were a nun, Schulte notes, or unless you were quite upper class, I note). My own studies would indicate that this is in part because women have a culture of care—caretaking for property, and caregiving for persons. This leads in to Schulte’s next explanation for time confetti: women around the globe have felt that they “they didn’t deserve leisure time… Instead, they felt they had to earn time to themselves by getting to the end of a very long To Do list. Which, let’s face it, never ends.”
While I expect one could make a similar gender-neutral case for the pressures of the protestant and capitalist work ethics—productivity uber alles; look upon my busy-ness ye mighty and despair!—men in heteronormative households do experience different kinds of demands on their time outside of work than do women. These are often claims that they can discharge at a time of their own choosing such as yard work or general maintenance rather than ones that must be done right now and every day such as meals and the nitty gritty of care for dependent persons. It is for these reasons, among others, that Schulte comes to conclude the claim in the title of her piece, namely that time is power and time is a feminist issue.
So why write about this in a blog ostensibly on a philosopher’s hobbies? Well, for one thing, as a philosopher, I am prone to analyzing my own life and reading and thinking about it, looking for patterns and trying to make sense of it. It’s the philosophical equivalent of the practice of medicine: gather signs and symptoms, analyze recurring patterns, and diagnose before attempting to treat.
Instead of pushing back as hard as I might against time confetti, since the demands and obligations of paid work and unpaid work are real and genuinely owed to self and others, I have worked to fit my leisure within existing obligations and time confetti. This works in two ways. First, I view work as a break from caregiving, and caregiving as a break from work. This is a bit of a mental trick (ambiguity intended), but it leads to much less stress and better balance. Similar thinking allows me to choose ways of caring for my family that feed my own soul. Second, in the interstitial bits of time I have for myself, and from each of these activities, I carve out leisure. This results in what I have begun to think of as confetti hobbies.