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Were The Ways Of Women Or Men Better At Fostering How To Make Jewelry?

Posted by learntobead on June 24, 2020

Women get together and bead. They sit around a table. They talk. They gossip. They share bead stories. They share personal stories. They complain about the difficulties in life, and they extol the joys of living their lives. And they bead. At least a little. Some more than others. But it’s often difficult to tell if the talk is more important, or the beading. Or if all the talk is too distracting for some. Or not distracting enough.

Women get together and bead in classes. They get together and bead around the dining room tables in their homes. They attend workshops, and sit in a circle and bead. They join bead societies, and sit in a circle and bead. They arrange retreats so that they can sit in circles and bead. Why do so many woman like to sit around in a circle and talk and bead? Vera says it’s so I can get an education about women when I’m with women.

But anthropologists tell us this was always so. Women sat in circles and talked and crafted. The circles provided a measure of convenience. They provided a sense of safety. They allowed women to reconfirm their places within the group. They allowed women to learn the basic rituals in life, and to transfer this knowledge to their children. They offered women some sharing of responsibilities, especially for child raising.

It was because women so frequently came together to sit, circular, with one another, and because the tasks they did, while in these circles, were so involved and complex, that language was born. Women had a lot to say. They had to keep their children alive. They had to influence their child’s development. They had to balance the gathering of food with the rearing of children. A few guttural sounds, and the waving of hands, was insufficient. So a language of purpose was born, and the circles of women had one more added responsibility — keeping the language going.

Men, on the other hand, only needed a few sounds to get through their day. A “grunt” for “This is a good place to hunt.” A “grunt-grunt” for “Here comes the woolly mammoth”. And a “grunt-grunt-grunt” for “Run, here comes the woolly mammoth!”

Men also had an “Ah” for “This rock looks like it will sharpen up well.” They had an “Ah-Ah” for “I’ve made a sharp point with this rock.” There was an “Ah-Ah-Ah” for “Look at the spear I’ve made with this sharp rock point.” And then an “Aaaaaahhhh!” for “I speared myself with my sharp rock point!”

These grunts and ah’s would get the men through their day. They were sufficient.

But not for the women. Grunts and ah’s couldn’t capture ideas like, “Your baby threw up over me,” or, “Don’t eat those berries — they’re poisonous,” or, “These leaves and shoots would make a pretty dress.”

At first, in the earliest circles of women, various women would invent words, but they would talk across each other. [I’ve heard some say that this continues even until today.] Women had difficulty making themselves heard and understood. They might try shouting the word louder, or more frequently, or right into another woman’s face. But this probably precipitated fighting, perhaps a punch in the face. Early language use was probably a tower of Babel — no one speaking the same things.

To rein this in, to correct for this chaos, to bring order to language, rituals were born. By convincing all the women in a circle to perform in the same way, they could label each performance. And with each label, everyone could understand. Some rituals were religious. Some were social. Some social rituals were oriented around life cycle events, like birth, puberty, marriage and death. Some social rituals were oriented around the gathering and preparing of food. And other social rituals were oriented around making things. It was important that everyone perform in the same way, do the same things, and use the same labels for things. This had survival value.

Concepts were channeled into words. Words delineated activities and events. Women whose performance held closest to the words — as defined by the beliefs about the concepts underlying these words — had higher status. Women were keepers of the “word”, and those that did a better job of “keeping”, had higher status. These women were judged better. More right. More righteous. More proficient.

And beading and jewelry making were eventually born. Women used the small seeds and berries around them to adorn themselves. They added small shells, pieces off bushes and trees, and animal parts. They figured out ways to string these together and secure them in place. They developed the “Needle” and concepts for making and utilizing these needles. And women sought to preserve beading by performing it over and over again in the same way. And performing it within their tight circles. And with the smaller materials, objects and tools they had at hand.

Which brings us to men.

Men made jewelry, too. They made jewelry that did not need an elaborated language to inform them what to do. Given how men envisioned the design of hand-made things, they gravitated towards larger objects. Men hammered these. They put holes in things. They bent things into hooks, and rings, and connectors. Their jewelry was informed by strength. It didn’t take much of a language to demonstrate how to hammer things and make holes in things. They could easily teach others.

And this teaching was a source of power and strength. Men who could teach faster had higher status. Those that could develop tools to hammer and drill faster, cleaner, better, more exacting, using ever-harder and harder stones and other materials, continued to have higher status. Those that could build mechanical devices to achieve even better ends, secured their higher status.

For women, large, heavy tools and objects were inconvenient. They preferred smaller things they could manipulate, while gathering nuts and berries, and while nursing and caring for their children. Women relied on their fingers and hands in different ways than men. Some might suggest this was only a difference in scale; others might argue that these differences were significant. But the importance of the hand in craft was critical from the start.

As humans, for both WOMEN and men, their beading and jewelry making were informed by a sense of design. Undeniably, there was always a sense of design in craft. The degree to which WOMEN and men could implement their design sense, however, was limited by language and ritual. If they couldn’t provide a Name for something that they could envision in their mind, it was difficult to make it so. If they couldn’t create ways to teach themselves or others to recreate these Imaginations over and over again, the design concepts would be lost. And humanity would be lost. Or at least, set back.

Earliest humans most often assigned spiritual meanings to words and concepts associated with jewelry, to help them remember their sense of design. Some shapes and designs became strongly associated with social rules and social preservation. Eventually Art was born, and many more meanings could be assigned, and assigned in more complicated, elaborated ways. The expression of design would come to have many more pathways. It became much easier to progress with humanity. And more challenging. And more fulfilling.

Whether the ways of WOMEN or the ways of men were better at fostering jewelry, beading, design and creativity, … well, this battle is still getting fought out today.

Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

Do You Know Where Your Beading Needles Are?

Consignment Selling: A Last Resort

Odds or Evens? What’s Your Preference?

My Clasp, My Clasp, My Kingdom For A Clasp

Why Am I So Addicted To Beads?

The Bead Spill: My Horrifying Initiation

The Artists At The Party

How To Bead A Rogue Elephant

You Can Never Have Enough Containers For Your Stuff

Beading While Traveling On A Plane

Contemplative Ode To A Bead

How To Bead In A Car

My Aunt Gert: Illustrating Some Lessons In Business Smarts

A Jewelry Designer’s Day Dream

A Dog’s Life by Lily

I Make All The Mistakes In The Book

How Sparkle Enters People’s Lives

Upstairs, Downstairs At The Bead Store

Beads and Race

Were The Ways of Women or of Men Better At Fostering How To Make Jewelry

Women and Their Husbands When Shopping For Beads

Women Making Choices In The Pursuit Of Fashion

Existing As A Jewelry Designer: What Befuddlement!

The Bridesmaid Bracelets

How To Design An Ugly Necklace: The Ultimate Designer Challenge

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