Discover more from Other Feminisms
Unweaving Code and Cookery
Refactoring and the romance of maintenance
One brief charming story at the top—I loved that Jolien Boumkwo, usually a shotputter, ran the 100 meter hurdles to keep Belgium from being DQ’d in the European Team Championships. And seeing her line up with the bird-boned hurdlers really puts on display the wide range of bodily excellence for women.
I really appreciated this post byof on learning “refactoring” in the process of learning to code. Here’s how she describes the work:
[Refactoring is] when you’ve already got a piece of code that does what you want it to (say, make your character walk around) but you go back and change the way it’s written without affecting the end result. You might do this simply because it’s messy, or it somehow interferes with a different system you’re working on, or so many reasons I’m not even aware of because I still know so little about all of this. But the idea is that you’re tinkering under the hood in a way that anyone other than you will ideally never notice; kind of antithetical to making things in the first place, right?
A lot of “women’s work” / homemaking work resembles refactoring. This summer, we have one major refactoring job ahead of us as parents—potty training (ahem, excuse me, toilet learning).
Just like refactoring code, this means taking a system that works pretty smoothly for now, but which can’t be load-bearing forever, and deliberately enduring a rough period while we try, in concert with our daughter, to transition to a totally different system to, um, handle the same inputs and outputs in a more streamlined way.
And, at home, it’s much harder to work in a private sandbox (no no, not that kind of sandbox, we are not getting one, Beatrice) or to take a system offline for maintenance. You can only refactor your family while flying it.
It adds a lot of pressure to need to refactor invisibly, and to not be able to take pride in the reworking. There are times when I’m baking and I call my husband over to show him how I chose a sequence of ingredient measurements that allow me to minimize washing measuring spoons. (“Look, look, I used the half-teaspoon twice in the baking soda, which let me pour salt in directly next, and then the vanilla—no washing till the end of the sequence, and I won’t need to dry it for the rest of the recipe!”)
It sounds like Alanna would be a good person to share these moments with, based on what she says motivates her to embrace refactoring in the physical world:
I’m a process-loving bitch and I always have been, especially when it comes to crafting. I’ve knitted literally dozens of sweaters for myself in the past two decades, and plenty I’ve never worn out once. Not because they’re not comfortable or don’t fit well (although there are some lumpen wonders), nor because I’m not proud of them, but because the work was already the best part. I wanted to know I could make the sweater in front of me, and I could, and I did. Sometimes I give those sweaters away; other times I frog them for their yarn; more often than not, though, they hang in my closet as sort of talismans, these sums of my time and my coaxing and my puzzle-solving.
I really recognize her delight in mastery and it’s why framing “women’s work” as primarily lousy work or wearing work rubs me the wrong way. It’s also why “Wages for Housework” feels like it’s addressing a different problem—the explicit opportunity cost—not of giving weight to the value of this kind of work.
I’m always interested in where we pay tribute to the romance of maintenance. My favorites are the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer and this below from Chesterton:
If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post. But this which is true even of inanimate things is in a quite special and terrible sense true of all human things. An almost unnatural vigilance is really required of the citizen because of the horrible rapidity with which human institutions grow old.
Chesteron’s tone suggests maintainers and refactors as a kind of fire watch. People walking a kind of beat, with perhaps a badge or a plume, and a sense of standing in the gap against the terrible surging force of entropy. (Diane Duane conceives wizardry in the same vein in her Young Wizards series).