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Thoughts About Self-Sacrifice On Remembrance Day

Amidst the well-deserved recognition of war heroism among men, I’ve always had an irritation like a sand grain in my eye. Small in one sense, and yet overwhelming.

Consider, for instance, this headline last week: Virtual schooling has largely forced moms, not dads, to quit work. It will hurt the economy for years.

Why? Why has it forced mothers to quit paying work more than fathers? Yes, there’s more social humiliation for men in not having paying work. But the single biggest reason is women’s unwillingness to see their children suffer. Women pay any price to avoid that, including the destruction of their own futures.

Fathers also self-sacrifice, of course, but the threshold for most men is a higher level of suffering in their kids, judging by the points at which they take action.

The sand grain I contend with is that when men sacrifice they get a great deal of remembrance and recognition and statuary. Women get taken for granted.

It’s uncommon for women to fight their way through Benavidez levels of sudden injury. (It’s exceedingly uncommon for men too.) But just because it’s not the same kind of pain, it’s a mistake to ignore women’s superhuman endurance of harm. (I’m being polite calling it a mistake. Mostly it looks like intentional ignorance.) And many women fight for their children against huge odds and massive pain for more than months or years on a battlefield. They endure for their whole lives, without support or recognition.

It reminds me of the research showing that in hunter-gatherer societies women provide about 65% of the calories [see Results in pdf], including a similar proportion of the protein calories by consistently trapping small game and fish. But when men lay the occasional wildebeest low, it’s a big deal. The societies are even called hunter-gatherer instead of gatherer-hunter. (Yes, there’s recent research showing that women also hunted big game. That’s not my point. The point is the lack of recognition for women’s larger, continual, and consistent supply of food.)

We need remembrance for the selfless service women provide. We need recognition of its scale. I’d bet it’s probably about two thirds of the glue that holds civilization together. To say nothing of the sacrifices required to produce the actual people without whom a human world can’t exist.

women rebuilding Berlin, brick by brick, after enduring bombing for years
Women rebuilding Berlin, brick by brick, after enduring bombing for years