I live in the center of the Central Valley, California.
My friend invited me to the Four Friends Market at Dutch Hollow Farms in the beginning of June. The previous week I attended the Rusty Roots Show at the County Fairgrounds. The week before, it was the Third Thursday Art Walk in Modesto. The coasters, jewelry, and many other types of local handcrafted items at the Chartreuse Muse impressed me most, while the paintings of the Peer Recovery Art Project stopped me in my tracks. During Turlock’s Art Around Town I pass through the Downtown Evening Market to sample caramel apples, and peruse my favorite store, Vintage Market, which sells the handiwork of seamstresses, woodworkers, furniture painters, curators, and crafters of all kinds. Each month I eagerly look forward to Vintage at the Yard held at The Fruit Yard in Hughson. Many more events I have not even mentioned.
Everywhere you look people are crafting: bunting, macramé, painted furniture, art prints, calligraphy, wood toys, home brewed beer, artisan bread, jams and jellies, soaps, candles, and so much more. My husband and I will join the bandwagon with his artfully-tuned, hand-crafted wind chimes. What is happening and how did this area become such a hot spot for the modern craft?
I see subsidiarity and solidarity at work. These two principles of Catholic social teaching mean, first, problems should be solved on most local level possible (subsidiarity), and second, we are connected to our neighbors (solidarity).
I have lived these principles in my work for small businesses throughout my career thanks to the lessons in networking I received from my parents. There was a small Catholic bookstore, a local restaurant, a local parish, and then a non-profit formed and grown in town focused on building community and supporting families.
My husband experienced the opposite. Throughout college, he worked for Subway, and found work in Virginia’s education system as a substitute teacher, never knowing his employers but staying connected through a computer system. A musician and music instructor, as the gig economy grew, his business grew as well.
It works. It works for introverts who do not perform well in interviews. It works for those without job experience. It works for those trying to supplement income while caring for children or other family members. In some cases gigging is entirely organized by computer (as with Uber and Lyft). In other cases it keeps individuals from falling through the cracks, making connections, albeit temporary ones.
Some criticize the gig economy as manipulation from Silicon Valley on vulnerable out-of-work workers, anonymously pocketing a percentage of a position they can never advance in. Looking at Etsy, craft fairs and collaboratives, I see a different picture painted.
Feminine Genius at Work
John Paul II described the feminine genius as an inclination of women toward paying attention to the whole person in her sphere of activity in all circumstances. The woman’s qualities of focusing on friendship, community, and companionship are echoed in the evolutionary theory that women, in times of stress, “tend and befriend” instead of the original concept of “flight or flight.”
John Paul II wrote, “In all these areas a greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable, for it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favours the processes of humanization which mark the ‘civilization of love’” (Letter to Women, par 4).
In her drive towards solidarity and relationship, many women do not simply freelance, but they form collaboratives such as I saw at the Four Friends Market and shops like Vintage Market. Working together lifts up other businesses and business owners.
Beyond friendship and convenience, why are women drawn to this style of business? Betty Friedan, in the Feminine Mystique, might argue women are motivated to find meaning in the day-to-day grind of childcare, to find value in production, or to create independence by earning a separate income. Homemaking is no longer enough. Women are restless and need a creative outlet.
Or it may be to create something beautiful, to share with others, to improve the world, to help businesses and her family. She may be searching for meaning, overcoming grief, teaching her child life skills. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, wrote that striving to find a meaning in one’s life that is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force in humans.
Whatever her reason, it’s shifting the gig economy for the better.
Are men capable of doing this? Absolutely. It is a human quality to connect. Nevertheless, women are, on the whole, drawn to tend and befriend. In business, this leads from the dog-eat-dog corporate ladder to visible application of Catholic social teaching. It is a better world when we work together. In this way, it takes a village.