Attending a World by Mary Catherine Bateson

This essay had a lot of feminist undertones. Even though the primary focus of this essay is the ability to pay attention, she frequently mentions injustices to women in the workplace. Some examples are listed below:

  • At home, women are expected to multitask. They will take care of children, prepare dinner, do laundry, and clean the house all at once. However, men seem only able to do one of these tasks at a time.
  • Cooking used to be considered a feminine task, and yet men took it and turned it into a profession.
  • During wartime, men seem to abandon domestic responsibilities while the women are forced to take on more work at home.

The ability to pay attention is a learned skill. Women are traditionally raised to take care of children and a house while men are raised to work and support a family. Because of the way we are raised, women are able to multitask easier. Also, females are trained to be docile, so they will be less confrontational if there is something that they do not understand in the school or work environment.

I think the main purpose of this essay was to show that the way that females and males are socialized differently has a large impact on how we act in life. The behavior between men and women is not biological, it is largely due to gender roles and the way that children are typically raised.

–Sierra Houser

The intention of this piece is to explore the different ways men and women divide their attention. Bateson focuses on the multitasking method women typically use to get their work done which is often overlooked by society.

Bateson pays careful attention to the varying contexts included in her piece. She discusses the role multitasking has in a woman’s life throughout the world, from Baghdad to America, and throughout history, from the prehistorical times of hunters and gatherers to the author’s current situation. Including the different situations women’s use of multitasking has been used in adds to Bateson’s argument that this method is practically universal.

Bateson starts her essay off with a description of her personal writing habits and how she constantly has her attention divided between the many thoughts that come to her mind while she’s writing. This anecdote builds Bateson’s ethos as the author of an essay on a woman’s ability to multitask. She shares a personal experience of how she uses multitasking in her life in order to further explain how women as a whole have a history of dividing their attention in order to be more efficient.

While Bateson explains the necessity behind multitasking for women, she also explains how these unorthodox methods were often ignore or disregarded by society, saying, “The food that the women bring home is shared without fanfare in the immediate family. Nobody has a party about it — no one gives it that much attention — so it is not surprising that anthropologists took so long to notice its importance” (Bateson 99).  This quote in particular illustrates the way women’s work has been unfairly compared to men’s work throughout history and sums up a large part of Bateson’s intention in the piece.

— Maria Busken

“Attending a World” opens with a scene that can easily be visualized by the audience through her use of imagery. She includes details such as “the soft sound of rain,” “memories of tropical downpours,” “persistent scent of newly cut wood”, and “the smoky smell of the wood fire.” This opening appeals to the pathos of her audience because it describes a domestic scene that her readers, especially her Western female readers, will be able to relate to.

Bateson criticizes the largely masculine mindset that is held by today’s world by providing examples and the significance of women’s ability to divide their attention. She likens the single-mindedness of men to the that of the nationalist sentiments held during wartime: “Warfare comes as a great relief to those who prefer thinking about one thing at a time.” She points out that war distracts from side issues, and that men generally don’t consider side issues, thereby masculinizing the brutality of war.

My favorite quote from Bateson’s essay is “It is not surprising that [women’s] work, so easily deferred and juggled, is often treated as having negligible value, yet it must be done and has always… [been] central to survival.” Again, here, Bateson is criticizing the world’s male-centric focus. The words “it is not surprising” express Bateson’s frustration with this sentiment.

–Sophie Dahlquist


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