Do you worry that you don't have any interesting adult hobbies away from work?Photo: Stocksy
Had I known that I would later experience the quite common condition of "hobby anxiety", I probably would have been more grateful that my parents schlepped me around to ballet (made up for lack of grace with enthusiasm), piano lessons (hated), tennis camp (rubbish at tennis), swimming club (lacked killer instinct of a winner) and musical theatre (eternal love).
Even back then I probably knew that my true hobby was 'lolling about reading'. It still remains my only real hobby - unless thinking about what I'm going to have for breakfast or 'Tim Riggins' counts. And it's really quite a shame - for one thing, my online dating profiles and social media feeds could have been really on-point had I been in possession of an obscure and yet also relatable hobby. But it's mainly a shame because life tends to get too busy to focus on things that are purely done for the fun of it, and this is especially true for women. Something this lack of extracurricular interests can have peculiarly serious consequences.
Just ask Hillary Clinton. As David Brooks opined in the New York Times, Clinton's recent decline in popularity may just be down to the fact that she just doesn't seem to have any hobbies (like, she really doesn't seem the type to be cross stitching those on-point campaign cushions of hers!).
"Can you tell me what Hillary Clinton does for fun? We know what Obama does for fun – golf, basketball, etc. We know, unfortunately, what Trump does for fun," Brooks wrote, adding that when people talk about Clinton they tend to refer to her in professional terms.
Something, we must note, that would never appear to be a problem for a man. And indeed Clinton's lack of hobbies - and the perceived negativity in that - highlights the curious problem with hobbies. Or not having hobbies. Whatever.
As Brigid Schulte noted in her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, time is a feminist issue. Mostly, because women have less of the darn stuff - i.e. a Women in the Workplace survey from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co found that women are still doing more housework and child care than men, even when they work outside the home. Then there's the notion that women ought to be more nurturing and giving than men, and therefore shouldn't really be devoting time to, say, cultivating their cacti collection or learning the banjo. There's still a permeating sense that women's 'time confetti' as, Schulte labelled the unsatisfying windows of "leisure time" women are often left with at the end of their day's commitments, could be better spent elsewhere.
Katy Waldman recently defined "hobby anxiety" in Slate like thus: "the fear that you have failed to cultivate interesting or likable or merely non-imaginary hobbies – is real. It bubbles up in conversations among adult friends over brunch (is that a hobby?) and in existential moments before you drift off to sleep. (Sleep: hobby, biological necessity, or both?)"
She also noted there may be many reasons men tend to have more hobbies than women (from personal experience, hobbies the men in my life have include World of Warcraft, collecting Tin Tin books, photography and sport: every kind). But maybe, as Waldman suggests, it predominantely comes come down to this theory: "Perhaps guys are less likely to worry about justifying their time on earth, or at least less likely to confess to that species of inner turmoil."
So then, perhaps not 'having a hobby', in some ways, is just another way that women can find themselves lacking. This looks like, say, a woman running for the office of President of the United States of America but losing popularity because she doesn't macrame in her spare time. Or a woman juggling a career (for which she is still paid less than her male counterparts), a family, being a good friend and community member, and her underfed passion for learning all of the steps in a Beyonce dance routine.
Perhaps instead we should focus on what a hobby represents, not so much the activity, but the time carved out to do it. It doesn't matter whether you even have a hobby! It's allowing yourself the space, both mentally and literally, to do a little bit of what you fancy. To have proper leisure time.
Because as Schulte puts it, "both women and men can have time for meaningful work, for connecting with family and those they love – the foundation of human happiness – and for true leisure – not fragments of time confetti – but that place, the Greek philosophers said, where we all not only refresh our souls, but are most fully human."
To have a hobby - no matter how ordinary, work orientated, highly specific, or half-arsed - or to spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about not having a hobby is to be human. And, really, who is anyone to judge how we each spend our 'me time'. It's just important to have some of it.