Friday, February 10, 2012

Feminine Mystique

This article crossed my radar this week: The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood's "Homemaking Internship".

It's a real gem.  And some of it is even borderline heretical. Go ahead, read it through, and then we'll discuss it.

Done?  Ok.

The first three paragraphs I take personally, because I am familiar with the American medical system.  You don't go to med school for 8 years - you go to college for 4 years, then medical school for 4 years, then anywhere from 3-5 (or more) years of residency/fellowship training depending upon your chosen specialty.  After making it through this rigorous agenda you're not going to wake up a few years into private practice and suddenly realize you should have gone into El Ed. Promise.

Paragraph 4 highlights the apparent tragedy of not knowing exactly what your future holds and therefore being caught untrained for it.  Because we all know exactly where life will take us when we're in high school/college and can take exactly the right classes for what lies ahead.

Paragraphs 6-8 would make me laugh if the author weren't so serious.  First, she quotes one of her own books saying, "Isn't it telling that our culture requires training and certification for so many vocations of lesser importance, but hands us marriage and motherhood without instruction?" - and then she quotes another author who echos her sentiment.  EXCEPT THIS AUTHOR WAS WRITING FROM THE EARLY 1800's.*

Let's have a reality check.  In the early 1800's (and to be honest, for the vast majority of human history), there were no temperature-controlled cooking appliance. No refrigeration.  No electricity. Very little modern medicine to speak of.  No central heating or air conditioning.  No fresh fruit or vegetables outside of the growing season.  No department stores with cheap ready-made clothing.  Life in general, and especially for a woman, was difficult, and probably short.  "Homemaking" was an entirely different set of skills than it is today (and to be fair, so was a man's required skill-set).  You made your own clothes, put up food for the entire winter for the family, washed clothing with back-breaking labor, cranked out babies, lost babies, and died yourself pretty easily.  These skills weren't "homemaking", they were "survival". To even begin to compare the skills required for "homemaking" today to the skills required in the early 1800's is ridiculous; to quote someone from the 1800's as an authority on homemaking is disingenuous.

Paragraph 9 finally gives a bit of what the author defines as "homemaking": to "love, follow, and help a husband; to raise children for the glory of God; and to manage a home..." Later on, she indicates it begins with marriage and ends when you die.

I don't understand this definition at all, especially when comparing it to reality.  Although only 1/3 of her definition includes "home management", nearly all of the article's examples fall in that category.  Given that, I would probably define "homemaking" as "life management", and  I don't see this only starting once you're married. These are life-skills, not wife-skills. You can be a single woman (or man!) living in an apartment and you still need to know how to balance a budget, cook for yourself, clean your living quarters, do your laundry, and interact with your co-workers/fellow students/roommates maturely.  Both genders need this skill-set.   A spouse and children may intensify the need, but it was present long before the "home" began.  And what if you never get married?  What if you can't have children?  What happens if your husband dies?    What if your husband leaves you?  Are you suddenly bereft of 2/3 of your "homemaking" responsibilities even though you're not dead? Really? 

Required to accomplish the author's definition of "homemaking":
  • "management abilities" (wow, you're right, no college degree will help with this)
  • "knowledge of health and nutrition" (guess that MD is reasonable after all)
  • "interior decorating capabilities" (eh??)
  • "childhood development expertise" (ooh, MD wins again!)
And then to cap off this arbitrary list, she states, "If you are to become an effective homemaker, then you must study these subjects and many more."

Talk about making even the most capable woman feel inappropriately inadequate.  A broad variety of life-experiences outside the home sharpens management abilities pretty well.  And if you don't know the basics of health and nutrition, you apparently didn't go to school, don't watch TV, can't read, and have no internet access.  Seriously, "interior decorating capabilities"?  So if I don't have a well-decorated house** I fail as a "homemaker"?  Plus, I have to be an "expert" in childhood development?  Sure, the more you know about what makes kids tick at various ages, the easier it will be, but again - nobody has a doctor?  can read?  has internet access?  Interacted with a child at any point in their lives prior to busting one out?

Ah, finally, the spiritual guilt-trip in paragraphs 11 & 12. Homemaking is commanded by God - though, Jezebel that I am, I don't remember reading the interior decorating verse nor the child development expertise passage.     
"...homemaking is a career that demands considerable expertise, may encompass decades of our lives, and has the potential to spread the gospel to our families, churches, communities, and future generations."  
So once again referring to the skills required for "homemaking", if I don't decorate my house well then I may be obstructing the spread of the gospel.  And read this description again - isn't what she just described essentially life as a Christian?  Male or female, young or old, married or not, children or none: a Christian's life is God working out the Gospel. Homemaking isn't a means of grace.

Paragraph 13 reassures us that she wouldn't be so extreme as to say that homemaking is all that a woman should prepare for.  Thank goodness for that.  Those people who believe that are so out there, aren't they?  But of course, the really spiritual girls will make sure their hopes and dreams don't get in the way of making sure they've gotten the necessary homemaking skills down first.  I just hope that Interior Design 101 isn't offered at the same time as Biochemistry...

Paragraph 14 & 15: "God did not assign this vital training to educational institutions."  Is there any training that God assigned to educational institutions? Have there even been educational institutions for the majority of human history? She emphasizes that the mother should be the primary one instructing, and uses Titus 2:3-5 as prooftext.  (Never mind where the Scripture says "older women", it clearly meant "mother".) Watch what really happens in the next few paragraphs, however.

Paragraph 16 was where I just about lost it.

Mothers, we must begin by recognizing the full-time nature of our training. Remember Deut 6:7: "[You] shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." We must incorporate domestic training into the fabric of our daily lives. We must seize every opportunity to prepare our daughters for their mission.

Hold up now. What was Deuteronomy referencing? The Law of God!  She puts her artificial homemaker idea on par with the Law of God itself in order to guilt the reader into constantly striving to meet her ideal.  I honestly gasped when I read this. This is heterodoxy and borderline heresy.

The next three paragraphs tell the mother how to accomplish this training - the first of which is to essentially "talk up" being a homemaker.  Not only does this seem artificial - the daughter isn't stupid; she can see both the rewards and the challenges of her mother's responsibilities - it also smacks a bit of protesting too much.  Implementing a specific plan in the training is mentioned, as well as making sure the daughters stay at home often enough that they'll be used to it.  Also making sure that they get a "steady diet of God's Word" - because of course, that will lead to making the same choices her mother did.


"Think of your daughter as your homemaking intern. She needs both practical training and instruction. You can provide hands-on training by delegating portions of the household responsibilities to her for short periods of time. For example, you may assign your daughter to buy all the groceries and plan and cook all the meals for a week, or you may have her prepare dinner once a week on a consistent basis. Actually you could rotate through each section of your daily tasks in order to furnish your daughter with a well-rounded experience of the homemaker's world."

Then she launches into a list of things her daughters did that were taught not by her, but by educational institutions, books or other people.  Despite all the earlier emphasis on mother doing it all, there's a surprising amount of "other" performing the job.  And the really ironic part?  She talks about taking classes to learn homemaking skills with her daughters despite insisting up to this point that one should prepare for all of this ahead of time.

You know, practical training in life-skills is great.  But I don't understand why this only needs to be daughters involved.  This is the kind of thing *everyone* needs to have experience with.  These are basic life skills.  I plan on doing this sort of thing with my son - and if I have a daughter, with her too.  

If you can ignore the sexism and heterodoxy, there are some good ideas here.  I love the idea of taking a personal enrichment class with my child and being intentional about passing on knowledge.  However, I have no idea why I would limit that to my daughter only.  Parents should teach their children life-skills.  End of story.  In today's world, there's little difference between basic life-skills that men and women need.  In fact, men need just as many "homemaking" skills as women.  My dear husband recently took on the majority of the household management when I was nearly incapacitated from illness for 3 months.  If his mother had followed this nonsense and declined to teach him basic "homemaker" life-skills, he could not have fulfilled this incredibly godly role that he did, and did well.

The deeper I get into this nonsense, the less sense it makes.  But I guess that's why I left fundamentalism in the first place.

* It's a little unclear exactly when, however, as the author states in the following paragraph that it was written in 1828 while her own footnote dates it 1832.  Maybe she missed that class.

** Regardless of budgets, personal artistic abilities, and by whose standard, pray tell?? 


  1. I wonder when being a homemaker became so repulsive. The author of the article correctly points out that there are many skills required and that society seems to think that any ninny with breasts can do it. I also think the example in the first paragraphs was just that, an example. People every day finish their education only to discover that they really wanted to do something else. If we have a well rounded education with many different experiences it will be easier to change professions if that is what we choose. Being a homemaker does require a set of skills. And yes, those skills should be taught to our sons as well. However, our culture today tells us that children should be allowed to play and that parents should do everything for them. This means they are not being taught these skills. She also points out that in order to learn these skills children have to be present. She wasn't saying they should be kept at home so they will "get used to it." How can you teach life skills if they are never home? She didn't say they should be restricted from all activities.
    I love the life I have chosen. I love being a stay at home Mom. I'm tired of being treated like a second class citizen because of that choice. I'm tired of being told that I don't have a "real" job or career. Just like you chose your career, I chose mine. And when you scream at someone because of their career choice, no matter what their reasoning or motivation, you belittle that person and their choice. And when you say that they shouldn't encourage their daughters to make the same choice you made, it sound as though they should be ashamed of their choice. When my daughter tells me she wants to be an artist when she grows up, I tell her that's great and I buy her art supplies. When she tells me she wants to be a Mommy when she grows up, I tell her that's great and that being a mommy has made me very happy. I don't think I'm "protesting too much." I think I'm tired of being made to feel like I made a "lesser" choice. And I never want my daughter to think that if she chooses to be a homemaker that she is less important than the person who chose to be a doctor.

  2. Mandy, the point of this post was not to say that homemaking is repulsive, it was to say that this woman's logic was repulsive. I'm sorry that it made you feel like you made a lesser choice, because I don't believe that. Next time, I'll add a disclaimer before I rant on a sensitive subject like this. In fact, I might even add it to this post when I have a chance. Since I'm not primarily a homemaker, I don't feel the prejudice you do, nor do I understand it - though I can understand how it would make you sensitive. I don't understand why there's such a fight over this particular career choice either. We're all called to do what God wants us to do, and it's not my business to say someone else's career should be or judge its worth.

    Yes, people make career changes all the time. Even I have drastically changed where my career has lead because I became a mom and see the importance of being around more for my kid. That's a valuable thing, and if it weren't, I'd still be doing what I used to. My point in fussing about the particular example is that it was factually incorrect - and in my opinion as someone who has had many subtle or even overt digs from conservative people like this that I should not be in the medical field - wasn't a random example. You have your sensitivities, I have mine. :)

    I think I would still disagree with you about the reason for keeping the daughters at home, but I can see how that point could be debatable. The exact quote was "We must also continually orient our daughters' hearts to home life. This means—and I know this might be a radical concept—that our daughters need to be at home sometimes." I have heard numerous non-Christian family experts talk about the importance of meeting together as a family at home for dinner or family night on a regular basis, but it's never been in the context of teaching the kids skills, it's to work on family unity. I don't see wanting the kids to be at home as a "radical concept" either - again, it's recommended by most home experts, Christian or not.

    It probably depends on your cultural milieu as to whether the general feeling is that "parents should be doing everything for them" or not. And again, I was speaking out against that tendency in my post. I'm not sure if you're saying I wasn't or not.

    The example you gave of how you talk to your child about being a mommy is awesome and perfectly appropriate. That *isn't* protesting too much - it's honesty and responding to the child's input. And if this author had given an example like that, I wouldn't have fussed. Her quote was nothing like that, it was "We should speak often to them about the joys of being a wife, mother, and homemaker." It wasn't "We should respond with honesty when a child says (as they often do) that they want to be what mommy is when they grow up." Do you see the difference?

    I'm happy you love your career. I love mine. What they are isn't important - it's more important that we're both doing what we were meant to do. Saying either one is "better" is unwise at best. What I'm chafing at here is chaining arbitrary, guilt-laden, and unreachable standards to one particular career.

    Does that make sense or I have I dug an even deeper hole?

  3. "Mothers, we must begin by recognizing the full-time nature of our training. Remember Deut 6:7: "[You] shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." We must incorporate domestic training into the fabric of our daily lives. We must seize every opportunity to prepare our daughters for their mission."

    I heard this heresy taught over and over again in some conservative homeschooling circles I used to be a part of. Taking verses out of context to prove your agenda is reprehensible. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a homemaker. It is an honorable--and yes, often thankless--career. But it is quite another animal to tell young girls that homemaking is their only "biblical" choice. That is a lie straight from hell.

  4. P.S. I realize she doesn't come right out and say that homemaking is a girl's *only* biblical choice. But as someone who has been listening to this discussion for far too long, I do think that's what she's implying, intentionally or not.

  5. You have not dug the hole deeper.:) It just came across that while she had taken one extreme view (all women should stay home) you had take the other extreme that all women who stay home have done so because of a guilt ridden sense of duty.
    I stayed home because I wanted too. My mother had a full time job because she wanted too. And every day in the media, on television and in the public at large we are treated as if we just weren't smart enough or organized enough to "have it all" by working full time AND having a family. So when I see one more rant against someone who is advocating staying home and that it's actually a job that requires skill and respect, it gets me a little worked up. Even if her reasoning was skewed.
    Some of the points I mentioned were just because I felt you had pushed what she was saying a little farther than even she intended. (The staying home example for instance.) I think she was commenting, much the same way secular experts have, that family time and time at home is important and if children are never home you cannot teach them what they need to learn from your family.
    Hopefully I have cleared up what I was trying to say in the first place. I probably should have waited until I calmed down a little and I would have been more clear.
    Whether women stay home or work outside the home is a choice that needs to be made within their own family. It's no one else's business to judge the choice. But that choice deserves respect no matter what it is.

  6. No, my argument is not at all with women who chose a career in the home. My argument is with pseudo-biblical and guild-laden reasons/methods for doing so. My argument would be with pseudo-biblical and guilt-laden reasons/methods for choosing a career outside the home as well.