Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A number of questions about women, dating, marriage and careers

A couple of days ago, I received an email from a reader with the following statements/questions:

1. Family life can be successfully combined with a career, in particular if a woman works part-time from home.
2. Secular dating may work well for some people.
3. Both spouses can be helpmeets to one another, instead of a wife serving as a helpmeet for her husband.
4. Household chores may be shared between spouses.
5. The statement given by G-d to Eve, saying that her husband will rule over her, is given after Eve tasted of the forbidden fruit, implying that in a sinless, perfect world, both husband and wife may in fact be equal. Do I believe it applies not only to Eve, but to the entire womankind?

Here is my reply, slightly abridged:

In writing my blog, I talk from the angle of a Jewish wife and mother, and tell a good deal about my personal experiences. What I find most interesting, however, is discussing social trends. I am part of a trend; for example, when I say secular dating didn't work for me, I'm not saying so in a detached way. I know I belong to a whole generation of women whose self-respect, self-worth, dignity, emotional and physical security, were swept away by their disastrous experience of casual dating.

Speaking of a different topic, I do not believe that the roles of men and women are defined by their respective shares of household chores. My husband is quite the baker, and doesn't shy away from using the sewing machine. That does not take away from his leadership in our family. However, the home is mainly my domain, as God created me a woman, and therefore I'm wired to be a mother and a nester. I felt this very strongly even before I was married; for some women, the realization of their unique role does not hit until after they are mothers.

When I got married, I was 22. Only ten months separated the day when my husband slipped a wedding ring on my finger, and the day when our darling little daughter was placed in my arms. Of course, it would make no sense to squander that short and precious stretch of time on some short-term work outside the home. I had so much to do - get used to being a wife, establish a household routine, get ready to welcoming a new baby. Oh, and we also moved sometime in between.

If I might have been planning to do something from home while I was pregnant, when our precious child arrived there was no longer room even in my thoughts for doing anything on a regular basis apart from taking care of my home and baby. Frankly, while I read your email, I wondered how and when children enter the plan of your future life. You see, my husband can do a lot of things instead of me, but technically, he cannot experience fatigue and morning sickness in my stead; he cannot have my backaches and swollen feet, he cannot bring a baby into this world and he certainly cannot nurse that baby.

God wired me to be a mother. He created me with breasts and a womb, and most importantly, with a mother's heart, a gentle heart that will draw me towards home regardless of the number of children I actually have. Yes, I believe that even if I never had any children at all, home would still be a place where I am naturally drawn to. I have not conducted any studies, but I am certain beyond a doubt that the same can be said of the vast majority of women.

Just to note, I have always said that a woman may have her own personal interests, hobbies and pursuits, in the home and outside it, pursuits that might, or might not, bring some income. However, this shouldn't be something that the husband expects and/or relies upon. The wife is supposed to have time and peace of mind to tend to matters of the home. I think it's all a matter of how much time such pursuits actually take away from the time that should have been dedicated to caring for the husband, home and children. There are seasons in a woman's life when she can give more, and seasons when she can give less, and at any rate the home comes first. Alas, the majority of employers want us to give them everything, all the time, at all seasons of life, and it only makes sense in an economy that is based on business and not on charity.

Right now, due to a pressing necessity, I work part-time outside the home. My husband and I did not rush into this arrangement, because we knew what a detrimental effect it would have on our home life. It surpassed our expectations, and made us determined that I should return home full-time sooner rather than later.

You say yourself that you think it's better to work part-time, and preferably from home; however, in the majority of fields, to have a real career, it simply isn't enough. Most likely, whatever income you have will be supplementary, and your husband will become the main breadwinner.

This, despite the vehement protests of egalitarian voices, is the normal and natural course of events. It makes sense to have a captain and a captain's helper on a ship. It makes no sense to have two captains or two helpers. It is time to accept that as our husbands' helpers, we must fulfill a unique and challenging role, which is just as important as the role of our husbands - but it's different.

You are right in saying that Eve was told that her husband will "rule over her" after she tasted the forbidden fruit; but regardless, she was created to be her husband's help meet - and however you define help meet, you cannot go around the fact that she was created to help and assist him in his endeavors, and not the other way around; also, even in our sinful and far-from-ideal world, men and women are equal, though they are without a doubt very different creatures.

And certainly, the commandments given to Adam and Eve apply to all men and women who descended from them, which means the entire human race. Saying it doesn't apply to me because I wasn't there is like saying the commandments given at Mt. Sinai to the Jewish people don't apply to me because I wasn't there. I realize that you, like the majority of my readers, aren't Jewish, but my point is that God's will concerning us cannot be applied solely on a personal basis.


Anonymous said...

I love your response to this. I'm a Christian, and I see so often that other Christian women only accept His commands regarding the role of a wife (it's in the New Testament, too, so they really don't have a good "excuse") as far as they fit into feminism. :( It's really a sad state of affairs. A favorite, and much older, cousin of mine has actually been told she should "go out and do something" rather than waste her time at home. I'll probably be in the same boat when I get married, as I plan on being a stay at home wife unless there is some dire need for me to get a job outside the home.

Buffy said...

What a lovely post.

One of they key points you make in my opinion is that being a leader doesn't mean a man never raises a finger at home.

My husband is a Managing Director of a big company but he would not hesitate to do the most menial task if it would help the company run more smoothly. He has experience in nearly every type of job carried out and is often the first in line to cover when there is a shortage in a department. He does not think that being a leader means sitting in his office and watching everyone else do the work.

The leader of a family has to think the same way if he understand that leadership conveys responsiblity.

doubledrudgery said...

I fully agree it's more natural and easier for all involved if the woman takes care of home and children and the man brings the bread. Not to say that I don't support women having high-powered careers - I just think for most, having both husband and wife work full-time out of the house proves to be an exhausting and stressful existence.

Unlike most of your readers here, I guess I am 'egalitarian', and I believe in 'equal but different'. I don't see 'helpmeet' written in the Bible. I see 'ezer kenegdo', a help across him/opposite him. Not a help TO him. The Torah has 70 faces, they say, and I take it to mean both man and wife work in different ways toward the same goal.

And man's dominion over woman is part of the curse. There are those who say it will end by the time of redemption. We can hope, anyway.

Sarah Brodsky said...

The verse stating that Adam would rule over Eve was a curse, not a commandment. It makes no more sense to hold that up as a law than to say that it's the law for us to only grow thorns and thistles when we plant the ground (another curse in that passage).

However, this is evidence in rabbinic literature that wives should help their husbands, such as the statement in the Talmud that a virtuous woman does her husband's will.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post. Thank you! One point in particular stood out to me because of something my blog troll said to me. Lately, my husband has been away on business and I've had to take on his chores in the house. My troll said that since I "preach" traditional roles, why don't I just make him be a man and do his jobs when he comes home. Of course, despite her claims in knowing what he does for a living, she actually knows nothing of what's going on. To keep the home moving forward (and heated) I must take on his chores while he is away. That doesn't make him any less of a husband or man and it doesn't make me any less of a wife or woman. After all, when I am unavailable, like when I'm in the hospital with a new baby, he has to take on all of my tasks.

When things are normal our tasks in the household are very gender-defined, but that's because that is how it works for us! There's certainly nothing wrong with a husband loving to cook more than his wife and makes most of the dinners during the week or a wife who can actually change the oil in the car or likes to mow the lawn. Being a husband or a helpmeet isn't about the exact specific jobs we do, though I do agree that breadwinner and homemaker is much more defined in each gender.

Hannah in Canada said...

Well answered!
I hope very much that you are soon able to return home to fulfill your calling in life. It must be very difficult to have to leave, even part-time, your beautiful daughter.
You're in my thoughts.

Tracy said...

I agree with every one of your answers, Anna. Well written!

Anonymous said...

This entry reminds me again of why I am such a fan of your writing! Well said, Anna, very well said and eloquent.


Susanna said...

Well done!

Bethany Hudson said...

Well put, Anna. Just to chime in (and I know that Anna and I differ on this point because of our diverse theological/religious backgrounds), it is my opinion that there are women who are not made to be biological mothers or to be wives. In my faith (Catholicism) we understand that some women are called to the single life, either in a lay (ordinary) capacity or as a consecrated religious (nun). But, as Anna says, the vast majority of women are called to the domestic life as helpmeets to husbands and mothers to children, and what a blessed vocation (calling) that is!

I think that so much of the aversion to fulltime homemaking comes from our modern culture's disdain of the home, our plague of poor relationship models (crummy relationships with parents and siblings growing up, for example), and the fact that we have forgotten that marriage and parenthood are, in fact, vocations! They are lifelong callings and blessings from God. They are not mere "choices" that alter our living arrangements and put another mouth to feed at the table. If we could recapture this vision of home and family as God intended, I know of very few people--men and women--who would not be willing to give their all into establishing and nurturing such homes and families and then sharing those blessings with the world through hospitality.

Blessings, Anna!

Hannah said...

Fabulous post! I am not Jewish but I agree 100%!

messy bessy said...

Very lucid and compelling argument! And although I am not Jewish, my Christian faith leads me to the same conclusions regarding "leadership."

I think perhaps the problem some women have with the concept of leadership is that so much observable leadership today is actually a wicked distortion. Leaders in business and culture routinely deceive, steal from, and manipulate those whom they are to lead. So of course when we hear that the God of Israel has ordained men to lead in their homes, some people are going to get upset.

But true leadership, as you put so well, is a gift to those who are led; the ideal husband (and of course no one has one!) is the selfless protector, guide, delegator, and provider for his family. He gives his all in this way.

And the ideal wife (of course none of us is!) is the selfless nurturer and wise adviser, the creative and centering force within the household. She gives her all in this way.

In none of these things does the literal doing of household chores enter in. It really doesn't matter who does the cooking except that it gets done in a way best suited to the family's needs. It doesn't really matter who cleans the bathroom or mows the lawn or writes checks for the rent. Those are culturally prescribed, not biologically. What is written, though, into our very being, are the root differences that bring us together and allow us to be what we are: one flesh -- Adam and his helpmeet, joined by God. Simply denying these differences will only lead to stress, confusion, and a lot of frustration.

Jordin said...

Beautiful, Anna. Thank you! You're a breath of fresh air. :)

Otter Mom said...

I agree 100% with what you wrote. But I don't think that being Jewish or not has anything to do with how we are to act and be. I'm Christian, but that doesn't have a bearing on the fact that we are meant to follow the commandments given to Moses and everything that implies. Some people, I think it's mostly women and probably more younger ones at that, have the opinions they have been raised to have - I used to be very much a feminist and for many years my husband and I never really got along. Then one day, to use my brother's phrase, God knocked me over the head and got my attention. I realized that I did not need to be in charge and that I didn't want to. It took me a little while to adjust, but now that I (and my family) live according to God's laws we are much happier and more content. I just wish I'd realized it earlier in my life. I happen to enjoy being my husband's helpmeet and I wish the same for my daughter. It does not diminish me not to be the head of the household, in fact it frees me. I've said before that you are wiser than your years and I'm saying it again.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused you say "God's will concerning us cannot be applied solely on a personal basis" (and do forgive me, I'm not Jewish). Do you believe that God has the same will for every person? That we are not unique?

Andrea said...

Mrs. Anna, I've studied a little Hebrew and I understand "helpmeet" to actually mean, "companion corresponding to". We are are husband's companions, completing them where they lack (i.e. - instrinsically different, but essential). Also, the same word for helper is used of G_d throughout the OT - to say someone is a helper means they are lesser is ludicrous!

Analytical Adam said...

Hi Mrs. Anna,

I would agree with most of it. The torah said a woman should be a man's helpmate before the sin. The man has his obligation as well as he is suppose to cling to his wife which on an emotional level he should share what is going on in his world with his wife. Eating from the Apple the result was life would be harsher for both the man and woman but the roles stay the same in this new harsher reality.

I would agree with everything except the area that I myself have not any help from the religious world (certainlly not matchmakers) in getting married so I have to use the secular world and other avenue's to try to connect. There are some good men who are somewhat disenfranchised from the organized religious world although they do believe in G-d and the torah.

Feminism has created more jobs in the government (or gov't jobs created feminism as the gov't would rather pander to women then men) don't know which came first but one of the consequences of feminism is lower salaries for men as companies can't discriminate and they take into account the turnover factor in salaries which likely is more women (but they can't discriminate) so the end result is men get penalized for womens behavior due to these so called "equality" laws.

The religious world for the most part does not value working hard for your money and providing a service or product. I don't know if the gov't would tolerate more Politically Incorrect Rabbi's but the fact is if religious leaders spoke about allowing men to work and that is THEIR primary obligation a lot of these so called "Civil Right" laws wouldn't exist because most gov't at the end of the day don't want to go too far in upsetting the religious. But to them men working isn't a major aspect of Rabbinic Judaism sadly so to make it harder for men to work is not a religious issue for them although IT SHOULD BE.

Stephanie said...

Bravo! You have such a precise, clear way of discussing these volatile topics, and I admire it (and envy it a bit, I must admit!) greatly. Given the same questions, I think I would have said the same thing, but in a much more round-a-bout and convoluted manner....

The Feminist movement, despite some of the "good" things it has brought women, has infiltrated us more deeply than we'd like to imagine, and I know that in the Christian church it has caused preacher's to begin to twist or "explain away" bits of patriarchal texts. The lines are blurred and more often than not, we don't even realize it shouldn't be this way!

Thank you for your post. :) It was highly encouraging.

Anonymous said...

I believe your answer was articulate & well thought out, Anna. People (both men & women) often want to push aside the proven fact that the sexes are different, & innately so. These are, I believe, differences that have nothing to do with social constructs, but were designed by the Creator Himself.

God's principles, the way He set the world in motion, remain the standard despite our human failings. If I am living my life outside of these parameters, it's better for me to admit this, than to try & create my own standard & have the rest of the world dance to my tune....just so that I can feel better about myself & my choices!


Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with what you have to say. Thank you for taking the time to explain these matters so eloquently. I am a Christian 54-year-old mother who stayed home with my son. Those were the best spent days of my life!

Andrea said...

Anna, as usual you speak with passion and eloquence. However, I did want to take issue with following statement:

he certainly cannot nurse that baby

... simply because it is not true. Under certain conditions men are indeed capable of lactation; in fact the Talmud itself contains reference to a man breastfeeding his infant.

You are right, of course, that it is not in the ordinary way of things, but to state unequivocally that it cannot happen is misleading.

How wonderful that God's exquisite creation is so infinite in scope and mystery, so much grander and so very far beyond what we can comprehend!

Anonymous said...

"Yes, I believe that even if I never had any children at all, home would still be a place where I am naturally drawn to. I have not conducted any studies, but I am certain beyond a doubt that the same can be said of the vast majority of women."

Thank you! It feels so nice to be affirmed in this way-- that's how I feel, and I don't have any children and am not married. I just had no idea that others felt the same way! How nice.

And how unfortunate that in this culture my wanting to stay home causes people to ask me if I am agoraphobic, mentally ill, socially delayed, depressed, etc. Oh dear. Do people ever ask you this?!

No, it's a perfectly natural instict, isn't it? :)

Jenna said...

"It makes sense to have a captain and a captain's helper on a ship. It makes no sense to have two captains or two helpers."

I love the way you used this example, Anna, and I hope it will stick in my mind for a long time.


Anonymous said...

I'm new to your blog and have been reading some of your thoughts. You are wise beyond your years. God bless you.

Homemakers Cottage said...

A well thought out and well-said response, Anna.

I find it amusing that your reader attempted to use the example of Adam and Eve to prove her point that women should not be, and were not created to be, subordinate to men.

Long before the Fall God plainly stated that He created Eve to be Adam's help meet. That didn't come as punishment for sin- it was His original design and intent. To be a suitable helper for Adam was WHY God created Eve in the first place.

Try as they might to redefine God's plan, I do not believe women will ever truly find fulfillment in life until they embrace their God-given roles. It is built into who we inately are as women.

Blessings, Kristy @ Homemaker's Cottage

Anne-Marie said...

Anna, you and I live very different lives, and I don't agree with much of what you say [I seldom comment, either]. But I have to tell you how much I admire your respect and eloquence in the way you treat people who disagree with you. It's a rare thing in "blogland"!

WesternWoodburner said...

Thank you for sharing. I enjoy reading your posts.

Carina said...

I don't understand non-secular dating, and I'm hoping someone can clarify. It seems to me that many Christians get married way too soon (several months after having met, for example), and don't even really know each other. I don't know if that happens with Jewish couples too, but I recall you stating Anna that you had to learn to love your husband, so that indicates that marriage might have been rushed? I am Catholic, and dated my husband for many years before we married. As a result, we know each other very well, and have been married for 12 years already, and plan to be married forever, as our vows stated. I don't see how a couple can know each other through a courtship relationship only. I know that not even kissing until you are married is growing in popularity, but it seems to me to be more of a sin to marry someone you don't know or really love, and then it's "ok" to have relations because you are married. I would be interested to hear how courtship and non-secular dating has worked out for couples in the long term. I was crazy in love with my husband before, on and long after my wedding day, and that has worked out best for me.

Lena said...

You have an amazing way of answering, I love it. I know for a fact that where our time is spent the most that is where we will benefit. By tending a garden-you will get a harvest. By raising your children-you will get responsible adults. By investing your time in making a home-will make you a better homemaker. Investing my time in working outside my home has brought me nothing but sadness from being away from my children, poor food choices-from always being in a hurry, and a messy house- from not having the time to properly clean... so there! We get what we invest in. :)

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon asked:

"I'm a little confused you say "God's will concerning us cannot be applied solely on a personal basis" (and do forgive me, I'm not Jewish). Do you believe that God has the same will for every person? That we are not unique?"

Certainly God has a special plan for each and every one of us, but there are also laws we all must obey, and things that apply to us all, such as the concept of masculine leadership.

To Carina:

Yes, I married my husband after knowing him for a brief period.

Yes, we never even held hands until we were married.

No, I don't believe I rushed.

I only really got to know my husband by living with him and having a child with him. I could have dated him for years and still not known him as I know him now.

I'd love to discuss this in length but time simply doesn't allow right now.

Carina said...

Thanks for your answer. I'd be interested to see how that's worked out for other readers- both sides of the fence.

Bethany Hudson said...

Carina - I'm Catholic, as well, and I have always valued the pre cana preparation period. (For those who aren't Catholic there is usually a premarriage preparation period that takes about 6 months and intensively gets the couple to learn about each other and about what the sacrament of marriage entails.) I'm actually a big fan of courtship (as opposed to dating), and I think that there has to be a balance: neither rushing nor "dating" with no end in mind. Courting (not dating) doesn't mean you necessarily rush. My husband and I were together for 3.5 years before we married (3 years before engagement with a 7 month engagement), and during that time we saw each other on a daily basis. However, we courted, in the sense that we specifically were dating with the intent to move toward marriage, and if we had not intended to marry or at any point realized we were not intended for marriage to each other, we would have broken off our relationship immediately. We were also cautious about emotional and physical boundaries. We did kiss before marriage but there was a long period of time when we did not have any sort of physical intimacy, and that was healthy for us in our circumstances. Regardless, we still grew very close and, more importantly, grew to esteem and trust each other--a foundation that has stood our marriage (4 years so far) in good stead. As you can tell, we didn't rush things. We also didn't "date" in the common sense of the word. We also didn't "test" each other out; we married each other for better or worse. Even in 4 years of marriage, we have changed and our circumstances and plans for the future have changed dramatically in some ways, but the respect and trust have remained constant. More important, I think, than knowing everything about your spouse before marriage is that you are both actively seeking and committing to learn about and love each other throughout your married life, because people and relationships are dynamic. I couldn't possibly have known everything about my husband before I married him. But, I knew enough about him and myself to know we were ready for the commitment we made to each other and to God.

Mia said...

This is a great post, I really enjoyed reading everyones responses :)


Anonymous said...

Great post. I really enjoy reading this blog.