Thursday, June 21, 2012

The feminist rebound

All throughout history, there were the traditional home-affiliated women; it's not that women didn't work outside the home, but being home, married, with children, and managing one's own household was - generally speaking - the normal, optimal, desirable occupation, despite the first wave of feminism at the beginning of the 20-th century - right up until the 50's. Then came the big tide of 60's and 70's feminism, during which women flocked out of their homes and into the workforce en masse. 

And what is going on now? Women are expected to be achievers in all areas of their life, to work and to have great marriages and have children and raise them perfectly through the urban myth of "quality time"... and although staying home is still counter-cultural in most areas, and being "just" a wife and Mom is underrated, more and more women are making this choice, realizing that no one can be or do everything, and that when you invest the larger portion of your time and energy someplace, something else inevitably suffers.

So what happened?

Basically, the women who are in their marriageable, childbearing, family-focused years today are very likely the children of feminists, of career-driven women, or at least of women who were forced by circumstances  and newfound social norms to work long hours. Unlike the first generation of feminists, we know what it's like to have mothers who are seldom around, and we know the price the children pay for it. Therefore, women of our generation are more likely to think twice before deciding to make the same choice for their children. 

Very often our mothers aren't getting us. They, after all, invested all those years in establishing themselves as professionals, and yet they were still our mothers, and perhaps were doing their best, or at least the best that could be had at the time, with what they had. When your children make radically different choices, it may sting as an accusation, as an "you weren't a good enough mother, so I'm doing my best to alienate myself from your ways. I will do all it takes to be your exact opposite." 

It is, of course, also interesting to look at this from a different angle: how come a generation of homemakers (again, I am generalizing and simplifying, of course) produced a generation of feminists - moreover, feminists that disdained their mothers' role in society and made such a thorough job of forgetting what homemaking is all about that many of the home arts have all but disappeared? 

I don't think there is a simple answer to this question, but here's something that has been on my mind: children will only want to follow in their parents' footsteps if their parents are happy, or at least generally satisfied with the way their life has played out. I do think there must have been a rising level of dissatisfaction in the last all-homemaker generation, dissatisfaction that the feminist movement played on to promote its goals. 

It's easy to imagine that the typical, 50's urban homemaker might have been looked down upon, as someone boring and unimportant. The diminishing of the agricultural society caused a communal fractionating, the nuclear family no longer worked together as one unit. With the husband gone to his separate outside job throughout the day, and the children off at school - in addition, families were already typically smaller than a few decades prior to that - on a superficial level, it really might have looked like the housewife had nothing to do but dust shelves and bake cookies all day long, which just didn't seem as terribly important and indispensable. Were some women bored, unhappy? Probably yes. More importantly, their daughters saw a lifestyle they did not particularly desire to follow.

Was feminism the right answer? No, of course not. Feminism caused tremendous damage to everyone involved; feminism lead to additional fracturing of society, as homes became empty and everyone was pulled in different directions all day long. It took decades, but finally the truth dawned upon a whole generation of  children whose mothers were overworked, frazzled and on a deeper level, more dissatisfied than the so-called "desperate housewife". The government, the "women's rights" movements and social studies teachers might be still playing the same old song, but we have become disillusioned. 

PS: I have not studied sociology or the history of feminism on any level close to professional. What I offer is simply my own insights and observations, gathered from personal experience and perceptions of other women my age. 


Zorro said...

Who would want to follow in the footsteps of the miserable?

You can rest assured that most of the sons of frivolously divorced fathers do not want to risk marriage these days, per unilateral divorce (thanks to feminists and the divorce industry).

Feminism has been nothing less than a colony of termites in our social structure. Your post is dead on the mark.

sara said...

Anna, It sounds like you've been reading Wendell Berry. If you haven't, you should - I think you'd like his agrarian essays.

Berry has written that industrialization, among other things, caused homemaking to be looked upon as something that did not require skill and artistry, and it began to be drudgery.

Mrs. White said...

Excellent thoughts!

It never ocurred to me that the homemaker mothers were caught in the "feminism" cultural wars and were affected by it. I know they were often struggling with the term "equality" and it got very rough for them. They were made to feel insecure and "less-than."

It is very true that families got much smaller. It is also true that there wasn't as much work to do at home. This must have affected some of the daughters, who chose not to be housewives, just as you suggest.

Music and television programs tell us a lot about a culture. If we watch programs made in the 70's, we can clearly see this intense focus on "women's rights," and how the men were going out of their way to make sure the women were "equal" or "liberated," because that is what the women demanded.

The raging term "liberated" itself must give us a clue of the dangerous thinking that poisoned a nation. Liberated from what? From home and family life? From what we are desinged to do, that gives us great joy?

Sadly, this even showed up in programs like - in the later seasons of "Little House on the Prairie." The Ma Ingalls became a 1970's styled mother rather than the 1800's mother she really was in the historic books.

Another program where this becomes clear is the comedy "The Bob Newhart Show." Equality and women's rights (it wasn't really about "rights" in this case) were very vivid in this show, but came across very sweet and normal. There lies the confusion in American culture.

Anyway, great insights!

Mrs. White
The Legacy of Home

Mrs. Anna T said...

Sara, I have never heard of Wendell Berry, but now that you mentioned him I'll do a search!

Anonymous said...

This began in USA in the 1900's and maybe earlier as my dear sweet Grandma got caught up in it(we are generally lead to believe that women were not "allowed" out of the home until the 1960's ) yet there Grandma is in the college year book with other women and some blacks also learning to be bankers in 1919. I think the seeds of discord were (and continuely are ) sown by unhappy loud squeeky wheels and maybe because of radio and television these people began to look like an authority? Also as we in the USA we began to disallow the bible in our schools so most of our guidence came from psychologists and they dealt with the mentally ill or at least the unhappy, and how can you recommend the right way to live by studying the wrong ways? I went at one time ot such a person when I was diagnosed with a fatal disease and was having a hard time coping ( I was an athiest then) and all she wanted to talk about was how I must be unhappy with my husband and children she even insisted my husband come in with me because she was sure I was refusing to admit I was unhappy actually I was terror stricken that I may loose my ability to raise my children before they were old enough to learn from me. I thank God that He has healed me and allowed me to continue to raise my girls HIS way!! And now I try to be a squeeky wheel For being a stay at home mother. I find more and more younger women sound so hopeful when I mention it, they DESIRE it. Older women are entrenched in the "MY paycheck" attitude and not trusting a man for ANYTHING. Karen

Ellie Rae said...

Anna, read this article:
You can copy and paste that url. The article shows what led up to the dissatisfaction of the homemaker -- it was the rise of suburbanization, when people moved from their closely-knit city neighborhoods or small towns to the impersonal suburbs where the wives were stranded and alone. This was common in post-WWII America.

This site also has a home page, under "the patio culture."

Enjoy. It may explain some things. I am an older lady and remember these times.

Ellie Rae said...

Here is the home page:
The article I gave you before is about suburbanization. Pretty soon this attitude spread.

Post WWII was a volatile time. Wives went to work in the factories, not just to help the war effort, but also because their husbands' military salaries could not put food on the table, it was so small. So, this came out of necessity, but many never went back to the homes when the husbands came back from war. My father was born in 1915, and he remembers that everything changed after WWII.

The divorce rate also sky-rocketed in 1946 -- a rate which was not to be matched again until 1973 or so. Most people don't know this. There were a lot of shot-gun weddings before the men went off to war, and then if they saw combat and came back highly traumatized (so many were, also contrary to popular opinion) and the marriages didn't make it. Very interesting subject.

Ellie Rae said...

Anna, here are a couple of links to books you might like to read (you can get them on Kindle):

This one is by the daughter of an American Jewish doctor who was a G.I. who liberated a German concentration camp, and her home life after he came home from the Army. Very sad. Very interesting. You can read a portion, I think, on an Amazon review; also read the other reviews.

I'll give you another link.

You don't have to publish these if you don't want to.

courtney said...

i cant remember who said it...but this brings to mind a quote i heard once.. "women who want to be like men lack ambition."

Ellie Rae said...

Here is the other link. You can "look inside" these books.

This one is by the daughter of a highly decorated American soldier who went by "Dutch Schults" - a movie was made of his exploits. This book is by his daughter, a very important book, which shows the post WWII era. Explains how women went to work when their husbands went to war, to keep food on the table, as the Army salaries were inadequate (I didn't know this -- I thought they simply did it for the war effort). Her parents' marriage broke up, as did the marriage of the parents of the book I showed you before this one. Sad times. I don't think our nation has ever recovered.

These problems started long before the 60's. Many of us baby-boomers, including myself, had divorced parents and moms who worked outside the home. For some reason, my generation got blamed for all of this, although I concede we should not have followed some of the bad examples (and there were many, also contrary to popular opinion) of the builder generation.

courtney said...

this reminds me of a quote...I cannot remember the author though.."women to want to be like men lack ambition and imagination." I think we tend to lose our feminine creativity when we lose focus of who we are as women.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post! You captured my thoughts on this matter EXACTLY.

I grew up with a SAHM, but when I was in high school I was made to believe she was only that way because she either wasn't smart enough to do "better" or my dad was oppressing her. I was a very unhappy teenager, trying to stuff my feminine traits and arts to be more masculine. It wasn't until I went to a Lutheran college and learned about the doctrine of vocation that I finally was freed from that feminist thinking.

Today I am a SAHM myself. This gives me the opportunity to feed my family healthy, home-cooked meals from scratch, sew and craft a lot of our needs, and most of all, to simply be available for my husband and daughter (4 months).

Thank you for spelling this out so well. I plan to put a link to your post on my Facebook wall.

Anonymous said...

For some reason, when I try to post your link on Facebook, it has the first comment as the description of your post rather than the first paragraph from your post. I just thought I'd let you know because I really want to share your post!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Ellie Rae, thanks for all the comments and links. I look forward to perusing them, as time allows!

Katie B. of said...

You hit the nail on the head, Anna. I grew up a child of the 70s in a single-parent home. My mother went to school during the day to get the degree she'd foregone during her 23 year marriage (during which she raised 4 kids) and worked at night to pay the bills. We didn't see her much, although there wasn't a different option. She did what she needed to do to take care of us.

When I became an adult, I was determined not to become completely reliant on anyone else to support me. I finished college, went to law school and started my own practice. Then I got married and had kids, thinking I could still "do it all".

Frankly, it was too much. When I was at work, my mind was on my family. When home, my mind was on work. I was tired, and constantly feeling like I was failing one or the other. So I sold the practice and became a SAHM.

Since then, my children have thrived. My marriage has thrived. I have thrived, because I put all of that curiosity and drive that got me through school and focused it on becoming a good homemaker. Bored? Hardly. There's something new to learn every day! Miserable? How can I be? My home is comfortable, clean and a place where my family enjoys being. Irrelevant? Not at all. My children know I'm here when they need me, my husband knows he can rely on me to support him in his professional pursuits.

And all the while, I get to do it wearing comfortable clothes and sensible shoes! What's not to like about that?

Mrs. Anna T said...

Housewifing, I really have no idea why this happens. I rarely post links on FB. :) But of course you are very welcome to share it.

Mrs. H said...

it may sting as an accusation, as an "you weren't a good enough mother, so I'm doing my best to alienate myself from your ways. I will do all it takes to be your exact opposite."

To me, your thoughts on this topic are so profound and ring loudly in my ears! The quote above sums up exactly how I've felt about my mother and the effect her choices had on my life.

My mother started out at home (in the early 80's--I was born in '80) and then moved to a part-time job, and then a full time job, and my sister and I were put in public school and daycare. She said it was because they needed more money and she also wanted to make her own paycheck to have spending money and feel like she was part of bringing in income. I can see right through that statement to her not understanding the importance of her role as a mother and homemaker. It saddens me, but I forgive her. I realize she was under the pressure of the society of the day when women were to shed those "old-fashioned roles" and step into the workforce to have "earning power". It became normal to me to not have my mom around and always have to call her at work 30 mins away to get a simple answer to "where's the so-and-so that I need?" and such questions children have when they are home with out an adult.

Once I became married and a Christian, I knew the right thing to do was to stay home and be a Proverbs 31 woman. I quit my full-time job (which I was intensely unsatisfied in and just plain horrible at), and came home and had a baby. I pledge over and over I am NOT going to do what my mother did and I am not going to view a career as a way to worth and happiness. I have seen it destroy people. My mother is STILL working at 62 y.o. and is just about worn ragged and ready to retire, yet she still hates to admit it. I would love to see her retire and enjoy life as a homemaker, but I can't see it happening without a fight. The pride and reckless ambition that feminism instilled in women is what will be the death of some of them.

Thank you for your wonderful thoughts and opinions on this topic!

harper said...

My mother came of age in the 1970's. All she really ever wanted to do was crochet, but she was constantly discouraged, because that was "women's work." She and my father started out dual income, but my mother came home when I was born.

One thing she noticed about the generations of women immediately preceding women's lib was that they weren't interested in explaining why the traditions that they followed were good, useful, practical, or desirable. There was a lot of "because I said so" and "because that's how it's always been." Meanwhile social structures and economies had changed radically, so people were trying to finding meaning and order in the midst of chaos. It was really easy to interpret "that's how it's always been" as "this custom is entirely arbitrary."

Thanks for another great post--as always!

Erica said...

You make some very interesting points, and yet I'd like to say that your conception of feminism is skewed. Feminism in it's most basic form simply means a woman's right to choose her path in life, given the same opportunities and rights as men. I chose to get a degree at a top college and then decided to be a work-at-home-mother, and I consider that my right BECAUSE of feminism, not in spite of it. I don't believe all women should be wives and homemakers. I believe if that's your choice, and it makes you happy, good for you. But there are other choices that are also valid, and feminism in its purest definition has enabled women to make all of these choices and more.
Clearly, the definition of "feminism" that most people work with today is set up as an antithesis to the "homemaker, wife and mother" track--but in my opinion it's overly politicized by certain groups and not at all an ideal about what feminism should be. Feminism should empower women, whether that be as women and homemakers, or as Secretaries of State.

Katy M. said...

For me, it is a bit sad and heart sickening to see women (in the religious world at large) get embroiled in "mommy wars". Some women work outside the home and some inside. Neither choice automatically makes one more or less smart, more or less independent, more or less loving toward their children, or more or less virtuous. Either choice can become a vice, an idol or a source of sinful pride. Woman need to pray and do what is best for their families and then just be done with it. Make a choice and stand behind it. Do you work for your family in the morning, the afternoon, and into the night? Then, you ARE a Proverbs 31 woman!

Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Econo-Girl said...

Frankly, the push for women to work was based on their lack of power and economic security stemming from being so dependent on a man.

SubWife said...

I think we too easily forget what positives feminism has brought us. It gave us voice when we couldn't even vote, it gave us a right to decide our own path, it shed light on spousal and child abuse. Is it so hard to believe that not every woman was happy at home, for one reason or another? It would seem strange to me that intelligent, fulfilled, confident women would be running away from happiness and bliss in droves simply because someone managed to persuade them that they were unhappy.

I didn't grow up in the U.S. so I don't know of pressures women faced in 70s to abandon their homes and self-actualize in careers. But I did grow up in a place where women too often were considered second class citizens and even now, in this day and age, spousal abuse is not considered a real crime unless a women is DEAD.

Also, your description of an idyllic life at home is something that probably happened to a very few for a rather short period of time in our history. I had spoken to my grandmother who grew up on a farm. Technically, her mother worked at home and raised 10 children, but the work of a farmer's wife was so hard, oftentimes she barely had strength to talk at the end of the day let alone be concerned with enriching her children's education etc. For the most part, kids entertained themselves until they were old enough to pitch in, with toddlers and preschoolers watching over babies - not much enrichment from their siblings either.

But back to the modern day US. Most women with children I know work because they have to. The absolute majority would've loved to work less or not work at all. Personally, I work because I absolutely have to and my income doesn't just go to cover fancy vacations/clothes or babysitters, it goes to cover the basics. And those women who feel they need a career to be all that they can be - what would be the value in keeping them at home dreaming of other life? and what about women who are in their 30s and 40s and unmarried - would it have been better for them to stay at home and be an object of pity?

Feminism for me is an ability to make choices. Sometimes it is a choice of career vs. staying at home. Sometimes it is a choice of what kind of job to pursue because the choice of whether to work or not has been taken away from us due to life's circumstances. I would rather have choices than not.

Leah Brand-Burks said...

Spot on, Anna! I watched my own mother work out of perceived "necessity" to keep up a lifestyle, and be miserable for it. More time with my mother is my biggest childhood regret, but what could I have done as a child? Anyway, now I am the mother of three gorgeous sons (all 3 and under!) and plan to stay here, educate and nurture them.

Anonymous said...

It is so interesting reading this because I have friends who were raised by feminists and feel their moms don't get their choices to become Orthodox Jews and focus on being wives, mothers, and obedient followers of Hashem. However, I grew up in an incredibly patriarchal cult - So I have the opposite experience where the form of Judaism I practice now (which looks so very patriarchal to feminists or Modern Orthodox people) is incredibly liberated compared to what I was raised with. I feel so blessed to have been created to be the loving, kind, nurturing, obedient wife and mother that I am today. It is so fulfilling and so right, and I believe more women would be happy if people would not insult homemaking and childbearing and instead would hold women up on the pedestals we deserve for doing the hard and critical work of building our homes and families and raising our children to love Torah.

Anonymous said...

for the defenders of feminism having given women more 'choice'.
1) the choice whether to stay at home looking after children is NOT ethically neutral wrt their development and wellbeing
2) when enough women 'choose' to work outside the home, they remove the 'choice' for other women, by taking jobs from men who would otherwise be breadwinners, and by raising the cost of living
3)"given the same opportunities and rights as men"- women CAN NOT be given the same opportunities as men wrt the working world, for the simple fact that a)men's productivity is not impaired during pregnancy (esp first and last trimesters b)men do not need to take of a couple (at least!!) of weeks to recover from childbirth c)men do not need to be accommodated to express breastmilk at work and d)men are not as emotionally invested in their children (plse let me know if you ever hear of a new father crying in his car on the way to work when leaving his infant at home for the first time)

SubWife said...

you know, i've heard that argument before about women taking men's jobs. Can anyone cite a respectable study that would show that to be the case?

Regarding the choices? yes, I would rather have a choice to work in a nice, clean office, where men and employers must respect my rights (yes, feminism!), earning a decent salary that my college education (yes, feminism!) allows me to do than to perform hard physical labor, be paid pennies for it and be subject to my employers' sexual advances with little ability to do anything about it. You know - in case my husband is unable to fully support his family, whatever the reason. And this inability or unwillingness to support his family happened more often than people who love to idealize past are willing to admit.

I am not saying that what we have today is ideal. We exchanged one set of problems for another. I would rather deal with problems of today. all I need is to peruse international news to remind me what it's like to live in a place where women have no rights, no voice and no choices.

Anonymous said...

@subwife:a clear example - here in south africa government has implemented gender quotas for the mining sector and women have started to be employed (even when their brothers are unemployed) as miners. it is a no-brainer that they are nowhere near as efficient as male miners and that it is hard and dangerous work.
I repeat : the influx of women into the workplace has CAUSED the increase in the cost of living (and decreased the earning power of men) which now necessitates many women to work.

that being said, I can appreciate that an experience of misogynist CULTURE (your country of origin...) makes women likely to embrace the 'independence' offered by feminism.

SubWife said...

@anon, regardind the influx of women reducing the wages of men. How do you know that it was women or solely women? And not immigrants or minorities or men who live and work longer than they were fifty years ago? Your observation is simply not sufficient. I would like to see a legitimate study, in various industries, proving this statement.

Regarding mining industry. I know nothing about labor laws of your country or why these quotas were necessary (or unnecessary). But I find it peculiar that you would use that industry as an example. Because I have a very hard time imagining that any woman would pick hard physical labor to find personal fulfillment. It seems to me that women working in mines do that out of necessity and not to get away from the drudgery of housework and to "find themselves." And in Europe in particular, women, as well as children, worked in the mines WELL before feminism. Also, out of necessity of course. And they were paid about half of what men were paid, doing roughly the same kind of work, even if they did less, it was not by half. And to top it off, they were subjected to all kinds of abuse with no recourse available to them. Did these women lower the wages for men? Possibly. But what should they have done? Starve themselves and their families or prostituted themselves (not so many men in that field) for the greater benefit of society, especially the benefit of middle class women living hundred fifty years later yearning for tranquility? They did what they had to do to survive. And nowadays I am sure these woman in mines are doing what they have to do because chances are, they are poor and the choice to stay home with their kids would never be an option.

Working class women and women in agrarian society always worked, very hard. Who do you think comprised the vast majority of domestic help? Not men. What feminism did for them was safer working environment, less sexual harassment, ability to seek more skilled jobs and equal pay for equal work.

Now about those who work not out of necessity, but for fulfillment. If things were all that peachy, and men never abandoned their families, or died leaving them destitute, or never abused their wives and children and women in general were all very happy to stay home with their children - if everything was so great, why did so many decide to work? Are you saying that women are that stupid and gullible? Or maybe they weren't all that happy after all? Or didn't feel so secure with their breadwinner husbands, who had full economic authority over them? And maybe, maybe they felt and were routinely made feel like second class citizen? Maybe not all, but enough to cause a revolution in the work place?

With regards to the misogynistic nature of my native culture. Please don't kid yourself, yours wasn't that much better fifty years ago. You live with the benefits that feminist achieved for you, but only acknowledge the negatives. You might feel that the negatives outweigh the positives - and that is your right, but to deny that feminism achieved any positives is simply dishonest.

Miriam said...

If we'd really have choices, we'd not have to have discussions like this. There is no real choice - you have to have a career or at least a job. Here where I live, people without a job or if they are not students, or women without children under 7 years (age to start school, homeschooling is illegal) they are called something like 'the ones that got edged out' (really hard to explain) like 'the outcasts of society'.

Even the unemployed are forced to attend mindless 3-6 weeks courses in order to be able to get their benefits, so that they don't get 'edged out'.

When I was young I dreamed of living on a farm with animals and children. It was a realistic dream because I lived on a farm :-) I told my dream to an older relative who had a little acricultural knowledge and studies (though she lived her life mainly as a sahm) and she was shocked: You can't live on that! Big units are needed! Specializing is needed! And, as I highly respect olders, I took her words seriously, buried my dream and headed to a 'career'. This is my nr 1 regret in my life.

What we see now? Small homesteads, sustainable lifestyle! I was decades before my time... The EU has deprived those who got bigger units, specialized and invested...

Now I am home, both physically and emotionally. I am free, really free to do whatever I want. I happen to want to live simply, grow my food and get a deep sleep after active days. I don't need vacations because I don't have the need to escape my everyday life. I dream about living off-grid... ;-) (sure, washing machine is convenient but I'd like to see ourselves free of the system...)

Why on earth I should be considered as 'an object of pity' in my 50s?