As I go on to think about the role of homemakers, the uprise of feminism, and the cataclysmic changes it brought to society, it occurs to me that we often feel nostalgic when we remember how things used to be, back when people lived in agrarian societies and close-knit communities where everyone has known everyone (well, almost) for generations. While I love reading/learning about The Old Times, as a rational being I will admit there is no way back there.
So, continuing what we began to discuss in my previous post, the world changed - on came industrialization, urbanization, the fracturing of society, compulsory public education (which deserves a whole discusson of its own motives), smaller families, the advance of technology (washing machines, anyone?) and urban homemakers stranded in houses or apartments with noticeably less to do than their grandmothers. They will be remembered as "the desperate housewives"; it was not until a couple of generations down the road that we are beginning to realize the true impact of empty homes, scattered families, and all the rest that came with it.
What am I trying to say? The pre-industrialization homemaker is typically pictured either as the refined lady for whom there was no practical need to work outside the home, or the hardy farm wife whose amount of valuable work could be questioned by no one. The image of the 50's homemaker, on the other hand, is a woman who waves her husband and children off to school and work in the morning, then prances around the house wearing cute high-heeled shoes and a little apron, dusting a shelf here and a coffee table there. So wouldn't this woman's time be better employed if she went out and earned a paycheck and did something "useful" with her life?
Well, not exactly.
While close to mid 20-th century more women found themselves with more time on their hands at home, it doesn't mean their work could be discarded without any serious implication - which was something feminists have long tried to deny. So, off to earn a paychek women went, and the life and tranquility within the home were lost, along with a sense of community, the family table, and many of the home arts, including home cooking. As a nutritionist, I have often made the observation that the reliance on junk convenience foods is strongly connected to the scattering of the family and the fact that women who work outside the home began to have less time to cook.
In my eyes, our generation - some decades down the road from the optimistic proclamation that women can "have it all" - is the one to stop and re-assess the real situation we've found ourselves in. Some people are therefore making very different choices; some actually dive into partly or almost fully self-sustained homesteading; and while this isn't something everyone can or should do, there is a whole movement of learning about self-reliance, sustainability, making more out of less, and preserving that vital connection to earth and nature that was sadly lost as the country emptied and people flocked into cities. Well, the fact is that we aren't meant to live without nature; for those who live in city apartments, a day out in the country, a herb garden in pots on the windowsill, provide that vital interaction with living, growing things we all need.
We now have the advantage of the internet, which has truly revolutionized our world, providing the possibility of working from home more easily than before, and with more flexible hours. I think today is more favorable than any time to the home and family business, and especially women can take advantage of that, being self-employed, or doing freelance work for someone else, or setting up an online shop for selling things they have made, or doing any other thing via the internet which would have been impossible just two decades ago without extensive traveling and spending many hours outside the home.
Of course here we must be careful, because the internet, including online from-home work, can be a huge time guzzler, and I mention it more in connection with those who reasonably have more time on their hands - such as women before they have children, or women whose children are grown, who might feel the desire to do something else, yet without having to compromise on their work in the home. Women at the busiest time of their life, with babies or young children, and/or homeschooling mothers, might have their day full to burst just with the simple everyday doings of life, like keeping everyone fed and in clean clothes.
And so, it is time to think of the legacy we are leaving for our daughters. Will they see us as happy, content women, satisfied in the importance of their role? Or those who made the second-best choice, not being ambitious enough? Will they have cherished memories of the years we spent at home with them, or will they think Mom would have been better employed elsewhere? Will they want to be like us, or will they want to get as far as they can from the image we are projecting? The answer to these questions will ultimately form the picture of the next generation.
And so the story goes on...