Monday, June 25, 2012

The modern homemaker

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...


SubWife said...

The only people who feel nostalgic about agrarian society are those who know very little about agrarian societies. I have heard first hand experiences from my grandparents about the lives in such societies, and few people that lived it, missed it. yes, there were good things about it, but most of it included back-breaking, literally, labor. No wonder that young people left villages and farms in droves for the city, very often with their parents' blessings.

Heather said...

These are all really great thoughts. I feel like I want to simplify, I want to have my whole family at home participating together in life. It doesn't seem realistic, especially in America. But, we are trying. Have you read Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes? It is a very good book about the history of the "housewife," and what people are doing now to try to change their lives to closely resemble the families of the past.

Anonymous said...

Greetings from San Antonio, Tx!

I have a question I hope you will answer.
How many languages do you know/speak? Your blog is such a blessing to me that I was wondering if you speak English since your writting is way-far better than mine, and it's my native tongue.

Thank you for helping me get my priorities in order, and may the Lord continue to bless you.

A reader in the USA

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, my native language is Russian, my second-native is Hebrew, English is my third language, and I also speak Spanish on the level of everyday conversation, and a little Finnish as well. I'm a total language nerd/addict. :)

Rebecca said...

Hello there,

First-time commenter, but long time reader! I've very much enjoyed hearing your thoughts and observations on everyday life, and continue to check your blog regularly :)

I read this article yesterday, and thought it might be something that you (or other readers) might be interested in. It's quite long, but discusses the challenges that many career women face when raising a family, and is written by a woman who decided to leave her high-powered job to spend more time with her family. If you have any thoughts on it, I'd love to hear your input! Here is the link:


Ellie Rae said...

Your English is perfect. Did you get to read about suburbanization in the patio culture's site? Sounds like you did.

Katie B. of said...

I wonder, too, if there's something about children growing up familiar with their parents way of living that doesn't make them curious about other ways of life. A child raised by a SAHM, however content that mother might be, has seen first-hand what that mode of life is like. Isn't it somewhat natural she'd be curious what it would be like to work outside of the house?

Of course, many of us pursue that curiosity only to find that it's not as interesting as we'd imagined. So we become homemakers by choice, and gladly so!

Gothelittle Rose said...

I used to feel guilty about not cloth diapering my children, until I realized one day... If my great-grandmother, for whom cloth was good enough, had the ability and means to use disposable, she probably would have! There comes a point where modern conveniences become modern inconveniences, but I take full advantage of my ability to keep my chore time down with my washing machine, dryer, even the dishwasher I used to think was practically useless. (I grew up washing my own.)

So what do we do when we're given extra time as mothers?

It's going to be a while before I have much in the way of 'extra time'. Not only have I got a preschooler and an infant, but my grade schooler is homeschooled... and I plan to do the same for the others. Still, there will come a time, as there was in the past, when my life is not as full of things to do. And though I do some homesteading, I'll never be a proper 1700's housewife and I don't have to be!

So what is there to do?

I would say that women in the situation of looking for extra work should consider filling in for myriads of social programs that, increasingly, the Western World can no longer afford with government money. Check on the elderly in your area, befriend them, and help them. Single mothers also need help... lots of it. There's almost always one of us who is sick or just had a new baby, and can use an extra meal... when you drop it off, do up the dishes too!

I believe that a time of austerity is going to follow our present-day debt panic. In that time, we should consider ourselves ready to step in and help the truly needy when the government programs are either pruned back or collapse under their own weight.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Ellie Rae, no, I have not had time to read the article, although I plan to, and very much want to! All in due time...

Gothelittle Rose, thanks for bringing up the point of being more active in one's community if you have more time on your hands. That's the sort of thing that really brings people together.

Rebecca, thanks for the link. I hope to read it (one more on the list of articles I'd love/want to read!) and perhaps refer to it in a post.

Anonymous said...

nice article, thank you!

I just want to point re: gothelittlerose's comment, that we may have timesaving devices such as disposables and dishwashers, but we also DON'T have the luxury of having extended female family around - at least that's been my experience - which makes childrearing 'harder' than for previous generations :-) what do you think? I also think standards of cleanliness of higher