Homemaking: The Bad

This house may have been built upon a rock, but those winds are a force to be reckoned with.

As I wrote in my previous post, the stress on the importance of homemaking in evangelical-fundamentalist culture can produce a really grounded, comforting and peaceful life. But at what cost does that comfort come?

One of the main problems with the evangelical-fundamentalist value of homemaking is that it’s inextricably tied to femininity. To be a homemaker is to be a godly woman. To be a godly woman is to be a homemaker. They’re inseparable. This is a problem for a number of reasons:

  1. Women who are homemakers are undervalued, because homemaking is seen as something they “just do” naturally because God designed them that way. The learning curve, various skill sets and hard, sometimes backbreaking work are swept under the pastel, floral rug.
  2. Women who do anything but homemaking are considered immoral, lazy or selfish.
  3. Men who enjoy cooking, home maintenance or childcare become the objects of “concern” from other men at church over their perceived “effeminacy.”
  4. Women whose husbands involve themselves in cooking, childcare and cleaning feel inadequate because they “should” be doing it all by themselves.
  5. Male children grow up having no idea how to take care of themselves.
  6. Female children have to clean up after their brothers. That’s just not cool, people.

Another significant problem with the evangelical-fundamentalist vision of homemaking is its reliance on financial and marital stability. In other words, it’s an incredibly upper-middle class idea.

Homemaking is not a solitary profession. Unless you’ve come into a huge inheritance, won the lottery, built your house with your bare hands on the land your grandpappy gave you, built a profitable home business breeding chickens and pygmy goats, or been born Martha Stewart, chances are you won’t be financially independent as a homemaker. Homemaking is a profession that must be subsidized by another profession, usually a husband’s. This poses a number of issues for the up-and-coming generation of happy housewives:

  • Not everyone can find a suitable partner. You can’t just marry any woman to any man. Think about it: would you want to be the 19 year old girl to “take one for the team” and marry the 67-year-old widower in the church just so you can start homemaking? (I know, the answer is that she should “pray for the Lord to send her a husband.” Please, spare me. I know girls in their thirties who are still waiting, and probably will be waiting in their forties, too.)
  • Not every man can find a job. Many families today need all hands on deck. (Hint: it’s the economy, not “feminism”.)
  • Some husbands are abusive. Financial dependence on an abuser is not a situation I’d prepare my daughter to get stuck in.
  • Some men cheat or leave.
(I’ve left widows out of this list because they’re considered “deserving poor” in fundamentalist churches and are usually invited back home until a godly second husband comes along.)

The bottom line is: upholding homemaking as the “highest calling” (in effect, the only calling) for women makes them perpetual dependents, which is a really risky way to live. Also, please spare me the nonsense about preparing girls for “fallback” careers. This is just an excuse used to make fundamentalists seem less sexist and more concerned about the economic prospects of their daughters. The truth is, when a woman in a fundamentalist church is required to “fall back” on a career, she becomes an object of scorn and pity. Women whose husbands beat them are urged to be more submissive, because obviously they must be provoking the attacks. Women whose husbands leave them become social lepers, tainted by “the world” if they go to work and judged for having failed to keep their marriages intact. If the evangelical-fundamentalist community actually believed in educating daughters to be financially independent, it wouldn’t treat women who do find themselves in less than desirable circumstances like they’re unclean. “Headless” women are perceived as threats to the sanctity of the church, presumably because one of them might seduce the pastor in her natural search for hairy-chested leadership.

The feminine ideal of homemaking in evangelical-fundamentalist culture punishes women who cannot find husbands to support them financially. Women who work because they can’t find husbands are treated like dangerous wild animals. The only exceptions are (a) part time jobs that are (b) church-related or babysitting and (c) don’t pay well enough to cause pride or self-reliance, (d) involve skills that are somehow transferable to homemaking and (e) can be dropped at a moment’s notice for a prospective suitor. Women in those situations are also required to be submissive to their fathers.

This post has been mostly about the gender problems associated with the homemaking ideal. I’ll talk more about homemaking and class in my next post, “the ugly.”

  • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

    It’s Victorian fetishism. The problem is that the P/QFers are, like their Victorian idols, totally ignoring the vast majority of the population. All those Victorian women who worked themselves blind sewing? Or who did just as much factory work as their husbands? Or who would prostitute themselves for extra cash whenever a ship sailed in? They don’t exist. Instead, they’re focusing on the idea of the Victorian Woman as the “angel of the hearth” – a class of woman who was always in the minority.

    And not just that, but the Victorians had serious problems with “redundant women” – even among the women of this class. These were women who simply could not find husbands, and who were socially and legally from holding any paid work to support themselves, who just sat in their fathers’ homes until their fathers died. And then what? Well, many of them became destitute (what the Victorians liked to call “fallen women”). Others were forced to beg they relations to support them. It became such a problem in the Victorian era that more and more “women jobs” started opening up, like seamstresses, teachers, governess… things that “redundant women” could do to support themselves without seeming overly un-feminine. But even so, plenty were forced to “fall.”

    That’s what I think the P/QF crowd just doesn’t get – Not only are these gender expectations unrealistic in the modern world, they have never been sustainable. The idea that women (all women, not just the wealthy) would *only* raise children and maintain the household is about as far from “traditional” as you can get!

  • Teri

    I lost my husband nine years ago, when I was only 44. I was also unable to have children. Theoretically I would be considered a “good” single woman because I am a widow. But I look young for my age and do not fit the stereotype of a widow, so many Christians think I am an seductive, “evil” single woman and I am shunned without anyone asking about my martial status. At first, I would tell people I was a widow so they would not think I am “bad” but I eventually became disgusted. Why should I have to justify myself when I did nothing wrong?

    This week I created an account on eharmony.com and contemplated dating again. Before paying the membership fee on eharmony, a perspective dater can review potential matches. When I looked at several matches who discussed how important their faith is to them, I had an anxiety attack. After all my bad experiences with Christian men, the thought of dating one made my heart pound for an entire day. To screen out conservative Christian men, I even wrote on my profile that I agree with gay marriage and evolution. That was still not sufficient to allay my fears, so I decided to forgo dating and I felt much better. I also plan to scale church attendance back drastically.

    • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

      I’m so sorry to hear of your loss and how you were treated, Teri. :( It sounds like getting away from church for a bit is a good idea to get your bearings.

  • Red

    I would also like to throw in that homemaking can, under the right circumstances and with the right personality, be an isolating and discouraging experience. It is only in recent history that families lived in their own little bubble of a house, and that they were so disconnected from friends and neighbors for the majority of the day. That is NOT good for a mother with small children who needs other grown-ups around (nor would it be good for a stay-at-home father of small children who needs other grown-ups around). In other words, the isolated setup of our society makes homemaking a MUCH different animal than it was during the fantasy (er, excuse me, VICTORIAN) era that these people are obsessed with.

    And, as you said, what if you are a woman who just plain doesn’t want to stay home? What if your husband is more inclined to stay home, you are more inclined to work, but you both force yourself into lifestyles you’re unhappy with just because of your gender? :/ How healthy will that be for your kids to grow up in a household with parents who resent their place in life? I’ve seen it firsthand from friends, and it ain’t pretty.

  • marci