The Trapped Housewife

The Trapped Housewife October 28, 2019

Patriarchal blogger Lori Alexander is, unsurprisingly, once again urging women to stay out of the workforce. Yes, You Can Live on One Income, she assures them. She writes the following, among other things:

When a wife stays at home, she can cook from scratch rather than eating out, getting takeout, or relying on boxed meals. This saves a ton of money. When she is at home, they don’t have the expense of her commute (gas money, train, or bus fares), her work clothes, a second car (possibly with payment) and all the expenses for its upkeep (maintenance, insurance, and smog checks), childcare costs, and so on.

I have questions.

Lori states as absolute that, when a woman stays at home with her children rather than working outside of the home, her household will no longer have the expense of a second car and all of the related costs (maintenance, insurance, etc.). Say what now?

Today, I live in an urban area where families absolutely can do without the second car—and even the first car, if they like. But I didn’t grow up here. I grew up in a rural area where you had to have a car to go literally anywhere. I don’t know where Lori lives, but rural roads don’t even have sidewalks. Where I grew up, you couldn’t walk anywhere—not to the grocery store, the library, the park, piano lessons, nothing.

If you’re a stay at home mom and your family has one car and you live in a rural area—assuming your husband needs a car for his commute, which he probably does—you’re effectively housebound. This is also true in many (if not most) suburbs, where you typically can’t just hop on a bus, like you can in a city. You can’t do the grocery shopping or any other errands that generally come along with being a stay at home parent, but you can’t take the child you’re providing care for anywhere either—even to the park or the library.

My mom was a stay at home mom, and when I was little, she used to pack us up and take us to the mall just to preserve her own sanity. She could not have done that without a car. Without a car, she also couldn’t have attended Bible Study Fellowship, a weekly Wednesday morning Bible study at the church that offered childcare, Bible study, and fellowship for stay at home moms like her. And then there was the library.

But it gets worse. Remember, Lori also tells women that it’s their God-given duty to homeschool their children. So you don’t just have stay at home moms with small children who can’t take them to the park or the library—or to the mall or anywhere else—you also have homeschooling moms who can’t take their kids to the park or the library, or to piano lessons or to homeschool ballet class or homeschool co-op or on field trips.

Can someone homeschool in a rural area without a car? Sure! But it’s not going to be ideal! You couldn’t even take the kids to meet up at another homeschooling family’s house for fellowship without a car, and the loss of library visits is huge. Sure, my mom sometimes grumbled that we spent too much time in the car, and would try to cut down on some of our commitments so we’d have more time at home—but we’re not talking about enjoying time at home, we’re talking about time at home being mandatory, with no other option.

I don’t mean to suggest that no one in rural areas—or suburban areas that aren’t set up for walking or public transit—can or should ever go without a second car. Every family’s circumstances and finances are their own, and some families may go through periods with or without a second car, as finances allow. The issue I’m having here is that Debi isn’t saying it can be done, while recognizing the challenges, she’s issuing it as an absolute.

Per Lori:

When [a wife] is at home, they don’t have the expense of her commute (gas money, train, or bus fares), her work clothes, a second car (possibly with payment) and all the expenses for its upkeep (maintenance, insurance, and smog checks), childcare costs, and so on.

She states it as an absolute: If a wife stays at home, the family will not need a second car. Period. Not, in some cases the wife staying at home will eliminate the need for a second car. Nope. It’s an absolute. The only thing stated as tentative is whether the couple had a payment on that second car they will no longer need.

Where does Lori live, that you can get to the library, homeschool co-op, the park, Bible study, and everywhere else a stay at home mom or homeschooling parent will need or want to go during the work day, without a car? Or does Debi think a stay-at-home mom should not go anywhere during these hours at all?

This isn’t Europe. This is the United States, and we don’t set things up for pedestrians. I recently met a couple in an American city for supper. They said they wanted to meet us at the place across the street from their apartment. I initially assumed that meant they would walk over. Nope. They drove across the street. That is how the United States is set up, even in many cities.

Yes, there are places where you can be a stay at home or homeschooling parent without a car, and still get to the park, the library, etc., without a problem. Absolutely! But those places are enough outside the norm that Lori has no excuse for writing in absolutes. The wife staying at home may sometimes mean the couple does not need a second car, but it certainly does not always or automatically mean that.

Some years ago, I knew a Filipino mail order bride who was staying at home raising a toddler. She didn’t have her driver’s license—her husband wouldn’t let her get it—and her husband took their only car to work each day anyway. She actually did live in an area where she could have walked to the park, etc., but her controlling husband forbade it (don’t get me started on men who get mail order brides). As a result, she was housebound, and I could see it for the constricting trap it was. That lack of mobility kept her confined, cut off, and miserable.

But then, it’s possible that that’s a perk for Lori, who teaches women that it is their duty to submit to and obey their husbands in every little thing. Dispensing with the second car makes women’s very mobility dependent on their husband’s largesse. It renders them more vulnerable and less independent. And maybe that’s the goal.

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