Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Why It Was Better When Women Stayed Home

Okay, okay...I am guilty of my first "clickbait" post title.

Let me explain:

About ten years ago, I found an article that had reputedly come from an old home economics book from the nineteen-fifties. In it, women were instructed to basically be servants to their poor, hard-working husbands. (, today, says the article is unverified...may or may not be real. Some accounts say it was from Good Housekeeping; the image below says Housekeeping Monthly.) I brought the article into a college class I was teaching at the time to use as a writing "warm-up" topic...

The discussion that came out of this was interesting and most unexpected. One young woman raised her hand and said that, while, of course, the condescending language and ideas in the piece were absurd, the idea of the "homemaker" was not a bad one. She pointed out that, with all the work to be done, one person taking care of the domicile while one went out and made the money was, actually, an ideal situation; very efficient and practical. She also said that it was not absurd, then, for the woman to be expected to make dinner and do all other home-related jobs.

This lead to a more controlled discussion than you might think.

The conclusion was one that, from a modern perspective, lead to the class more or less agreeing that it made sense for someone to take care of the house and someone to bring in the dough. Of course, the respective "someone" does not have to be either the man or the woman by default. Today, we do see increasing numbers of men staying home while the women work...

What I think is that the old setup was, indeed, better. Not because the woman stayed home but because someone did. A house is a big responsibility. It is logical to run things that way.

Now that we have (almost) gotten over the idea that the man has to be the worker and the woman has to be the housewife, maybe we should go back to the "homemaker" concept as a goal. If one person makes enough money, be it the man or the woman, the other really should stay home. It makes sense. It is (was), I think, a better way to run a household.

But we would need get over two difficult hurdles: greed and stereotype. Are we capable of deciding when we are making enough money to give up an income? Can we escape the old gender job-assignments? Some of us can, but maybe anyone who has the means should try. I know that if I started to list the benefits of the worker/homemaker model, this piece would run much, much longer.

1 comment:

  1. Speaking as the person in my relationship who pretty much is the homemaker (I like to think of myself as Harv to my girlfriend's Marybeth Lacey), I will agree that there's one way things were "better" back then: home prices. When the economy was geared around only one full-time worker, the market priced homes accordingly. In ambitious and economically desirable areas like the Northeast, the assumption now is that it will take two incomes to buy a home. Defying that idea requires other very conscious trade-offs: moving to a rural area, or to an area with a worse school system, or into a smaller, older, less fancy home. (I daresay that lots of people got into trouble pre-2008 by buying houses on the foolish assumption that they'd always have two good salaries rolling in.)

    High-school kids are too young to remember what that other, older world looked like, but I think before they start deciding what's better or worse, they need to have a full sense of these historical trade-offs.