Thursday, February 21, 2013

Things Ma Ingalls Didn't Do

For those who don't know, Ma Ingalls is a character from a series of children's books about the life of the American pioneers and of a TV series "The Little House On The Prairie", and she is often used as an example of a housewife. I must add that as I haven't watched the TV series, I base all my knowledge about her life on the books themselves.

Why writing about Ma Ingalls? She was an average American housewife in the times when it was normal for married women to stay home even if they were childless, she worked hard and created a warm and cosy home for her family, and she is still a source of inspiration for at least some, modern women. Homemakers have even been accused of living in the fantasy world and wishing to copy the "Little House On The Prairie" lifestyle.

On the other hand, a lot of people will admit that, yes, Ma Ingalls was productively busy and her homemaking role was essential to the well-being of her family, but it was then, in those good/bad old times. Nowadays, they argue, we have a dishwasher and a vaccuum cleaner and running water, so there is no reason for the existance of a housewife.

And thus, dear reader, I decided it was a good idea to create a list of things which Ma Ingalls didn't have to do, but which are the reality in life of most modern homemakers.

For the most part of the story, Ma Ingalls and her family live in small houses, sometimes consisting of only one room. For instance in Part 3 of the series, "On The Banks Of Plum Creek", in the beginning they live in a small dugout. So Ma Ingalls didn't have to vacuum a 3 storeyed house.

Ma Ingalls didn't have indoor plumbing so there were no bathroom tiles and sanitary facilities to maintain. Ma Ingalls didn't bring her children to school or homeschool them. They walked 3 miles to town and stayed at school for lunch. She didn't have to go and fetch them, feed them lunch and then bring back to school. Ma Ingalls didn't have to do daily shopping as her husband went to town for supplies once in a while or sometimes they would go together.

She had a vegetable garden, and worked in it, but if a family have a garden, its maintenance still mostly falls to the woman, and though most people nowadays grow flowers instead of vegetables, gardening is still work and anyway, nobody stops you from growing your own (organic!) vegetables if you desire so.

It's true that Ma Ingalls made her own clothes and washed without the washing machine. It's also true, that in those times people had 1 outfit for the whole week so there was less to wash, and the children helped more than they are generally doing now. Nowadays most women I know wash every day and since the cleanliness standards rose they always have tons of washing. Also, it's still possible to make your own clothes if you wish to.

Ma Ingalls' children played outside the whole day when not at school. Often they would take their little sister with them. Ma Ingalls didn't have to watch them constantly for their safety. She didn't have to arrange playdates for them. She didn't bring them to various activities like music lessons. Ma Ingalls didn't have to visit or care for sick relatives since there were none living close to them. She didn't volunteer in the church. She didn't have to do things for the school.

Ma Ingalls didn't have to deal with the modern hideous amounts of paperwork of any sorts. She didn't clip coupons or watch out for sales. They had very little cash anyway so there was no bookeeping to be done. She didn't have to deal with repairmen or bring the car to the garage. She didn't have to bring her children to the dentist's appointments or the like. She baked her own bread, it's true, but there are still countless women who are doing the same. And oh yes, she washed the dishes without a dishwasher. Well, so do I.

I'm sure there were countless other things which Ma Ingalls didn't do which I can't remember at the moment, but I think you get a general point. Keep in mind, that I was not trying to prove that Ma Ingalls was lazy or not working hard enough. Of course she did, and the same is true for the modern housewife as well. Modern life simply is different in some aspects, but though certain chores disappeared we have the new ones in their place.

That's why an argument that a dishwasher makes the housewife obsolete is silly beyond belief.


  1. I love the Ma Ingalls' books. I mean, the Little House books. I did love the show when it was new, but once I read the books, the show lost its charm.

  2. I only watched the pilote episode, but I have read all the books.