Some time ago we visited a Roman fair, which I mentioned on the blog and posted some pictures. By some reason, I find these historical reenactment groups fascinating, probably because they present a lifestyle much simpler to the one we lead now and thus appeal to a hippy in me:)
Seriously though, while life of a common man in Rome was hard, it was also in many ways far less complicated that what we have to deal with today. People often forget it when they are trying to make comparisons between the good old days and now.
A year ago, I wrote a blog post called Things Ma Ingalls Didn't Do where I listed some of the things modern homemakes have to deal with which were nonexistent in the times past. Our ancestors had to endure a lot of physical hardships which made them tough, but I sometimes wonder if they had to live under the same mental strain so many people live now.
A part of it is certainly due to the influence of mass media, including the Internet. I doubt Ma Ingalls ever was upset about an earthquake or war in some distant country, and she was probably not overtly worried about economical crisis or what stock exchange was doing as long as there was enough food on the table. Most people were not that interested in politics, didn't follow the world news and were mostly absorbed in the problems of the daily life.
I get irritated all the time someone starts attacking present days housewives for being lazy good-for-nothings because they use vaccuum cleaners, while their heroic female ancestors were ploughing the fields while simultaneously caring for 20 children and making homespun clothes. Most of these stories are exaggerated anyway. I won't go as far as the 19th century, but I'll give you an example of how lower middle class people used to live in the 1950s.
A relative of mine comes out of the family with 6 children, and her Mother never worked. The eldest two children had to do all the washing for which purposes they rented a washing machine. The children washed the clothes at 5 a.m. on Monday mornings before going to school. Vacations were only 4 weeks in summer and half of the Saturday was spent at school, too. A lot of tradesmen brought the goods home so there was no need for daily shopping.
Clothes were custom made by a professional seamstress. My relative had to knit stockings for younger children and her sister had to make breakfast and feed everybody. Do you get the picture? A lot of tasks nowadays normaly performed by the housewife were done by children in the past. Nowadays if you make your child wake up at 5 a.m and wash family clothes, you will be accused of child abuse. Food was quite simple and often cooked in advance for a couple of days, and then just reheated.
elaborate dinner menues you see in old magazines were chiefly for the
use of the upper classes and the meaning of spring cleaning was to get
the whole house in order at least once in a year.
Everybody who could afford it would hire a girl to help with cleaning and household manuals had advice on how to manage servants. That is not to say that the mid-century homemakers didn't work hard, of course, they did, but they were not some superwomen they are sometimes portrayed.
Every age brings its own challenges and our generation has its own share of problems.This is also true for homemakers who often have to raise children and take care of the household without any help from extended family and struggle with negative stereotypes and hurtful remarks, even from their own parents. There is also social isolation and other things to deal with. I think all in all it's unfair to say that modern housewives don't work as hard as before.