Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Men, Women And Housework

Doug Wilson recently wrote a post on preachers being afraid to criticise women which turned into a heated discussion on who should be doing the dishes (and other things as well). It appears to be a hot topic, so I thought as a resident housewife I'll comment on the issue, too.

Our age is the age of confusion, since the concept of equality as understood nowadays demands that everybody is treated the same. And even Pastor Wilson himself, while touching on the subject of "lazy housewives" stated that Bible teaches women to be domestic. Being domestic doesn't necessarily mean a housewife, as many people are perfectly able to understand (and some even pointed it out). And then the subject of doing the dishes was trotted out and it turned into yet another male-female spat on the interwebz.

Of course, the traditional understanding of the female role was that the lady of the house was supposed to spend most of her time there, attending to the household management, though not necessarily performing all the tasks herself. If she was wealthy, she could very well afford enough household staff to never ever bother with washing the dishes. The traditional society wasn't only about the division of labour within the household, but also about the fact that the primary role of the woman was within home while the man participated in the broad society.

Here is John Gill's analysis of Titus 2: Keepers at home: minding their own family affairs, not gadding abroad; and inspecting into, and busying themselves about other people's matters...And this they sayF26  (Jewish religious teachers) is what is meant by the woman's being an helpmeet for man, that while he is abroad about his business, she is יושבת בבית, "sitting at home", and keeping his house; and this they observe is the glory and honour of the woman...

John Calvin and other Reformers thought similarly and as far as I know, traditional Catholic teaching wasn't much different. Alexis de Tocqueville while visiting the USA in the XIXth century noted that Americans had equal respect for the work of both men and women, but the spheres of their activity were totally separate:

In no country has such constant care been taken as in America to trace two clearly distinct lines of action for the two sexes and to make them keep pace one with the other, but in two pathways that are always different. American women never manage the outward concerns of the family or conduct a business or take a part in political life; nor are they, on the other hand, ever compelled to perform the rough labor of the fields or to make any of those laborious efforts which demand the exertion of physical strength. No families are so poor as to form an exception to this rule. If, on the one hand, an American woman cannot escape from the quiet circle of domestic employments, she is never forced, on the other, to go beyond it.

It's significant because we know that the USA in its early stages prided itself on having Jesus Christ as their King and following the Scriptures. One thing stands out when I read this passage: while American women were quite restricted in their life choices, on the other hand, they were never forced to perform "rough labor" or do anything strenuous. No families are so poor as to form an exception to this rule, writes de Tocqueville. If you ever read Little House On The Prairie, you'll remember Nellie Oleson boasting that her folks weren't so broke that she'd have to take a job, as Laura did. And she wasn't even married at that point in her life and yet, the families tried to shelter even the unmarried daughters from employment outside home.

This attitude is quite different from present-day situation when the husbands often expect and encourage their wives to work. You can't expect a lady to be "domestic" when she works full time outside home, and even when she works part-time more than a certain amount of hours.

One thing that many people don't seem to understand is the difference between the world online and real life. When I write a post, I'm talking about general principles, yet I'm well aware that lots of folks live in a less than ideal situation and have to make the best out of it. The argument of whether God wants the husband to help with the dishes is really utterly pointless and reminds me of medieval discussions on how many angels could dance on the head of the pin.

Ideally, I believe that the wife should stay home and do the dishes and the husband should go out and earn the living. Yet, they could be in debt to their ears and both have to work in which case he'll have to pitch in. Or maybe, she is home and just had a new baby or is chronically sick or something. Some families can afford hired help, others can't. In some situations the husband will have to help, whether he likes it or not.

On the other hand, I think it's time housewife became a respectable occupation again and women started taking pride in a well-managed house and home-cooked meals. Living the life of sloth shouldn't be anyone's ambition, whether male or female. So much for lazy housewives:)


  1. Good post! I am so thankful that my husband wanted me to stay home and be there for him and the children. He values my position of being home and I often hear resentment from women whose husbands expect them to work. At the end of the day; the second income does not stretch as far as many would like it to. A man puts in a full and often hard day at work. Then to come home to what he sees as a haven. Not always possible, but it is ideal.

  2. I'm glad you liked it, Marietta! Yes, it's all true, that's why I quite like the Victorian ideal of "the angel in the home" :)

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  4. I found this post interesting. My husband has always done the "outside" chores and I have always done the "inside" chores and weI have found it to be a very easy and uncomplicated arrangement. Though I have worked on and off outside of the home, we have never depended on my income for any of the necessities of life, which has given me the freedom to "retire" several times when I felt the family needed my undivided attention.

  5. I think it's pretty normal that when the wife stays home or works a limited number of hours, she'll do most of the housework. It's only just, after all, the husband in this family works hard to provide. Still, there could be situations when his help is needed. If he could afford it, it's probably better to hire someone but it's not always possible. However, if they both work it's quite different. Are there lazy housewives? Yes, for sure, and our society encourages women to be negligent as housework is deemed oppressive, but a lot of men aren't exactly model breadwinners, either...

  6. For me the satisfaction of keeping house comes from a sense of accomplishment.... Staying on top of things and having the time to create beauty and order. Leaving the house for any significant amount of time really cuts into the ability to do that unless you have the means to hire someone to work under you. Sharing responsibilities with the husband can be a source of frustration too as many times he doesn't put the care and attention to detail into the task that the mistress of the house might like to see. Do women really enjoy telling their husbands what to do around the house? Does that add to the romance of marriage? No thanks. I will do the dishes.

  7. It was interesting that you pointed out how attitude used to be in America. It really made me understand something that puzzled me when I finally read Fascinating Womanhood. Mrs. Andelin made such a strong point that women shouldn't be able to "kill their own snakes" and how men protected them since Mayflower. It seemed very odd to me but I thought it was a cultural difference and was obivously right. :)

    People here in Finland have always been so poor (most of them, at least) that women must have been very capable. In my old books there is never any mention that men should protect women. Woman's place is at home, for sure, and husband is supposed to make the money (or du man's job at the farm), but the need of protection is never mentioned. Even though we have very violent history and protection might have actually been needed. :)

    OT: Other cultural thing that puzzled me was how weak american men must be, needing constant ego-boost from their wifes. I really cannot see men like that manly; manly men are self-sufficient in their manliness, they need no-one to boost it. At least that's how things are here. But we finns are usually very introverted, only some very extroverted (for finns, that is) men seem to need ego-boosting. //OT

    I think life is so much easier when wife is in charge of housework and husband can help when needed. Nothing works very well if two adults are trying to take care of the same work but independetly. If you get my point.

  8. As they say, anything with two heads is a monster:)

    I think the American attitude comes from the idea that in a democratic country every woman is a lady, and a lady does no heavy lifting:)

    In Europe it pretty much depended on your class and wealth as anybody middle class and higher was trying to shelter even unmarried women from joining the workforce. Even wealthy farmers did. Have you ever read Emil stories by Astrid Lindgren? They lived on a farm but I don't remember his mother toiling in the fields, and she had servants.

    Of course, in some European countries serfdom was only abolished in the late 19th century and serf women didn't exactly have a choice in the matter.

    BTW, did you know that first Socialists, far from preaching equality, were against women working as they drove down the wages? The first Socialist Congress demanded fair wages for working class men so that their wives wouldn't need to seek employment outside home. My, how the things have changed...

  9. Mrs WMC, as someone pointed out: "your house is a mess and so is your life:)"

  10. Yes, I have read Astrid Lindgren's Emil stories and other books, too. "Madicken" was my favourite when I was child. Her family was pretty middle-class, too and they had one maid (they lived in a town). But the mother did do housework and so did Emil's mother. Remember that even the housework used to be pretty heavy, especially if there were some cattle.

    I didn't know that about early Socialists. Interesting.

  11. Madicken? Don't remember this one... I only read several of them. Emil was on the TV, I think. Of course, most middle-class women still had to do housework, it was just normal to have help well into the 1960s.

    About socialists, there was a book called The Third Way which documented, among other things how Swedish Progressives originally believed that housewives were important to the well-being of society.

    I found a review of it online:

  12. And here is an interesting read along the same lines. Evidently it does not really pay for men to be domestic.

  13. How does this work though when you stayed home and he has worked outside the home for years and years. He retires and is then home now. When he was working he was gone at least 45 hours with work and travel time. Yet him being home now makes more work. I do understand he has worked all these years and retired and deserves his retirement. But home makers never get a retirement. :-)) On a whim almost daily he wants to go some place and me to go,.. so each day I never have any idea if I will have time at home or not. Very seldom does he want to go anywhere by himself. I was used to being home alone during his work hours and it was quite a change for me too when he retired. Yet everything still needs done. He still goes by the thought of home duties as being mine. I am getting worn out since he retired!! :-))) I can't keep up with even the basic work many times let alone any extras I would like to do here.
    I read an article years back for men heading toward retirement. It said that they should develop way before retiring hobbies or volunteer work or such to take up some of the time they used to be at work. I understand now how much that would help. They would have more to wake up to and also give their wives perhaps a bit of alone time. I imagine he too needs time with other men. Also perhaps you should talk ahead of time about what will happen at home once he is at retired. :-)))) Just a thought :) Maybe it will help someone else. ;) Anna

  14. Mrs WMC, yes, I've heard of this study:) Thanks for the link!

  15. Anna, I feel for you, retirement is always a big adjustment. Could you hire someone to help you with your housework? Then you could go out with your husband more often and he'd be happy:)

  16. Dear Anna, it's never too late a have an open and honest discussion. I think it is essential on a monthly basis. I am in a same kind of stage in my life as you are, so i do know what you mean :-)

    Hiring help is a good option. If you can't afford it lowering your standards is another. I know I said a dirty word! But, honestly, nobody is becoming younger, so when you can you can do it in a controlled manner (now) you don't have to wait it to happen an uncontrolled way (later, when you just can't do it anymore)

    While discussing your needs and the domestic needs and his desires please do not feel hurt if he can't see the importance you hold to a certain chore. It's not like he doesn't appreciate what you did in the past. He just never saw you doing it so they never gave an idea to it - to something that obviously takes care of itself without him. He needs to know. You need to tell. He needs to expand his horizon, so to speak, and so do you.

    Enjoy you new time together! :-)

    With love,

  17. I'd like to add that hiring help is not as expensive as most people think. She doesn't need to come every day. In fact, once in two weeks for 3 hours must be enough for a modest-size household. She can tackle bathrooms, windows, stairs,fridge, washing the floors so at least you'll know these important tasks will be done more or less regularly. It'll take a burden off your mind.

  18. Exactly.
    I, personally, have been using laundry services. And it has been hard to admit that there is edible ready-made food for sale - I have always been proud (perhaps too proud)of cooking and baking everything from scratch :-)

  19. The problem with ready-made food is that it's often unhealthy:) But some convenience foods are fine and we do sometimes order takeouts as well.

  20. "I think the American attitude comes from the idea that in a democratic country every woman is a lady, and a lady does no heavy lifting"

    Yes, that is exactly so. In North America, 'women' often gets changed to 'ladies' in common parlance, even though men doesn't nearly as often get changed to 'gentlemen'. That's why a horrible American slang term has developed for human female genitalia, 'ladyparts', as if all women were automatically ladies (and as if women who talk publicly, even on TV no less, about their own private parts could be ladies, which is absurd). One never hears 'gentlemen parts' for men's manhoods, because people would laugh at the notion. But it is because of the 'men and ladies' phenomenon in North America (rather than 'men and women' or 'ladies and gentlemen'; one will often find toilets labelled 'men' and 'ladies' rather than 'men' and 'women' or 'gentlemen' and 'ladies').

    Every American girl gets told she's a 'little lady', and dreams of growing up to be a princess just like she learned from Disney (despite America being a republic, and all Americans commoners by definition, ineligible to marry British royalty; I look forward to seeing how Harry and his Yank gf get around that).

  21. Well, the princess stuff is pretty much international, as here we have this nonsense, too. I've heard grandparents call their grandsons "princes" as well, which is of course ridiculous. Modern kids are spoiled enough without it, imo.

    However, when you look in the past (and, of course, we can only judge by books such as Little House series or even Gone With The Wind) being a lady meant that a woman was kept to rigorous standards of behaviour and they often had to work hard, but just inside their homes, not outside them.

    The old system wasn't so much about what work exactly the woman did, but the division between private and public spheres. Women, for good or for bad, were pretty much excluded from the latter, and not only in America.

  22. Exactly. 'Lady' and 'gentleman' were ideals, to strive to live up to, in terms of character, behaviour, etc. One wasn't automatically assumed to be a lady or a gentleman, unless in formal, polite settings (e.g. addressed at the theatre, 'Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome...', etc.).

    Now, no expectations are placed on North American women to live up to; they are just automatically considered 'ladies'.

    Frankly, since the terms are so meaningless now, I'd prefer to return to the original meaning of lady and gentleman - a gentleman being one of the nobility with a coat of arms; a lady being his wife.

  23. Just an update. I asked about how to deal with my husband bing retired now and home and I cannot get my housework done. Well I had a discussion with him and told him that I was used to having 45 hours a week when he was working that I do not have now to get things done. This time he seems to have taken it in and is trying too give me some leave way. The problem is still there but to know I was heard is a very comforting thing! :) Things are easing some and I hope to be able later to actually having a few hours alone each week. It will not be any way like it used to be as I will have to use that time to work hard and fast no matter how my aging body feels [ :) ] at the time. Doing whatever I have deemed needing the most time to accomplish but still I may have that time! A step forward. I have kept as much as I can up dividing even small chores using little bits of time to accomplish them. Something many women always do. I am encouraged that things are changing some and even some is so good!!! :-))) Thank you for listening to my frustration. Anna

  24. You are welcome, Anna, nice hearing from you!