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:)