raising the kids

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Wichita, KS

So, Melissa has flown the coop, escaping to Washington D.C. for the next four days to hang out with friends old and new, and chat in person with many of her online book-blogger peers at the KidLitosphere Conference, an annual gathering of bloggers who specialize in children’s, youth, and young adult fiction. (Melissa will read and review anything, but she does have her preferences.) That leaves me at home, responsible for four girls ranging in age from 3 to 13. Which makes me wonder about a few things. But first, the obligatory “Mr. Mom” clip:

I know for a fact that I’m not that pathetic. Not quite, anyway.

The humorous reputation which most husbands and fathers in America carry around when they’re–when we’re; no reason to leave myself out of this–obliged to take up duties which are usually, and stereotypically, assumed by wives and mothers is pretty insulting, of course, however true it may be. Not primarily to us guys, I think; in all likelihood, when such humor is engaged in we’ll find ourselves happily appropriating it as way to set ourselves up for failure, and excuse our reliance upon women to keep the family alive and the house operating normally. No, mostly it’s insulting to women, in a kind of putting-them-up-on-an-inverted-pedestal sort of way. Not that women don’t use the same humorous stereotypes too; of course they do. But I think when I’ve heard Melissa and her friends chortle about the fact that, say, I don’t know the first thing about laundry, it seems to be a bit of a defense mechanism, a reluctant, self-martyring, head-shaking justification for the world of work which invariably seems their lot in life. Of course, I’m not saying anything new or original; anyone who has taken even the tiniest glimpse at the literature–hell, anyone who has ever been married, or even in a more or less permanent heterosexual relationship–knows for a fact that most women do most household and child-rearing chores, partly by choice, but also partly because apparently even the most egalitarian of husbands and fathers find it hard to fight patterns of socialization which have surrounded us for generations.

A lot of that socialization, obviously, is tied up in a particular model of the bourgeois, post-WWII, middle- and upper-class, suburban household: one bread-winner, the man, who leaves home to work in a factory or office, and then returns home to the woman, who has stayed there all day to tend the children, prepare the food, and maintain order. It’s an unequal form of socialization which has been attacked by feminists at least since Betty Friedan, if not earlier. (Some conservatives have criticized this artificial division as well, but such localist or distributist “conservative” messages have never had much luck escaping the untouched from Republican machine.)

The success of the feminist attack on this arrangement has been limited, I think, pretty much exactly to the degree to which it has not, for the most part (at least outside of purely academic circles), been extended into a attack on the capitalist presumptions which underscore it. So long as women and men are going to want to have children and bring them up in an environment of at least some stability, and so long as this essentially natural and historical process has to happen in a socio-economic context which hammers home, again and again, the arbitrary demands of specialized labor and consumer acquisition, then obviously some sort of bifurcation of the home and the workplace is going to occur, and mothers and fathers are going to have to adjust their lives so as to accommodate that. So we have the SAHMs and their incompetent husbands, or we have working moms with daycare stresses and guilt, and husbands who are enlightened enough to actually help out with some of the vacuuming occasionally. Of course, there are numerous exceptions to this, and perhaps we’re seeing more all the time; but still, overall those exceptions remain just that: exceptionally rare. (I just got back from picking up Kristen, our youngest, from her half-day pre-school, and I was the only man anywhere in the building. Admittedly, Wichita isn’t going to be particularly rife with folks choosing to buck traditional stereotypes, but I seriously doubt that even in New York or San Francisco would you see such numbers skewed a whole lot the other way.)

I think about all this, because I think about equality, and would like to believe that, in small ways, here and there, Melissa and I have managed to make for ourselves a somewhat more egalitarian home than the ones we knew growing up. Part of our success in this, I believe, can be attributed to the fact that we’ve been conscientious enough, or lucky enough, or both, to develop a way of life which minimizes some of the ways which the marketplace can drive a person away from a home environment where it’s possible to implement and maintain a little more balance.

As in so many things, I find Laura McKenna to be a brilliant guide to this tangle of issues, and she’s contributed some sharp observations to the debate again and again. In one of the above posts, she comments about the idea of families embracing the kind of equal division of labor which opting out of consumer capitalism potentially makes possible; while she’s dubious of going the whole “radical” distance, she thinks the idea has merit, point out that “[t]here is absolutely no reason that feminism should mean a devotion to capitalism.” This comment of hers came back to me when I read Rod Dreher’s recent post about how much he–a full-time journalist and writer, a man who has confessed several times that, despite his localist aspirations, he’d simply feel lost and useless if he had provide for his family without relying upon the broad world of information and words and ideas–depends on his wife to manage a life which dissents in even small ways from the pressures of consumer capitalism. Rod quotes at length from the always provocative Sharon Astyk, who, in the context of a discussion about dealing with economic breakdown rather trenchantly observes:

[W]hile collapse as a whole, with its radical dislocation of male roles and providers, is probably scarier and more destructive to men than to women; volunteering to live a low energy life probably is more frightening to many women than to men–and for pretty good reasons. Because there’s an excellent chance that the reality is likely to be that the practical burdens of hauling groceries home on a donkey, emptying the composting toilet bucket and stoking the sauna are likely to become the wife’s chores…I [do not] think it is coincidental that many women married to more traditional men are unthrilled with the vision of a low energy future, and a return to the bad old days, in which “men may work from sun to sun, but women’s work is never done.”

It’s not unusual to get arguments from a variety of mainstream liberals–not populists or social democrats or others that can sometimes be called up short by arguments about what kind of socio-economic and cultural conditions really make democratic communities possible, but ordinary, smart progressives–that recognize Astyk’s point, and as a result want to call the whole thing off. Matthew Yglesias, when talking about the way certain celebrity chefs have turned to a celebration of locally produced, home-cooked meals, observes very simply: “If…gender norms were shifting toward the idea that women should get married young and drop out of the workforce in order to do unpaid domestic work, then obviously people would start cooking more. But that’s not what’s happening.” Indeded, it’s not. And rightly so; the revolution which enabled women to exercise rights and develop themselves as full participants in public life has been, whatever its incidental downsides, an overwhelming moral and civic boon to Western civilization (when you’ve even got folks on a localist website like Front Porch Republic observing that downsizing one’s involvement in consumer capitalism is harder on wives than husbands, or writing that “I’m not sure if, given the choice with the sweep of history in front of me, I would choose a century or place other than the 20th Century west, and I’m even more inclined to think I wouldn’t choose anything else for my daughters”–a sentiment I completely agree with–then you know there’s no going back). So clearly, there is going to be a limit to how far the great majority of us who desire the many natural and historical goods provided by your basic family unit are going to be able or willing to fight against the specialization and consumption which I mentioned above. The question, I suppose, a question without any one lasting or universal answer, will figuring out where those limits are, and whether they can be pushed in any way, in the name of a life both humble and equal.

Rod argues that the only hope for families to achieve both goals is to have a relationship that focuses on something besides each other. He has a point there. I wonder if it may be that only a higher trust can make it possible for each partner to truly trust that the other will do whatever is necessary, or learn whatever skill is necessary, to support the other as they turn, if only partly, away from systems of consumer dependence that may be truly liberating in particular (as they historically have been for most women) but which overall make any long-term equality that much more difficult to achieve. But I also wonder–in the spirit of the aforementioned compromises, or at least in the spirit of sharing the tensions involved in such–if that trust might not be productively aided by a little wise public policy. Which takes me back to one of my favorite pieces of writing: my friend Damon Linker’s essay about when he first became a father, and the conclusions it brought to him in regards to family life:

Ever since the 1950s, a woman choosing the life of the stay-at-home mom has faced the prospect of isolation far more profound than would have been typical in earlier times. After her husband walks out the door in the morning, she is usually left alone with only her child for company. Such a life is hardly traditional; nor is it, for many women, appealing…Instead of asking women to suppress their desire for the goods that come from pursuing an occupation outside the home, men could begin to put somewhat less emphasis on their own careers and recognize the very real goods that flow from sharing more of the joys and the burdens of parenting–even if it means that they must live with the same tensions faced by modern women…[S]uch tensions could be somewhat diminished for both parents if the government would expand the provisions for maternity leave that are part of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. We could also follow the lead of many European countries in providing for paternity leave. Surely a nation as wealthy as ours could afford the costs of policies that would so clearly benefit the modern family.

That wouldn’t solve the whole dilemma of sharing the kids equally (a dilemma particularly vexing for those of us who want to pursue a simpler, more local way of life), of course–no one thing ever could. But at the very least, Laura agrees with me that a little European-style “conservatism” might make for family relationships that are a little more equal, a little more feminist, and slightly less filled with complex and confusing competing. Worth striving for, wouldn’t you agree?

All right, Kristen’s done with Backyardigans; time to clean up a bit before everyone else comes home. Back to doing my bit, I suppose.

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  1. Not all of us, Caleb, that’s for certain, and even those who aren’t feminist in the same way. But I do think, as Sharon Astyk suggests, that any kind of localist project in today’s world is going to have to be, in part, a feminist one, in the sense of taking on the so-called “conservative,” one-bread-winner-one-childcare-giver model. Traditionalist and localist homes will almost certainly have to be at least somewhat feminist; patriarchal values, as I see it, are no match for consumer ones.

  2. 1. What is a “localist project”?

    2. So you are advocating 100% out of the home servitude as a way of fostering “localism”?

    3. So if you can’t beat consumer values, join them?

    4. What do you envision the end result of this localist-feminist project to be? I shudder.

    This is where any vaunted left/right coallition of the localists will break down. I’ll take the Guillermo Buckley’s and Hannah Coulter’s of the world over the second-rate nancy-boy FMLA-suckling under-reproducing suburban-living placeless lifeless gutless dirt-despising hand-wringing “contemplative localists” every time.

    False friends and fellow travellers are not always easy to distingush. Which I do not mean as statement of personal relationship, but rather as a distinction in the category of political and social ends that matters a great deal.

    • Fantastic. Now that’s an insult I can respect. I’ll accept placeless. I’ll consider lifeless. But gutless? By God I’ve had enough! (I don’t think I’ve ever been called a nancy-boy before, but in context I guess I’ll have to live with it. As for FMLA-suckling: for shame!)

  3. Thoughtful post. I agree with Sharon that any woman would balk at a choice which requires her to raise the kids, clean the house, cook and tend the chickens goats and garden while hubby goes off to work each day. Oh yeah – add homeschool too. To put it mildly – that is not an equal division of labor.

    Having done stay at home Mom for several years (along with the chicks and garden) I began to fear my brain would turn to jelly and I noticed that my conversations with store clerks started becoming really important to me, representing as they did my only adult conversation til Daddy came home. Off course, Daddy was tired when he got home and anyway he had to spend time with the kids while I cooked. Hence my meaningful relationships with store clerks.

    I think a feature of some European countries which would be very helpful is job sharing. Two people divide one job and Dad’s can choose this option as well as Mom’s. If both Mom and Dad have what are essentially part time jobs they both share in wage earning and home caring. They both also have a lot more time with the kids.

    We were fortunate in that as academics we had more options but there is a limit to how many Ph.D’s the world needs and some people will have working class jobs. In such cases the two job family isn’t simply to finance European vacations and SUV’s – it is to pay for rent and food. I would think more affordable housing, 80% paid family leaves for the first year as well as home schooling co-ops are more meaningful in supporting a working class family. These supports are widely available in several European countries and if we were serious about family values we’d look at the benefits of some such arrangements here.

    The real culprit in the family killing category are corporations. There is the expectation that one work for as long as it takes and the willingness to put in 60 hours a week is often a big part of the criteria for promotion. And then we have corporate transfers.

    It would be nice if all the family values rhetoric got matched with family values behavior.

    I’d like to add that I appreciate your comments about the “Dad as incompetent” and “Mom as Superwoman” nonsense.

  4. Caleb, either the random thoughts I stitched together in this post were really poorly expressed, or you’re reading me wrong. I’ll vote for the former, I suppose.

    What is a “localist project”?

    Anything and everything that encourages people to take more control of their lives in places where they live. That’s all; I have no party platform in mind. I’ll agree that my definition is much too vague concept to be reduced to a “project,” so I guess my poor word choice strikes again.

    So you are advocating 100% out of the home servitude as a way of fostering “localism”?

    Where would you get that idea? I’m pointing out that, until and unless a great many more basically ordinary people with basically ordinary family desires are persuaded and/or forced by events to turn away from the opportunities which have opened up for women over recent decades, then we who would like to see more priority given to the family and the local community are going to have to face up to the fact that we’re not going to be able to do so within our ordinary family contexts without making things relatively harder for woman than men. (I put in those “ordinary” qualifiers because this tension between equal treatment of and opportunities for women on the one hand and a traditional family on the other isn’t felt by everyone: if you don’t plan on having kids, this isn’t an issue; if you’re gay, this isn’t an issue (probably); etc.) So that means we’ve got a couple of options: convice folks like me and Jeffrey Polet (and millions of women, plenty of traditionally-minded Christians among them) that we really do need to back away from the accomplishements of feminism, or compromise. Enabling women to more easily pursue their own personal development (through working, perhaps, but also in other out-of-the-home ways; for Melissa, it’s books, for my sister-in-law, it’s spinning her own wool) without forcing bitter choices upon them is one way to compromise. Preferably, that will be done by their husbands abandoning the acquisitive capitalism rat race and spending equal time at home. Parental leave policies, flex-time, and affordable day-care are all means that would make those alterations more likely, or so it seems to me.

    So if you can’t beat consumer values, join them?

    I’m sorry, but I honestly can’t figure out what this is referring to. The fact that some women may want to work as a way of developing themselves, perhaps? Seriously, I’m at a loss.

    What do you envision the end result of this localist-feminist project to be?

    I don’t know. A somewhat greater number of kids raised equally by two happy parents, instead one of them being a stranger and the other one wrestling with bitterness, perhaps? I have no end point in mind. It’s not like I imagine Kansas turning into Sweden. (Not that such would be an entirely bad thing…)

    …second-rate nancy-boy FMLA-suckling under-reproducing suburban-living placeless lifeless gutless dirt-despising hand-wringing “contemplative localists”

    Bob Cheeks and D.W. put up a good show, Caleb but I swear, they eat your dust; no one around here dishes righteous insults the way you do. (FMLA suckling? Damn, that’s good.)

  5. Well, let’s just say that you bring out the best in me, Russell!

    Feminism, so-called, is bought lock-stock and glossy full-page magazine ads by the acquisitive capitalistic rat race.

    Look, life is hard, for men and women. Wise and mature men and women know life is not about “personal development.” As soon as you start chasing that bread crumb trail you’re already cooked in the materialist consumerist oven. And your kids have no chance.

    Resources are scarce. Scrabbling a living for oneself and one’s family is a dicey proposition at best. It’s bloddy and dirty, and no “localist” project that doesn’t acknowledge this and find a way to embrace it will last. While our modern vacation from the four horsemen has permitted all kinds of fantasies about possible living arrangements, a basic “localist” proposition seems to be that: a) such living arrangements will colapse upon rough encounters with reality; and b) such living arrangements do not provide for the conditions of true human flourishing, as tempting on the surface as they may be.

    Admittedly, I have the losing end of this argument, as least in the short term. If I offered my son the unencumbered choice between digging post holes all day or playing video games in the basement, it’d be a proud day if he chose the productive work. If I offered to pay him for videogaming, he would prove me a fool when he took the money and himself either a fool or a saint (and I’m not raising him to be either) if he turned it down.

  6. Look, life is hard, for men and women. Wise and mature men and women know life is not about “personal development.” As soon as you start chasing that bread crumb trail you’re already cooked in the materialist consumerist oven. And your kids have no chance.

    I don’t question life is hard, and as a fan of Kierkegaard I’m not inclined to believe it’s my job to make it easier for people. I’m not sure what you mean when you say “Wise and mature men and women know life is not about ‘personal development.'” If, by that, you mean, the Oprah-esque, New York Times best-selling, the-heart-wants-what-the-heart-wants therapeutic culture we live in, then you get no argument from me. But a good argument can be made on Aristotelian lines that development is precisely what life is about, and along Christian lines that the full cultivation and use of one’s gifts is precisely what life is about. That doesn’t commit me to a life of consumerism; quite the contrary. Nor does it condemn my children to a life of shallowness. Since you seem to juxtapose “personal development” to “human flourishing” I’ll assume that you are casting Oprah-esque asparagus. But that is argument by definition and not in the spirit of what I was saying.

    I agree that we are better off if we don’t have to pose such choices to our children, as weak as they and we are. At the same time, one problem we’ve seen with the localist experiment in America is that producing many children leads to a need for additional land grabs and eventually you run out, or else you go for the land that, unfortunately, might already be inhabited.

  7. I’m staying out of this!
    My wife stayed home for the kids and I wouldn’t change that. Probably cost us a million bucks but money, with my wife, was never the question.
    I remember she read my girls the Chronicles of Narnia aloud, twice. I remember her reading, the care she put in those books, the look of wonder on my daughter’s faces, making old C.S. Lewis come to life.
    Tonight as we sit by the fire and reminisce about the grandbabies going back to Texas after a visit she said, “It was better in the past, wasn’t it?”
    “Do you mean a hundred years ago,” I said, “when folks stayed on the farm and buried the old ones and bore the babies?”
    “Yes,” she said.
    “Yea, I figure it was a lot better.”
    In the end, gentlemen, I married up.

  8. A lot to catch up on here. (I gave the girls an inch, they took a mile, and now we have four guests crowding the house, two of whom are apparently sleeping overnight. Looks like I’ll need to double the recipe for biscuits in the morning.)

    Cecelia, thanks very much for your comments. (Would that some of the–relatively few, unfortunately–women who blog here at FPR would chime in!) I think a great many other women around America likely sympathize with your desire, during your stay-at-home phase, for adult conversation; I’ve heard that very same longing voiced by many good women at my church. Corporate capitalism, as you note, has encouraged habits of life that are just so isolating for so many; it’s a tribute to human creativity and the self-sacrificing love which children often make possible that the majority of women seem to be able to make through those years mostly intact. And, as you can probably guess, I completely agree with you that many European countries, been less allergic to collective solutions, have been a lot more inventive than the U.S. has been in terms of developing family-friendly (and thus, mostly, wife-friendly) approaches to dealing with capitalism: job sharing, family leaves, etc.

    Caleb, insofar as feminism having become a “lock-stock and glossy full-page magazine ads” attribute of acquisitive capitalism–well, sure, you’re right, but is there any ideology or movement that doesn’t suffer that fate eventually? The civil rights movement certainly has so declined. (Ever paged through an Ebony magazine?) And that means…what? That we shouldn’t use the term? Well, maybe, though I hate to give our own worst behaviors a veto over how we conceptualize our situation. But if you mean that, in having so declined, attempting to note the (admittedly minimal, but still real) overlap between desiring to treat women equally and desiring to protect the local family unit is therefore a bankrupt endeavor, I simply don’t agree. Empowering housewives into being able to, if they so choose, specialize in the public sphere just as their husbands can may be, in a sense, supporting a system built on a lie of endless economic opportunity, but it is also, I maintain, a way of doing real moral good within the context of that system. Since the great majority of our fellow human beings have neither the skills, know-how, or resources to escape that system, encouraging something good on their behalf is, I believe, a moral obligation.

    Also, insofar as human development is concerned, Jeffrey has already said everything that needs to be said.

    And, insofar as the FMLA is concerned, well, it has its flaws and bad consequences, as any law will. But overall, I consider a fine and important piece of legislation. It provides some recourse for those who lack other family resources to be able to provide their newborn or sick children with needed personal care without being fired, which more often than not was the case in the past.

    Bob, you’re awesome, as usual. Don’t ever change.

  9. I regard feminism as a massive bait and switch perpetrated by the engine of state capitalism which had run short of fuel and needed to suck more consumers and wage-slaves into the maw of the central economy which both required and resulted in the destruction of home and local economies and their resultant loves and loyalties. Women anchor a people to their place and to their home spun economies. Dislodge that anchor and you have a fully mobile society. Appease the men with nationalized sports and motorized leisure and you have a mobile and compliant society.

    It will suffice to say that I regard pretty much everything Russell is praising as both symptom and cause of the destruction afflicting local places, economies, and communities. Thinkers like Wendell Berry make the same argument, and I don’t drop that name as a conversation stopper, but as a worthwhile witness.

  10. Women anchor a people to their place and to their home spun economies. Dislodge that anchor and you have a fully mobile society.

    Intersting way to put it, Caleb; it helps me understand your criticism better. One question: are you using “anchor” as a verb (women anchor men to their families and local responsibilities) or as a noun (women are the anchor which grounds our families and local responsibilities)? If it is the former, than I can see invieghing against an ideology of placenessless as hopefully doing some good, in that it might make families, both men and women, rethink their choices. (Indeed, I’d like to think that’s what I’m doing, though obviously in your view I undermine myself through the egalitarian way I approach the issue.) But if it is the latter, then you have more direct, and difficult, problem: what if women don’t want to be anchors? The world changed, the men left the farm, and being the anchor at home was, for many of them, stultifying and demeaning, which often wasn’t a particularly good thing for the kids. Obviously if the global economy really does truly, finally, collapse, then the resulting changes back may bring men back home and revive the willingness of women to be anchors; failing that, however, what argument or critique might work to make women think that they have been wrong to demand, in a very un-anchorlike way, that child-rearing be shared more equally? I can see religious arguments of various sorts working, but none others.

  11. Mr. Fox, Thank you for your thoughtful post. I am two years out of college and don’t yet have a family of my own, but I have spent a great deal of time listening to very thoughtful and engaging women- as well as some much less thoughtful women- discuss this subject. But rare is a man’s perspective, and I welcome it.

    It seems to me that the household, the family economy, and the family itself must have a place of primacy for both men and women. At the same time, this cannot be cut off from the wider community but instead must be an integral part of it. Both of these points are absolutely clear in Mr. Berry’s writing. What is less clear is how this will apply to those of us who don’t live in a small farming community. Proposals like job sharing and parental leave policies can enable both the man and the woman to give the primary place to their family and their household economy but still contribute to the wider community, as long as their jobs are not destructive of their community.

    Mr. Stegall, “feminism” doesn’t have to be about promoting a corporate economy, nor do job share opportunities. Second-wave feminism arose from the isolation women felt when they stayed home with ever-increasing appliances and without meaningful work while their husbands went off to do something that society deemed to be meaningful. Though the response to this isolation could have been re-creating the home as a site of production and not just consumption coupled with a demand for the husband to participate in the home economy and not just the corporate economy, this is perfectly understandable isolation. Out of this isolation, women demanded to go off to work just like their husbands. While for the most part this did contribute to corporate capitalism and perpetuate a false economy, this certainly wasn’t all bad. I, for one, am extremely grateful for my education, and I recognize that I owe thanks to these second wave feminists. What we have to recognize is that not all work outside the home contributes to the corporate economy. In fact, some work outside the home is necessary for the flourishing of a genuine community. Teaching and medicine are great examples. They are both necessary for true human flourishing. It’s clear that job sharing would add a lot of women (and men) in putting their family and home economy first while pursuing an outside vocation, such as medicine or teaching. A true vocation contributes to the greater community as well as an Aristotlean-type of self-development. This is not destructive of local economies or communities but instead allows them to flourish.

  12. My primary thought, reading the comments, is that feminism is not by any means monolithic. I consider myself a feminist, but there are others who call themselves feminists with whom I get along even less well than with gender traditionalists. There are species of feminism that have bought into capitalism and an economy of large corporations, and there are other forms that view capitalism as the enemy of women. I don’t think there’s any use in deciding that feminism is the bogeyman, because unless you just think women are inferior or ought not to determine their own destiny in any way, chances are you’ll find someone who agrees with you who calls herself or himself a feminist.

    I really liked the original post; I like that you are wrestling honestly with the question of how a return to a more local, low-tech economy and society would affect women, and that you don’t conclude with easy answers. I wrote about this on Patrick Deneen’s blog, in a comment on his post about the evils of electronic conveniences. There I expressed my concern that it was these very conveniences that freed women to actually use their minds in the ways men (at least men not struggling on a daily basis for physical survival) have been able to do for millennia. If one believes that women as well as men possess valuable intellectual gifts, then I think one has to be careful about advocating any societal change that would greatly decrease women’s ability to exercise those gifts in some way. This is not a matter of “personal development” in the sense of mere personal fulfillment, but rather of letting God’s creatures use their God-given gifts to serve the Kingdom.

    That said, Patrick and Russell both have raised legitimate caution flags about the feminist story in which modern conveniences free women to use their brains for the betterment of society. For one thing, many of the jobs women are now free to perform (and in many cases are economically constrained to perform in order to provide for their families) don’t exactly use their minds or talents. As hard as it is for me (I’m a stay-at-home mom) to imagine, I’m sure there are many women who feel they would actually use their brains MORE as at-home parents than as members of the workforce, working long hours at a dull job. Furthermore, I would say that the ideal of the “localist project” would be that BOTH parents would spend more time at home and would engage in home-based economic activity, not that the woman would become the localist while the man continued to work60 hours a week for a large corporation. In that ideal (and at this point it is only a dream for most people), the husband and wife would share, relatively equally, both menial, physical labor and intellectual activity, especially if they both participated in homeschooling their children or at least heavily supplementing an education outside the home.

    I think there are two essential components of any plan (localist or not) to move toward at least the opportunity for true equality and labor-sharing in the home. One, as Russell pointed out, is the public policy component. Paternity leave is a good start. My husband and I have three children. He became very close to our first because he was finishing his PhD at the time and did most of the writing from home. So he spent many hours holding his newborn son on his lap while typing. When we had our third, he was working for a state government that allowed three weeks of paternity leave, and he became very close to that child, also, changing a lot of diapers and doing a lot of midnight rocking during those first three weeks. When we had our second, on the other hand, his work situation was such that he had only a couple of days off. He still talks about regretting missing the opportunity to get to know our second child as a newborn and even feels that this circumstance affected his closeness with her, although of course the impact has greatly diminished three years later. Paternity leave isn’t enough, though. I believe there have to be policies in place that make job-sharing possible for a much greater number of couples.

    The other component, I believe, has to be reducing expectations (on women and men – though certainly this would have a much greater impact on women) for housework. It’s said that work expands to fill the time available for it, and this is certainly true of housework. Especially for stay-at-home moms, for whom work outside the home did not replace the time their mothers and grandmothers had spent washing clothes by hand or building a fire to heat the iron, added convenience has led to ever-higher expectations for cleanliness, the appearance of one’s home, and the complexity of one’s meals. In admiring the past, we tend to forget that meals, while they took much time to prepare because everything was made from scratch, were usually quite simple for most families. The pioneers traveling west ate corn bread or corn cakes with every meal. Add whatever meat the husband had shot that day, and there you had dinner. These folks weren’t throwing together a bernaise sauce over the campfire. Truly impressive, elaborate cooking was for the most part left to chefs and to the rich who could afford them. That doesn’t mean the food ordinary families prepared wasn’t often delicious; it just wasn’t terribly fancy.

    Nowadays, pretty much nobody would have dinner guests over and serve, say, a few slices of bread and a pork chop to each guest. Following the lead of trendy Williams-Sonoma, even fairly low-brow stores now sell all kinds of contraptions designed to turn your home into a restaurant kitchen – tortilla makers, quesadilla makers, creme brulee torches, flan pans, bread machines, ice cream machines (no need to churn by hand anymore!), margarita makers, and so on. Increased automation has led to the expectation that one (especially if one is a woman) serve one’s guests all these delicacies. It’s not enough to vacuum your carpets; you have to steam-clean them, too, because now you can buy your own personal steam vac. Lowe’s and Home Depot sell such a dazzling array of home improvement products that it’s easy to conclude that maintaining a house isn’t just about making sure it’s weather-proof and the roof doesn’t leak and there aren’t termites about; you have to have all the latest of everything. So women who could be doing the housework in a small fraction of the time it took their ancestors are instead spending time that could be spent on work or leisure or thought or volunteer work, cooking unnecessarily elaborate meals and keeping their houses unnecessarily spotless and putting some kind of special new tile in the bathroom and… you get the pictures.

    Now, if you enjoy cooking and cleaning and putting down tile, more power to you. People who are good at such things and feel fulfilled while doing them are certainly within their rights to maintain spotless, beautiful houses and have homemade ice cream at every dinner. The trouble comes when we put expectations on ourselves and each other to have a house that looks just as nice as Mrs. So-and-so’s house. Women, of course, are the main culprits. We tend to guilt-trip each other and ourselves ceaselessly. Often our husbands don’t help out with the housework because they’re afraid they won’t do it right, because it’s not just about keeping the house somewhat sanitary and putting a balanced meal on the table anymore. It’s gotten a lot more complicated, and I can understand why many men don’t want to mess with it. I don’t think it’s a bad idea for women who don’t find their niche in housework to stop the “arms race” by inviting other women over sometime when the house is cluttered and the children have stains on their pants and the only thing to eat in the house is bread and tomatoes, because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a good tomato sandwich. I always feel better after I visit a messy house and worse after I visit a clean one, which is probably the opposite of the desired effect. So, I think localism can be egalitarian and feminist, but only if women themselves shake off the tyranny of unrealistic expectations and pay attention to what is needed, rather than what will make the neighbors jealous.

    – KPE

  13. Maybe I fixated on the wrong portion of this post, but this really got under my skin:

    “…most women do most household and child-rearing chores…”

    I couldn’t disagree more! Many men run completely counter to these tired old cliches. This isn’t the fifties and my name isn’t Ward Cleaver. Statements like this only serve to perpetuate those stale stereotypes and make it easier for the few Neanderthals (for whom the stereotype fits) to continue making a bad name for the rest of us progressive guys.

  14. Uh oh, here come the waves.

    Russell, good questions, and I would say a bit of both. The upshot is that women are the keepers of the spirit of a people. Make women into men and that spirit dies, leaving the people bereft of their best hedge against slavery and exploitation.

    Besides being utterly statist, consider who all of these policy prescriptions really serve. Go read Kauffman’s chapter comparing Mother Jones to Lamar Alexander. Which one of those figures would agree with expanded day care options, increased state sponsored “leave,” etc.?

  15. “This isn’t the fifties and my name isn’t Ward Cleaver.”

    Apologies, but I’ll take Ward & June, or Andy Taylor, over Homer & Marge anyday.

    I was a kid in the late 60’s, in a middle class suburb of a large rust-belt city. You could still leave your doors unlocked, and play till the streetlights came on, with little worry. Can’t do that anymore. Not a good trade-off, IMO.

    The worst mistake that feminism has made is to have bought into the Sexual Revolution. This has undoubtedly had a negative impact on the status and understanding of the family.

  16. Anyone who writes,”The upshot is that women are the keepers of the spirit of a people,” wins any argument.

  17. Rob –

    You’re absolutely right that many men do plenty of household chores, and plenty do more than women. However, numerous studies have shown that on average (and of course the problem with averages is that they don’t describe most real people), women still spend more hours on housework and significantly more hours with children than do men. I don’t say that as a slight against men; the big difference between now and the ’50s in this regard is that nowadays I’d say most men (at least most men I know) WANT to help with the housework and childrearing, if not put in equal time or even more time than their wives. You’re right – men in 2009 are not neanderthals. The telling point, though, is that the way our economy and society are structured often require even couples with the most egalitarian of aspirations to divide labor unequally – almost always in favor of the wife doing most of the housework and childrearing. But the problem, in most cases, is not patriarchal, domineering, or lazy men who feel entitled to put their feet up with a newspaper while the little woman scurries around finishing up dinner. That scenario barely exists anymore, and I salute men for doing any housework at all after putting in long hours at work.

    That said, I still think we ought to strive toward equal labor sharing (or at least the opportunity for couples to live that way if they want to). But I don’t blame it on men.

    – KPE

  18. One more thing. Caleb, you say that “life is hard, for men and women,” and that we need to be realistic about that. I don’t see how that’s an argument in favor of the problem Russell identifies, though: women bearing the brunt of the household work. Why can’t men and women share the same hard work? It’s more fun that way, anyway…

    – KPE

  19. Actually, Rob G., I totally agree with you – I’d sooner have more Ward & June Cleavers or Andy Taylors, than more Al & Peg Bundys or Homer & Marge Simpsons. I suppose nostalgia is easy, but I do long for those times when our social and/or cultural environs were a little closer to those idealistic TV cliches.

    One thing you said, Katharine kinda sticks out a bit…

    “…I salute men for doing any housework at all after putting in long hours at work.”

    It surprises me that a woman would make this comment in that it sorta caters to the mindset that men work harder or that women don’t put in long hours at work. Maybe this is part of why I make such a concerted effort to keep the workload balanced, but my wife typically works just as many hours as I do and is as worn out at the end of the day. Further, since we both made the decision to become parents, it hardly seems reasonable for me to expect that she carry a disproportionate percentage of that load either.

  20. Caleb,

    I have to admit, I’m a little surprised/disappointed by your rejection of seeking self-improvement. As pointed out by others, there is a deep tradition (going back to Aristotle) that happiness as human flourishing is ultimately the goal of every human action. If societal structures restrict the freedom of the person to achieve genuine flourishing, then people trapped within those structures will either (a) reduce their desire to the point where they no longer desire to flourish or (b) despair. Many of the comments (particularly Anamaria’s) have noted that the desire to contribute to the larger community and the desire to not be isolated in a home without meaningful conversation are surely part of the larger desire to truly flourish. For this reason, Caleb’s thoughts (particularly about men working less, taking a larger role in the home, and therefore giving women the space and time to engage and better the larger community) are timely.

    That said, it is important to note that none of the above implies that working outside the home is the only way to play a part in this larger community. In fact, doing something that society deems economically meaningless often contributes greatly to the common good. A large part of the problem, I think, is that many women recognize in them a desire to contribute more to the larger community, to play some role in its betterment, and are faced with either the anti-feminists saying “What a silly desire!” and the feminists suggesting “Then get a job outside the home!” Since we can’t change our nature, the feminist proposal at least acknowledges the desire, even if it fails to adequately address it.

  21. Someone please get me a government-subsidized injection of testosterone. Or do I need to be a woman to qualify?

    It’s so confusing nowadays. The FDA should write a handbook detailing all the procedures–only for those who want it, of course.

  22. Rob O., of course the Cleavers are somewhat of a cliche, but I don’t think that any appeal that that model of the family holds is based purely on nostalgia. Despite what the progressives and egalitarians tell us, there were really some things about the past that were better than they are today, and just because they have declared certain trade-offs to have been inevitable doesn’t make it so.

  23. No, no, no, I definitely wasn’t saying that women don’t spend long hours at work. (I certainly do, and I don’t even get paid for it!) I was merely addressing the temptation that many stay-at-home moms fall for of idealizing work outside the home and insensitively demanding that their husbands get straight to work the moment they get home on various household chores “because you’ve been away from the kids and house all day.” Yes, I give into that temptation sometimes, which is why I mention it. The key is to recognize that both work outside the home and work inside the home, both paid work and unpaid work, really are work, in most cases. I might as well have said that I salute stay-at-home wives/mothers for doing other kinds of work (for instance, with a church or community organization, or in politics, or with a home business, or for that matter a nighttime job) after a busy day with home and children. But at the moment I was addressing the fallacy of ignoring the working-for-pay husband’s contribution.

    – KPE

  24. A unfortunate–but ultimately much appreciated–consequence of being in charge of the kids is that I don’t have the time to follow up on the comments as I would like. (We just got back from a long hike alongside the run-off creek which runs through our neighborhood, after which I threw in a load of laundry. I have yet to shower.) So forgive me jumping in here, and missing many other comments. I’ll try to write more later.

    Anamaria, thanks for speaking up passionately on behalf of fact that enabling those women who provide the bulk of child care to also have a “vocation” beyond that which our bifurcated capitalist system usually foists upon them (and all the rest of us as well) really does contribute to the flourishing of human beings, and thereby potentially to the flourishing of our community life as well. For whatever it’s worth, the strongest church congregations I’ve ever been a member of have been those filled with strong traditional families, but not ones so “traditional” (or, better, so bourgeois capitalist) as to consist of male bread-winners who mostly give their wives little support or freedom. The two do go hand in hand, however much of a give-away to the modern order that may be.

    Katharine, thanks also to you for that brilliant set of trenchant observations; speaking very much from “the trenches,” as it were! What you have to say about the way consumer capitalism plays upon the expectations and/or feelings of adequacy experienced by women in the home, forcing them to compete with each other and spend more time and money on things not essential to the tasks they have (freely?) chosen to accept for themselves are deadly smart; all of us, both left-localists and right-localists (sorry, but those are the labels which popped into my mind) need to digest the points you make there. Technology, especially labor-saving technology delivered in the form of consumer goods, is too broad and obvious a good to simply dismiss (especially it is, on the basis of the evidence, mostly male bread-winners who seem most comfortable in arrogantly dismissing it), but it is also a trap, one that needs to be watched against constantly.

    Rob O., of course their are egalitarian households and marriages out there; lots of men do strive to “share the kids equally” with their wives. But, as Katharine points out, the data is, well, the data; unless you want to argue all the reams and reams of studies out there are false, then you’re going to have to accept that you, and families like yours, are still very, very much not the norm.

    Caleb, I still fail to understand how a 12-paragraph post, 10 paragraphs of which explored the idea that certain feminist critiques of how child-care is often unequally provided within the family today (framing the topic in such a way as to make clear that I am specifically speaking those who, like me, want both tradition and equality) fail to the degree to which they don’t extend their critique to consumer capitalism as well, and only 2 paragraphs of which consider some possible solutions, comes out in your comment to be, apparently, both doctrinaire feminist and utterly statist. Fine, granted, you and I perhaps have deep difference in how we view the nature of men and women, and almost certainly have equally deep differences in what we think that nature should imply for social life. But the way you speak of it, a defense of the FMLA makes one a slave of the state, and I just can’t make sense of that.

    You do agree that those hard-working, viciously oppressed, defiant Polish and Irish and Italian families of miners and factory workers that Mother Jones angerly defended a hundred years ago have changed over the generations, don’t you? (Many of those changes being an exactly consequence of the reforms in wages which MJ demanded.) Of course she was contemptuous of the middle-class suffragists of her day: they were talking about salving the conscience of emergent middle-class women, at a time when strikes were being broken, folks were starving, and husbands were dying in collapsed mines and factory fires while corporations bathed in profits and the government dwiddled its thumbs! Now I suppose you could argue that there is just as much need to raise hell today, and maybe you could even argue that it’s the exact same kind of hell that we should be raising. And man, if we had Mother Jones today, you just know that she’d be blistering at how Obama caved into Wall Street, refused to nationalize the banks and instead cut deals with the insurance companies, rather than serving the interests of the working man, etc. But one difference: her audience today would be filled with women. Because, you know, they want to raise hell too; they’ve learned how over the past hundred years. And doesn’t that mean that, well, we ought to be able, as concerned mothers and fathers, to raise hell equally? Keep in mind that Mother Jones tragically, horribly, lost her husband and all four of her children to a pandemic; to be terribly cruel about it, she didn’t have to think about child-care. What about the rest of us today? If nothing else, the FMLA means, just maybe, that a woman as well as a man can rally on behalf of and make a cause around ill or suffering loved ones, without fearing that they’d have to respond to the boss’s every demand if they wanted to keep food on the table.

    More later, hopefully.

  25. I cannot tell you how wonderful everyone here is.

    I see Cheeksy, and I see Deneen and I see Farmer Stegall Esq. and I see Fox and that rascal Peters and Beers and Mitchell and Willson/Wilson and the infrequent Shiffman and the commie pinko Medaille and that lovely Dalton and the refreshing McWilliams and even Carl Scott is a nice man. Everyone here, except for Kauffman is truly of worth, at least for something.

    That scurrilous Stegall really is a badder man than I is. Shame on you you Bloody male-centric Kansan. Where’s my bucket? Cheeks is a damned amateur though. His southern sympathies have cloaked him in a kind of pathological psychology of the brave yet roundly beaten Johnny Reb and so this imparts an intemperance redolent of the Fisher Cat, caught in the act of bloody mayhem within a crowded chicken coop. His utility with a stack of wood is distinctly estimable however. He is my friend in consternation and anyone who says anything bad about him will find my utmost and enthusiastic agreement before I go for their jugular.

    But, as to feminism and its discontents…..The modern technocratic cult of leveling has its winners and losers on all sides. Men and Woman …and their children are in the process of being trained to play dutiful roles in an iron-clad rationalism that says it is obliterating prejudice and oppression in the march of progress. Everyone will be equal and swell..how nice. Funny enough, it is replacing the old evils with new evils that , as far as I can tell are the equivalent of a starving wolverine wearing a happy face mask as it drips saliva on you in your mummy bag. The last thing you will remember as your face is being rearranged for breakfast is that dopey face , smiling benignly. Revanchist? perhaps. But it would be nice if we could somehow redress certain deficiencies with solutions rather than steamrolling them with newer and even more deracinating and banal deficiencies. Men are oppressive dolts? Great, let us make them into complacent dolts and objects of ridicule. Woman are deprived opportunities and enslaved to motherhood? Fine , lets make them into protean executives and their children packed off to school or a nanny. Better yet, lets turn woman into killers in the 10th Mountain Division and then, when done with that, lets turn sexuality and existence into some kind of consumer or lifestyle choice as though it were simply an attire to don or doff as the spirit moves. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to be part of a culture that decries woman in Chadors or woman splashed with acid on the one hand but then counters this by making our own woman into combat killers or technocrats who succeed because “they think like men”. Let us deride masculinity by carrying on a covert lust for feminine masculinity and then lets try and keep from going schizophrenic. Ho Ho ho.

    There is a feminism that champions differences and the deeply abiding joy and community of woman and then there is the feminism that wishes to see Woman somehow triumph over Man or join them as an Equal at Task. We are all being reduced to the role of commodity, a factotum in a tableau of imperious Reason. It is all a great charade, from Beaver Cleaver’s guileless mom to the world weary and cynical Gloria Steinem or Helen Gurley Brown who wants to de-objectify woman by making them into preening sexual flaneur. In the end, sexual politics is alive and well and entirely more sinister in its manifest skepticism and confusion.

    But, as an insensitive dolt, how I do still love woman…damned near all of em, particularly when they’re feisty.

    The Concept abandoned a career in teaching to mother our kids and she did it well and when her grown children deride her for some overt mothering, I have to remind them that this lady ….who they have the good genes of…. would step in front of a Bus to save them while I might send a telegram. These young folks know what love is. They also know what self-sufficiency is because they learned early on when they asked me what there was to eat when Ma was out and I simply pointed to the kitchen….and looked in later to see what maelstrom of destruction I had wrought. The best part though is that they also understand the difference between the vigorous love of a man and the equally vigorous but decidedly different love of a woman. They never saw a father attempting to browbeat a mother or deprive the mother of success or a mother who festered in resentment. When ma was going out for the night and I was warden, the three urchins would hover around her and try and speed her way out the door as I was sitting on the sofa reading and they would giggle and laugh and tail her and pick up her things and hand them to her and open the door for her and almost push her out into the darkness before slamming the door with a bang and the three would look back at me while jumping up and down and scream, in their tiny voices :”MONSTER!”

    And then, the chase began and the big bad monster would careen around after them with the dog barking and growling and furniture overturning and everyone in a shit-dizzy glow of mirth and then the middle kid would be the first to be caught off the safe sofa as she stood demurely saying “don’t catch me”. The prize? A gigantic bare-stomach stomach zirbert, blasted with relish. Then we would do it all over two or three times. We have a pact, when I’m an old senile fart, something some here would say has already happened….but when I’m farmed out they are going to pad the room of the rest home and we’ll play monster till I croak in a happy wheeze.

    ps ; I clean house like a prussian because the Concept, well, she’s a got damned slob. Thankfully, she is a lot better cook than I because the other thing the kids did when they were younger is make sure the Monster was not going to cook “booger stroganoff” agin. Is there something wrong with hamburger in a bath of concentrated milk and garlic powder over egg noodles with a dash or three of tobasco? My college roommates seemed to choke it down as long as the Old Milwaukee was still on sale at Safeway. As she is a better cook, she’s a better accountant too so I mow and weed. We do what we do best, so what. To think that there is a word that is called “feminism” that essentially claims to be furthering the female and it does so by denigrating “mere motherhood”, reducing it to a form of servitude while telling men they should be “more sensitive” while they accept their doltishness…..well, what a running dive into pathos and despair.

    Not that I think this is what your essay asserted at all R.A.F……its just that like Farmer Stegall esq., I think the word “feminism” as its generally bandied about is justifiable bait for competition insult. This culture is feminizing itself into a psychotic fit. Now, as for the rest of you, insult me at will.

  26. Caleb is correct.

    The rest of you just have disordered understandings of households and what that entails.

    But I’ve seen this argument too often to waste much space other than to affirm the obvious truth that has been obscured.

  27. D.W., if I didn’t know better, I’d suspect that you just attempted to play peacemaker with that comment. Interesting…

    when they asked me what there was to eat when Ma was out and I simply pointed to the kitchen…and looked in later to see what maelstrom of destruction I had wrought.

    I’m trying to put off cleaning up one of those right now. I was instructed to choose between two drinks which teams of girls had prepared for me, one of which was some kind of hot cocoa/fruit concoction, the other being some kind of blueberry slurpee. The kitchen sink provides evidence of just how seriously they took their task. Oy.

    Caleb is correct.

    Good for you, Marchmaine, for standing up for the truth as you understand it! Choosing sides is always cathartic.

  28. Well, D.W., you Connecticut leaf-hopper, you got me choked up on that one. And, of course you’re right and Stegall’s right and poor old Arben, who tries like a one armed well digger, bound forever in his librul obligations, is just a bit off…yet, we love the man and if some commie-dem has to run things I hope it might be someone like Arben, who haveing studied under Walsh should know better.
    D.W. if you aren’t writing a book, you should be beaten!

  29. Fox,
    “Peacemaker”?!!…thats the nastiest thing you’ve ever said to me. In the words of Norm Crosby, “I represent that”.

    I suppose now I shall have to dip into my hoary bag of mormon insults…….Funny how the Jack mormon side of the family coughed up more material than the Catholic side….sometimes.

    At times, we must insult what we esteem, just don’t tell anybody. Then again, sometimes we must insult the eminently insultable…and the list is growing because wisdom has been pronounced old fashioned.

  30. Pardon me if I missed this point being made somewhere else in the comments (Linker’s quoted passage almost went there, then faltered):

    It’s my intuition (and it’s merely that) that much of the frustration suffered by women working in the home stems from the relatively new isolation of it. Lacking, as we do, front porches, literally and figuratively; lacking, as we do, past generations of family members in the home; lacking, as we do, reasons and excuses for housewives to interact while doing daily work–I think an older system of sorority between wives and mothers and grandmothers at home has been mostly hacked apart. It was the wives, typically, who would knit neighboring homes together into a community, through regular everyday interaction while taking care of their individual homes. Now there are telephone chatfests (if I may stereotype) that pour into the gap but are too empty, ultimately, to fill it.

    Since every school of feminism is really just a breed of individualism, I’d say feminism in principle is at best blind to these traditional structures and often antagonistic to them.

  31. “Since every school of feminism is really just a breed of individualism, I’d say feminism in principle is at best blind to these traditional structures and often antagonistic to them.”

    Please elaborate.

  32. This is certainly one of the more interesting (and of course, civil) discussions here at FPR in awhile. Thank you Mr. Fox for starting us off.

    The upshot is that women are the keepers of the spirit of a people,”

    As a woman,I must say that is one heavy burden to bear. I would be more inclined to say women are the organizers of a family and in doing such organization they hold the family together. But I can agree with your more poetically put statement. However, there is nothing in “keeping spirit” that should require any female to deny her God given talents and desire to express those talents. Being a “keeper of spirit” doesn’t just mean raising children and cooking. Not to mention that “keeping spirit” gets tough when you are exhausted and frustrated.

    But more important I think is that this notion of female as the home keeper has deprived men of the joys of parenting as well as the ability to know and influence their children. Men have more to offer their sons and daughters than what the paycheck buys or the weekend. All that matters to a man, his interests, his experiences, have more value to a child than all the money in the world. So just as the female has something to contribute to her community beyond child raising, the male has more to contribute to his children than providing for them. In the absence of truly local communities the question of how we can manage the total workload in a way which allows the female to express her total self as well as offer the male the opportunity to fully be a parent is an important one. This is why I think work arrangements such as job sharing and more family friendly corporate policies are so important – Dads need to spend time with their kids too just as Moms need time to make other contributions to the community.

    I read that Benedict said that the washing machine was one of the most important inventions in terms of freeing women. The remarks drew a lot of snarky responses but I am inclined to agree with our Pontiff. Much of the drudgery of houekeeping has been eliminated although none of the boredom. But just as Caleb notes that feminism has often turned into more fuel for the consumer culture, so has stay at home Momdom. Relieved of the time it used to take to care for a home and kids, as Kathleen notes,the stay at home Mom is as equal force in the consumer society as her working Mom counterpart. It is the “Martha Stewart Syndrome” which certainly made Martha a wealthy woman.

    D.W. I agree totally with you. I feel betrayed by a feminism which seems to require we abandon that which is vital to us as females so we can be one of the guys suceeding in the rat race. I had hoped that the women’s movement would make us all reconsider the rat race even abandon it.

    In a post agrarian society the world of work is no longer connected to the world of home and children. Besides leaving women isolated in the home it also isolated men from their children. In agrarian societies women not only raised the children – men did too. And men not only brought home the bacon – women played a role in the family economy. They sold their eggs and surplus candles to the local stores. They made clothe and lace. They too were workers.
    It is this balance – for both men and women – which I for certain would like to see restroed. Call it a local, agrarian FPR feminism.

  33. “Since every school of feminism is really just a breed of individualism, I’d say feminism in principle is at best blind to these traditional structures and often antagonistic to them.”

    Please elaborate, since it appears that your statement rests on some controversial if not theologically unsupportable assumptions.

  34. Also, insofar as human development is concerned, Jeffrey has already said everything that needs to be said.

    A society that isn’t heavily subsidized by cheap goods made by a bunch of slaves utilizing massive amounts of energy is doomed to be shallow.

    Caleb seems to be the only one here that grasps this.

    There is a scene in the Jungle where the protagonist is expanding his socialist consciousness by stopping his stopping down the pub and staying up late reading.

    If you want localism it will mean backbreaking labor for man and wife and if you want them to “develop” they will have to stay up late and do it by spending what little capital they have on books instead of booze.

  35. I admit to being a bit puzzled by the direction the comments have taken. I cannot speak to the division of child rearing responsibilities as I have no known children. But when it comes to doing domestic chores, my family and I have long had a strong male presence. As my mother’s health deteriorated many years ago, my father and I took over more and more of the household work without being asked. For many years before she went into the nursing home as she needed 24 hour care by real nurses, we did all the cooking and cleaning. This is especially true since they moved into my house with me about 5 years ago. I will admit that I really need to clean the refrigerator again soon, but for the most part, we two men do a decent job of housekeeping. Neither of us would ever be mistaken for a metrosexual. Why is there this insistence that house work has an inherent sexual bias related to role models?

  36. That said, I still think we ought to strive toward equal labor sharing (or at least the opportunity for couples to live that way if they want to). But I don’t blame it on men.

    Labor = force = mass*acceleration

    I do far more of it than my wife by that metric 🙂

  37. Why is there this insistence that house work has an inherent sexual bias related to role models?

    Members of which sex are more likely to adhere to the notion “cleanliness is next to Godliness”? That is to say, who is more likely to want a perfectly clean home? How many American women will be content with the job their husband does with cleaning? …

  38. How many American women will be content with the job their husband does with cleaning?

    That’s exactly the mentality that perpetuates the idea that men aren’t capable of handling domestic duties adequately. And it’s total bull! Several of my buds are, like me, far more persnickety about the cleanliness & appearance of their homes than their spouses.

    I love her dearly, but my wife thinks swiping a Swiffer & a WetJet across the kitchen & dining room floors is an effective way to clean the tile floors. No, I haul out my semi-pro-grade, janitorial-style mop and Rubbermaid wheeled-bucket (with wringer!) to tackle that job. Is it overkill? Well, maybe it veers to the other end of the spectrum from her puny solution, but by golly, I never fret about our toddler adhering to the “5 second rule” on dropped mealtime morsels.

    (Oh sure, I definitely fret about the post-meal mess, but that’s another rant for another day!)

    Bonus benefit: Slinging that heavy old-school mop around is as good an upper-body workout as any you’d pay a gym for!

    Anyway, point is, I think you’ll find that pure laziness is more often the reason more men don’t get involved in household chores rather than inability. Of course, there are those douchebags who gleefully foster that inept guy image just to avoid doing any work…

  39. That’s exactly the mentality that perpetuates the idea that men aren’t capable of handling domestic duties adequately.

    Men can handle cleaning adequately — but the question is what “adequately” means. Adequately for men is generally very much different from what it means for women. That’s the point.

  40. Katharine’s Husband — I wasn’t aware that I was making any kind of theological argument with my statement about feminism (which really was just an afterthought, and perhaps an unnecessary one, to the main point of my comment). But to elaborate: I merely meant that a movement which at its core is aimed at securing “rights” and “liberation” seems individualist (I could say “liberal,” but that would probably add to the confusion) in nature.

    If I’m wrong, I trust you’ll correct me; but if I’m right then it explains why feminist answers to women’s problems in the modern home seem to be making women less happy and less fulfilled, if more “free.” For such freedom would consist in women and their homes becoming more self-reliant and thus self-contained–these are the individualist’s definition of “freedom.” My intuition is that this is a less fulfilling and ultimately less effective manner of housekeeping than a more communal, interconnected one.

    I hope I’ve cleared up any confusion, if not any controversy.

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