Monday, June 15, 2009

Chapter 5 - There's no place like home

“ ... [T]he history of the home is actually a lot more convoluted than we might understand today”. How true that was for me! I found this chapter very informative.

I really didn’t like the opening material from Hirshman, claiming that “choice feminism” is no credible form of feminism at all. That’s not because I want a credible form of feminism, but because if the aim was to “liberate” women, then giving them the right to choose how they spend their time, whether they have a career or care for their family in the home, ought to be fundamental to that. However, it would appear that Hirshman believes women are now obligated to stay in the workforce for the perceived good of society, and in order to use their capacities fully, and thus are not free at all - indeed she blatantly objects to their "so-called free choice" (pg 97). Hirshman writes as though she believes she is a higher being, who knows better than all other women themselves what is best for them and best for society, which of course is irksome, and the actual statistics about women’s lives fail to match the rhetoric. As Kirsten Birkett writes in The Essence of Feminism (based on a survey of women in and out of the workforce — and I recommend reading chapters 1 and 2 to understand the way capitalism has interacted with feminism):

Many women today have an economic independence that they would not have dreamed of a century ago … However, the price they have paid has been their freedom. For all the rhetoric of choice, social, legal and financial pressures now limit women’s choice to the extent that they cannot choose to keep a household and care for their children. If women genuinely wished to be away from children and house and pursuing careers, this could be a good thing. However, that is not what women want. Against their wishes, they have been forced into a role in which they must take on more paid employment than they want, simply in order for the family to survive.
One reason Hirshman gives for keeping women in the workforce — because otherwise the ruling class will overwhelmingly male — actually cycles back to what we discussed in chapter 2. The problem in such a case would not be that men, in and of themselves, were holding ruling positions, but the sin that would be involved in their decision making, as would also be the case if women dominated the ruling class. However, note that she also attacks, and wants to see changed, the very belief that women are responsible for child-rearing (which we deal with more in the next chapter) and attacks the the church for perpetrating this belief.

I was struck in this history of life in the home by how much more integrated the marketplace and the home used to be, and how much more involved in income-generating production women used to be, from within the home. I couldn’t help wondering if it was the increasing isolation of home life that has been one of the bigger problems, as the dichotomy between public and private spheres widened, and what was the effect on the psyche of women of the home shifting from a place of production to a place of consumption. As Carolyn later writes, feminists were partly right in rebelling against the mind-numbing consumerism that came to be pitched at women in the home. That would have been particularly interesting coming on the heels of the Golden Age of Domesticity, which had made women the guardians of morality (and in so doing supposedly paved the way for feminism with the accompanying diminishing of the definition of masculinity). With a home life made easier by the invention of appliances, and the parallel decrease in interest or perceived value of any sort of moral training of children in an increasingly secular society, it’s almost little wonder women began to ask “is this all?” — the question Betty Friedan gave them.

That’s because it isn’t all. As Carolyn writes (pg 115) no one will find fulfilment in the latest appliances or home decorating or gourmet entertaining, and that was never meant to be what home life was for. It was to be a place for the care and discipleship of children, for building relationships and showing hospitality to others, for ministry and outreach, a place built on divine wisdom (see pg 104 and 115-116). A renewed and redemptive vision of the gospel importance of the home is what was needed in answer to Betty Friedan’s question, not the end of home life altogether.

(I will put up a separate post in comment on social Darwinism tomorrow.)


Susie said...

Hirshman's comment, "Bounding home is not good for women and it is not good for the society" has at times resonated with me. As I have struggled being at home with children , re-entering the workforce and then at times juggling the two I have found that the ugly face of discontentment has raised its head again and again, despite what I have been doing.

The force of feminism and its ideas are strong and influential. If you listen to the media and your peers you will continue to find disdain for the home and domestic life without paid work. But if you delve into God's word there is amazing encouragement to embrace the home and work hard at domesticity. I found Noel Piper's presentation of Sarah Edwards's life particularly compelling and challenging when dealing with my "discontentment." The idea that service to my family through hours spent cooking, cleaning and nuturing might be a great witness to the world and have eternal significance, is worth more than a weekly pay slip.

This chapter from McCulley's book has been instrumental in my decision to embrace my family and my home. I just wish she had published it 10 years ago!

Ali said...

Dear Susie,

Thanks so much for sharing that with us. It is so true that you won't find much support from the world for homeward choices, but that God views it as of great value.

It's funny, but I think there's an element of the grass being greener elsewhere too. As someone who has to work full time and has no reason to believe that will change I often feel quite disatisfied with that (and this book has been a challenge in some areas) - and wonder how it could ever compare, in fulfilment stakes, with raising little people - so discontent seems to get us all.

I'm so glad you've found the book helpful! Much of it has been new to me and I'm glad to have read it and been informed, and maybe transformed.

Susie said...

Ali I appreciate your comments. I pre-ordered this book when it was published last year so that I could get to it asap. It has so many challenging ideas, espeically for women like myself who have been "devoted" to feminism whilst constantly trying to reconcile it with Christianity. When I was younger I wanted to hold to two BIG ideas in tandem, but has I have got older (wiser?)I believe that the F word has a lot to answer for. And it is Jesus and His Grace to me that will transform my life, not a feminist ideology.

I wish there was more discussion here and in general about issues of home, work, mothering and our identity as women.Very few women seem able to talk about their discontentment, but as you an I attest to, no matter what your situation the grass always looks greener.

How do we help each other with this sin of discontentment?

Ali said...

Susie, yes, I agree that the F word has a great deal to answer for, in ways that we don't even suspect, which for me has been one of the strengths of this book. But I am glad you have found the true source of life and identity and transformation!

Yes, unfortunately women are not the best of commenters on blogs I have found (they lurk in the background) and it is a shame we haven't got more discussion going. There are a couple of blogs that discuss these issues if you are interested:

If you search on the middle blog there was quite a discussion on this topic some time ago.

Contentment is a hard one - and as Paul writes, he learned it, which would imply it doesn't just happen we need to teach it to ourselves and to others (and perhaps we are not so good at daily interpersonal, mutual teaching and encouragement as part of our relationships). I am flicking through a little book at the moment called "Contentment" by Lydia Brownback which has some good thoughts... If I think of anything more to add I will come back here.

Nicole said...

Ali, I agree that women do tend to comment less and are more cautious than a lot of men in what they say online. This is a good thing in many ways, but it makes it harder to have a 'conversation'!

Susie, I found Sarah Edwards' example compelling too. (I've also read a longer biography which was great).

I agree about the 'grass is greener' temptation, and I've felt it from both sides of the fence (when I was working and desperate to have kids, and - from time to time! - as a mother of young kids, looking back on the simplicities of life in an office job...).

As you say (or at least imply?) a biblical, counter-cultural vision of the gender issues is a great help here, but just getting gender issues right isn't enough - on its own - to kill the sin of discontent. It's seeing all these things in relation to the gospel and the privilege of being saved by and serving Jesus (and having these truths written on your heart by the Spirit through slow, painful experience!) that makes the difference. Important as the feminism v. complementarianism debate is, the bigger issue is feminism (as a creed to live by) v. "Jesus and His grace" (and all the implications, including implications for role relationships, that flow from that).

Nicole said...

PS. The link to a review I wrote of that Sarah Edwards bio is: