Jojo at Simple Southern Spirit has written an article at her website titled “What If Something Happens To Your Husband?” that I wish to respond to. The below essay is written in the style of a response to Jojo’s article:
The issue of “What If Something Happens To Your Husband?” is an obvious question especially for a traditional woman who intends to rely upon her husband financially. A society where women don’t rely upon their husbands doesn’t work, I will add. Female dependency, especially the dependency of wives, is necessary for a society to function because the feminine contribution is vital; it is not a luxury; and for a woman to contribute her feminine strengths as a woman to others she needs to be supported financially by a man.
So I suppose there are three ways a woman may lose the support of her husband; divorce, death, or long term disability. Today divorce is by far the most common source of loss of support for women, at least relatively young women. In the past say 100 years ago death of the husband was far more common than divorce among relatively young women. Not sure how disability has changed since 100 years ago but people probably live a lot longer with serious disabilities today than they used to and there is a lot more support for people with disabilities through insurance and government welfare than there used to be.
Today’s society is so messed up that truth be told wives don’t get much support from their husbands in practice in most marriages today; this can be seen by the small decrease in labor force participation of married women as compared to single women. The moral principle that wives should not work is almost gone in contemporary society (though I am happy to report that the number of stay-at-home wives is increasing).
Also in traditional society the ethical principle was not that married women with children shouldn’t work, it was that married women shouldn’t work. It is the femininity of the woman itself that a husband is bound to support, not just the particular expression of femininity of motherhood.
So to address some of Jojo’s specific points; I think her orientation is wrong in terms of how a woman should seek support if she loses her husband. If a woman loses her husband say through death her orientation should not be to support yourself, supporting herself would be a disaster; her orientation should be to gain for herself alternative means of external support. First of all the possibility of the husband’s death should have been planned for since death of the husband is always possible. The most obvious way to plan for such an event is through life insurance and then additionally savings. I would say the life insurance policy should be enough to cover 5 years of living expenses; enough time to find a second husband who will then provide the support she needs. Also of course she can seek support from relatives, from her church community, from her adult children, and from the government. Government welfare is a very big source of social support for many people; it is how society is organized since the family sources of support are now so weak. A husband’s Social Security survivor benefit will be an obvious source of support to his widow after he dies.
“What I’d really like is to not need a lot of money to get by anyway. Meaning if my husband became unable to work, it wouldn’t be a huge devastating loss. I’d like to get to a point where we could live by our own means,off the fruits of our labor. Growing produce, raising livestock, and hunting for food.”
The only way a husband becoming unable to work would not be a devastating loss financially speaking is if the wife has alternative means of support available such as savings, disability insurance, government welfare, support from an adult son, stuff like that. When Jojo talks about “living off the fruits of our labor” she’s not talking about living cheap, she’s talking about being a farmer. Being a farmer is fine, we obviously all need to have farmers around because we all need to eat, but being a farmer is a profession and a job in itself and not something a woman should be doing because being a farmer is a job and a career and formal work and wives should not be involved in jobs, careers, and formal work. If Jojo marries a farmer that is fine but then the career of her husband is farmer and Jojo as his wife is not responsible for his career; farming is then his responsibility and not Jojo’s responsibility.
In traditional living when most people were agricultural and lived on farms in rural areas the wives were not farmers themselves and they did not make a serious contribution to the agricultural output of their husband’s farming enterprise. The wife cared for the children and maintained the home doing home associated chores and she may have occasionally done something useful related to the farm itself on the side but the wife was not a farmer herself as farming was men’s work, not the sphere of women.
Farming is hard, it is not easy. Doing everything yourself is very expensive, it is not cheap. Traditional society where most people were farmers (where most men were farmers I will clarify) was very materially poor, the living conditions were very bad compared to modern standards. Life expectancy was also much shorter than it is today. Most people in Africa are subsistence farmers, the poorest people in the world are subsistence farmers. The only reason why food is cheap in America today is because of all the fertilizers and the new agricultural practices and the machinery used to bring in the crop and things like that. In traditional society farming was men’s work and women were kept away from farming.
I get the impression that Jojo is confusing making money with working and that she is thinking avoiding the monetary economy makes things easy on the man. It is not that a wife should avoid making money; it is that a wife should avoid focused specialized work for trading purposes. The masculine sphere is not making money per se, it is engaging in specialized focused repetitive productive activities for purposes of exchange with strangers. In the modern economy this type of activity is compensated for through the payment of money but it is not the monetary compensation itself that defines the activity as masculine but the nature of the work that is then paid for with money. It is not that men are good at making money, it is that men are good at specialized focused repetitive productive activities that the man then receives money for; money serving as the facilitator of trade and nothing else.
Getting back to basics here, what is money? Money is a means of exchange. I pay you $10 and you give me in return a T-shirt. Traditionally gold served as money, gold being a naturally occurring element with useful properties that led it to be accepted as a medium of exchange. In the modern world money is government fiat based money, dollars in the United States.
Let us say a married couple is living on a farm and produces everything themselves, is self-sufficient. This married couple has no money, they have no need for money because as I already said they produce everything themselves. Does this mean there is no specialization of function between the husband and wife; that the husband and wife share the growing of food, hunting game, cutting down trees to make furniture, etc.? No, even with no money the man will still specialize in the focused repetitive activities requiring high levels of skill for particular tasks while the woman takes care of the children and does a variety of different things to maintain the household. Also I will add this family will be very materially poor on the edge of survival if they are cut off from trade with others.
Why do we even have money? As a medium of exchange. Let us say a woman wants to baby-sit a child and she knows a family nearby where the parents want to go out and do something on their own as a couple and will need a babysitter for a few hours as a result. So the woman wants to baby-sit and the neighbor needs a babysitter so a match is made; the woman baby-sits for the couple so they can have a night out. The woman didn’t just baby-sit because it was fun however, she actually needs a new pair of pants and so her intention is to offer the couple babysitting for a few hours in exchange for a new pair of pants. There is a problem however; the couple looking for a babysitter doesn’t have an extra pair of pants, so they offer the babysitter a spare radio they have instead. The babysitter however already has all the radios she needs, it is the pants she is after and she demands pants in payment. So this is bad news, no babysitting can take place because what the couple has to offer the babysitter doesn’t want.
However, there is an answer to this dilemma, and it is called money! The couple says to the babysitter “I will pay you $30 to baby sit my kids for 3 hours.” and the babysitter then says in return “That’s a deal, with $30 I can buy a new pair of pants.”
So there is nothing wrong with money, money makes life cheaper as it allows for specialization and exchange. It is far easier for a man to support a family by making money and then buying what the family needs than it would be for the man to try to make everything his family needs from scratch. Food for instance, it is far less work for a man to work at a regular job and then buy food than it would be for the man to try to grow his own food on his own. Farmers in the modern economy are specialists and they use a lot of machinery and they have specialized skills it took years for them to learn; this is why the farmer’s food is so cheap to buy with money, money an ordinary working man can earn much more easily than he could grow the food himself.
Getting back to how the feminine role relates to money. In traditional society the wife often sewed making her children’s clothes herself or at least many of her children’s clothing items herself. This is a reasonable feminine form of contribution to the household; it benefited the household by reducing an expense as clothes didn’t have to be bought if the wife made them with cheap materials herself. Clothes used to be an expensive purchase so such home made clothes would have been valuable. A woman knitting 3 sweaters for her 3 children over a couple of weeks (or however long it took) is reasonable as a feminine form of labor. Probably knitting didn’t require the woman’s complete focus and so the woman could lightly supervise the children and knit at the same time, something fun to keep her hands busy. The reason why making clothes in this fashion is consistent with the feminine housewife role is because the activity is self-limiting (once she does sweaters for her 3 children she is done) and she doesn’t make clothes all the time. Making clothes is one of ten different things she does around the house or as a hobby, it is not her “job.”
Making clothes for sale is totally different; making clothes for sale to others would be a masculine activity not suitable for a wife. For instance a man may try to set up a clothes making production line of some sort. He will make the particular kinds of clothes he can sell for the most money that take the shortest time to make and that require the least expensive materials. He will then make clothes intended for sale all day as his job and he will over time learn particular techniques to make the clothes as fast as possible or with as little material as possible or with particular characteristics that are in high demand.
It is not the making of clothes that is feminine, it is how the clothes are made and the context within which the clothes are made and the purpose for which the clothes are made that determine whether the activity of making clothes is masculine or feminine. It is not the earning of money per se that makes an activity masculine; it is the nature of the work that determines its masculine or feminine quality. In modern society making money is almost always masculine because making money means doing something meant for exchange with strangers with money being used as compensation because money is the means of exchange to facilitate trade. The activity however is masculine because specialized production for purpose of exchange is masculine, not because “making money” itself is inherently masculine.
Let’s pretend a housewife likes knitting sweaters while watching the kids play. She has 3 kids but she knitted 4 sweaters while the kids were playing. She gives each of her kids one of her home made sweaters and sells the 4th sweater on EBay. She just made some money selling that surplus sweater on EBay but her making of that 4th sweater which she then sold wasn’t masculine even though it made money for her family. Her production of that 4th sweater was done in the context of a hobby, not a job, and so her production of that 4th sweater was a feminine activity consistent with her housewife role even though she got money for it.
Alternatively, Jojo said in her article:
“I’d like to get to a point where we could live by our own means,off the fruits of our labor. Growing produce, raising livestock, and hunting for food. If something were to happen to my husband I’d be comfortable in taking on these task. I’m going to help with them anyway.”
In this example growing produce, raising livestock, and hunting for food are all masculine activities that Jojo as a wife should not be expected to participate in and should certainly not be “obligated” to participate in. In Jojo’s example here she is imagining these activities as all part of self-sufficiency not meant for the market economy and therefore not being done for the purpose of making money, for the purpose of exchange with others. All these activities are masculine however because what she is talking about is the production of basic sustenance; the production of the very food she and her family will eat. This kind of material provision is the masculine role and is exactly what Jojo should be shielded from and protected from as a wife. Jojo apparently thinks it is legitimate for her as a wife to participate in this kind of basic food production because it is intended for personal family consumption rather than intended for the market in exchange for money; that because she as a woman is earning no money with these activities that the activities are therefore part of the feminine role. It needs to be remembered however that it is the type of work involved that determines whether a work activity is masculine or feminine, not whether or not a work activity makes money.
Ironically enough Jojo has fallen into a feminist trap here. It is not OK for a wife to be expected to provide for the basic material support of the family whether money is involved in the situation or not. I will also add a “self-sufficient” household unit will be much worse off materially than a household based on monetary purchases with the man making the money and buying stuff for his wife and children and himself because “self-sufficiency” means no trade and no specialization and is therefore very economically inefficient.
Back to the original theme of the support of women. There are two ways to think of the duty to support women. Firstly a husband is to support his wife but secondly men are to support women. Indeed men supporting women is the fundamental principle while a husband supporting his wife is just a specific application of the overall rule that men are to support women. Chivalry remember is the ethic that men are to provide for and protect women. Chivalry itself is a universal principle of relations between men and women; all men are to provide for and protect all women. The marital relationship between a husband and a wife where the husband is to provide for and protect his wife is just a specific application of the general principle of Chivalry.
So, “What If Something Happens To Your Husband?” The first principle here is that a woman is to be provided for and protected by men. What this means is that if a woman’s husband dies and is therefore no longer able to provide for and protect her then it is the duty of the male community to provide for and protect her instead. The widowed woman is not obligated to fend for herself just because her husband died; the male community still has an obligation to provide for her regardless. Her husband while he was alive was the specific man assigned to the task of caring for her but her husband was acting on behalf of the general masculine obligation to care for his wife in particular, he was not simply acting as an individual person seeking a particular goal as a husband.
When I as a man choose to marry a woman I am acting as an agent of the male community for the purpose of providing for and protecting women in general by means of providing for and protecting the particular woman I am choosing to marry. My marrying a woman is an act beneficial to the community meant to support women in general in addition to being an act beneficial to the particular woman I am marrying. If I die before my wife what that means is that the male community must find a way to replace the support to my wife that I can no longer provide to her because the obligation of the male community to support my wife remains regardless of whether I in particular am capable of fulfilling that role or not.
So a widowed woman should have multiple means of support available to her. First is the savings built up during her marriage to her now deceased husband. Additionally there should have been a life insurance policy to support her; I would recommend enough life insurance for 5 years of living expenses to enable a smooth transition from husband number one to husband number two with no need for the widow to work in the interim. Additionally the widowed woman may have an adult son who can support her. There is also community charity that is often available to widows or support from her church family. The widow can draw on the husband’s Social Security survivor’s benefit. Lastly of course and highly recommended she can remarry. All of these forms of support for the widowed woman are all different manifestations of the male community’s obligation to support her as a woman; the duty of men supporting women being a fundamental societal principle.
The support of a wife must be planned for not only in the event of the husband dying or becoming permanently disabled but also simply as a part of the husband’s marital responsibility to keep his wife out of the workforce. Just like a widow should have multiple forms of support available to her to make sure that even if some forms of protection fail not all of the sources of protection will fail; a married woman likewise should also be provided with multiple sources of protection from the workforce.
These are the ways a husband can plan things to make sure his wife stays out of the workforce; protecting his wife from the workforce being his number one most fundamental duty as a husband. First of all the husband’s job; the husband needs to be making enough money to cover more than the basic needs of his family. Second is savings; at least 10% of income should be saved if the husband has a steady predictable job and maybe 30% of income should be saved if the husband’s earnings are highly unpredictable and erratic (such as when he is self-employed or has his own business). Unemployment is inevitable, it should be planned for. Insurance can also be used such as buying disability insurance. If the husband’s resources fail then maybe borrow from your parents or other relatives. Seek support from your friends or church community. There is also government welfare of different sorts that is usually available in cases of severe poverty or hardship. Only after these things fail should a wife be asked to work. There should be multiple barriers against a wife having to work so that the wife can feel truly secure in her role as a wife.
America and the Western World in general is much more prosperous than it was 100 years ago when married women working was rare. There is no excuse from an economic point of view for a wife to fear being forced into the workforce or for a widow to fear for her or her children’s basic material needs due to the death of her husband. The support of the wife must be planned for however by her husband both for during the marriage itself and in the potentiality of the husband dying first (as is usually the case considering the man tends to be older at the time of marriage and due to men’s lower life expectancy).
Summing things up; the responsibility of the support of women falls upon men, if something was to happen to Jojo’s future husband Jojo should look to the support of others first rather than think she is the one who needs to support herself now and hopefully her husband while he was alive planned things well so she wouldn’t have to worry about it anyways. Furthermore the role of wife is to be shielded from male responsibilities regardless of the specifics of whether an activity earns money or costs money or not; money is not the determining factor of whether an activity is masculine or feminine, it is the nature and context of the activity itself which determines that. Lastly self-sufficiency in terms of making things yourself instead of buying them makes the man’s job harder, not easier, because trade is efficient and increases material well being. A man can buy what his wife and children need a lot easier than making what his wife and children need all by himself and the wife must not herself produce the basic material needs of the family because material provision is the man’s role, not the woman’s.