Sanne at Adventures in Keeping House has a good article up titled “Homemakers Should Not Be Made Feeling Guilty For Enjoying Life At Home!” Certainly, one should hope that ones wife is enjoying her time at home, is enjoying her traditional role as a woman.
When I speak of a “traditional wife” here I am referring specifically to a wife not in the paid formal labor force, indeed the whole idea of a married woman working as anything other than a very bad circumstance or emergency is a very new feminist idea. Really, in a healthy society it would just be assumed that wives don’t work and it would be the working wife that would be seen as strange and deserving of condemnation for shirking their family responsibilities as a woman. In particular the husband of a working wife would come under criticism because if his wife is working then he is obviously failing in his duties as a husband.
It should be remembered that in traditional society the rule is that husbands are to financially support their wives, period. Under coverture which was the social system in England and in early America up until modern feminism got started around 1850 it was a literal legal obligation for husbands to financially support their wives; this duty being imposed upon husbands by the wife being given the unilateral right to spend money on basic necessities according to the husband’s economic status such that the husband would then be legally obligated to pay off any debts the wife incurred in this process. Whether or not there were any children in the marriage was not material, a husband was obligated to support his wife fully financially whether the wife was taking care of children or not. In traditional society (before modern feminism) about 20% of women never had children while 10% of women never married. This means about 10% of marriages were childless. In 1890 however among married white women in the United States only 2.2% worked (were in the labor force). This figure includes married women of all ages, including older women whose children would have grown up already. So, the number of wives with no children to take care of greatly exceeded the number of wives in the workforce in total among whites in the United States in 1890. This shows in practice at that time there was no expectation that a married woman without children would work.
It should be kept in mind that the whole point of marriage from the practical point of view is the support of women under male authority. The woman is under male authority so that the man’s goals and the woman’s goals will be aligned, so that the man will be supportive of what the woman is doing. In this way the man’s support for the woman furthers the man’s goals or sense of higher purpose. This then is what makes male investment in the woman secure and stable. For the marriage to be working properly however the man has to be fulfilling his obligation as a man, namely the financial support of his wife. The goal of marriage is precisely to remove the woman from the workforce, that is actually the fundamental benefit to society marriage provides for. A woman contributes to society much more effectively out of the workforce than in the workforce. Male authority is important in providing structure and guidance and laying out the overall plan for the future but the real pay off of marriage is getting the woman out of the masculine realm where she is weak and putting her into the feminine realm where she is strong.
Men’s work or the masculine realm is characterized by highly focused and structured work where the man does the same thing all day. Women’s work or the feminine realm is characterized by a variety of tasks throughout the day with greater freedom of how exactly to do the work and when to do the work. The man is more on or off; the man is either totally working or totally relaxing and pursuing personal interests. For the woman there isn’t this same kind of dividing line or fixed schedule; her work period has more play mixed in and her period of play has more work mixed in. One type of work is not better than the other; the male style of working is simply different from the female style of working. What is important is that men are strong in the male style of work while women are strong in the female style of work so that the man should play the masculine role of making money (consistent with the male style of work) and women should be keepers of the home and family (consistent with the female style of work).
Importantly the man’s role is independent while the woman’s role is dependent. A man can do masculine things independently on his own initiative but for the woman to do feminine things she needs to be under the authority and support of a man first. This being what marriage is for, to put women under the authority and support of men so that women can contribute to their families and society overall their feminine strengths and skills as women.
In Sanne’s article which lays out many of the criticisms and pressures modern traditional wives face there seems to be a theme that being a non-working wife is only OK if the woman is engaging in masculine forms of work a lot at home. As Sanne relates in her article:
“[I]n all those cases [where not working is socially acceptable] the underlying idea is that if the wife stays home she’d better spend all her time cleaning or cooking or homeschooling,and if she’s done all that, she should engage in some money-making activity, such as babysitting or a home business.”
The underlying assumption of this social pressure seems to be that a woman must be “busy” in order to be useful or valuable, in other words the woman’s activities must mimic a masculine style job in order for what she is doing to be considered “real work” or “truly valuable.” This fits with the general feminist notion that only the masculine realm has value so that if a woman is not in the workforce like a man she must at least mimic a paid job as closely as possible while at home.
I am particularly bothered by the idea of traditional wives pursuing home based businesses to make money. That seems very much like the wife taking on a job, something that wives specifically are to be protected from. Just because a wife is at home that doesn’t mean the wife is not working. A serious job to make money is a violation of the wife’s right to be kept out of the workforce whether the location of work is inside of the home or outside of the home. The point is the married woman’s right to be supported in her feminine role as a woman by her husband. If a wife’s time is being eaten up by a home based business that is just as harmful to the wife’s feminine role and feminine purpose as her going outside to work at a regular job would be.
Sanne describes the differences between the masculine style of work and the feminine style of work well when she says:
“The critics don’t understand that home is different from office and factory, where the employees must show at certain hours, perform their duties, then go home and forget all about it. The wife at home has flexible working hours, and the nature of her activities will change according to the season, the age of her children, her husband’s job etc. No two households are the same, thus the life of one homemaker will be different from another.
One will be more engaged with her children, another will take care of aging parents or grandparents, yet another woman will accompany her husband on his business trips. The duties of a homemaker simply can’t be compared to the standardized work of a post-industrial society.”
When a husband financially supports his wife (as he should) what he is doing is contributing his wife’s time to others, to either his children or to other relatives or to the kids in the neighborhood or to the community at large through the wife’s volunteer service to others in one form or another. The true value of the traditional wife is all these different forms of unpaid service to others. This feminine contribution to society is of much greater value than the alternative of these wives instead working in the economy like men. Interestingly, the surge of women in the workforce after 1973 was accompanied by a sharp slowdown in pay increases for both male and female workers in the United States. Total economic output compared to prior trends did not increase at all with the huge increase in women in the workforce after 1973; the rate of growth per capita was 2% a year before and after 1973. It is plausible to argue that the surge of women in the workforce after 1973 especially combined with the anti-discrimination laws forcing employers to hire women and promote women to positions of authority against the employer’s better judgment caused a major disruption to the workforce and economy which then led to the sharp slowdown in productivity growth after 1973.
So it is dubious whether women in the workforce benefit the economy at all when the natural hierarchy of men and women is disrupted by anti-discrimination laws. Regardless of the economic factor however it is blindingly obvious that the removal of women from their natural feminine role in the family and society at large has been a huge disaster. I am talking about the high divorce rate, high out-of-wedlock births, massive numbers of children being put in day care, and the general breakdown in relationships between men and women.
As far as the quality of life for traditional wives, a wife’s right to enjoy some free time and recreational activities, of course it is legitimate for a homemaker to not be continually “busy” or under stress. It is certainly expected that a man will have down time and relaxation time and an ability to do fun things in his life; I don’t see why a wife should be denied similar pleasures and leisure. One thing for sure is that it definitely doesn’t make sense for neighbors and friends to be pestering a wife about how she should “do more” or is lazy because she isn’t imitating the work patterns of men enough. A wife shouldn’t be imitating the work patterns of men anyways, her particular strength is as a woman and so she should work in the feminine style as her ideal or goal, not in the masculine style. Besides, whether the wife is “living up to her responsibilities” or not is for her husband to judge. The husband is the one “paying the bills” and the husband is the one whose personal identity and sense of purpose is wrapped up with the wife’s identity and sense of purpose and so he is the one being harmed by the failures and shortcomings of his wife if any. So, if the husband is happy with how his wife is handling things there’s no reason for the wife to worry about what various feminist minded busy bodies have to say on the subject.