The Contribution of Traditional Wives to Society

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.

About Jesse Powell TFA

Anti-Feminist, MRA, Pro-Traditional Women's Rights Traditional Family Activist (TFA)
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11 Responses to The Contribution of Traditional Wives to Society

  1. Sanne says:

    Thanks, Jesse!

    In my experience, no amount of children will save a woman from being pushed into paid employment by those around her. It always goes along the same lines: “Oh you are still not working??? What are you doing at home the whole day? Now that your youngest started school, you surely would want to do something with your life?” Followed by job offers and sometimes downright impolite remarks about some women having “luck” to be able to do nothing at all. As if a housewife doesn’t work!

    And, BTW, luck has nothing to do with it, the one income family requires a careful planning, financial sacrifice, and on the part of the woman, the ability to choose a husband who can provide.

  2. In modern feminist culture even women with young children are expected to work. In 2011 in the United States among whites 60.2% of married women with children under 3 years old worked (were in the labor force). This brings to my mind, what the hell are the husbands doing in these marriages? Talk about an outrageous dereliction of duty both on the part of the wife and on the part of the husband! In actual matter of fact it is married women with no children under 18 years old who are the least likely to work (54.3% among whites in 2011). This is presumably because many of the married women with no children under 18 years old are of retirement age.

    You mentioned that part of a woman being able to lead a traditional life within marriage is her ability to choose a husband who can provide. This brings up the terrible damage feminism has done to the romantic marketplace. Now finding a man willing and able to provide for his future wife is very very difficult for a woman starting out trying to find a husband who will support her in a traditional lifestyle. This is entirely because of the feminist programming telling men that providing for women is bad, that it is “oppressive.” In the past men were universally taught and educated about their duty to get a job and earn money if they wanted to have a family, that their role as men was to be the breadwinner and that earning for ones family was the quintessential mark of manhood and becoming a “real man” ready for marriage. In this cultural climate all men (except for a few with serious problems) were ready and able to provide for a family at least to some degree; they knew that they should be trying to provide for their families at least even if it was difficult for them. Today men are downright discouraged and attacked if they aspire to be breadwinners; that being “sexist” and “old fashioned” nowadays. Very few men are able to withstand the pressure placed on them to succumb to “gender equality” and feminist notions of how they should act as men leading to very few competent traditional men being available to those women actively seeking a traditional man for a husband.

    Another thing I will add, it is very important that a man see himself as being in authority over women before he will be able to feel protective towards women and really internalize the ethic that he is to “provide for and protect” (be Chivalrous towards) women. Gender equality and men protecting women don’t go together. Before a man is truly ready to take on his responsibilities towards women he must get rid of the idea of women being “equal” to him first.

  3. Melissa says:

    60.2% of women with children under 3 were working in 2011!?! This is so wrong. If you have children that young and you can’t afford to live on one income, then it is because you are living above your means. Downsize your lifestyle, living arrangements, live more frugally, which may involve suffering and being “different”, but there is peace in doing the right thing. More peace than your family will ever find than by shuffling around and neglecting the psychological and spiritual needs of young children while a mother works. Children need a mothers sacrifice and attention, the don’t need more stuff, more vacations or a second car.
    Whenever I hear about a dual income family, these days I always think what a waste. With the shortage of work, especially permanent work, that job (assuming it is good paying and in a masculine-type field) could have gone to a young man, enabling him to get married and support a family.
    Thankyou for providing an outlet for my ranting.

  4. Bodycrimes says:

    You are presenting a very ahistoric view of women’s roles. Go and read Chaucer and you’ll quickly learn that women have always been involved in important economic activity, both inside and outside the home, from brewing to selling produce and fish at markets to textile production. Post the industrial revolution, the factories were worked by women. It has only ever been upper class women who had the leisure time to play Lady of the Manor and go around doing good works. And, in fact, when women further down the scale tried to do the same, they were often mocked (see Charles Dickens for examples of this.) What you are suggesting is a radical break from history and would effectively create a widespread leisure class, after child rearing was finished. A pretty unhappy leisure class, too, because enforced idleness is surprisingly stressful.

  5. Welcome back to my site Body Crimes!

    The feminist idea that women should work in paid employment just like men even when married is what is a radical break from history. At least for the United States there is actual Census data of the proportion of married women who worked since 1890. We don’t have to guess and hypothesize whether it was common for married women to work in 1890 and after, there is actual data to tell us whether married women working was the norm. The answer is, married women working was definitely not the norm in 1890 and the number of married women working went up continuously after 1890; slowly from 1890 to 1940 and quickly after 1940 up until a major slowdown in the increase after 1990 followed by absolute decline after 2000.

    From what I know it has been common for women including married women to do something resembling masculine style work on the side as a supplement or a hobby but usually the wife would only “work” sporadically mixed in with her other household chores. I am not saying that historically women were a “leisure class,” only that the masculine style of contribution was different from the feminine style of contribution and that “work” commonly understood in terms of a regular job or employment is a specifically masculine endeavor that married women should be protected from as the married woman has an obvious male to serve as her guardian, namely her husband.

    Also, there is no reason why a wife should suffer from “enforced idleness” as the point is not to prevent women from doing useful things; it is to prevent women from engaging in low value activities that conflict with the husband’s role rather than high value activities that complement the husband’s role.

    • Bodycrimes says:

      Seriously Jesse, go and check your history. There were many women who were formally apprenticed and accepted into Guilds in the Middle Ages, because they were expected to work in the family business. Women have always been brewers, textile makers, produce producers, orchardists and sellers and so on. Not people making pocket money, but productive people who were economically crucial to their family’s well being.

      You are thinking of the modern, post-industrial revolution way of working, where the male goes out to an employer for eight to ten hours, and then returns to the suburbs. This is extremely recent and historically unique.

      And every time it’s happened – 1880s/90s and post WWII – it’s resulted in surges of feminism. Women just don’t like the enforced idleness you’re suggesting. And you are, because modern technology means there isn’t enough work to be done at home to occupy a woman full time after the early stages of child rearing.

      (Don’t believe me? See the wave of late 19th century literature about ‘the woman question’ – in particular, see the plays of Henrik Ibsen.)

  6. So, you are saying that men going out to work regular jobs for money is historically unique and recent and that feminism then accompanied the anomaly of men going out to work regular jobs; something that only happened or at least was common along with the industrial revolution of recent origin. Feminism then arose, you suggest, based on women going out of their minds with boredom suggesting the man “being the breadwinner” displaced the woman’s previous role of partially being the “breadwinner” herself or at least being kept busy with household chores whose work was the equivalent of a “job” even if not strictly in the formal economy.

    What I refer to as “modern feminism” started around 1850 as far as I know. One thing is that feminism most definitely accompanied the rise in income and productivity that was historically unprecedented and also started around 1850. Furthermore men going out to work formal jobs in mass would have also been new and starting at about the same time; the invention of formal structured work in the city for the common man being the source of the huge productivity and incomes gains in the first place.

    So, men working formal jobs for money is historically new, women working formal jobs for money is also historically new, and material abundance itself is historically new. I would agree with all this. Feminism to is historically new and went along with these other “new” disruptive forces.

    What is not historically new however is men and women doing different things or different kinds of “work” and the idea of men “taking care of” women is not historically new. In hunter gatherer societies men did the hunting and women did the gathering often with children nearby. Also women cooking the food, not men, was a cultural norm across all “primitive” societies going back to the original hunter gatherer days. Also men “taking care of” women and being “responsible” for women and acting as the “guardians” of women goes back several hundred and thousands of years (and probably since the very beginning of humanity). Coverture which started around 1200 involves men being financially responsible for the upkeep of women. Men being the providers of their families is mentioned in the Bible. Guardianship laws and customs where men are the “guardians” of women were very common across cultures going back before coverture got started in England.

    So yes, the modern economy is new but division of labor between the sexes is not new. Men going out to make money while women take care of the home and children is probably just ancient gender roles applied to the new circumstance of the modern economy.

    As far as women hating leisure time and wanting to be kept “busy” as the underlying motivation for the feminist revolution, it is an interesting hypothesis that at least fits with feminism getting started when incomes rose and people became materially better off. Still it doesn’t make much sense to me at an intuitive level because a woman can still “find things to do” whether she is employed at a job or not. Society has been very grievously harmed by women abandoning their family responsibilities to “work” and so if the purpose of feminism is to “keep women busy” it is a very pathological and destructive means of achieving that end.

  7. The Radical One says:

    Never aruge with a feminist Jesse, don’t you know their re-interpretations of history are always right? Anyways, I can conclude from all of my studies of history that 1) the 1950s housewife ideal is not new at all and 2) women have not always been some kind of co-providers with husbands. There are periods of course where women taking masculine responsibilities resurfaces and it seems to correlate with societal decline such as the great migration period at the time of the fall of Rome to the crumbling of the monarchy a few centuries later (9th or 10th century and the ending of Anglo-Saxon rule). Guardianship laws are ancient. Ancient Rome had them (in fact, to entice women to have more babies they actually promised to end male guardianship if a woman bore three children because feminist ideals had wrecked society and the birthrate). The family setup we have today (mother father and children in one household) is not new but extended kinship groups living together did resurface throughout the ages.

    We cannot know what the average daily life for women was throughout the thousands of years (they didn’t exactly make youtube videos or leave blog postings or many diaries, except among nobility) but all indications show clear lines of traditional gender roles in European society at least dating back thousands of years. Money has always been used for the support and maintenance of a family of which it was of men to provide. In fact laws going back thousands of years indicate sometimes that the husband’s kinsmen or male family members are to provide for the woman or a male guardian is assigned to her if she doesn’t go back under her father’s guardianship. In Alex de Toqueville’s “Democracy in America” he wrote that not even among the poorest of families were women out of the home or out plowing the fields nor doing anything that required much physical strength. By all accounts it seems that the average work of a peasant wife and mother in Medieval England and the surrounding European countries resembled those of a housewife today only without the modern conveniences of washing machines, electric cookstoves and prepared food from the local supermarket. Once again we find that rich women could afford not to care for their children and sent for wet-nurses and the like where poor peasant women had to care for theirs. So if they were out in the fields all day how could they also be in the home? As well coroner’s reports show women died mainly from housework related activities and men from traditional masculine work (like fieldwork) and when mothers would leave their children unattended accidents happened to them. One would think in a society with high infant mortality and especially when the Black Death would resurface every decade wiping out entire families fertility would be number one concern to society, which would entail keeping women from hard work in the fields so not to sacrifice fertility and being with their babies to maximize chance of survival. Anyways, will write more about this later. Probably in a post.

    Feminists can’t have it both ways. Women cannot have both been working with the men and at the same time oppressed and not have the right to work. And, as well, if women were co-providers then why, dating back even to the days of Moses, were widows and their children in such dire straits once the father was dead? Obviously they weren’t so independent after all.

  8. Pingback: Marriage is Not Meant to be Egalitarian | What's Wrong With Equal Rights?

  9. ceebarks says:

    Personally, I don’t think I would like to be home all day after my kids start school. I’ve known some older women who did stay home after the kids grew up. I think it makes them a little peculiar and brittle– as if they’ve lost touch with the adult world and are prematurely old ladies on the outside and children on the inside. Or maybe only peculiar women stay home these days, or maybe the social pressure, isolation, stigma, and/or financial limitations of the lifestyle combine to make them strange when they would not be, if there were a lively housewife scene going on. But still.

    The older ladies I hope to be like are the ones who stayed fully engaged and I think that in general, staying engaged with life tends to mean WORKING. At SOMETHING. Meeting people who aren’t like you, stretching your mental and/or physical muscle, seeing with your own eyes what the world is doing today. Volunteering would be quite ok for the exceptionally self-disciplined, altruistic, well-off sorts.

    As to history, I don’t know, but my grandma became a registered nurse while her kids were in high school. My great-grandma was also a nurse, and later ran her late husband’s rental property biz. My MIL stays busy cleaning other people’s houses (which she is amazing at.) DH’s maternal grandma went to college and became a schoolteacher. DH’s paternal grandma worked at a deli counter. Normal middle-class, working-class type jobs.

    Only my mom was a housewife after the kids grew up, and it ended badly for her since my dad acquired a younger girlfriend as soon as the last kid flew the nest. lol Now she’s working, too. Mentally she seems so much better now than she was 10 or 15 years ago; more assertive, yet more tolerant… more confident and ambitious, yet humbler. Younger, yet more mature. Wiser.
    (Granted, in her case, not sure if that’s the result of losing 250 lbs of passive-aggressive a-hole or getting a life, but whatever.)

    Anyway, my husband and I have done the one-income thing for a long time now– it was a good arrangement for my family because we had four kids in a little under six years, so daycare costs were totally prohibitive and trying to keep that herd of babies managed while running two full time jobs would have been much more stressful than the style of frugality we evolved over the years was. Nothing but love for the high-energy ladies who can juggle it all– some of them would probably be as miserably bored with my life as I’d have been miserably stressed with theirs! I think it’s about knowing who you are. 😀

    That said, my youngest is now 4, and I’m thinking “what next?!” I’m not interested in homeschooling, I’m not religious so church activities are right out, and hey, it’d be NICE if the family could afford to go on a real vacation now and again, wouldn’t it? Maybe even take that honeymoon that H and I didn’t have time or money for in 2003. 😀 Maybe… even put some money into the kids’ rather meager 529 plans. ha FEMDOM

  10. The Virtuous Atheist says:

    While I do feel that women can expand beyond the traditional role of wife and mother, I greatly agree that women who do decide on the traditional path should not be judged and looked down upon as lesser in society for taking on a more historically feminine role. It does seem sexist in itself to view women who decide to act like women rather than be like men as “lesser” and the only way for a women to be taken seriously and have value is to be like a man. If a woman has the means to be a homemaker and stay at home mom, then more power to her! Not all women have that privilege, unfortunately, and some do however, desire a different kind of life. In a modern society, I feel both should be a possible and valued path in life for a woman.

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