My Patient Husband and I somehow discussed the “typical” 50s-era home with the hard-working husband, the dutiful housewife, the clean and sparkling children. We’re failing on two of those three counts.
I said something about him being the lord of his castle, and he replied that those times never really existed, “Except in some men’s fantasies.”
What followed was a rather geeky but enlightening conversation that would have had my friend Sharon screaming, “Don’t listen, kids! Normal people don’t talk that way!” (I mean, again. She said that to me once before.) The main thrust of the conversation — and I forget now whose point was whose — was that men shifted from viewing marriage as a partnership and into a hierarchical structure the more they themselves were shifted into a hierarchical structure.
In native societies, the women don’t stay home cleaning and raising the kids. Usually what happens is the children are raised in a group with a few allo-mothers (older women or dedicated child-rearers) taking care of the kids, while the women cultivate crops and the men hunt. In other words, the women are working just as hard as the men. If you take a look at the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, you’ll find Ma is right out there beside Pa, harvesting turnips and planting and so on.
Her job is much more vital to survival than remaining home and looking pretty. In fact, it’s understood that without her contributions, the family wouldn’t survive. He never puts her down.
If the women are caring for the homefront, and the men are bringing in the externals required to help the home survive, then the natural order of things would appear to be that the women are the managers who send the men out for specific tasks. Right? Of course, the Bible stands that on its head and puts the men at the forefront. (Catholicism doesn’t — according to Holly Pierot, Catholicism talks about a man’s authority and his wife’s counterauthority. But that’s a huge discussion.)
My Patient Husband concluded that as men moved into industrialized factory settings, where they were inculcated into a hierarchy, the men carried that into their homes. Plus, he says, if you compare Pa Ingalls to that guy from the Honeymooners, Pa has an awful lot of autonomy. He can plant whatever he wants. He can uproot the homestead and find another place to live. He can run his farm as he pleases. He can say to Ma, “I’m going to head out to Indian territory to find a job. You sell the farm and follow me out on the train in a month.”
And therefore, able to exert control over his own life, Pa Ingalls sees no need to exert control over Ma. Instead he trusts her to work with him toward their shared goal of sustaining the family.
Feminism rises up against the control coming from men who feel they have no control over their own lives. Maybe there’s a different kind of feminism around the corner. Maybe true feminism would mean freeing up everyone so they could control the things that matter, rather than trying to control the people they love.