Lindsay’s unhistorical logic, or fisking some typical conservative dismissals of the domestic sphere

Fisking is a fine old internet tradition and this is a pretty good example of the kind of conservative polemic that actually dismisses the domestic sphere it claims to promote. So the post (most of it) follows below, with my interpolations to the post and a few remarks on the comments.

The Vital Importance of a Wife and Mother at Home

 *snipped intro*
We live in a culture that sees us primarily as individuals who simply make associations with each other. Marriage is generally seen as just a partnership between two separate people. The Christian view of marriage, however, is radically different. The Bible says that the two become one. Not two that have a connection, but one. God doesn’t give separate overall missions to each individual person. There is only one overall calling for that one marriage entity. A husband and wife are a family and have a calling together, but the husband bears the primary responsibility for fulfilling that mission while the wife bears the primary responsibility for supporting her husband’s work toward the family’s calling.
This is not really where the danger lies.  Wives supporting husbands is fine.
That is what it means, for example, that the husband is the spiritual head or leader of the family. A husband will answer to God for the spiritual health of his family in a way that the wife will not because it is the man’s primary responsibility. His calling, above all, is to lead his family to know and serve God. Other parts of his mission may involve outreach beyond his family such as missions work, serving in the church, witnessing to coworkers, etc., but his primary responsibility before God is to lead his own family and ensure their spiritual health. A wife’s primary responsibility in this area is to support her husband’s leadership to ensure that chaos does not derail their family’s spiritual journey and that her husband has the time and energy to devote to spiritual leadership because he isn’t distracted by other minor concerns.
This is getting a little patriocentric, but we haven’t quite gotten to the core derailing tactic yet. Lindsay sounds like she’s starting to talk about delegation of properly ordered authority.  Let’s see if that’s the case.
The story comes to mind of Acts 6 and the choosing of deacons to take care of details like feeding the needy so that the apostles could concentrate on preaching and teaching. This kind of hierarchy is found throughout life, not just in marriage. It’s not about inferiority, it’s about efficiency in fulfilling a purpose. It was the deacons’ role to handle logistics so that the apostles could spend their time pursuing the main mission of preaching the word and saving souls. In the same way, it is a wife’s role to handle logistics of the home so that her husband can concentrate his energy on pursuing the family’s main mission for God.
This sounds like properly ordered delegation…. BUT!
The other thing to consider is that the responsibility for providing for the family is given primarily to the man. It simply isn’t the wife’s responsibility in the same way it is for the husband. Not only are men given the responsibility of spiritual leadership, but they also must provide for their family’s economic needs. In both cases, men will answer to God for how they do so. Providing is a heavy burden given to a man. It requires much time and effort. It is a great support to the husband when the wife takes care of the logistical details of the household so that the husband can devote his efforts to providing and the spiritual training of the children and then, if energy is left, to outside endeavors to further the Kingdom of God.

Now, can a woman handle the logistics of the home, ensure her family is cared for, and still work outside the home? Perhaps, in some cases – especially if they do not yet have children. But no woman is Superwoman. We all have limitations. It’s just not possible for any woman to adequately care for children and home while holding down a full time job. The care of children and the home is primarily a woman’s responsibility in a way it isn’t for her husband. If there are no children, it may be possible for her to care for the home and her husband and still keep a job outside the home, but she must keep the home and her husband as her priority.

Once children arrive, it becomes pretty much impossible for her to work outside the home and still fulfill her duties at home. The funny thing about children is that they need constant care. One cannot care for children and work outside the home too. The choice once children come along is whether to outsource the care of the children to someone else or to do it yourself. I firmly believe that God entrusts children to a husband and wife because he wants them to be the primary influences in their children’s lives. That doesn’t happen if the children spend a majority of their waking hours in the care of someone else.

Children don’t just need food and shelter provided to them, they need love, teaching, discipline, a sense of security, and examples of how they are to live. All of those things are best done when the child spends time primarily with his or her parents. Daycare workers, school teachers, and even grandparents simply cannot provide them in the same way parents can. No one loves a child like his own parents do. No one has such a vested interest in ensuring that he grows up with the proper spiritual and moral training. Even if others care about the child, the responsibility for the training of a child belongs to his parents. Daycare workers and teachers and grandparents won’t answer to God for the soul of that child. His parents will.

There it is.  Three paragraphs of false dichotomy in which the only economic activity possible must occur outside the home in a full time capacity.  Further, Lindsay also ignores the extensive history of the domestic sphere not being carried on the backs of individual housewives at all, but upon mistresses and delegation to their servants or shared labor among the women of the village/town/neighborhood.  She’s also presenting a fundamentally anti-patriarchal view of the housewife by dismissing the loving community relationships that children gain access to in traditional Christian patriarchal societies. In this following paragraph, she continues with the straw-housewife portrayal.
So, given the needs of children, I am convinced that women are called to be with their children, training and caring for them as their primary caregiver. Does that mean a mother can’t have any job outside the home? In theory, no. In practice, yes. A woman’s priority must be her own family. If she can have her children with her or leave them for only a short time each day, she may still be able to provide the necessary training and care they need from their mother and earn some income. But in doing that, she needs to be sure she is not neglecting her husband’s needs either. Theoretically, a woman can have it all – keeping a job and caring for her family too. The problem is that it is a very rare woman who has the energy to keep up with the constant needs of her children for care, training, discipline, and love and those of her husband for companionship, sex, and a partner in life as well as the logistics of running a household and still have something left for even a part-time job.

What usually happens when a woman has an outside job is that her family simply suffers the lack. Either her children spend a lot of time with other caregivers or teachers or her husband does without the companionship and marital intimacy he needs or some of the household chores descend on the husband, taking away some of his time and energy to train his children spiritually and impact the world for Christ. Often it’s a combination of these. A woman simply cannot meet all the needs of her family when she is spread that thin and, as a result, something important gets left undone.

A tired, worn down woman doing all the childcare and (somehow) all the household chores like cooking and cleaning also cannot meet all the needs of her family when she’s spread so thin.  The idea that just being home all day with no breaks from the needs of the children while still being expected to produce a Better Homes and Gardens style domestic haven is even possible for a solitary housewife with no paid or unpaid help should reveal itself to be obviously impossible.  Yet here Lindsay is, dutifully pushing this classic conservative trope of housewiving.  And she follows it up with more doubling down on the false choice of “work full time outside the home and GOD WILL HATE YOU AND YOUR BABIES” or “work yourself into exhaustion and early physical breakdown FOR THE KINGDOM GURLFREND”.
Of course, there are circumstances where it is necessary for a family’s survival for the wife to work outside the home. That is not the ideal, but it sometimes happens. In that case, the goal should be to do whatever is necessary to make it a temporary situation so that the wife can return to the home and children and be available to meet her husband’s need as well. If that means downgrading the house, foregoing vacations, having the husband take a second job or a better paying job, having the wife work from home, or whatever, the goal should be to work towards having the wife available to fulfill her responsibilities at home. It is vital to the health of her family – both physically and spiritually. There is no replacement for a wife and mother. The family will never be as effective for the Kingdom of God as it could be if the wife is not at home, taking care of her family.

I and a few others responded in the comments, one brave lady named “Mrs. Lamp” attempted to confront the silliness and was met (as was I in my own comment along those lines) with doubling down or a redefinition of history to fit the narrative that mom as primary caregiver is the One Way to Love Jesus if you have kids.  I am so, so tired of this craziness.  It is craziness, you see.

No, mamma is not always going to be the sole caregiver, or even primary one, and that’s not unholy or unBiblical or even untraditional or unpatriarchal.  A good case could be made that the real problem is pressuring women to forego the fellowship and support of other women to carry a heavy burden alone and tying that to Heavenly salvation.

It’s also possible for housewives to be economically productive in the home or on a part-time basis outside the home.  There is a whole range of possibilities, even post-industrially.

The token mansplaining from “Conan the Cimmerian” in the comments is only worth mentioning for how ridiculous and silly it is, effectively nonsensical but so, so usual and standard among a certain kind of conservative man.

The reason I fisked this at all is not because it’s unique or unusual, but because it’s pretty standard-issue.  Way too many conservatives love this black and white view of the wife’s role in marriage.  They love this unhistorical, unreal, unhealthy, not doctrinally sound idea of a housewife as a sort of Platonic being of pure love with no real physical, spiritual or emotional needs or reality.  They love her being a consumption good in herself rather than a potential economic contributor to the household coffers (unless, in a post I really will someday finish, she does Amway or some other similar scam/exploitation).

It’s so poisonous and terrible, especially the Christian variation Lindsay used, where not being on board with this false ideal means you’re a bad Christian wife.  That little bonus should be far less common but is all too sadly quite easy to find among Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant housewives all.  Ultimately it subverts the ability to maintain a properly ordered domestic sphere and thus is an own-goal.

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3 thoughts on “Lindsay’s unhistorical logic, or fisking some typical conservative dismissals of the domestic sphere

  1. -Like-

    It is insane to imply that grandparents, and other trusted Christian associates cannot contribute to sharing the load. Emphasis on extremely trusted and very well vetted as I have some serious and well founded anxieties when it comes to giving other people unsupervised access to my kids.

    That said, no woman can do it all alone, nor should she, and frankly no man should be expected to do everything listed here all alone. You know my position is that a woman’s place is at home raising her own children. Husband and home first. But there are some false dichotomies raised here.

    I happen to know a few wives whose husbands desire for them to work and whose young children are cared for by their maternal grandmothers. It may not be *ideal* but it’s a darn sight better than daycare and it works for them. And their marriages are happier as a result of the wives’ obedience.

    I just can’t wrap my mind around the number of people who don’t realize that many women work outside of the home specifically AS an act of wifely submission.

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  2. Several years ago, when I immersed myself a bit in the SAHM blogosphere, it made me feel mostly miserable. While I also found some helpful advice, the sheer amount of my supposed duties was crushing. The workload of both husband and wife sound awful again in Lindsey’s post. :-/

    Only a very small set of women (and families) will find this distorted concept ever attractive, as you pointed out yourself several times. Thank you for your much needed objections and observations!

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  3. Pingback: When Christians step on SAHMs to impress the world | The Practical Conservative

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