The American woman has always been and will always be a contradiction

When I first started blogging here, I had a misinformed idea that there was a lot more pro-mother tendency in American women before roughly the 1960s.  But that isn’t the case.  What is the case is that from the pre-America colonial days up until now in the Age of Devices,  American women have always been the definition of Hegelian contradiction, pulling in opposite directions.

Unusually even among European cultures, American women have always had a contingent that privileged the mother-child dyad so extremely that nobody else was supposed to provide care or upbringing of the child(ren).  This remains shocking to me and something I’m still trying to accept.  But even when women mostly had to have other women around, American women have had a subset that was very loud and pushy about how they could or ought to go it alone and rear their children without any other humans involved, even dad.

The conservative flavor has brought us the sorts of people who believe mother-only childcare and child rearing is universal, historical and natural on the conservative or right-wing side.  A different flavor, call it liberal though it crosses many political lines, has brought us the ultimately damaging attachment parenting model.  A lot of the mommy wars are American women singing their usual Hegelian song.

The Puritan factory model of child rearing, in which many people got a crack at rearing the child and the mother-child dyad was not privileged as such is the other side of this coin.  There’s also always been a contingent of American women who believed children to be fungible, and thus it was merely a matter of applying the right systems to a child by any adult who’d mastered those systems.

There were a lot of women, often mothers, behind the drives for daycare, systematized mass education and other attempts to genericize child care and child rearing.

I don’t have the energy to make a separate post, but the Little Golden Books were a combination child psychology experiment and mass kid-marketing experiment done by a working mother who believed more “authentic” children’s tales would be useful in improving the educational level of young urban children.  She herself was a major promoter in the early 20th century of the right of women to combine having a family and having a productive, fulfilling career.

Meanwhile, one of my favorite American writers, Gene Stratton-Porter, was a massive promoter of mother-care as the only real care in her fiction and some of her non-fiction writing.  She combined this, in that contradictory way of American women, with explicit commentary about how it was acceptable to have relatives, governesses or tutors though.

So the American project, distaff side, has always been contradictory and oxymoronic.  The American woman is a social creature, but yet anti-social.  Maternal, sometimes cloyingly so, yet dismissive of maternal love.

I’ve been looking into women’s history around the world and American women are Just Different compared to other women when it comes to all these things.  They have always had massive personal freedom, even many enslaved women during those eras.  But they’ve also had a sometimes bizarre interpretation of the life domestic compared to historical norms, even ones concurrent to their own for a given point in American history.

The American woman is, was and will be fried ice and its promoter as long as there is an America.



3 thoughts on “The American woman has always been and will always be a contradiction

  1. American women have always had a contingent that privileged the mother-child dyad so extremely that nobody else was supposed to provide care or upbringing of the child(ren).

    Yes, American women are very adamant about being the sole caregivers because that’s the only right way to do it. There is something unhealthy wrapped up with the individualism of this country’s culture– that allowing small doses of differences in childrearing, no matter how small, has a corrupting effect. There are women out there who won’t leave their kids alone with their grandparents for goodness sakes, because they are so firm about not having anyone else care for their children. No wonder this culture has no real understanding of extended family life, or a familial community.

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  2. The High WASP wife versus Low WASP wife section in the Florence King reader has some material you will find helpful. She specifically talks about the High WASP wife (the upper middle class 1970s WASP) being torn between a multitude of different roles and finding it impossible to consistently prioritize.

    “Mrs. Jonesborough [FK’s archetypical High WASP wife] is not much of a churchgoer but her chief problem is a direct outgrowth of her nominal religion. Protestantism invented the conflicted housewife. The Catholic patriarch compartmentalized his life, thrusting different kinds of women into different niches much like the arrangement of plaster saints in his church. He did not particularly want to talk to his wife, he certainly did not want her meddling in his business affairs, and he did not expect her to be good in bed, merely compliant and fertile. Feeling that too many interests spoiled a good wife, he asked only that she keep the house, mind the children, and talk to God.

    “Spurred by the concepts of individualism and equality that grew out of the Reformation, Protestants replaced the selfless wife and mother with the wife-as-partner while leaving her workload intact. Consequently, Mrs. Jonesborough is not only required to cook, clean, and nurture; she must also be her husband’s companion, consultant, accountant, hostess, psychiatrist, and concubine.

    “Trying to be all things to one man as well as a “person in her own right” keeps Mrs. Jonesborough in a perpetual state of ambivalence. Should she wash the dishes or bone up on current events? Should she vacuum the floor or exercise her vaginal muscles–or try to do both at once? If the children are getting on her nerves, should she have another baby to prove what a good mother she really is? Whatever she decides to do, she will be exhausted from decision making before she ever does it.”


    • Whatever she decides to do, she will be exhausted from decision making before she ever does it.”

      Wow, doesn’t that sound like the problems women experience today?


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