The fungibility of frontier females

One of the woes of American women is the influence, not to the good, of frontier culture.  To sprinkle some evolutionary psychology sprinkles on it, on the frontier, women are fungible and men are individual.  Women are not strictly needed to cook, as the camp-style cooking is easy enough to learn and frontier life made hunger-spice the only one really needed.

There was also less opportunity for domestic niceties in setting up a home, since you were talking about stuff like slapped up shacks, lean-tos and dugouts to hold a claim.  They were all meant to be pretty temporary.

Although many frontier women had large families, children’s labor was not as needed either, as during much of the frontier era the homesteaders were on the cutting edge of using as much technology and machinery as possible to minimize how many people they had to share the hoped-for wealth with.  So even in that respect women were more fungible, as plenty of men were bachelor-homesteading.

Frontier culture is anti-domestic, and not terribly encouraging of feminine strengths beyond basic endurance and willingness to do repetitive labor under brutalizing conditions.  And the descendants of frontier culture still treat women as fungible. And this influence has made it much more difficult for women’s strengths and desires to be taken seriously as part of a complete, functional society.


10 thoughts on “The fungibility of frontier females

  1. The frontier is psychologically a big deal for Americans, but I have to ask, how long was any particular area frontier in that sense of widespread make-shift haphazard living?

    (Great-grandma, who was not noted as a home cook, had a stint as a camp cook for a road crew probably in the early 1920s. She took a toddler with her.)


  2. Great-grandma was born on a homestead and was not fungible AT ALL, but she was not a conventionally feminine person. She occupied a lot of “male space,” despite having been a teen bride and having four children.

    My relatives haven’t gotten around to writing their book on the women who grew up on local homesteads, but as I recall, a lot of those women were pretty wild.

    Your read is quite reasonable, but the flip side of this is that women who didn’t wish to be conventionally feminine had a lot more opportunity to live as they wished on the frontier.

    I’d argue that the frontier lifestyle and conventional femininity are in an inverse relationship–the more frontier, the less conventional femininity. So, one can’t simultaneously expect the frontier lifestyle AND conventional femininity.


      • Silly.

        The more everybody’s-got-to-pitch-in-NOW there is in your lifestyle, the less room there is for very specific gender roles.

        I’m a farm kid and the oldest of three children, with the only boy being almost 9 years younger than me. If our dad had waited until he had a tween boy to help with farm stuff, he would have had quite the wait.


        • well, one practical effect is that all “male stuff” is defined as infrequent rare displays of strength when in frontier world they weren’t all that infrequent, so men get to skate on a lot of day to day things that aren’t “girl stuff”.

          the liberal hysteria to androgynize all the stuffs has problems, but it creates less space for men to skate on a lot of day to day things in practice.


          • As I’ve mentioned before, apartment living does not provide a lot of opportunities for manly routine tasks.

            It would have been nine years of no routine chores of any kind for my husband if we had had a very strictly gendered division of household tasks starting out as newlyweds.


  3. This discussion is interesting, because one thing I’ve noticed is the fungibility of the frontier wives, and women in general is an American thing. American culture is good at branding, marketing, and reducing people into parts.


Comments are closed.