The Little House on the Prairie and its autonomous mamas.

This is kind of an overview of the Little House On the Prairie books, hereafter LHOTP, as is common when discussing them online.  I recently read the original eight book series and it was truly astonishing how much autonomy and independence Laura’s mother and Almanzo’s mother had.

There is a fascinating phenomenon in which this cultural bedrock of Americana is being transmitted solely through (mostly Frontier-American) women and Frontier-American men are basically ignorant of a major piece of where their women’s beliefs about home and family are coming from.

So Ma and Mother are these women who have a huge span of responsibility and authority, along with far above average native talent and skills in the homemaking arts of their eras, but this has not become codified as any sort of serious norm for housewives/SAHMs.  Caroline Ingalls was a truly astonishing cook, with a high level of natural understanding of chemistry and plants to be able to cook on an unreliable stove with inconsistent heat and a nearly random selection of ingredients sprung on her at any point in time.  She was also a truly above average hand sewer.  Mrs. Wilder was a weaver and a food processor extraordinaire, whose skill with cloth and butter making accounted for much of that family’s cash income and nearly all their clothing and linens.

And Mrs. Wilder’s workspace is arranged and designed to suit her, so she can be the most highly productive she can be for her family.  Almanzo’s child’s eyes view of her weaving room is very insightful, you see a little boy who expects a grown woman to have her own separate space that Father doesn’t have any input into, beyond making it to her specifications.  You see a little of this in how Almanzo sets up the house for Laura when they marry.  He assumes it’s important for her to have things set up so she can be as effective/efficient as possible.

This was actually an interesting subtheme in a lot of early 20th century writing, because men were still building a lot of the houses directly and the whole notion that you needed to make the wife-offices, so to speak, tailored to your own wife’s skills was one that crops up in a lot of the women’s writing of those early decades.  Like, you were supposed to get a spec list out of her and then make it happen.

It’s interesting that the Frontier-American subcultures who are most into LHOTP as a world and worldview tend to not allow the wives and daughters and sisters the sort of free hand that was clearly not at all outside the norms of the era (late 19th century).  There are a number of reasons for this, not least of which is the desire to believe there is no skill in domestic arts precisely because of the increasing arrival of mechanization and automation.

A lot of other things about LHOTP struck me as I was reading, but this one, that the two main mamas were badasterisk but also very lightly headed by (some) modern standards despite not at all being psychically of one accord with their husband’s desires and wishes was one of the bigger ones.

 

Notes on Letters from a Woman Homesteader

Letters from a Woman Homesteader is yet another bit of old writing that doesn’t quite match up to the myths around frontier and pioneer folks.

It’s some letters a homesteading woman from over 100 years ago wrote to a former employer she’d maintained cordial relations with.  She’d worked for the employer as a laundress.  What is fascinating about the letters is that yet again, she didn’t do all the work alone, but routinely had other women helping her, or she traveled to help them.  It is clearly normalized in these letters for the women to go around to each other and spend days or weeks assisting with, well, homesteading for each other, along with the demands of hospitality.  When parties and social events are undertaken, it’s just assumed that everyone (including men) will pitch in to help the individual household tasked with hosting duties.  There is, despite the fact that they all live ten and twenty and thirty miles away from each other, not actually that much rugged individualism.

Also, this woman’s body broke down having lots of babies (six, more or less, according to other information about her life elsewhere on the internet) and working hard.  The letters Mrs. Stewart writes detail multiple instances of being unwell and struggling physically due to pregnancies (and infant deaths/miscarriages) and the work of homesteading. Her marriage was a mail-order marriage, but it lasted and as noted above produced quite a few surviving little bundles of joy out of it.

Mrs. Stewart promotes homesteading aggressively, feeling strongly that however hard that labor is, it still beats being a laundress in an urban metro area in the early 20th century.  She really felt that women should get out there and grab a piece of land for themselves, with or without a husband.  That sort of feminine self-determination is American to the core, being in regular currency prior to the 19th amendment.  American women waving a flag of securing financial independence through earning income rather than marriage is older and as traditionally American as apple pie.

It’s a short read, plus she’s a capable and engaging writer.  There’s a reason her employer sent the letters to be published in a magazine.

Traditional Motherhood is collectivist

Another thread from twitter, this time about a viral meme:

Even in small scale, you can see it’s about how ye olde mothers had more kids and while I think the bottom is cut off, as it passes through time and lower fertility, it ends with a woman who is “mom” to a cat (the stereotypical modern careerist catlady).

Anyway, this was my response thread. It mentions the Hajnal line, which is a very modern way to talk about Anglo, Saxon and Scandinavian historical family formation norms.

“This image is loved among a certain kind of usually male person on the right, but it’s immensely silly. The top woman had 2-4 other women helping her out, the second woman had 1-2, and the third about 50% of the time has 1 woman helping. Also they all akshuly had more kids.”

“Traditional motherhood is collectivist. Among Hajnal-line women, it’s usually more informal, intensely conformist and paid support is downplayed/minimized (going back centuries). Among women outside that line, it varies by era, but mothers are expected to have at least one other woman helping, whether it’s a relative or a paid woman.”

“It does take a village, and the difference when people in your town/neighborhood/city really will keep track of your kids and look after them while you walk downtown to pick up a package vs. mom and dad doing it all is one part of the birth rate decline. Too many people on the right make a false idol out of frontier motherhood, except even those women sometimes had other people watching their kids. And they didn’t homeschool.”

One last quick note about this meme: it’s infected with its own modernity, as I noted in passing in my tweet thread. A lot of “trad twitter” and the dissident right in general believes that 3-4 kids is equally as large a family as 6-7 as 9-10, and they craft their memes accordingly. Most of their memes about a proper traditional wife DIYing her childrearing have her with as few as 2 children, but rarely more than 4. At least it reflects how rare normally-large families have gotten, albeit unwittingly.

I am Shirley Jackson and Shirley Jackson is me

As T.W.O. would put it, that’s overegging the pudding a tadge.  I’ll never publish the most notorious and universal short story in American history.  More intimately, my husband is not a Kavorka Man.

But she and I both are housewives with strong intellectual drives living in whitopias where household help is only for weird inferior women who can’t manage entirely on their own or micromanage the bleep out of that poor cousin they did have come by a few days a week.  She couldn’t get nice college girls because mother’s helping was beneath them in 1950 and non-college girls were from families that hadn’t moved in 50-100 years and so they didn’t have anyone “strange” come help.  People tend to think college towns are all the same, but they operate along a continuum.  And Jackson was not in a college town where the degree was a MRS.

She also put her kids in preschool, which was called “community nursery school” and which 10-20% of women used back then.  Exact data is had to come by because of terminology and lack of collecting data issues.  And even back then it was the middle and up stay at home mothers who used it part-time and the smaller pool of working mothers using it full time.

I have her sense of anxiety and frustration, but not her pretty solid domestic skills. Our children find us odd but loving.  There is a sort of weirdly beautiful e-drama online somewhere where one of Stanley Jackson’s coed affairs is bragging about it on salon or something similar and Shirley’s kids post comments defending their mother and whaling on the smarmy coed selling the only interesting thing about herself. I was touched by the love her kids (one of which I think was a grandparent by now) had for her and their respect for her hard work keeping their home so it could be an entertainment vehicle for dad.

Stanley Jackson was a literary critic and professor who tomcatted around and expected his wife to produce both domestically and intellectually, but was jealous of her ability to get thousands of dollars for a handful of stories about women and children and often the domestic sphere.

I 100% do not think I can compete with the mad literary skills of Mrs. Jackson, but it’s reassuring in a strange way to know that this literary ninja had some of the same struggles I, a much more ordinary housewife, have sixty or so years later.

It also brings me back to wanting to smash conservatives in the face for chronically declaring that there was no widespread frustration among average women in the 1950s and during the WWII era and that anyone talking about it was just a loser who was unhaaaaappppy or a communist.  Shirley Jackson wrote for Good Housekeeping, for pity’s sake.  She was not writing some edgy scandal stuff like Peyton Place.  And yet there remain in both sets of writing much the same sort of struggles of women trying to adapt to the rapid shifts in technology, social roles and relationships with men.

One of the anecdotes in her domestic memoirs is about a pregnant woman she meets at the hospital when she has her third baby who is running late on delivering and is relieved and happy to be free of household tasks for what in the anecdote is about two weeks and heading into a third.  General audiences of women wouldn’t have wanted to read about stuff like that if it didn’t seem real.  They were very quick to write letters where they believed something to be unrealistic in its slicing of life.

Anyway I’ve only just begun reading her domestic memoirs and that sensation of being drawn close in time to a writer across so many seismic changes in daily life is dizzying.

Dear Conservatives, setting things up so all housewives are drudges is anti-natalist and untraditional

Bullying women into staying home obviously doesn’t work, and yet it appears to make up the whole of the conservative argument for women staying home.  This is one of the core problems with American conservative Christian culture.  It leads to conservative Christian SAHMs putting kids into preschool as soon as the children age into it for breaks because “well, it’s not daycare now, it’s school!” It also leads to those women having fewer and fewer children.  Three is the new five and two is the new three.

Take cooking, as one example. Making stock takes time.  Sure, you don’t have to stand right over the pot, but you have to be in the general vicinity of the kitchen for 3-5 hours for relatively modest amounts of stock.  Now, this is the sort of homemade staple that we SAHMs are supposed to just have handy at all times, but it takes time to make it, and it takes even more time to make huge batches that you then freeze.  That’s a day or two or three you aren’t doing much else.  And I’ve already covered laundry.

As for childcare, we can’t all have lump babies that stay put wherever you plop them and we can’t all have children who hear an instruction to play quietly when they are older and do so for hours on end (this is actually fairly rare).  And the current status quo of spinning the childcare out to public school or preschool is not tenable, because it limits fertility and the false idol of homeschool robs a lot of communities of the stability they desperately need to have a functional school system.

There is no argument against homeschooling on a family level. Parents have the right and duty to educate our children as we see fit, and a state that interferes with this is acting unjustly. On a larger level, however, homeschooling as a movement is extremely uncharitable and antisocial.

Not everyone can homeschool.

As a society, we need schools and other collective institutions to spread the burden of childcare and primary education and to properly civilize and educate young people. But if you saddle enough individual families with the total burden of the care and education of their own children, you ensure that those families will have no surplus to support any such institutions. And this is in fact exactly what has happened. Everyone blames this on the homeschooling families themselves, because when you’re talking about homeschooling families you’re really talking about homeschooling mothers and no one ever passes up an opportunity to blame mom for everything, but individual families are just doing our best in impossible situations.

But people who can’t homeschool are left entirely at the mercy of the world all the homeschooling families have retreated from. There’s no civil society to join run by homeschooling mothers because we’re all too tired. Homeschooling mothers generally don’t even help each other out.

There are studies suggesting that being there when the kids are little is worth a lot less if the SAHM isn’t relatively rested most of the time.  And there is an argument (though not one I would advocate or consider pro-woman) for working while they are little and then, when they need the intensive parenting in teenagerhood, being available then as a SAHM.

This is why it’s insane to set things up so all women are drudges, it’s not Christian or functionally patriarchal. A lot of personality disordered people are able to hide out in “traditional womanhood” because there is an irreducible amount of domestic work and right now, that burden is going to fall on women. People can fantasize about it being different but right now, that’s how it is. Moreover, very few people can make more money than their labor is worth at home and very few couples can split the work effectively, for exactly the same reasons jobsharing doesn’t work, which is that you need a manager.

Much of femininity and marriage is socially constructed but you can socially construct it well or you can socially construct it stupidly and marriage and patriarchy are BETTER so who cares if they’re natural plus, Christian patriarchy is the only society that supports female liberation so stop sawing the branch you’re sitting on.

Lastly, women used to produce concrete results in their domestic work.  The industrial age was a rapid process of removing those concrete accomplishments from the domestic sphere and replacing them with vague repetitive tasks like driving the kids to activities (which goes all the way back in America to the 1920s!) and endless cleaning up kid messes and of course our dear friend laundry.  Those things are not terrible or wrong for mothers to do, but the conservative approach to the whole thing is to lie to women that they never had any other aspects to their domestic work and that they should delight in the abstract repetitive slog with no clear results at the end of each day.  Women then run to “crafts” in a flight to concrete accomplishment, and then are mocked for the crafts not being sufficiently useful or practical.  It’s a vicious trap.

Anyway this is all just random notes accumulated over time so if it doesn’t read like an essay, well, it’s not. I don’t know how to help women get the concrete aspects back for domestic labor when it’s simply not essential to survival anymore.  Our household has lived a pretty agrarian lifestyle and we ended up back in upscale suburbia.  And that’s pretty much the core of the problem.  The concrete accomplishments of my agrarian living helped alleviate the stresses of the worst of modern housewiving, but it couldn’t actually work long-term, which is why “be agrarian LARPers” is not a general solution to a general problem.  Even if people keep proposing it as one every 15 years or so like clockwork for the last century and a half.

Most women don’t like bad boys.

I know, I know, I haven’t got manly manparts flapping in the breeze to serve as “data”, but I do, for good or ill, have over a decade of plain old life experience with a wide sampling of mostly American women and a modest number of non-American women.  They’ve been conservative, they’ve been liberal, they’ve been white, they’ve been black, they’ve been Latin or Asian from more than one of those nations.  They’ve been respectable and they have been quite unrespectable.  And over and over, they were not making a beeline for promiscuous and/or “bad boys”.

Some did, certainly, and it is very true that some women will always be interested in that kind of guy with no loyalty, honor or often even charm.

Any discussion of how “all chicks dig bad boys” is guilty of extrapolating from a small population out towards all women.  This is called apex fallacy, even though it doesn’t require that the minority slice be at the apex.  Most women don’t want a guy obsessed with getting frisky all the time.  They also don’t want a criminal.  The Wire has many problems as a TV series, but the distinct lack of girl action for most of the low-level male criminals is pretty accurate.  Even most poor women aren’t getting jiggy with bad boys.  People only see the ones that do, but they aren’t a majority or even a plurality.

What is going on is that some personality disordered white women from the professional managerial classes have developed strange and deviant preferences in men, and their weird problem is somehow supposed to be representative of all women.  Nobody thought this way in the past about the small number of poor women with such preferences.

Even with the array of incentives to misbehave in marriage or cohabitation, most women don’t go running for Thuggy McThuggerson.  They still mostly end up with average guys or spend months/years in self-imposed celibacy with long gaps between dates or relationships.  Because normal women aren’t into bad boys and never really will be no matter how galvanically society changes.

Real Talk for SAHMs: SAHMs who aren’t morning people aren’t lazy, chronotypes are real

The tyranny of the morning people has got to end.  Traditionally, mostly servants got up early.  Now it’s college educated working class people (i.e. most of the relatively new married class).

SAHMs frequently act like just getting up earlier is the solution to any difficulties with prayer time, exercising, or arranging the day.  It is a recurrent theme.  I think the earliest I’ve seen or been told offline is to get up at 3am, though 4-6am is the typical range, usually 4-5am.  Which is feasible for a morning person, even through lots of kid wakeups.  Not so much for people with a different chronotype who don’t physically get tired before 10pm.

Wiki says that morning types don’t necessarily predominate, but in American culture they have taken the moral superiority reins and galloped right off with them.  There has been and continues to be a general tenor in American culture that early rising is morally better.  Someone could probably write a monograph connecting it up to the inherent consumption mentality that has ever dominated American society even before the Industrial Revolution.  They could also throw in some anti-Scandinavian polemic.  Thorstein Veblen is the spiritual grampa of overwork as a form of consumption behavior instead of bling.  He wasn’t the only one (there were some Scandinavian ladies behind it too), but his name is probably the most recognizable.  Overwork as consumption good is part of the tyranny of the morning people.

Repeatedly, morning people tend to act like it’s either getting up at 5am or sleeping until noon, and that obviously nobody should pick the latter choice.  The idea that chronotypes occur along a continuum and that even late-night types might well be able to “do mornings”, just at 9am instead of 6am, is utterly alien and threatening to a surprising number of morning people.  They place a stupendous amount of personal value on being up really really early and if other people are up later in the day and still have clean houses and functional kids and regular prayer lives, then maybe being up at 4am isn’t the one true path to holiness and merit.  It’s especially bad in the SAHM world, because the domestic sphere is so totally unvalued that it sometimes just might take a 14 hour day to actually get anything done effectively since the support is mostly in name only.

But chronotypes are real.  And valuing the domestic sphere for its own sake rather than declaring women who aren’t morning people lazy/selfish/spoiled/ungrateful would allow more private households to be functional no matter what time of day the lady of the house arose.  The Proverbs 31 wife is an ideal, not a literal woman.  Also, a lot of cultures have midday nap traditions for a reason, even if they are agrarian and the master and mistress have to pop up at 4am.

Some historical downsides of having household help, American edition

Infectious-licious!

  • Unvetted servants carrying infectious diseases.  The above is the most famous example, but there are plenty of other examples to draw upon.  Because a reference wasn’t necessary to secure a position due to the chronic labor shortages of a growing, wealthy society with free right of travel for all whites (and many blacks), a lot of servants would turn up to work in a household and get everyone sick.  Usually it wasn’t lethal (even Typhoid Mary had fewer than 10% of her 50+ victims die, the rest recovered), but it still was a very real risk and concern.  Anonymity was an early feature of American society, even when housewives still needed domestic help, and this was one of the nasty little side effects of that
  • Harder to present the image of a classless society.  Being the land of opportunity, America has always struggled with the fact that some people are going to be servants or employees to others for their working lives.  Instead of considering this a reason to keep working conditions for domestic servants decent, it was considered a reason to just not have servants.  Or lie about them.  A notable example can be found during the Eisenhower presidency of the 1950s.  His then Vice-President Richard Nixon’s wife spent years pretending she did not have a live-in maid (Swedish), a yard man (ethnic background unknown), and loads and loads of babysitters to watch the two children they had, even to the extent of demanding the help never be photographed or spoken to by reporters doing “A Day in the Life of the Veep’s Wife” fluff pieces.  Something to keep in mind when hearing about how housewives don’t need domestic help because appliances.  As early as the 1950s, American women had many of what we currently consider modern appliances except for the glorious microwave and front-loading washing machine.  But they also had maids and childcare help (which was exempted from wage laws, of course).  Well-off Americans have claimed for a long time that they just magically do it all themselves, especially but not strictly conservatives.

They just wanted a ten hour workday.

  • Violent responses to poor working conditions.  The above is a picture of the Papin sisters, who were French and killed their mistress and her adult daughter after years of 14 hour days.  While not American, working conditions for American domestics were frequently not better.  This is occluded somewhat by racial stuff, but Northern white women were quite as happy to leave a white female servant bleeding from a slap or the strop as Southern white women were with black female slaves.  This is, of course, memoryholed like whoa in American discourse on domestic help.  Domestic service is not necessarily servile, and given decent working conditions, many women are quite all right with serving others even if the pay is not the toppiest of top-end.  American women ran from service because the conditions and pay were both pretty crummy (the Woman Homesteader of Wyoming I wrote a bit about a white back was willing to trade the conditions of working as a laundress in an urban area in the early 1900s for the backbreaking work of homesteading in Wyoming.)  They didn’t run because they disliked serving others necessarily.  Some did, but others would have been happy to keep doing that as a job if they were treated like humans by their employers.  Things these days are not going in that direction, with the rise of “servant apps” where you just-in-time schedule your domestic help (“assistants”).  Meanwhile, the paternalism that drives our own hiring is sneered at for not being all-encompassing enough.  Vacation days, feh!  You don’t pay health insurance!  Health insurance?  Pah, you don’t put in a 401k!  Middle-class American women used to be able to afford domestic help not just because the wages were exempted, but also because it wasn’t considered a job, it was considered a relationship with pay at its best (and worst, of course).  Nobody wants to have human relationships anymore or accept the consequences of paternalism at its best (being responsible personally for those you employ) and in America part of that is being able to just up and move away from paternalism at its worst (Papin sisters, worst of chattel slavery).

 

The antinatalism of primary c-sections.

About a third of all deliveries in America are c-sections, and a majority of those are primary c-sections.  The anti-natalism isn’t in women having c-sections so much as the pressure for women to accept a primary c-section.  This wouldn’t be possible without the subtext that women shouldn’t have more than two children, three at most, a view that is standard American these days.  It also wouldn’t be possible without the medical community downplaying the risks of c-sections.

The reality is that c-sections limit how many children a woman can reasonably risk conceiving and carrying to term.  While there are risks to naturally delivering seven or eight or ten children, those risks are significantly lower than the ones c-sections introduce through repeated surgical trauma and scarring.  However, those risks don’t come into play for the average woman having c-sections until she’s looking at more than three of them.  After three c-sections, the risk of losing the baby shoots up (the scarring makes it hard for the placenta to seat itself, increasing likelihood of fetal demise) along with the risk of premature delivery or catastrophic delivery complications like placental abruption.

This is not communicated to women when they are “encouraged” to have a primary c-section after say ten or twelve hours of labor.  Thus, many women who would like to keep open the possibility of having a larger family are limited by a choice they were given misleading information about by medical professionals advocating approved choices rather than patients’ choices.  It is possible to have 4-6 c-sections and deliver the children safely, but it’s also a range where health and life risks for both mother and baby come into play at rates exceeding 20%.

For perspective, women are not allowed to attempt natural delivery after a c-section in most American hospitals (VBAC) due to a 1% risk of rupture (which baby and mother typically survive without complications).  Yet women are not presented with the data that way.  And they certainly aren’t told that a primary c-section means probably not having more than three or four children liveborn and term.  A primary c-section is not terribly risky, and neither is a second one, compared to natural delivery.  But they are slightly higher risk and on average harder to recover from than natural deliveries.

Combined with the delaying of childbearing, telling women in their late 20s and early 30s that a primary c-section is no big deal is to consign those women to fewer children than they might otherwise be able to have even starting in their early 30s and further, to leave them struggling with (on average) more difficult recovery while struggling with a newborn.  That also leads to fewer children born at the margins.  It’s just anti-natalist.  This isn’t to say that c-sections, including primary ones, aren’t sometimes medically necessary.  But many primary c-sections are a judgment call rather than “have to cut the baby out NOW”, and the judgment goes in one direction due to the general distaste culture-wide for having enough little taxpayers to fund society.

The ex-Mrs. Bezos offers 3 big lessons for young women seeking marriage

For a young (preferably Christian) woman looking to marry and become a mother, it may seem strange that a divorce between the richest man in the world and his wife could offer any useful tools on securing a (hopefully God-fearing), supportive, decent husband.  But there are a lot of strange things in the world and Mrs. Former-Bezos offers three valuable lessons for secular women and Christian ones undertaking the difficult quest for a husband in a rough, uncaring world.

  1. Be where the fish you want to catch are.  Mrs. Bezos threw herself into a pool of men who were going to be very big fish financially.  The very-near certainty was that this day would come, and her luck or blessing was that it took a little longer than is usual with that kind of man.  But make no mistake, she knew she wasn’t swimming in a pond of men offering lifelong devotion.  So particularly for young Christian women, you have to go to where the men who want or plan for lifelong marriage are.
  2. Line up connections that aren’t dependent on your husband.  Mrs. Bezos appears to have spent quite a bit of effort as a very young college kid connecting with Toni Morrison.  That connection certainly panned out in a lot of big ways for her, allowing her a creative outlet once supporting her husband in his crazy dotcom scheme started to look up and pan out.  Which leads to the third lesson.
  3. Have a creative outlet independent of your husband and your children.  Having this means you create the space to maneuver for yourself  when you need to.  It doesn’t mean it has to come first, but without something for yourself, the risk is always there of collapse when the nest is empty or emptying.  Mrs. Bezos’ four children are all teenaged.  Her husband giving in to adultery and stupidity could easily have left her in a position to lose it as her kids were also leaving and have a breakdown.

https://www.vogue.com/article/a-novel-perspective-mackenzie-bezos

The profile above is where I got the details about her life. For young (Christian) women, the goal is not to have an escape route planned, to the contrary, the goal is to  do the best you reasonably can to arrange the conditions for a robust and stable marriage environment.

There are spaces and places where men interested in lifelong marriage are, but due to atomization, it takes more time and effort to place yourself in those spots.  But if you do, you’re putting yourself around the kind of men who are already part of the way there as far as marriage goals and views.

Having connections outside your husband is about having safe emotional outlets if your husband is in a busy season or is of a different social nature than you, or both.  It’s also about having a broader social and economic network, two people combining their networks is always better than being totally dependent on one person’s connections.

A creative outlet that isn’t husband+kids means you aren’t frustrated when the kids inevitably grow up and out of the home.