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.

 

Lunks and their bright wives: conservative marriage through the years

A great deal of weirdness in conservative life can be explained by the theory that smarter women were more likely to end up out in the West/frontier and also be able to offset the consequences of marrying a relatively lunkish guy because their domestic labors were monetized.  They also could afford to take the chance of marrying a lunk because he didn’t need to be all that clever to make it in the West.

Over time as the domestic sphere lost its financially remunerative aspects, the general pattern was established, but that just left such women scrambling to compensate in other ways, leaving them prey to scams and schemes because they had income pressure but no easy way to integrate it into their increasingly narrow domestic sphere.

This was, I think, since it’s been sitting in draft so long, a prelude of sorts to my Grand Unified Theory of Spectrum Formation, in which the nuclear family in America converges towards fulfilling an Asperger or autism-spectrum norm because those are a bigger and bigger chunk of the married people still able to afford having kids.  And this is especially obvious with conservatives, who appear to be continuing to have children for reasons not related to religiosity at all and this explains some of those reasons.

Marriage and divorce data roundup

72% of married couples in 2009 were man and woman in first marriage.  22% were one or both spouses in second marriage.

Median duration of  first marriage for American women is 20.8 years and for remarriage is 14.5 years, with the South and Midwest having longer median durations in both cases.  West and East have shorter median durations.

Pdf report with more details on marriage duration here.

Longer life expectancy means the current later marriage ages aren’t so bad, since it means longer marriages.  Men have 15 or more years on their 1890 counterparts and women have decades more on theirs.  

 

The takeaway is that divorce isn’t as rampant as some make out and marriages are lasting pretty long, and, well, Americans have been taking the fertility hit to marry later and in a better financial position for a long long time except for a brief 15 year blip.

Gene Stratton-Porter and Me, Freckles

Freckles (1904) is the prequel to the much better known A Girl of the Limberlost. When it was first published, it was confused for one of her “pure” nature picture books.  I greatly hope to score one of those editions someday.

Stratton-Porter’s nature-worship permeates both books, as does what amounts to her HBD style racial views.  People are quality because they come from literal “good blood”.  There’s also a lot of modern touches, like limiting how many children you have to go all-in on one prized child, along with the obsession with diet and physical exercise as moral worth measures.

Stratton-Porter is a good writer, great when talking about nature and also adept at not letting her stranger themes overwhelm the core romantic nature of her books.  But it was a bit surreal to see many of the things I lament in modern American culture were present a century earlier and are American traditions, as it happens.  I’m still navigating this fact, that American traditions are so anti-social and self-focused, but there you are.  Another interesting aspect of this book is how the innocence of the pure young woman who is Freckles’ love interest is not gullible or naive, but cautious.

The girls in Stratton-Porter books are not steeped in the grosser ways of the world, but they aren’t deluded that some men are not honorable and that even men who look honorable might turn out otherwise if given license.  I think it’s interesting that early 20th century teenage girls were getting this kind of literature written for them, that encouraged them to be intelligent or at least self-directed in learning, well-kept in dress and manner, and to desire marriage, but to build interests before marriage that could be maintained in content singlehood if marriage never came around.

That theme is more developed in the sequel, but it’s still present in Freckles, where the Swamp Angel (Freckle’s love interest) is a soda artisan at the local soda fountain.  Her drinks are the very best and she makes them for new people in town.  She’s also the daughter of the richest man in town and exceptionally beautiful and in Austenian terms “condescending to all”.  She is especially kind to Freckles, who is missing a hand due to a brutal childhood accident that has major plot significance in the last quarter or so of the book.

Freckles is himself an orphan who ends up working for a tough, smart, meritocratic Scotchman guarding lumber and being quasi-adopted by the foreman’s wife.  The various digressions on the high-end lumber market are fascinating, as they show that even a century plus ago the “cheap luxury” of veneers and patinas was well established and a path to great profits for the ones who owned the thousands or hundreds of acres with the right kinds of trees on them.

Freckles does great at guarding lumber and winning the heart of Swamp Angel.  He does anger a lumber thief and there’s some confrontations and dramatic action sequences, including Swamp Angel having to stand down the lumber thief’s gang with just the power of her beauty and well-bredness.  And also a gun.

There’s also an author insert called the Bird Woman, who provides Swamp Angel with said gun and provides some support to Freckles in his quest to learn his parentage.  Everyone says he is just too excellent mannered and upstanding to be an orphan from some trash background with cruel ill-bred parents.  And, well, the reader eventually learns that indeed he is something else entirely and that the accident that cost him his hand had nothing to do with his parents.  Since I am going to discuss all Stratton-Porter’s books, I will spoiler the surprise.  Freckles is of noble birth and secretly very wealthy, and thus totally worthy to marry the daughter of the richest man in town.

I could easily spend a week’s worth of posts on each of her books.  But this is just a very little introduction as I go through them all in publishing order.

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.

 

A brief overview of mass pornography exposure from World War II until the 21st Century, part 1

 

Early Superwife fantasy.

 

Something that goes very unremarked is how many generations we’ve had of pornography exposure being a significant male rite of passage in America.  And how government funding injected enough cash into the industry to industrialize its production.  You can start a timeline with World War II, in which pornography was distributed as an alternative to camp followers and the “gifts” they brought (mostly venereal disease, but also babies).  There were millions of young men exposed to pornography in a mostly or all-male environment.  Then, after seeing hundreds and thousands of pictures of women dressed even less discreetly than the picture opening this post and doing way more than what that lady is, they went home to wives and future wives.

That was the Greatest Generation.

Their sons got exposed a little earlier, magazines under the bed, late teens high school bonding.  But it was already normalized as something a young man might want to do.  It was acceptable fringe.  Not to mention their sons were coming of age in the middle of “free love”.  There was now some idea that it might be ok to try a few of those things in the magazines out before marriage, just not with the girl you planned to marry.

Well, we all have a pretty good idea how the Boomers and Silents handled the influences of mass pornography getting even more normalized and mainstream in their young adulthood.

They were the swingers and nudists and the earliest waves of  what is now called “polyamory” on the secular fringe.  On the Christian-inflected fringe side, they were Flirty Fishers and sisterwivers in the 1970s and 1980s.  There was also the acceptable fringe of taking your date to a pornographic theater, although now that is moving more into Generation X.

It’s hard to accept, but these were the parents of the Millennials and Generation X.  And this is just part one.  Part two is going to note what the consequences were to those Millennials and Gen X’ers.

Might also want to notice that this is an early example of managerialism and modern efficiency thinking, too.

Nuclear family plus servants doesn’t equal nuclear family plus appliances

From a tweet by “hbdchick“, a tantalizing excerpt of an essay by Peter Laslett, who researched the structure of the Western European (particularly English) family for decades.  He’s one of the reasons I talk about the domestic help aspect of family formation, even as alt-right (and regular right) types ignore that when declaiming about how the nuclear family is a staple of certain kinds of white people.  I’d put Laslett’s more exhaustive work on the back burner, but I think it may have to move up in the old queue. Below I’ve reposted the excerpt with the important bit at the end highlighted.

Characteristics of the Western European Family

Peter Laslett

By ‘family structure’ many things may be intended. I shall take it here in two senses. First, in the sense of composition of the co-resident domestic group, as the historical sociologists call it. This means the knot of persons who live together, man, wife and sometimes, but by no means always, their children, their relatives, if any, along with their servants, now excessively rare. Such is the family which the wage-earner leaves when he catches his bus in the morning to go to work, and which he returns to in the evening. It is also the assemblage of possessions which the bachelor girl or the solitary widower or divorcee calls a home, along with himself or herself. A modest array of this kind is the constitution of the family for very large numbers of Western Europeans in the 1980s. The family in the second sense is the extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles and so on who are recognised, and sometimes associated with, but do not live together in the same place.

I am concerned here with family in both these senses, historically, over time. This is not only because of the interest people have in their family history: but also because it has now been shown that unless we have some knowledge of the history of the family, the family of today, of our own personal experience, can be profoundly misunderstood. For the fact is that in the matter of the family we have suffered, and still suffer, from a series of persistent, deceptive, obfuscating misbeliefs which can only be shown up and corrected by a knowledge of the past.

This self-deception about the history of the family has particularly affected Western Europeans. Frenchmen, Germans or Englishmen, unless they have come across the work of recent historical sociologists, are likely to believe the following. That the co-resident familial group in the past, at least up to the point of industrialisation, was large and complicated, with several generations living together. Furthermore, that this comfortable, kin-enfolding, welfare-providing family group not only nurtured the young, but took in their spouses when they married, and also provided them with shelter and succour when they became old or suffered other misfortunes. That the family in the sense of extended kin was a further source of welfare. It seems to be supposed that before the days of the Welfare State it was the family and kin which rescued social casualties. Now all this has turned out to be untrue.

Untrue, that is to say, in a literal sense and for the particular part of Western Europe which first became industrialised and which has given what might be called industrial culture to the rest of the world. By this North-West Europe, especially the British Isles, Northern France, the Low Countries and Scandinavia, is meant. In this cultural region family groups had been simple in composition and quite modest in size for many centuries before industrialisation. Married children only seldom lived with their parents, and two couples in one family household were quite unusual. It is true that the family group has become much smaller in the 20th century, servants have disappeared, and solitary living has grown enormously in our own day: but this did not happen during the process of industrialisation as ‘traditional society’ gave way to ‘modern society’ and cannot be called a transition to the ‘nuclear family’. The ‘nuclear family’ was there already.

The kin composition of the English family group was much as it is today in the 16th century, and had been so since the 1300s, the 1200s or even earlier, but with one very important structural difference. Servants lived in large numbers of families, and the presence of servants made the family groups of the rich large, and the family groups of the poor correspondingly small. In this area of the West, moreover, welfare never flowed along lines of kinship. The casualties of the system, the widows, the orphans, the poverty-stricken, were supported by the collectivity rather than the family.

The implications, needless to say, are pretty major.  Hbdchick has a London Review of Books subscription and I do not as yet, so she reproduced a different excerpt mentioning very high servant turnover and that the lifetime servant was more of a literary device than an ongoing reality.

This is interesting, because due to labor shortage and some other historical quirks, the longtime or lifelong servant did exist in various forms in America and Canada all the way into the first half of the 20th century.  Likewise, the nuclear family in its frontier-isolated and later suburban form could not exist without the Industrial Revolution’s massive infusions of radical new technology and mass production.  So on the one hand, “the nuclear family has always been part of Western Europe”, but on the other hand, the people who came to America transmuted it along radical lines that were not reflected in the old country’s version of it.

And more to the point, as my title for this post notes, it’s not the same to say that appliances are your servants, even if they were devised as a replacement.  They are not a true replacement for all that.