Cooking as a middle class SAHM task is recent

What follows below is excerpted from a now-private post discussing food in the context of (mostly) UK society between the wars and shortly after World War 2.  It doesn’t really get into the significance of rationing and it misses some key details of social structure and its changes, but there are some broad points that are correct.  I’ve bolded a specific passage about middle class cooking.

“A couple of years ago, I did a marathon read of fiction from the 1920s to the 1950s…. What drew me in were the experiences of women characters who, like the women they were modelled on, were determining their own lives – pretty much for the first time in history. They bicycled through war time London doing useful things, or sat writing fiction, or lived in squalid bed sits in houses crammed with other young women.

And, of course, they ate. There’s a lot of food in middle class entertainments, and that’s a fact.

What struck me about the pre- and post-war literature I read, was how limited the food was. Heroines drink a lot of tea, toast a lot of bread, and occasionally augment the toast with sardines. Crumpets turn up occasionally, as does afternoon tea (involving cakes) at hotels. The diet was a paelo-low-carber’s nightmare. Sunday usually involve roast meat with roasted vegetables and gravy and breakfast could involve rashers of bacon. Boiled eggs appear and butter was crucial.

Even with all the afternoon cakes and sugared teas, the average calorie per day intake of a modern girl enjoying her bed squat was less than 1200 (by my dodgy, back-of-the-envelope calculations). And on top of that she was walking (striding, usually) everywhere, when she wasn’t biking.

But two other things struck me – how incredibly narrow the diet was. The same few dishes are mentioned repeatedly. Dietary variation doesn’t seem to obsess anyone and cooking is such a low priority, that people are pleased if they have a gas ring to boil eggs on.

I also learned that if you’re starving, what your body prioritises first is fat. There’s a fantastic book called A Woman in Berlin, about a woman who is stuck in Berlin when the Russians invade. The citizens of Berlin are starving, and all she can think about is fat. It’s an obsession. Butter or grease isn’t an addition to other things, it’s the Ground Zero of food, the thing your body wants the most.

The other thing, which I learned from reading E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady (a very funny read), is that cooking wasn’t a middle class virtue, much less an upper class one. ‘Cooking’ meant leaving a note for Cook about what you wanted to eat the next day. When WWII broke out, households all over England went into spasms because the cooks and maids went off to join the land army or whatever, leaving their mistresses with homes to run and absolutely no idea how to do it. It’s only after the war that it becomes accepted that cooking and cleaning is part of a middle class woman’s set of duties.

We also romanticise a past where women stayed in the kitchen, turning out fabulous, organic, home prepared meals for their families, when that time never existed.

I guess my point is that when it comes to food and food mores – it’s all being made up as we go along, and then varnished over with this patina of fake history.”

This is fairly true, even in an American context.  Although in America, due to the influence of the pioneer mythos, women were simultaneously expected to do a huge amount of household work mostly alone and this resulted in a view of food-as-fuel, best encapsulated by the Midwestern “hotdish”, which is just a bunch of whatever is handy heated up and served with little attention to flavor or taste.

Americans ate a lot of quick foods from 1920-1950, and the mom-at-home-making-dinner was already more of a marketing thing than a lived reality for substantial percentages of the population even if the wife was staying home.  Conservatives who spin stories about the halcyon home cooking of yore seem to forget about the Automat, which was around in the incredibly recent year of…1902.  Mom’s home cooking has, at least in America, always been more of an idea (or advertising slogan) than a necessary component of daily life.  Traditional society is replete with the home cooking being grandma’s, or auntie’s, or the hired girl’s, or the eldest daughter(s).

More simply, middle class status for women has not always revolved around their skillet-slinging capabilities.  In fact, one can see that it is very much not middle class at all in the fiction of Damon Runyon, who was hardly writing about the domestic sphere himself.  And he was also writing in the first half of the 20th century.

Having the opportunity to specialize has been closer to the middle class SAHM reality than what passes for it now in America.  Now SAHMs are excoriated for daring to specialize, if they find the energy to think about it at all.

Of course, I suppose the punchline is that our household eats about 80% of our meals at home, prepared from local, organic, minimally processed or unprocessed ingredients.  But we sure don’t cook every day, and I sure don’t cook all the meals.  And that’s totally traditional.

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If your wife can’t stay home without generating income, she needs real work, not a blog or pyramid scheme

The title says it all.  Blame pregnancy brain for this placeholder of a post.  I shall return this one day when I’m a little less gum-brained, but I wanted to post a little at least about what I mean in the title.

To be blunt, if your wife has to make money while she’s at home or else you all have big financial problems and she can’t get a job outside the home for whatever reasons, then she needs to do something real for money.

Too many housewives who have to be economically viable beyond canning and couponing get caught up in the pursuit of professionalism in their work-at-home endeavors.  So they turn to monetized blogs and pyramid schemes because you “join networks” and “build inventory” and sometimes get to wear a business suit or go to a conference.  Such things are just traps, sucking money out of families that really need every dollar and further devaluing the actual work at home they could be doing for money.

Seamstress, egg lady, taking in other children, cooking for working parents, taking in hand washing: these are just a few of the real, normal, historical things housewives have done for money that can still be done even in isolated exurbs.  Mostly they don’t have corrosive and ongoing costs that are difficult to break out of and they scale up or down to individual families and the strengths of individual women.

There are other options beyond these, but the common theme is slightly more than what is done for one’s family, just enough excess to sell for a moderate profit.  Maybe not a “real job” where you sit at a desk and have meetings about synergy all day, but real work that is useful to one’s local community and one’s real bottom line.

Guest Post: Advice is not Assistance

By “Anonymousewife”

People’s situations are so radically different that the idea that household organization advice for mothers from strangers on the internet can help is part of the problem.

Every mother reading mommyblogs on the internet has the following things in common: we can read English, we have internet access. That’s it. You’ve got a group of women with very, very different situations and needs. Any single piece of advice you can write is either going to be to be obvious – make you sure you feed your kids and dress them appropriately for the weather! – or be inapplicable and even dangerous to some people, even while it’s very helpful to others.

Take “get kids outside every day.” That seems like a great piece of scheduling advice that everyone can use, right? Unless… you live in Plano during one half of the year or Fargo during the other half and have one car, which your husband uses to get to work. There are quite a lot of conservative SAHMs who are literally stuck at home with small children and cannot go outside for months out of the year because the weather is unsafe for very tiny children. The tenor of “get your kids outside” advice flattens the distinction between “uncomfortable” and “unsafe” and it’s being read by young women who didn’t grow up in the region they’ve found themselves in and don’t necessarily know the difference themselves.*

But maybe our imaginary advice reader lives in a walkable neighborhood in a city, and maybe what she’s reading is “seek out likeminded company.” So she ignores the library and community center available to her in preference to taking long busrides to a suburban megachurch (yes people actually do this).

Sibling dynamics, chronotypes, husband likes and dislikes, the floorplan of your house – all of these things make general advice aimed at a woman in a situation where she is the only one responsible for all the childcare, all the housework, and very often the education of the older children impossible. In the decade of mommy-internetting, and in the decades of dead tree mommy-advice that preceded it, the response to people pointing this out has frequently been “well obviously women should use their common sense.”

But young mothers don’t have any common sense! They’re scared and alone and vulnerable, sleep deprived and desperately looking for older women to tell them that they’re doing it right. Advising this group is not like advising other people. Simply sounding confident and being older means that young mothers are likely to believe what you say and that they should apply it.

*I can’t emphasize this point enough – if you didn’t grow up with inclement weather, you don’t know how to handle it. Someone whose husband’s job takes her from California to Minnesota can really use direct handson supervision in getting kids ready for the snow. Someone who grew up in Oregon and now lives in Arizona can really use an older woman reminding her that it really is worth insisting the 5yo keep that hat on. And someone who grew up in a place where it never gets colder than 45 or hotter than 80 can REALLY USE someone telling them the difference between “uncomfortable” and “unsafe,” because it all feels the same to us.

Screwtape gets around, and it’s not pretty

This bad homage to The Screwtape Letters commits the error of making Screwtape look like a paragon of heavenly virtue by saying to women at home that they are evil for ever feeling overworked and underappreciated  In this homage, Screwtape is actually the good guy with the sane reasoning.

Modern conditions are not suitable for the average SAHM.  She really is being expected to do a lot of unreasonable things for unreasonable ends.  Work might have been harder in some obvious ways in the past, but the relentless overwork was never so socially acceptable as it is now.

It is interesting, is it not, that someone with a monetized blog that relies on sustaining the current untenable circumstances for SAHMs in order to profit is making posts about how bad it is to ever admit to feeling overworked or exhausted or plain irritated in going about one’s tasks as a housewife?  In a normal society, this type of monetized blogging to provide income would be replaced by real work for a wage that was doable around the demands of staying home with littles.  But we don’t live in a normal society, and Screwtape really gets around far more than one would ever desire.

I have certainly noted that routines and schedules are important, but the reason the whole world (and it is a whole blogland of its own) of monetized mommy-blogs concerning organization is a problem is that they’re selling a fantasy that individual efforts can make up for total lack of community and support from other women.  It’s a theology of salvation through works, dressed up to sell ad space, or “organizing kits” or, well, whatever.  But it’s not a healthy approach or an honest one.  It’s making money off suffering by offering fake solutions rather than real, less monetizable ones.  I guess Screwtape would be very proud, such works are a tribute to that demon’s master.

Childcare is both a skill and a talent

It is clear that a lot of conservatives (though it’s a particularly American malady overall) these days think that childcare is something only a mother can do for her own children and that any other kind of childcare is both morally and psychologically inferior.  Needless to say, this flies against all kinds of traditional views on childcare.

We’ve had a lot of teenaged girls babysit our children for anywhere from a few hours to full-time, probably a dozen in the last two years.  It was really obvious that some girls had that special talent of being able to handle the needs of six or seven children at one time, even if they didn’t themselves come from a large family.  It was also really obvious that other girls could barely manage the needs of one child and were at meltdown mode with just a second one added in.

This happens with mothers too.  Most of the time mothers have mother-love for their children, but that’s not the same as having a talent for managing children.  In normal societies, there are so many other women around that a mother who has trouble with increasing numbers of children can easily delegate, while women who can seamlessly handle six or eight or ten smoothly can pick up that extra slack for other mothers.

But childcare isn’t something that is bred-in to all women in equal ability if they just try real hard.  Some women have a flair for it even if they never have any children of their own, while other women can bear a dozen and never quite get the hang of things.

This is one of the reasons I advocate domestic skills internships for young conservative women interested in marrying young and administering the home as housewives.  It’s a good way for women to find out which aspects of domestic living are potential weak spots and make plans to adjust their expectations and goals while they are young and still have a lot of energy to do so.

A mother doesn’t love her child the less because she doesn’t change every single diaper. Specialization is a key part of civilization.

Being a SAHM with household help isn’t a luxury

Household help, as a matter of historical norms, is crucial to the domestic life lived properly and correctly.

I used to joke all the time about the Proverbs 31 woman.  I used to say, “You know, if I had a few servant girls to help me out, I think I too might be able to get a lot more done around here.”

Hahahahaha!

But you know what?

It’s really not funny.  It’s not funny at all.  It’s completely true.  And you know what else?

It’s completely BIBLICAL.

You know what?  There are a few hours a week where something peculiar happens.  No, actually, peculiar isn’t the right word.  MIRACULOUS!  No, that isn’t the right word either.  I don’t know…how about…WONDERFUL.  Something wonderful happens.  You know what it is?

There are a few times during the week where I feel like …A NORMAL PERSON!

Where I don’t feel overwhelmed.   When I am actually motivated.   When I can actually think straight.  When I feel happy.  You know what makes all the difference in the world?

HAVING HELP!

Taken from  the blog “Hidden with you” (linked above). Her post is a good start to recalling that the modern idea of being a Super-human, able to do anything alone, is dispiriting and unsound.

Another excerpt from her post on this matter of having help (read the whole thing, it is worth the time):

Oh my.  It’s like living in a completely different world.  During those few blissful hours?  I can nurse the baby, delegate a task, and the housework continues.  All work does not cease to be done when I am caring for a child or helping them with something, because it is not completely dependent upon me to do it while she is here.  I have help.   I can use the bathroom without people following me.  I can make a phone call in peace if I need to while she entertains the kids.

We talk.  We commiserate.  Her youthful vigor inspires and motivates me.  My slightly more years of life experience answer her many questions.  We encourage each other!  It is absolutely a breath of fresh air in what can be very stagnant air of domestic life.

And then, there is another older woman.  A dear woman, who without her kindness, I would’ve given up hope a long time ago, and I seriously might have walked away from the boring, stagnant life of lukewarm Christianity.  She restored my hope in humanity actually.  I had just about lost hope that caring people existed in this world.  That is, people who cared enough to actually DO something for another person.

Do you know what this woman did?

She volunteered to use her day off from work to come over so I could go to the store alone!  Or to run any other errands I needed to do.   Whatever I needed to do for a few hours, while she watched my kids.

I still cannot express the PURE JOY of knowing someone cared.  The relief that comes from having physical help.  Someone to lend a hand during these years when our hands are so full.

So, these seemingly insignificant needs we have, that we often laugh and joke about, they are very real.  Yes, adult conversation, using the bathroom in peace and having an extra set of hands makes all the difference in the life of a young mother.

So often, I’ve wondered if my faith was weak.  Maybe that was my problem.  If I just had more faith in God, couldn’t this be better!?!  Couldn’t I handle this heavy load?

But we were created not only to live in communion with God, but also to live in community with one another.  Family.  Neighbors.  Friends.  For so many years of my mothering days, I have spent my life surrounded by empty homes.  I would not have even known who to ask for any help, no one is home!

What young mothers are truly lacking, is a culture centered around family.  Where families are not being ripped apart from every angle of society.  Where older women are there to teach and encourage the younger women in this extremely important vocation of wife and mother.  Where there are actually other women around to help one another out on the home front.  To be there to answer our many questions and to guide us in this calling.  That follows the Biblical model of Titus 2.

Anyway I can’t just reblog the whole thing (I suppose I could, but just go read it instead!)

That kind of post is why I started this blog.  SAHMs are being failed by the very people who talk so big about their “commitment to family values” and other such pablum.  This woman is experiencing real woman to woman support, genuine Titus 2 care from an older woman in her local community, and this should be the standard, usual experience for any Christian SAHM. It should not be some kind of unusual, magical fluke.

Just as it’s not a luxury to stay home with the kids at all, it’s not a luxury to have some level of household help and regular breaks and rest/recharge time.  If it is such a big important job, then those who call themselves family-oriented should be happy to make sure the tools to do that job effectively and sanely are available to the mothers working so hard for the sake of love.

Understanding why the manosphere is full of conventionally attractive black women

This is one of those little curiosities that seem like nothing much but reveal some unsettling things about where people feel they have to go to find pieces of normal life, however confused, distorted and (sometimes wildly) inaccurate.

The manosphere is full of black women who are conventionally attractive.  They are probably around their representation in the general American population (so about 3%, as they can’t all be pretty).  They are noticeably more attractive on average than the white women who make up the majority of women hanging around in the manosphere, but this is of course selection bias.

I had wondered WHY MY GOODNESS WHYYYYYYY and then I understood.

Black women can’t be conservative politically and interested in non-dowdy expressions of femininity.  They can pick one, but not both.  Conservatives want their black women dowdy and unfashionable and everyone else wants them politically and socially liberal.  Except in the silly old manosphere.  There a black woman can fight the dowdy within and also be politically conservative. And this is exactly what you see.  You see a bunch of black women who like being feminine and frilly and soft, but who are politically and socially conservative.

We gotta find a new place for these dames to hang out, stat.

Regular conservatives could help out by just not flipping out about black women wanting to look some way other than dowdy or granola-crunchy.