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.

 

Some historical downsides of having household help, American edition

  1. 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

  2. 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.
  3. 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 lowly, 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 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).

 

3 historical reasons American Motherhood is so dysfunctional

  1. Ambivalent servants!

    Ambivalence about domestic help.  It is worth noting that where this ambivalence was overcome enough to have mother’s helpers, maids, cooks and the like, the birth rate generally was quite a bit higher than where women expected to go it alone, though not as high as where relatives helping mom out was common (and yes, where relatives helping was common was sometimes also where it was ok to have a maid, though only sometimes.)  When women are expected to go it alone, 1-2 children is far more typical than in the current conservative Christian culture where women have been manipulated into believing that it’s normal to go it alone with 3-7 children, particularly 3-5.  It’s not and we conservative SAHMs have been horribly lied to.  Yes, non-conservatives reading, conservative Americans really think it’s no big deal for a woman to get pregnant, nurse and also perform the three C’s (cooking, cleaning, childcare) for up to SEVEN children with zero friends, relatives or paid help before “completing their family”.  A lot of the ambivalence is due to America having waves of white immigrants who would have been servants in the old country.  A lot of conservatives like to talk about how America was populated by middle class types, but that’s historically delusional.  It was populated by broke people who wanted to be rich lords and ladies and settled for what we now call middle class because in America you could do a passable imitation  of gentry pretension with your teeny weeny farm (big yard and home well apart/distant from other folks).  People could have the land as wealth, but coming from servant/peasant backgrounds, they didn’t want the obligations of a lord to vassals or serfs, and America was rich enough that they didn’t have to and could still mostly get along.  The women just didn’t have many children, though, as few as they could get away with.

  2. This is just our starter home, we’ll move to something bigger in a couple years.

    Frequent moves. Chasing temporary financial gain is an American staple.  Americans have historically been of the hustler mode when it came to wealth rather than the slow and steady myth conservatives like to tell themselves.  This is why conservative Christian culture is riddled with MLM and generally scammy business practices.  Because Americans are money grubbing, they were always happy to relocate for a few extra bucks rather than stay put and build lasting generational wealth.  It was all about getting ahead in the moment and remains that way to this day.  This is hilariously thought of by many conservatives as an attitude of black people alone, which just goes to show that it’s not just SJWs (radical leftists) who engage in projection.  This frequent moving due to short-term money grubbing meant that women were under pressure to cut corners and economize raising families on very little actual money and without any hope of building informal non-monetary support networks.  So again, they tailored their family sizes accordingly.

  3. Individualism is bipartisan!

    Wild eyed individualism (spawned both libertarianism and cults that didn’t happen in the rest of the post-industrial West). Women in America have always been big on freedom and equality and gaining more hard power because they had nothing else due to the wild eyed individualism.  Some of them ended up leading cults of the self (Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneida), and a few founded libertarianism (Rose Wilder, Gene Stratton Porter), but conservatives keep pretending that Americans were interested in quality of life rather than quantity of STUFF, and that’s just not the reality.  Individualism leads to consumerism, even in the absence of modern mass culture and that’s exactly what happened with American women and motherhood.  It has gone through many iterations of consumerism, but it never settles on functional, healthy communitarianism intentionally.  Where it happens is despite the wild eyed individualism, not because of it.  The individualism looks more functional than it ultimately is because until pretty recently it was backstopped by the remnants of strong collective institutions.

White American women have never been highly fertile

I was looking around in old Census data the other month and stumbled upon a fairly shocking bit of demographic information–white American women have pretty much always been at the lower end of fertility.  I am defining “American” here as “after 1776”.  They were having only a couple kids per woman way back in the 1840s and such.

Regionalism is part of how the myth of fecund white women oppressed into sterility by “the libs” or “feminism” gained traction.  In a few regions, white women did have huge families, 8-12 kids being quite usual.  However, this was a single-digit percentage of all white women of childbearing age, and this has been the case almost from the very beginnings of America as a nation.  White women in America have always tended towards having relatively few children, long before 1960s or even 1920s feminism.  The Baby Boom years weren’t a bunch of white women feeling free to have five or six kids, they were a bunch of white women *who would have otherwise had none having one* being added to the overall pool of mothers.  This is, needless to say, not part of the conservative happy 50s mythmaking.

American women have frequently throughout American history taken more personal freedom and economic power in exchange for the lack of genuine domestic support, on average.  This is part of how childrearing in America has become so awful and health-damaging for women.  Men bought our great grammas off with “freedom” and this was supposed to compensate for not having a feminine or domestic sphere.  And there’s always been extreme subcultures having huge families to point to, even though they never represented much more than 15-20% of the total population themselves.

But I guess that’s also part of the secret history of domesticity in America–a typical American woman really wasn’t raising six kids alone while her husband worked all day or was gone for months.  She was about as likely to be raising one or two in 1870 as 1970, which explains quite a bit.

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.