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.

 

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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.