In terms of historical American norms, it’s been normal to Do It All at an upper-middle level, it’s been normal to have (white OR black, native-born OR immigrant) domestic help to do it, it’s been normal to be a college mom, it’s been normal to not be one. The difficulty is that these groups of women have been co-existing every step of the way. So teasing out how to take the good and ditch the bad from our ancestresses is a delicate and sticky business.
In Dune, 3% was the critical-mass number to terraform Arrakis into a human-friendly planet instead of a total-desert one. That’s often about the right number for tails to wag social-norm dogs in American society, too.
“The early 20th century was the summit of civilization and human accomplishment.”
I think there is a good argument to be made for that statement. However, that is not quite what this post is about.
It’s about the worldview I’ve adopted as I’ve come to appreciate and learn more about that era of human history, a mere century or so ago. I discussed the idea that this blog was a way to work out an alternative to Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, and now I think I’ve got a grasp on what that alternative is.
This post is just an introduction to the phrase as concept. Civic natalism was what a surprising number of Americans had a century ago, but it was an effect. We can look at what they had access to that we don’t have now and the goal is to find out how we can have those things in a modern society. Theirs was atomized and global, too, they were the vanguard of globalism. Natalism also is about more than just maxing your pregnancy numbers, it’s about making it possible for motherhood to be something fully human, so women don’t want to reject the natural outcome of marital intimacy.
They had the following:
- Large casual labor pool, particularly of women. This means that there were maids and nannies and cooks, but it means so much more than that. It means that you could pay people to do a lot of normal things and lend occasional assistance.
- No commuting. The commuting was, mostly, the long-distance travel type, which human societies have developed a lot of tools to deal with. It typically wasn’t the hurry up and wait tension that daily commuting tends to put onto people. It is very possible to reduce commuting, but a deeper analysis of commuting patterns with an eye towards family improvement and cohesion is needed.
- Rational autonomy for children. This means society is structured so that children take as much responsibility for themselves as possible, appropriate to their age.
- Advocacy for feminine leisure.
Starts are always rocky, so I’ll just conclude with this. I’ve finally secured enough readable copies of Gene Stratton-Porter’s non-fiction nature books and essays that I will resume a publishing order review of her work in the coming weeks. She was a fascinating example of civic natalism, even though she herself had only one child. Her entire career as a housewife who wrote bestsellers and spent hours in nature studies that are a direct line to the Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan strain of environmentalism and farming is an Ur-example of what civic natalism can provide when “just” a side effect of wider social norms. She was also an influential advocate for other women to have better homemaking conditions and society-wide support.
And yes, there will be some commentary about the politics of civic natalism. They intersect with how the right wing in America used to have a pretty good deal for bright women to be housewives and how they threw it away. But those same politics also intersect with radical feminist policy ideas about how to support motherhood. To summarize those future posts, let’s just say Phyllis Schlafly was a radical feminist when it came to motherhood.
Blew my mind, too.
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.