Why widows came to be treated poorly, or, single mommas have always been around.

The modern hyperfocus by some Christian-identifying conservatives on how *widows* should be treated better because they’re not at all like those wicked, awful, hypergamous single mommas is basically the result of broken tradition-passing and a complete inability to understand that the “grass widow” has been with humanity for a very long time.  Women sometimes claimed to be widows when they were not but as the story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus shows, there were plenty who didn’t even use that fig leaf.  The text does not definitively indicate she was widowed five times.

The Bible repeatedly refers to the fatherless, and also widows, but it would not have had the precision understanding it has when it’s used to justify giving nothing but rude words and a closed church door to single mothers and divorced mothers.

Christians, Jews, and Muslims are specifically told not to sexually regulate and speculate on just how the “widow” came to have “fatherless” children.

The fruits of patriarchal regulation are specifically commanded to be shared with the naughty.

I think the strain of disgust and revulsion these types have for single mothers and divorced mothers having any kind of support for their children comes from the individualism that conservatives are so prone to. Since they don’t understand or want to be part of real patriarchal social structures, they can only think about support in the narrow, literal terms of marrying such a woman or paying child support to her.  There is so much more than that in caring for others in your neighborhood and church though, and none of it involves “man up and marry those scandalous dames” at all, not even a lil’ bit.

It’s worth noting none of these guys are beating the bushes to go provide support to those saintly, superior literal widows and orphans, of which there are still plenty around and about.  No, it’s all talk and justification for not doing anything for women you can’t have sex with or don’t want to have sex with.  And as for the women lining up to concur that only the right kind of individual woman is entitled to help with her children, that was a driver of fun stuff like socialism, other women not wanting to deal with the wrong kind of woman.

Single motherhood does have a sort of status in wider society in that single (and to a lesser extent divorced) mothers are more willing to bully or beg people (nearly always other women, which makes the panic over some stray man having to do anything for them even more sadly funny) into helping them with child care so they can work.  And people will give them verbal encouragement.  This is real, I won’t downplay its existence.

But it’s hardly some carefree, easy path.  And contrary to popular belief, a lot of explicit law and social norms work to sharply limit the number of children such women do have.

And related to this, raising children has historically not been so totally expected to be the work of individual parents to individual children at all.  It was much more collective.  Jane Austen’s mother bore seven children, and every last one of them was shipped off to be raised by *gasp* another man and his wife! when they were infants and then brought back to their parents when they were around toddling age.  That particular kind of foster care is but one of the many traditions among Western societies in which raising other people’s children was just part of the social fabric.  Apprenticeships for both boys and girls at ages seven or eight were also one such tradition.  And many of those kids, particularly the boys were quite utterly raised by a man who wasn’t their dad.

Weirdly, all this is mysteriously ignored by people who freak out about a child having strongly masculine, healthy and Godly men in their lives if mom was improvident about how the kid got into the world.  Christ’s love isn’t zero-sum.  You can love the grass widow and the not-grass widow and their children.  This very issue is, incidentally why we have so many of those awful government programs and nonprofits for supporting single mothers’ children.  It was the increasing unwillingness to share with the naughty and take on the burdens.  Some frontier woman turning up at her city sister’s doorstep with five kids might well be a widow, but it was just as likely she “married the wrong man” (as Betty MacDonald put it in a sequel to The Egg and I) and just left and wanted to come home to family.  And fewer and fewer families wanted to deal.

Never-married motherhood is terrible for kids, and the harshness of taking away the children of those women to be raised in other families was an attempt to compensate for that.

If the Christian manosphere wants wives, they should be nicer to middle aged married women

Despite the generally hilarious claims of the manosphere’s Christian rump to be interested in traditional sex roles and traditional understandings of marriage and authority, they ignore the obvious traditions when those traditions mean some woman somewhere might have actual social status and a respected position in her community beyond being a wife or a mother.  They write endless screeds on marriage readiness as a sort of role playing game where it’s just a matter of hitting some benchmarks with “the current girl” enough times and you’ll get to the final boss fight (wedding ceremony) of Marriage: The Quest for a Purest of Pure Godly Submissive But Also Hardbodied Wife.  Or they write about finding a wife as though it’s about sifting through character traits like a basket of costumes, wearing only the ones “women care about the most”.

Left out of all this, of course, is going to the conservative Christian women who are most likely to be swimming in under 25, chaste, often Christian young women who want to marry and be housewives.  That is middle aged women in their 30s and 40s.  Older such women usually have all the kids out of the house and are mostly around career types or caring for their relatives’ kids.  Younger such women are swimming in very young kids of their own or working.  But women in their 30s and 40s usually have at minimum stuff like the teachers and administrators of their childrens’ activities and school (yes, even homeschooling women) or their own teenagers/young 20somethings heading into marriageable age range.  Some also have the (usually young) women who help out around the house and/or younger female relatives who really like children enough to buck social norms and hang out with them a lot.

Middle aged married women used to serve as a bridge between young single men and young single women, gently and sometimes not so gently guiding compatible personalities towards each other even in ye olde times when marriage was supposedly never about romantic attachment, just babies and property.  And yet, those women are no longer treated as valuable assets in the quest for a wife by young Christian men.  The Christian manosphere is just jerky and disrespectful about it rather than oblivious.  As a result, even though many middle aged married women are still able to have acquaintance with young marriageable women, they don’t get any opportunities to revive the old traditions of guiding and matchmaking compatible young people towards a clear marriage path (no long engagements, as one example).

In a legitimately Christian patriarchal social structure, married women have real social power as a result of being married women.  This is something the Christian manosphere doesn’t get about the realities of Christian patriarchy.  Non-Christian patriarchy can be this way, but needless to say, women have more freedom in Christ and that extends to their roles in a patriarchal system too.  One of the ways you can tell the manosphere talk about restoring traditional sex roles is not “sex realism” is that they don’t believe that the state of being married confers real status on a woman.  They believe the status conferred is just stuff in her silly female brain, that the only real status accrues to men.  This is a lot of things, but it’s not very traditional for Western Christian societies.

Even in our deracinated, atomized society, middle aged married women are the ones who are around the kind of teenaged and 20something young women who still want marriage and babies and staying home with them more than any other group of people and therefore the fact that nobody knocks on middle aged married womens’ doors offering to help them throw parties and social events to bring together young singles in a neutral but emotionally complex setting that allow for getting to know someone’s personality and attitude (they don’t) is part of why the Christian marriage situation is so dire for men and women alike.

Dear Conservatives, setting things up so all housewives are drudges is anti-natalist and untraditional

Bullying women into staying home obviously doesn’t work, and yet it appears to make up the whole of the conservative argument for women staying home.  This is one of the core problems with American conservative Christian culture.  It leads to conservative Christian SAHMs putting kids into preschool as soon as the children age into it for breaks because “well, it’s not daycare now, it’s school!” It also leads to those women having fewer and fewer children.  Three is the new five and two is the new three.

Take cooking, as one example. Making stock takes time.  Sure, you don’t have to stand right over the pot, but you have to be in the general vicinity of the kitchen for 3-5 hours for relatively modest amounts of stock.  Now, this is the sort of homemade staple that we SAHMs are supposed to just have handy at all times, but it takes time to make it, and it takes even more time to make huge batches that you then freeze.  That’s a day or two or three you aren’t doing much else.  And I’ve already covered laundry.

As for childcare, we can’t all have lump babies that stay put wherever you plop them and we can’t all have children who hear an instruction to play quietly when they are older and do so for hours on end (this is actually fairly rare).  And the current status quo of spinning the childcare out to public school or preschool is not tenable, because it limits fertility and the false idol of homeschool robs a lot of communities of the stability they desperately need to have a functional school system.

There is no argument against homeschooling on a family level. Parents have the right and duty to educate our children as we see fit, and a state that interferes with this is acting unjustly. On a larger level, however, homeschooling as a movement is extremely uncharitable and antisocial. Not everyone can homeschool. As a society, we need schools and other collective institutions to spread the burden of childcare and primary education and to properly civilize and educate young people. But if you saddle enough individual families with the total burden of the care and education of their own children, you ensure that those families will have no surplus to support any such institutions. And this is in fact exactly what has happened. Everyone blames this on the homeschooling families themselves, because when you’re talking about homeschooling families you’re really talking about homeschooling mothers and no one ever passes up an opportunity to blame mom for everything, but individual families are just doing our best in impossible situations. But people who can’t homeschool are left entirely at the mercy of the world all the homeschooling families have retreated from. There’s no civil society to join run by homeschooling mothers because we’re all too tired. Homeschooling mothers generally don’t even help each other out.

http://www.isegoria.net/2015/04/making-time-for-kids/#comments  This longitudinal study suggests that being there when the kids are little is worth a lot less if the SAHM isn’t relatively rested most of the time.  And there is an argument here (though not one I would advocate or consider pro-woman) for working while they are little and then, when they need the intensive parenting in teenagerhood, being available then as a SAHM.

This is why it’s insane to set things up so all women are drudges, it’s not Christian or functionally patriarchal. A lot of personality disordered people are able to hide out in “traditional womanhood” because there is an irreducible amount of domestic work and right now, that burden is going to fall on women. People can fantasize about it being different but right now, that’s how it is. Moreover, very few people can make more money than their labor is worth at home and very few couples can split the work effectively, for exactly the same reasons jobsharing doesn’t work, which is that you need a manager.

Much of femininity and marriage is socially constructed but you can socially construct it well or you can socially construct it stupidly and marriage and patriarchy are BETTER so who cares if they’re natural plus, Christian patriarchy is the only society that supports female liberation so stop sawing the branch you’re sitting on.

Lastly, women used to produce concrete results in their domestic work.  The industrial age was a rapid process of removing those concrete accomplishments from the domestic sphere and replacing them with vague repetitive tasks like driving the kids to activities (which goes all the way back in America to the 1920s!) and endless cleaning up kid messes and of course our dear friend laundry.  Those things are not terrible or wrong for mothers to do, but the conservative approach to the whole thing is to lie to women that they never had any other aspects to their domestic work and that they should delight in the abstract repetitive slog with no clear results at the end of each day.  Women then run to “crafts” in a flight to concrete accomplishment, and then are mocked for the crafts not being sufficiently useful or practical.  It’s a vicious trap.

Anyway this is all just random notes accumulated over time so if it doesn’t read like an essay, well, it’s not. I don’t know how to help women get the concrete aspects back for domestic labor when it’s simply not essential to survival anymore.  Our household lives a pretty agrarian lifestyle and we wouldn’t starve if we had a plague followed by a drought.  It would just be expensive to buy store food again.  And that’s pretty much the core of the problem.  The concrete accomplishments of my agrarian living help alleviate the stresses of the worst of modern housewiving, but “be agrarian LARPers” is not a general solution to a general problem.

When you can’t afford to be frugal, or unexamined assumptions conservatives have about frugal tips

Frugality and being a good steward of the household income are not impossible goals.  However, what “frugal tips” are available to housewives these days rely on a bevy of unexamined assumptions that don’t apply to an average SAHM these days.

It is possible to make your own curtains, to store meat in small portions, to bake your own bread, to make your own household cleaning products and to keep a price book, to name some fairly typical tips one will run across on the old intertubes with a quick google.  But frugality of these types is generally not compatible with the current domestic setups of most American housewives.  They have no spare capital for a deep freezer, or to buy meat in bulk quantities to take advantage of sales or direct-purchase opportunities.  They don’t have domestic help even on an occasional basis, so whatever they do has to be compatible with kids underfoot.  And of course kids aren’t young forever, but how can good habits be established when it’s full-tilt survival mode when they are young?  Teaching little kids to be useful or even to consider other people and obey adult rules about where and when to talk/run/etc. takes focused effort and isn’t readily done with a casual phrase here and there.  That can be the way of it only after the habitual behaviors are in place.

Thus you have a pretty major obstacle to frugality early on, even if you are “saving money on daycare”.  The other obstacle is pregnancy.  A lot of frugal tips involve large amounts of ongoing physical labor that is difficult to manage during pregnancies.  If you haven’t spent your years growing up doing that kind of labor, you are unprepared for the extent of it later in life.  You’re also out of luck if pregnancy is hard on your body.  And some women never get back to pre-pregnancy fitness/endurance levels whether it’s one kid or seven.

I come back a lot to the physical stuff because there’s a parallel unexamined assumption among conservatives (not just the male ones) that modern technology means no real physical labor is necessary for a housewife to expend.  Pregnancy is always easy and quick to recover from, barely a speed bump, nursing is also no big, not even requiring extra food or effort (except of course many women switch to formula with “many” kids precisely because they can hand a bottle off and let the older kids feed baby so they can get stuff done).  And even if all that stuff is a little bit difficult, KIDS R FREE.  There’s a weird fixation on the infant and toddler years as being super-cheap by default among conservatives and this is used to extrapolate that children are extremely cheap to raise to 18-21 years because somehow breastmilk production costs nothing (not even calories, it’s like magic) and you can just rely on an infinite supply of thrift stores with appropriate clothing and insert all the rest of the stuff you hear from conservatives about how totally cheap it is to raise infants/toddlers, so therefore have eight.  I guess they’re supposed to drink breastmilk and wear cloth diapers until they marry at 18 somehow?  It’s a quirk I never really noticed until a recent clickbait article about tradeoffs appeared on some home decor site and conservatives tore into the writer of the article for being selfish and stupid, didn’t she understand kids aren’t expensive because BREASTFEEDING and CLOTH DIAPERS?

So, let’s recap some of the unexamined assumptions conservatives dump on housewives regarding frugality:

  • Assumption of “traditional” domestic economy skills that actually date from the middle of the 20th century and rely on a pretty vast industrial infrastructure (including exploited labor by women and children in foreign lands) to be feasible as “economizing” at all.
  • Minimizing the physical risks and stresses of childbearing and nursing, as well as the physical labor that is still necessary to run an “economized” household.
  • Fixation on the early years as being so cheap that there are no real expenses added by having more and more children
  • Parallel dismissal of the importance of child spacing or domestic support in being able to have children doing chores effectively at young ages.
  • Dismissal of chaotic early years as a major obstacle to domestic tranquility and structure, while assuming that such structure is there (no need for a sitter while homeschooling, for example, because infants and toddlers and young kids will just play quietly while you instruct older children…somehow, or alternatively that older children will not resent the play of younger children who aren’t ready for academics partying in front of them because no big kid ever envied a little kid getting to play instead of write an essay or do math problems).  Without structure, frugality is hard to consistently achieve.
  • Assumption that the average housewife was educated in domestic skills by her mother, and if she was not, that she can instantly acquire these skills in a few days’ time via youtube and blogs and immediately apply them effectively.

Feel free to toss more into the comments.  The core issue with having all these assumptions is that without them, it’s nearly impossible to economize systematically.  And that means rebuying things, buying more expensive versions of whatever because you don’t have the skills or time to go with cheaper approaches, and stress spending.  But to help people who need to be more frugal, the assumptions have to be dropped and conservatives have to start looking at the actual conditions people are living under, not the idealized conditions a small percentage of conservatives manage to live under.  Here’s hoping!

Exploring the implications of the Baby Scoop Era

Yes, your parents were lying to you about everything, your life was a big fake production, and this happened with the extensive support of dozens of people you knew in your local town.  The conspiracy was real and focused entirely on keeping you from knowing who you really were.

It is very popular these days to pick on Boomers and younger Silents as the vanguard of all that is wrong in America today, but the Baby Scoop Era not only happened, it formed a substantial subtext in the lives of many Boomers and their parents.  It’s not even possible to know how exactly many babies were scooped precisely, because destroying or falsifying birth records was part of the process.

And their parents were the Greatest Generation mostly.  “Great” white mothers having babies or conceiving out of wedlock at rates that supposedly didn’t exist before The Great Society, at rates that supposedly were only ever the bane of the black community.  Due to the length of time, some of the oldest Boomers were themselves relinquishing mothers on top of things, so there are layers upon layers here.

This is just a little piece of the context for “the Narrative” and the idea that lying is fine if it’s for a bigger social justice good.  This was not driven exclusively nor primarily by leftists, even if there is a heavy technocratic element involved in much of the Baby Scoop reasoning pushing mothers to relinquish infants.

There really are historical periods, some extremely recent and within living memory, where socially conservative people played fast and loose with the truth, abused and coerced people and were not very honorable people.  And the results weren’t so great either.  This is also part of the subtext behind wanting women to have more economic power and be able to be “strong independent single mothers”.  That didn’t come out of nowhere.

This has interesting implications as well for those who skew heavily towards nature over nurture.

 

Notes on Letters from a Woman Homesteader

So I got diverted from my original 2014 reading list by yet another bit of old writing that doesn’t quite match up to the myths around frontier and pioneer folks.

It’s some letters a homesteading woman from about 100 years ago wrote to a former employer she’d maintained cordial relations with.  She’d worked for the employer as a laundress.  What is fascinating about the letters is that yet again, she didn’t do all the work alone, but routinely had other women helping her, or she traveled to help them.  It is clearly normalized in these letters for the women to go around to each other and spend days or weeks assisting with, well, homesteading for each other, along with the demands of hospitality.  When parties and social events are undertaken, it’s just assumed that everyone (including men) will pitch in to help the individual household tasked with hosting duties.  There is, despite the fact that they all live ten and twenty and thirty miles away from each other, not actually that much rugged individualism.

Also, this woman’s body broke down having lots of babies (six, more or less, according to other information about her life elsewhere on the internet) and working hard.  The letters Mrs. Stewart writes detail multiple instances of being unwell and struggling physically due to pregnancies (and infant deaths/miscarriages) and the work of homesteading. Her marriage was a mail-order marriage, but it lasted and as noted above produced quite a few surviving little bundles of joy out of it.

Mrs. Stewart promotes homesteading aggressively, feeling strongly that however hard that labor is, it still beats being a laundress in an urban metro area in the early 20th century.  She really felt that women should get out there and grab a piece of land for themselves, with or without a husband.  That sort of feminine self-determination is American to the core, being in regular currency prior to the 19th amendment.  I continue to have my own preconceptions about traditional America rocked by the knowledge that everything old is new again.  And in this case what’s old is American women waving a flag of securing financial independence through earning income rather than marriage.

It’s a short read, plus she’s a capable and engaging writer.  There’s a reason her employer sent the letters to be published in a magazine.

SAHMs don’t save on childcare because working mothers don’t pay retail price for childcare.

Basically what it says on the tin.

Working mothers don’t pay retail rates for childcare. Like with formula feeding where people will cheerfully buy you formula but won’t help out with extra food if you breastfeed, people are more willing to help out with free or cut-rate childcare if you have any job outside the home, including SAHMs offering below-market childcare to working mothers.  Yep, that’s a thing, to be expanded on in an upcoming post.

Also, working mothers are pushier about getting those discounts. There was a fairly shocking story a few years ago about a working woman just shoving her kid at a neighbor she’d never met until that day so she could go to work. There was a more recent story in Florida (go Florida, earn that fark tag!) about a woman running a less than legal daycare with exotic poisonous snakes on the premises and a higher than legal kid/caregiver ratio. IIRC that daycare had a waiting list.

About a third of working women with children under 18 use gramma/auntie specifically among relatives for childcare.  This contributes to formula use in the United States.  If you throw in other relatives or friends helping with childcare, you get up to nearly 50%.  That’s working mothers’ access to discounted childcare: nearly half get it cheap or free from friends and relatives.  As for the half not using gramma or cousin Susy, daycare owners and nannies can tell you all the horror stories about delays on payment from double income households and single mother households.  But even when they don’t commit crime to get cheaper childcare, the tax system gives them and their employers thousands of dollars specifically to use daycare centers.

Basically the only working mothers who fork out retail prices are coastal women not living near relatives or friends who only put their kids in the right sort of diverse daycare center for childcare.  And sure, they pay for the privilege, but they a tiny sliver of all working mothers.

Women should stay home with kids as the societal norm.  It’s better for everyone.  But under the current social setup, women can kindasorta afford to work outside the home when their kids are little precisely because a lot of under the table subsidy is given to them to support that.  Little is gained from the kabuki theater of “Jane and her husband crunched the numbers and daycare is expensive and would leave her with only 5k per year, so that’s why she stays home with her kids.”  It’s kabuki because if Jane said she was going back to work because Joe’s hours were cut 40%, she would find a raft of free or nearly-free childcare mysteriously washing up at her doorstep that is completely absent for most conservative Christian SAHMs.  So Jane would earn a lot more than 5k per year in the first place.  And of course, kids age out of infant and toddler childcare anyway.

But the real hole in this common economic argument for mothers staying home with small children isn’t that society currently props up working outside the home with implicit and explicit support, it’s that when husbands make that argument, this is what they are saying to their wives, the mothers of their children.

“You get nothing for staying home except being with your children 24/7.  You get no break, you get no adult socialization, you get no relief or time alone.  I as your husband don’t really have the resources to properly support your administration of the domestic sphere.  I refuse to earn enough money for you to get domestic help as needed and I refuse to let you earn that money even though we just did the math and you totally would earn enough to pay for that support. I don’t value a comfortable home and a rested wife that much, because these things won’t happen if you stay home for several years or a decade plus having babies and never getting to use the bathroom alone, be treated as an adult by other adults including me or have a real family dinner you eat peacefully at a table.  And you should take this deal, and become an exhausted, overworked wreck, possibly even overweight and invariably with health issues because I’m waving the temporary issue of childcare costs for a few years in your face. ”

Because the subsidy to working mothers is mostly hidden and secret, people can pretend it doesn’t really exist.  But it is, right now, a crummy deal to stay home with little kids if you’re most women married to most men in America.  The money isn’t there to paper over the difficulties.  The family support is mostly absent among American-born folks who think nothing of moving cross-country for work.  And keeping up the pretense that “childcare/daycare costs” are such a breaking point just maintains the status quo for wealthier families who can afford to provide household help for their SAHMs and do.  It also limits family formation because a lot of women can see the acceptable fringe mothers at church who took the deal and had six or eight kids this way and they quietly contracept themselves into only having 3, 2, or even just one.

The current, real situation is that women get to be treated as adults as a default and norm if they work outside the home, no matter how many kids they have.  It’s just that the general anti-natal arrangement of society (car seats, for example, are no longer built-in to cars due to legal issues rather than safety problems) means not having that many as a working mother.  And to back this up, everyone (including SAHMs) falls all over themselves to make it easier for mothers of toddlers to hold jobs outside the home at even minimum wage income levels.

Anyway this is getting too long and wandering into the topic of how SAHMs contribute to the problem by providing cut-rate childcare, so I’ll just do a follow up post on that aspect of the matter.  Stay home because it’s worth modelling for your kids and grandkids, so that we can get back to a society where it’s normal and women aren’t isolated and alone who choose it.  It’s not saving that much childcare money, they aren’t toddlers forever and it’s still important to stay home after they age out of school-age or teenagerhood,  and done with real support, some money might well be spent anyway on occasional or regular domestic help depending on the relatives-nearby situation.  Sometimes economic arguments aren’t the ones we should be jumping for.