Chapter 5 - There's no place like home

“ ... [T]he history of the home is actually a lot more convoluted than we might understand today”. How true that was for me! I found this chapter very informative.

I really didn’t like the opening material from Hirshman, claiming that “choice feminism” is no credible form of feminism at all. That’s not because I want a credible form of feminism, but because if the aim was to “liberate” women, then giving them the right to choose how they spend their time, whether they have a career or care for their family in the home, ought to be fundamental to that. However, it would appear that Hirshman believes women are now obligated to stay in the workforce for the perceived good of society, and in order to use their capacities fully, and thus are not free at all - indeed she blatantly objects to their "so-called free choice" (pg 97). Hirshman writes as though she believes she is a higher being, who knows better than all other women themselves what is best for them and best for society, which of course is irksome, and the actual statistics about women’s lives fail to match the rhetoric. As Kirsten Birkett writes in The Essence of Feminism (based on a survey of women in and out of the workforce — and I recommend reading chapters 1 and 2 to understand the way capitalism has interacted with feminism):

Many women today have an economic independence that they would not have dreamed of a century ago … However, the price they have paid has been their freedom. For all the rhetoric of choice, social, legal and financial pressures now limit women’s choice to the extent that they cannot choose to keep a household and care for their children. If women genuinely wished to be away from children and house and pursuing careers, this could be a good thing. However, that is not what women want. Against their wishes, they have been forced into a role in which they must take on more paid employment than they want, simply in order for the family to survive.
One reason Hirshman gives for keeping women in the workforce — because otherwise the ruling class will overwhelmingly male — actually cycles back to what we discussed in chapter 2. The problem in such a case would not be that men, in and of themselves, were holding ruling positions, but the sin that would be involved in their decision making, as would also be the case if women dominated the ruling class. However, note that she also attacks, and wants to see changed, the very belief that women are responsible for child-rearing (which we deal with more in the next chapter) and attacks the the church for perpetrating this belief.

I was struck in this history of life in the home by how much more integrated the marketplace and the home used to be, and how much more involved in income-generating production women used to be, from within the home. I couldn’t help wondering if it was the increasing isolation of home life that has been one of the bigger problems, as the dichotomy between public and private spheres widened, and what was the effect on the psyche of women of the home shifting from a place of production to a place of consumption. As Carolyn later writes, feminists were partly right in rebelling against the mind-numbing consumerism that came to be pitched at women in the home. That would have been particularly interesting coming on the heels of the Golden Age of Domesticity, which had made women the guardians of morality (and in so doing supposedly paved the way for feminism with the accompanying diminishing of the definition of masculinity). With a home life made easier by the invention of appliances, and the parallel decrease in interest or perceived value of any sort of moral training of children in an increasingly secular society, it’s almost little wonder women began to ask “is this all?” — the question Betty Friedan gave them.

That’s because it isn’t all. As Carolyn writes (pg 115) no one will find fulfilment in the latest appliances or home decorating or gourmet entertaining, and that was never meant to be what home life was for. It was to be a place for the care and discipleship of children, for building relationships and showing hospitality to others, for ministry and outreach, a place built on divine wisdom (see pg 104 and 115-116). A renewed and redemptive vision of the gospel importance of the home is what was needed in answer to Betty Friedan’s question, not the end of home life altogether.

(I will put up a separate post in comment on social Darwinism tomorrow.)