On the one hand we are told that women were always oppressed in the home and never allowed to have careers. Now after the feminist movement historians have been trying to constantly convince us that women “always” worked and the 1950s were some kind of cult of domesticity where women were forced to stay in the home but before that women were always out in the workforce and plowing the fields and were always “equal partners” with their husbands so feminism wasn’t really even necessary after all because women have *always* worked. One can read a five hundred page history book today and most generally the authors will spend half the book talking about “male divorce power” and the sexual double standard and how adultery was never a crime for husbands, only for wives and so on and so on. They will spend half the book trying to convince us that women have always been forced to work and bear children (that they never had rights to) and live under the rule of men. Barely a word is ever spoken about men’s duties to their wives or the truth about hardly anything. This is what women today are fed and why so many undoubtedly turn to feminism:
“For more than five thousand years, men—fathers—were legally *entitled* to sole custody of their children. Women—mothers—were *obliged* to bear, rear, and economically support their children. No mother was ever legally entitled to custody of her own child.” (1)
This, of course, is a complete lie. See here how they first try to convince us women were never *allowed* to work and then they turn around and tell us that women *always* worked, were forced to work. Then historians will now try to convince us that all women worked in the factories and plowed the fields even when heavily pregnant, then gave birth in the fields and got right back up and went right back to plowing! Another thing undoubtedly many have heard is a story that goes something like this: First, man marries woman for dowry, then proceeds to squander it all away within a month, then man goes and gets drunk every night and heads to the local brothel to have a good time (because adultery wasn’t a crime for men!) then man comes home to beat and rape his wife. But, realistically, the husband would only really uncover the wife just enough to penetrate her to do his “duty” to procreate and have legitimate heirs (because women knew nothing about sex and were clueless about their own sexuality and body until feminists came along and sexually liberated them) and then it was back to the brothel! Of course, women had no rights and men could use and abuse their wives as they pleased. They could do anything they wanted because women were less than chattel and marriage was nothing but slavery for women. The description of the book “Love, Honor and Obey” tells a 100% accurate description of life for women before feminism:
“In 1889, women were chattel, prized solely for their physical attributes, the contents of their dowries, their skills at the helm of the family’s wood-burning cook stove, their capacity to conceive endlessly and their willingness to endure marriage and miscarriage in silence. Women could not vote or smoke in public. Motherhood was sanctified and only the whores ventured out unescorted after dark, dyed their hair and wore make-up.Blissfully young and naïve, Emma Miller nearly lost herself in Edward Richardson’s seductive blue eyes until the reality of her husband’s alcoholic rampages began to erode her cherished dream of marriage. Like the practiced coward that he was, Edward abandoned his wife and children in the dead of night, taking with him their horse and their cookie jar savings.Emma had willed herself to survive Edward’s beatings but could she survive life as a single parent with three children? At a time when women were to be seen but never heard, Emma marched boldly into the dawn of a new era for women. Emma defied polite society by embarking upon a career, taking a lover and refusing to bend in the face of personal and professional conflict.” (2)
What women wouldn’t be a feminist after listening to that? Historically the dowry was always something the groom paid to the father of the bride for her hand in marriage. Often it is called a “bride price.” Later the dowry came to be something that the bride brought into the marriage from her family. Historians don’t know why, some speculate that the absence of eligible men for marriage started the tradition of the bride’s family dowering the daughter instead of it coming from the groom. Some other historians point out that bride-price seemed to be the way in polygamous societies and dowry coming from the bride’s family the way in monogamous societies. A bride price is where the groom pays the woman’s father a sum of money for her hand in marriage or, in some societies, the money would go to the bride herself. A dowry is a sum of money, property or other goods given to the groom upon marriage for no other purpose than the maintenance of his bride. In some societies the bride still controlled the dowry and in others the groom controlled the dowry. If divorce should occur or if the bride was widowed then the dowry had to be returned intact to the bride and her family. Dowry was always a way of signaling social class and the woman’s status in society and the larger a woman’s dowry the wealthier a mate she could be expected to attract (social class was always very important to people and everyone was generally expected to marry someone of their own class). Traditionally a young woman would be dowered by her father or sometimes other male family members. Ancient Rome even had laws requiring that fathers provide dowries for daughters. A poor peasant girl whose family could not afford to dower her might either marry without a dowry or work before marriage to provide for her own dowry. In other cases sometimes donations were made to poor girls’ dowries to help them get married. The dowry, however, did not mean the husband did not have to support his wife. The dowry would help the woman get settled and start a new household. Also important was the woman’s dower, the portion of her husband’s property that the wife would inherit to be used for her support upon her husband’s death. A man could not get rid of his own property nor his wife’s dowry without her consent, which had to be given without coercion as she could reclaim her third (or in some societies half) of her husband’s property that he could not take from her.
After marriage a man was by law required to provide for his wife all of her necessities. There were no obligations upon a wife to support her husband or pay the family’s bills until very recently with women’s lib where the law became bastardized as support being something both spouses “owe” each other and the egalitarian vision of the mother working equally as the father to support the family. Of course, throughout history women taking on masculine responsibilities does resurface and it always seems to correlate well with societal decline. Feminism is not a new thing. All throughout history women have tried to usurp their husband’s authority and men have tried to evade responsibility. From the fall of Rome in the fifth century to the crumbling of the monarchy in the tenth and eleventh centuries and the ending of Anglo-Saxon rule in England, women taking masculine responsibilities and husband and wife being “equals” sharing in rights and responsibilities resurfaces and usually destroys society. Usually once a great empire falls, it never regains its former power or glory.
The role of housewife for women is not new. Modern technology has made the work easier than what it used to be, but the idea that this “50s housewife” ideal is a new thing is a lie. Families have been organized in many different ways throughout time and in different societies but the modern idea of the “traditional” family of a husband, wife and their kids living in one household apart from any others is not a new thing. Speaking of the Western world specifically here, people living together with their extended kin in one household seems to resurface throughout the centuries but the nuclear family of husband, wife and kids in one household with the man standing alone as sole provider for wife and children has been around for centuries. Barbara A. Hanawalt speaks of the life of a medieval peasant woman in England in her book “The Ties that Bound; peasant families in medieval England”
“Women’s daily household routines are very well summed up in the ‘Ballad of the Tyrannical Husband.’ The goodwife of the poem had no servants and only small children, so that her day was a full one. She complained that her nights were not restful because she had to rise and nurse the babe in arms. She then milked the cows and took them to pasture and made butter and cheese while she watched the children and dried their tears. Next she fed the poultry and took the geese to the green. She baked and brewed every fortnight and worked on carding wool, spinning, and beating flax. She tells her husband that through her economy of weaving a bit of linsey woolsey during the year for the family clothes, they would be able to save money and not buy cloth from the market. Her husband insists that all this work is very easy and that she really spends her day at the neighbors’ gossiping…”
This woman sure sounds like a housewife to me, only without the modern-day convinces of an electric cookstove, washing machine and prepared food from the grocery store. Coroners’ reports reveal a clear pattern of traditional gender roles for the medieval wife and mother. The same as we see today, women who were rich in the past could afford to hire a wet-nurse and have a maid to do the household chores and watch the kids. Poor women were in the home doing all these things themselves.
In America, as well, there is no evidence to suggest women were out plowing fields or all women were out in the workforce. In America there is actual statistical and census data to show that only 5% of married women were actually engaged in “gainful occupation” (as opposed to 96% of married men) in the 19th century and single women only worked at a rate of around 45% which is much lower than the rates of even married women working today.(4) Also many left journals describing their daily lives as housewives which correlate very well with what Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of American women (in 1830) in his book III of “Democracy in America:” (emphasis mine)
“In no country has such constant care been taken as in America to trace two clearly distinct lines of action for the two sexes, and to make them keep pace one with the other, but in two pathways which are always different. American women never manage the outward concerns of the family, or conduct a business, or take a part in political life; nor are they, on the other hand, ever compelled to perform the rough labor of the fields, or to make any of those laborious exertions which demand the exertion of physical strength. No families are so poor as to form an exception to this rule. If on the one hand an American woman cannot escape from the quiet circle of domestic employments, on the other hand she is never forced to go beyond it…
Nor have the Americans ever supposed that one consequence of democratic principles is the subversion of marital power, of the confusion of the natural authorities in families. They hold that every association must have a head in order to accomplish its object, and that the natural head of the conjugal association is man. They do not therefore deny him the right of directing his partner; and they maintain, that in the smaller association of husband and wife, as well as in the great social community, the object of democracy is to regulate and legalize the powers which are necessary, not to subvert all power. This opinion is not peculiar to one sex, and contested by the other: I never observed that the women of America consider conjugal authority as a fortunate usurpation of their rights, nor that they thought themselves degraded by submitting to it. It appeared to me, on the contrary, that they attach a sort of pride to the voluntary surrender of their own will, and make it their boast to bend themselves to the yoke, not to shake it off. Such at least is the feeling expressed by the most virtuous of their sex; the others are silent; and in the United States it is not the practice for a guilty wife to clamor for the rights of women, whilst she is trampling on her holiest duties…
As for myself, I do not hesitate to avow that, although the women of the United States are confined within the narrow circle of domestic life, and their situation is in some respects one of extreme dependence, I have nowhere seen woman occupying a loftier position; and if I were asked, now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply – to the superiority of their women.”
Now everyplace in the world has had their own traditions, but I speak not of every place in the world. I speak of the Western world, of Europe and the Americas and my own ancestors. High numbers of married women in the workforce is a new thing. I personally am American and American women were always sheltered from the workforce and masculine duties as well as any dangerous jobs or jobs that required hard physical labor. On the other hand, every occupation has long been open to women. The only exceptions I could find in American history were the obvious prohibitions of women to be in the military and women were prohibited from being coal miners and being bartenders unless they were the wife or daughter of the owner. I have found no other exceptions in our history. Obviously there is always going to be your amazon woman out proving she can work like a man, but she would have been the rare exception, not the rule. I know personally from those I’ve talked to how much neighbors would try to help a family who’s husband was injured or gone and could not work to take care of the family. Women were never left out on their own to fend for themselves and their children as so great was the ethic of providing for and protecting women until feminism came along.
But let’s just say those attempting to redefine history were actually right. Let’s say women have always worked in the fields and in the home and borne the babies and this housewife thing is new. Does that mean we should destroy a cultural and legal ethic that did shield women from the masculine burdens just because women in the past were in the fields? Does that justify tearing down a system that actually worked well, even if it was a supposedly new and temporary invention? What sense does that make? Surely if something better had been invented to protect women and families it would only makes sense to embrace it, not destroy it. Only a fool would think otherwise.