My monthly deep dive newsletter will be out next week and looks at one of the gaps in our society’s thinking about femininity. In preparation for that, I wanted to highlight again the way that conservatives have failed to account for the impact of industrialization on the household in their thinking about gender roles.
This sounds a lot like Merkle's "Eve in Exile" book.
Agree totally with Joy Pullmann. The housewives when I was growing up (in the 70s) did the volunteer work and were a type of social glue. They raised money for charity, organized parties, helped at schools, etc. That is huge social capital that is lost with massive entry into the job market
One wonders whether the Proverbs 31 woman felt she was engaged in shadow work while bringing "her food from afar."
Which is to say, shadow work is an interesting concept, but I doubt whether the things mentioned are really a different category from subsistence or even the management of an affluent household. It seems likely to be a byproduct of the way we view activities such as shopping and commuting, more than an objective fact of them. The virtuous woman is not coasting, whereas many times we modern Americans do coast.
One of the big challenges of modern life is how abstracted we are from the substance of our lives. We are still just as dependent on the earth as humans ever were, but our daily lives appear not to be. Buying "stuff" is the crucial final link to make our money-earning activities produce real fruit in our lives, but we somehow think of it as a throwaway activity.
As a person becomes more affluent, he has to shift his attention from scraping together enough food for winter, and start focusing on larger or more sophisticated tasks. And make no mistake, they are more sophisticated - canning food may be productive, but isn't exactly intellectually stimulating. Moderns like me tend to show little motivation in making that shift, both because it is so easy to coast, but also because it is genuinely hard to develop a new set of goals as well as the skills to accomplish them. There's a very steep hill to climb before the rewards of shifting focus will begin to come in.
I have many thoughts on this because it's a very personal topic for me (full-time working mom of six kids we don't put in daycare). You have some good thoughts here but I think you're missing some things.
One of those is the fact that women who are freed from the demands of paid labor can use -- and historically have used! -- that time in many productive ways that are not well compensated and cannot be, such as caring for the poor, or for other members of the family besides children. This is not only a massive potential social benefit but also a large benefit to a family -- who in old age wouldn't prefer to be cared for by one's own family rather than shuffled along between confusing and impersonal health providers? Who in time of prime-age sickness or trouble such as the aftermath of having a baby or suddenly coming down with cancer would not benefit significantly from an available helpful family member? Who in time of sadness or depression would not benefit from meals and conversations and participating in family life that can be offered by a woman who has a family life to offer people beyond her children?
The commercialization of these sorts of social functions, and the separation of them from family, has often meant that they simply are not done, or are done poorly. And the most vulnerable suffer as a result. And they have historically been offered as a service of love by women, who as a sex are much better suited to human care than men are as a whole. With women being diverted to full-time paid work, there are fewer and fewer people "keeping the lights on at home," not just in the intensive time of young children but also for any of the other MYRIAD significant needs that come up among an extended family in a normal life cycle.
It's because I spend a significant amount of my time in paid work that I am able to see what is not being done because of that major time commitment. Yes, I get huge intellectual stimulation and satisfaction from my job. But it's key to be careful that this personal satisfaction is not coming at the cost of the needs of those I owe care and support -- namely my children, husband, sisters, brothers, father and mother, not to mention my church family.
This is just one thing I think you're missing in your analysis -- the fact that the "housewife" model is not at ALL about "being home to clean and cook with the messy little kids." It's about being a nexus and offerer of massive social capital to those you love. Being able to do that ON DEMAND requires flexibility and freedom that is very hard to square with a full-time job.