The Problem with Modern Housewifery

“That they may teach the young women to be wise, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, sober, having a care of the house, gentle, obedient to their husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”  St. Paul, Titus 2

It’s obvious that Christian women have historically chosen between two vocations:  contemplative life and married life.  Married life normally means women spend the majority of their adult lives at home, caring for their families.  Women today look back at the fact that women really devoted all of their time and energy to the dmoestic arts and express a similar desire to be a “stay at home Mom”.  There are, however problems with this.


No, not exactly.

First, there were no grocery stores back then.  Women were not in kitchens making three meals each day, poring over cookbooks trying to find some new recipe to keep her family’s taste buds stimulated.  They were turning raw produce and animals into table food, and it was a very great amount of work.  The hours they spent in the kitchen were spent doing the work of the gardener, the butcher, the baker, etc.. Modern women who buy packaged chicken breasts, canned vegetables, sticks of butter and jars of spices really don’t have any of the traditional housewife’s work to do, yet they try to make a full-time job out of it, which tends to leave them more to serve gluttony than any necessity.  

Second, there were no convenience appliances back then.  Not only did the woman’s work require a great deal of natural wisdom and discipline, it was also a very physical job.  All of the washing, cutting, plucking, milling, sweeping, etc., needed to be done by hand.  That’s why we find the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 described as one who “strengthens her arms”.  

Third, there were domestic servants back then.  Housewives did not spend their days alone, in privacy, with their children.  There were other adults constantly in and out of the house whom the housewife needed to manage and supervise.  She needed to be the regulator of the household.

Modern women who are averse to traditional household work find themselves in an odd situation that doesn’t fit nicely into anything they read in Scripture of traditional manuals on housewifery.  They need to examine the pros and cons of the modern context of housewifery and ask whether they are, in fact, better off as they are, or whether it would be better to pass on the modern conveniences for higher purposes.


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3 Responses to The Problem with Modern Housewifery

  1. Theresa Squire says:

    But couldn’t the same criticisms be lobbied at traditional men’s work, husbandry for instance? Modern farming methods, or even just the ones you make use of-“Round-up”, gmo seed, machinery which runs on gas or electric-aren’t found in the Bible either and make your work a lot easier too.
    Are there any living models of Biblical/traditional housewives to be found anywhere, except perhaps in traditional, middle eastern cultures? (How does your wife deal with the servant issue? Has she actually attained this Biblical model yet, or does she still shop for food, clothing, etc?)
    I respect that this is a very complex issue, and having a goal in mind of what the perfect ____ should look like is important, but there are a lot of circumstances upon which Biblical womanhood depends which are practically non existent in our society. We are doing what we can with the situation we have been giving: Living simply, growing what we can on our property, buying whole foods/raw materials and processing them ourselves, making our own clothes, having a bunch of kids and bossing them around in lieu of servants… (joking…maybe.)
    Yes, I agree girls should be warned of how difficult the married life can be, and that girls should be trained up to be hard workers. But what the Christian’s response to modern conveniences should be is a very difficult question to answer, and it just doesn’t effect women.
    As long as wives are following St. Paul’s words to Titus, I would say they are on the right track. There is a lot more to do than just putting food on the table. 😉

    • wmclaa says:

      Yes, the same arguments could be made, but I never said anywhere that conveniences were bad as a principle. Round-Up for example attacked only because it has a name. Farmers have always used chemicals, or fire, to kill weeds in fields or around fence lines. For example, Varro, in his ancient Roman treatise on Farming, explains that in the preparation of the threshing floors on the farms:

      “it is customary to coat it with amurca,which is poison to weeds, ants, and moles.”

      Now if we re-worded that using modern scientific language, all the “old-fashioned” food and farm people would throw a fit on us. For example, if I said

      “”it is customary to coat it with…a compound containing oleuropen, Isopropyl-5-methyl phenol, Sinapic acid, luteolin, Gallic acid, Kaempferol and 3-hydroxy phenolamurca…which is poison to weeds, ants, and moles.”

      …the naturalists would throw a fit…and make fools of themselves because they chemical names are descriving a natural pesticide…amurca.

      There are other issues that men need to examine. For example, the political demonization of “slavery” which now makes everyone think that working for someone else for something other than cash is some kind of dehumanizing abuse. When laws that do not have real-world capitalistic business plans to direct them require that farm owners pay field workers impossible cash wages, and undermine the whole economy of the farm, it is NECESSARY for farm owners to invent other ways of getting the work done. Farm machines were developed by farmers during the world wars because the government took all their laborers away and left them to keep producing without any help except for government money. I would love to hire men as farm workers but American men can’t do it. They can’t accept a humble place on a farm as laborers because every man (especially Christians) imagines that we all have to be “equal” and share every job as “equals” and divide the profits 50-50, as if the risk-taking owner who has invested all of the capital deserves no more than the hireling who is paid for every bit of work he does and risks nothing at all. So, having no sustainable help, we find alternatives. The only people who are anti-Round-Up are either (a) people who don’t farm and talk nonsense from the suburb, or (b) small farmers who are trying to make a buck off the people in that first group.

      What we see is men “working in the garden” which means that they are growing random salad vegetables or tomatoes or landscaping plants. That’s not husbandry, it’s expensive play, as if restoring old cars for the showroom was to be considered functional “automotive repair” for the sake of transportation.

  2. Mr. Michael —
    How To Be A Housewife is a subject which deserves our consideration.
    My individual path to the Church was short on reasoned argument; it was, primarily, the instinct of a rat on a sinking ship to jump aboard one that looked joyfully buoyant. I leapt before I looked — much.
    As a Catholic wife and mother of eight teaching all of her children at home on a small farm — first sharing my in-laws’ ranch every summer and gardening in town the rest of the year, then building a farm with my husband for the last seventeen years — I learned my faith simultaneously with my vocation. Of both I can say that no amount of previous study could have prepared me for either. In both cases, things that looked like deprivations or inconveniences (I am thinking now of relinquishing artificial child spacing, or giving up some space in bed to the nursing infant, or having to pull and wash a carrot before I ate it, or milking, straining, skimming, churning, washing, salting, and shaping butter before it is available for the table, or moving fence daily so the cows can harvest their own fodder instead of having it baled and brought to them) are the warp and weft of beauty and satisfaction in a life that continues to open out before me like a map of the Eternal. Complete, let it be said, with Sloughs of Despond and Valleys of the Shadow of Death.
    I think experience — experience most of us will never, unfortunately, choose for ourselves — would demonstrate that the conveniences of the present might be exchanged for many of the hardships of the past, and leave all of us the richer.
    I would not trade my farm life for anything I can think of.
    It is, after all, the original vocation of pre-lapserian man, isn’t it?
    Thank you for your interesting, encouraging posts, and congratulations on your accomplishments and goals —
    Beth Dougherty
    The Sow’s Ear Farm

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