Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Way We Never Were

I have been having an ongoing discussion with Small Holding about the changes in the institution of marriage. My point has been that the feminist movement is more a reflection of other changes in the culture. It certainly would shape some of the discussions, but most of its impact was political and directed more toward the small segment of women who are in the upper tier of society. For most other women, it was simply a recognition of what was already going to happen when combined with demographic and technological (birth control) changes.


Whether these changes have been for the better of course is still very much a matter of discussion. But I think it is important to realize that it was not simply a matter of people in a vacuum all the sudden deciding to behave differently.


On another note, in addition to having computer problems (solution will be to get a new computer), blogger has made changes to its interface that make it extremely difficult to format these posts. Blogger's formatting has always been awful. But now I am having difficulty importing formatting from other sources. Unless I can figure a way around these changes, the already spotty formatting here is likely to get worse.



Kate Bolick, the Atlantic, November 2011 (Hat tip: MR via L'Hôte)



What [Stephanie] Coontz found was even more interesting than she’d originally expected. In her fascinating Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, she surveys 5,000 years of human habits, from our days as hunters and gatherers up until the present, showing our social arrangements to be more complex and varied than could ever seem possible. She’d long known that the Leave It to Beaver–style family model popular in the 1950s and ’60s had been a flash in the pan, and like a lot of historians, she couldn’t understand how people had become so attached to an idea that had developed so late and been so short-lived.


For thousands of years, marriage had been a primarily economic and political contract between two people, negotiated and policed by their families, church, and community. It took more than one person to make a farm or business thrive, and so a potential mate’s skills, resources, thrift, and industriousness were valued as highly as personality and attractiveness. This held true for all classes. In the American colonies, wealthy merchants entrusted business matters to their landlocked wives while off at sea, just as sailors, vulnerable to the unpredictability of seasonal employment, relied on their wives’ steady income as domestics in elite households. Two-income families were the norm.



Not until the 18th century did labor begin to be divided along a sharp line: wage-earning for the men and unpaid maintenance of household and children for the women. Coontz notes that as recently as the late 17th century, women’s contributions to the family economy were openly recognized, and advice books urged husbands and wives to share domestic tasks. But as labor became separated, so did our spheres of experience—the marketplace versus the home—one founded on reason and action, the
other on compassion and comfort. Not until the post-war gains of the 1950s, however, were a majority of American families able to actually afford living off a single breadwinner.





See also: The Way We Weren’t Stephanie Coontz National Forum: The Phi Kappa Phi Journal, Summer 1995. pp. 11-14. Originally as an introduction to her: The Way We Never Were: American Families And The Nostalgia Trap (updated in 2000).

5 comments:

PioneerPreppy said...

You're still comparing apples to oranges. Too bad I am running late and it is far to early in the morning to comment much. More later.

Craig Cavanaugh said...

It was fun while it lasted. It is the ideal situation for a family, I think, for the mother to stay home with the children. I know I benefited from Mom being there when I got home from school. My family actually got to enjoy our weekends rather than spend them doing chores...

Blogger's miserable quirks drove me to Wordpress. There's a bit of a learning curve, but the lack of frustrating idiosyncracies made it worth the effort. I'll never go back to Blogger!

PioneerPreppy said...

OK Russ my friend. The issue here is that you are allowing work, which is even mentioned in your quote,

t took more than one person to make a farm or business thrive, and so a potential mate’s skills, resources, thrift, and industriousness were valued as highly as personality and attractiveness. This held true for all classes. In the American colonies, wealthy merchants entrusted business matters to their landlocked wives while off at sea, just as sailors, vulnerable to the unpredictability of seasonal employment, relied on their wives’ steady income as domestics in elite households. Two-income families were the norm.

What Coontz is calling employment is nothing more than domestic work which is not the same as employment outside the home like we see today and began in the 70's.

What a wife did inside the home is not the issue. Employment outside the home with it's restrictions and problems like we have today was the exception and a necessity only for those very poor families.

Working on the farm or in the family business is a totally different animal all together.

russell1200 said...

You are describing an ideal of people working their own land. In the United States, again because of unique circumstances that was more often the case.

But the reality is that much of farm labor was by wage earners. The English economy went to a wage earning system (versus Serfdoma and labor in-kind) very early. It is actually a sign of population stress: free men work harder, and can be paid at sustanance levels without the security precations of slaves.

People came to the U.S. to have an opportunity to get their own land, or (less often) to start their own business. Most people never accumulated suficient capital to acheive this end. The dream was very important, but it was not always reality.

When the Southern slaveholders stated that wage-slavery was the same thing as slavery in fact, they were not speaking about just the tiny amount of people do factory work, they were also taking about farmhands.

So, if most men are not working on their own farms because of lack of capital, where are the women? They are often working in other peoples homes doing 'domestic' work. If they were in England, they would also be doing "cottage" industry work for cash. We are talking about a lot of people.

But (as I noted earlier about the slaves) if it is worth while for those who can aford it to bring in large numbers of domestic servants (male and female) and pay them, than it is work.

It is simply a matter of whether the work goes toward reducing the bottom line (cost) or increases the the top line (income).

And this is the critical change.

The earlier "household" system had the patriarch of the family be the representative for the entire estate. This was why you had to be a man of property to vote early on in the U.S. If you were a mere servant, your vote essentiall was taken up by the master of the house. For you to vote would give that household too many votes. In an odd sort of way it was democratic, because the small householder got the same votes as the larger householder.

And here is where it broke down (in very simplified terms). The commercial revolution had already pushed the boundries, but when the industrial revolution really started to kick in, people who previously would have been considered simple laborers in status (let's say the engineer on a steam train - who did not own the train he operated or the tracks it set on) could make far more cash money than the simple farmer in his homestead farm. As time went on, women and children also got involved in the system. This started much earlier than in the 1970s

http://tenant.net/Community/LES/hours10.html

The United States always had a lot of women in its factories, even before WW2 required greate participation.

For a long time, the man of the household still controlled all the money. But as time went on, and more and more work was done away from the home by both men and women, the household governance system broke down.

russell1200 said...

(part 2)

The children of the 60s and 70s grew up in a very wealthy expanding country. To some degree, the mother staying home in the 1950s was an affordable investment in child rearing. An investment in human capital. The resulting children had seen the earlier racial unrest and took that precedent, along with the technological marvels of modern birth control and applied them to their own situation.

I don't want to belittle the importance of feminism, but I also don't want to give it a free ride either. I think the language of the feminist movement intersected with the hard reality of many families starting in the mid-1970s that women would have to go back to work. Obviously not all of them had to, but certainly by looking at the debt figures starting in the 1980s you can see a trend toward increased pressure on the typical consumer.

Of course, if we had cut back on our consumption, presumably we would not have felt this pressure. I suppose that is very much a moral (versus demographic) point. But that is not the way the expansionary industrial-commercial economy works.

Craig- yes it was nice. If we could have made the economy working without expanding consumption so much, maybe we could have made it work. I have used Wordpress elsewhere. It seems like blogger has more problems, but when wordpress is bad- it is really really bad. Plus if someone, like yourself, actually gets a fair amount of trafffic it is hard to monitize it using wordpress.