27 April, 2012

on being a woman (and some ideas that I struggle with)

I had a conversation with one of my favorite professors. We were talking about plans after graduation. She advised. I listened. 
She is an incredible woman. Brilliant, funny, truly interested in her students. 
I adore her. And I want to be her when I grow up.

We got to the subject of women in the workplace, in society, and in church. I knew that she was a fellow church-goer so I was intrigued to hear her experience being a workingwoman and having an active religious life. We agreed that the church, in general, doesn't like to see women out of the home and what does that mean for those of us who don't think our rightful place is in the home?

Certainly the home is one of our places, just as it is one place that a man should maintain. But, our only place? I'm not sure I buy that.

My professor argued that women should just give women slack. No job is easy, she said. We have choices - the great American ideal. 

A woman can choose to stay home; that's not easy. 
A woman can choose to not have children; that's not easy. 
A woman can choose to have children and have a career; that's not easy. 

We wondered why women seem so hell bent on proving that the path they chose was the correct one. The better choice. All other choices will be judged (something I am guilty of). 

But then, and this is why I love history, she brings in the historical aspect of what child-rearing and family raising is supposed to look like. Somewhat refuting the very western idea of a "woman's sphere:" the home. 

She said (and I'm paraphrasing because I so wish I had a recorder going)

You know, it's the privatization, the private nature, of our society. It's what our American culture is so proud of. The family unit was never meant to be secluded behind four walls with a fence barrier surrounding the yard. My children were both in daycare by two different women - one of whom quit childcare to become a nun so I always like to say that my son got more spiritual influence from her than he ever would have from me - and both these women came into my life so easily. I looked for them and there they were. We could use the word providential if we were so inclined. These women became very dear friends of mine. It took all of us to raise my children. And not just them. You know, when my kids graduated high school and we made a list of every to invite to the party, it brought a tear to my eye just thinking of all the people who helped raise them. Their teachers, their piano teachers, the neighbor who gave him a job mowing grass, sunday school teachers, and the list went on. I couldn't have done it by myself and I wasn't meant to. I feel for those women who think it is all their responsibility. Who feel that asking their husbands to help is somehow a sign that they are doing it wrong. That the responsibility is only theirs. 

She and I have had conversations before about how the modern idea of family roles is just that: modern. Because, prior to the industrial revolution families worked together to maintain an agrarian lifestyle. Husband and wife worked side by side. Children were given jobs as soon as they could walk. The family was in constant connection. 

So when I hear people argue that God's plan for women is in the home I think, fine but if that's the case then his plan for men is in the home, too. Actually, it's on the farm. Work it. Work that land.

For thousands of years humans lived in a predominantly agrarian society. One that required that all members of the family and community to contribute. It wasn't until the late 18th and early 19th century that we even see the idea of all women being in the home and men going out (somewhere, elsewhere, anywhere) and working for a wage. AND we see the seclusion of the family into a solitary unit that forces the burden of child raising solely on the woman. (AND THEN in the mid twentieth century we see a huge increase in women, in the home, who struggle with depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction)

This was long. I'm still thinking a lot about this topic: being a christian woman AND feeling that God gave me desires and talents that should be practiced and utilized AND that maybe that means I won't be in the home full-time AND maybe God's okay with that. 
Your thoughts are appreciated. 


  1. Keep thinking. Keep that dialog going. Remember that you've already been a woman who has helped other women raise their children, a beautiful task. I love conversations like this one, and I've definitely had that thought, the oh-man-i-wish-i-had-been-recording-all-of-this-brilliance thought, after more than one conversation with a wise woman I admire. <3

    1. Thanks, Aud. I always love when that dialogue gets to happen with you!

  2. So I stalk your blog sometimes and never actually comment. But I love reading that you're thinking about all these things, because I think they're important. I read a couple books in college during my "impassioned feminist" phase that gave me some good food for thought. (I'm still a feminist, just perhaps a bit less rabid than I was at first) If you're interested, check out "Discovering Biblical Equality"- great collection of essays ranging from deep analysis of specific verses to general thoughts about applications to daily life. "Men and Women in the Church" was helpful as well, although a bit more cautious in its conclusions. Keep asking and thinking!

    1. Thanks for the book recommendations - I am making a list for my summer reading and will add them in :)

  3. Hey Rachel, stumbled upon this post and glad I did. I think these are important issues you raise and important issues to be discussed openly and with women who have chosen different paths in life. In a post-modern American lit class I took we read "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Freidan and although I don't agree with every word, I think the take away message is that women feel whole and fulfilled in so many different ways. While one woman feels fulfilled in the home, another feels it in the workplace, and some women find it in a balance of both. I loved what you said about women judging others decisions, the decision to leave the home or leave the work place is so personal and close to the heart, none of those decisions should be taken lightly by others. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hey Cassidy, I agree - it is a personal decision and I have to remind myself of that all the time. What I think my role is will not always pan out with what another woman thinks her role is. One of my classmates did a research paper on Freidan, her book, and the media/public reception to it. She's definitely an intriguing lady. And one who did a lot for the movement of women out of the home. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. I love the three lines:

    "A woman can choose to stay home; that's not easy.
    A woman can choose to not have children; that's not easy.
    A woman can choose to have children and have a career; that's not easy."

    I had a WONDERFUL stay-at-home mom until I was in middle school and I was lucky that she didn't go completely insane taking care of my sister and I. Meeting Sam and seeing how career-oriented his mom is, I realize that there's nothing wrong with that approach either. It was hard for both our moms in different ways, and they BOTH deserve respect and kudos because they both raised 2 amazing kids.

    When you're back in CA I'd love to chat about this with a glass of vino. :-) Miss you!