“The first resistance to social change is to say it's not necessary.” - Gloria Steinem
Homemaking is considered to be a proper woman's proper role. As a universally accepted truism, the belief that a woman's place is in the home is found in nearly all religions and all cultures.
But what happens when a woman finds herself alone in the home? Homemaking is an unpaid position; how is it made possible without someone bringing home a paycheck? It isn't. Hence, welfare.
One of the slogans during the heydays of the women's rights movement in the 60s and 70s was that most women are one man away from welfare, as stated quite succinctly by Gloria Steinem. But why is it that the same people who assign the role of homemaking to all women are also the ones who dislike welfare the most? What is a woman supposed to do when a husband dies, divorces, or deserts her? Without his paycheck she has very few options, especially if she's taking care of an infant. What is a homemaker supposed to do if the husband vanishes?
Our hierarchical theologians have no answer.
They tell us that if women would only submit properly, they would not find themselves in these situations.
As if death could be avoided through proper submission.
Here our hierarchical theologians pause for a moment and tell us that perhaps death cannot be avoided, but certainly divorce can be avoided if the woman submits properly. But what they are really saying is that they have no answer to the question how a homemaker is supposed to make a living in the case of an absent husband. Alimony isn't always available, nor is it always awarded. So what is a homemaker supposed to do when the husband is absent - other than apply for welfare?
This question may surprise modern readers, but in the 70s, daycare was an absent commodity. A housewife who found herself without a husband, regardless of the reason, was forced to apply for welfare, for she had no other way to support herself. So the question is, why do those who insist all women should be homemakers also resist welfare?
The whole point behind recommending homemaking and resisting welfare is to make a large portion of the population vulnerable. If women cannot work outside of the home, or apply for welfare when the husband vanishes, they are doubly vulnerable. If they can't make a living either way, they are at a risk of having to seek a living they can secure, such as prostitution, or selling their children into a brothel or slavery. Thus the ideal of homemaking becomes the source and supply of sex slavery and slavery in general.
This is hardly what our hierarchical theologians have in mind when they recommend homemaking to all women. Yet, nevertheless, it is the reality of the situation. Women and children who have no ability to make a living are forced to seek whatever means they have to secure a living. And that is when those who seek to abuse them find them.
If we are going to be serious about holiness, we will also seek ways to minimize tragedy, and maximize ways to ensure the dignity of all humans. Homemaking may seem like a great idea when first world theologians formulate their theologies, but from the perspective of the rest of the world, it is a bad idea. And even thought most cultures and philosophies prescribe homemaking to all women, it leaves women and children vulnerable to the most horrendous abuse.
Shouldn't the church lead the way in liberating women and children from the clutches of those who would abuse them, instead of ensuring they will be abused? If we don't approve of welfare, let's not approve of a theology that requires welfare. If we don't want social change, let's make sure that our societies take care of everyone.
We are told by our hierarchical friends, that women were created to take care of their homes, or be homemakers as such women are often referred to. We already know that these same theologians gloss quite conveniently over the fact that Eve didn't have a home to take care of in the garden, but there is another dimension that is rarely mentioned: the homeless woman.
It has been estimated that around 100 million people are homeless any day of the year around the world. This number does not account for those who use temporary shelters, which means the real number is much, much larger. In addition, around 600 million live in unsafe shelters, and the majority of these homeless people are women and children.
A theology that mandates homemaking for all women, and ignores the reality of poverty that leaves nearly a tenth of the human population without a home, isn't helpful. How are women, who have no home, or live in unsafe shelters, supposed to identify themselves as "homemakers"? How will they explain to their children that mom cannot be what God wants her to be?
Theology needs to be rooted in reality, not fantasy. Homemaking is essentially a privilege of the wealthy. Those who can afford to stay home and forgo work, who actually have a home to stay in, can choose to do so. But those who cannot afford to forgo work, or who do not have homes to begin with, cannot choose. A theology that tells people they are sinning because they cannot choose the life they ought to is a theology that has its roots in sin itself, for it ignores the call to social justice and places the blame on those who are the victims of our collective global injustice.
Poverty and violence go hand in hand, and although violence isn't always visible, poverty is. Women who escape domestic violence end up often homeless, for our societies aren't designed to take care of those who cannot help themselves. It is not accidental that hierarchical theology tells women to stay in abusive relationships, because it idolizes the family. Helping a woman escape an abusive relationship goes against the grain, because it would force her to find a job (and women shouldn't work), or cause her to become homeless (without a home to take care of). If a woman must be a homemaker, a woman shouldn't leave the home, even if it would save her life. And it is because of this central belief that we find why hierarchical theology does more harm than good, for what could possibly be more important than the safety and well being of a human being, created in the image of God?
Patriarchy insists women need to be protected, and anyone who has read domestic violence statistics could hardly disagree with such a statement. But patriarchy insists also that the only way to protect women is to place them under the authority of men, for, as we are told, only men can protect women from other men.
But consider for a moment, if it takes a man to protect a woman from another man, what happens when that man turns on the woman he is supposed to protect? How can a woman guarantee the goodwill of the man who is supposed to protect her?
Patriarchy insists women must obey the man who protects her to ensure his continued goodwill towards her. A woman who doesn't properly defer to a father, or a husband, can only blame herself if she suffers as a result of her own disobedience, for men, cannot, and will not, respect a woman who does not obey.
This kind of protection is really a form of patronizing, for it tells women, "We'll keep you safe, but only as long as you give up your personhood, for you have no right to voice your opinion." Silent obedience may seem like a small price to pay for protection, but it is a silence that offers no safety from violence within the relationship. For really, if a woman must depend on the goodwill of a man whom the patriarchal narrative tells us is a threat to other women, how can she trust that the man will not turn on her? What guarantees does she have?
But what if we tried another model. What if, instead of insisting women obey men, we insisted that men respect women? What would happen?
We would stop treating all men as potential predators. Instead we would view men as persons capable of treating women well, and we would expect them to do so.
There would still be women who would need protection from violence, but the difference, compared to the patriarchal narrative, is that these women wouldn't be told to stay in abusive relationships, nor would they themselves think that it was somehow normal for a man to treat them with such blatant disrespect, for really, what is abuse but disrespect; this thought that another person doesn't deserve the same consideration and respect that we show ourselves, that they ought to obey us.
And it is for this reason that we find the patriarchal narrative telling us that women need love and men need respect, for if men had to respect women, they wouldn't be able to extract obedience from them. And that is really what the patriarchal protection is all about. It has nothing to do with protecting women; it has everything to do with a desire to control women. And as long as women believe that they need this protection, they will allow themselves to be controlled. But it won't stop the violence, for if you are controlled, you are no longer in control. And when that happens, so does abuse.
We all know it, the story of the girl who married the prince.
But it's not a funny story, and it's bad news for women.
If we for a moment ignore the fact that the prince wasn't impressed with Cinderella since he didn't even remember what she looked like, and focus on the hair-raising implications that the story has for women, we wouldn't read it to our children.
The step daughters sliced their toes and heals off to make the shoe fit.
Cinderella needed magic to have the prince notice her; she wasn't good enough the ways she was.
What the story does is groom girls to compete for the "prince"; the one man every woman is told they should want, regardless of his character, or whether he will treat them well. And in this competition, who they are, and what they want, is of no interest.
If you don't measure up, cut your heal off (and your thoughts).
If you don't measure up, cut your toes off (and your aspirations).
If you don't measure up, change who you are (until no one recognizes you)
If you want the "prince," sit at home and wait for him to come and find you - after he's checked every other girl out.
Another terrible thing Cinderella teaches girls and young women is that they should expect other women to treat them poorly, and that they need a man to rescue them from their vicious sisters.
Competition + mean girls = no sisterhood.
A strong sisterhood is detrimental for patriarchy; hence, Cinderella.
If all girls can be convinced to mistrust other women and look for the solution in a man whose character they cannot assess, patriarchy can continue to rob them of their rights, while they keep on cutting off their heals (thoughts) and toes (aspirations) in order to get what they are told they cannot live without.
We need to stop reading Cinderella for our girls, for it's bad news for all women.
As a feminist and social justice activist I seek to find ways to create a world in which artificial barriers between humans cease to exist.