A large focus of my feminist struggles surrounded this word: homemaking.
To me, all this word meant was cooking, cleaning, and wiping noses.
It made me angry that anyone would suggest that it was the man’s duty to be out working, enjoying his career, while the woman was to be in the home, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children. That wasn’t my idea of fair. It was demeaning to me as a woman to be subservient to my husband. He was just as capable of doing laundry, of cooking, of changing diapers, of driving kids to different appointments as I would be. No, no. Nowhere in The Proclamation does it say that it is the woman’s job to cook and clean. It only says to nurture children. So all together, when I thought of a stay-at-home mom, I thought of inequality and oppression. And from what I then understood, homemaking didn’t fit with doctrine.
Three particular experiences I will share that added much light and knowledge to my fragmented understanding.
First experience took place in my Psychology class. We were talking about marriage and the two different types of responsibility sharing. The first was a 50/50 relationship. In this model, the husband and the wife were to do all of the responsibilities together, each contributing an equal portion. This fit exactly to what I wanted. I wanted a husband who would help do the laundry as equally as I did, who cooked just as often as I had to, who worked just as much as I did, etc. That was equal. That was fair. And our family would be taken care of as we worked together. The other type of model was a division of responsibilities, otherwise known as gender roles. The husband would have his responsibilities that were his while the wife had different responsibilities that were hers. What I learned that day was that according to research, those who tried to implement the 50/50 model had their marriages fail more often than the gender role model. Why was that? Because in the 50/50 model, it is easy to feel when the other person is slacking. Trying to maintain equal input allows for lots of room for contention. “I’m having to do more because you aren’t doing your share” kind of stuff. It is a hard balance to keep.
It made sense. And I had to admit that maybe there was some truth to gender roles, to having each gender have their duty, while aiming to be equal assistance to one another. Maybe it did make sense to assign different responsibilities instead of trying to split all duties down the middle. But only maybe.
The second experience occurred in a place I thought would only further my feminist mindset. I took an American Woman Authors class and guess what type of literature we read? The literature of the feminist movement. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, and others. We talked about a bunch of stuff in that class. All sorts of different forms of oppression and inequality. And although I did learn a lot about the positive and negative movements within the feminist movement, the biggest thing I learned was that wives and mothers do not receive the praise they should.
I’ve searched and searched and searched to find where I read it, but there was a snippet from an essay I read from an author that changed my perspective forever. Here I was, a woman, looking at homemakers as weak, submissive women. I’d even daresay it is the perspective society holds as true even today. But in the essay I read, the author describes a hypothetical situation: She describes aliens coming to earth and observing the way we live. They’d see this creature that is a servant to the others in their family group. This creature does all the washing, the cleaning, the cooking. This creature puts the needs of those others in the group above their own. Truly, this creature led a life different than the rest in the family. Although to the others in the family claim this creature is an equal member of the family, this creature is treated as a servant, perhaps even a slave; and yet, this creature does so with goodness and cheer. The alien then gawks at the fact that this servant’s service is viewed with derision and contempt. This creature is at the bottom of society, not having rights or advantages. In the eyes of the alien, this creature is a saint, and would be given the greatest praise and reverence and benefits on their own planet; but how twisted and mean this human planet was to those who served as a saint.
The essay was written before much had been done to secure women’s rights in this country, but it spoke to my heart. As a feminist in this century, I wasn’t so concerned with rights and privileges as I was about being respected. I felt that the traditional role for women was beneath me. Cooking, cleaning, taking care of children: those were all things you hired people to do for you. It was the work of servants and slaves. Isn’t that what we saw on movies? Maids and Nannies. And it’s not that I didn’t think that women should do those things for her family, but I felt that mothers could aspire to so much more. Those things might be done on the side, but real living was to be out in the world, working. I did not give those humble homemakers reverence for the service they rendered. My own mother, although she worked full-time, slaved away to make sure my family had food prepared and clothes cleaned and soccer games/practices attended, and what gratitude had I ever shown for it? Especially after her coming home from a full day at work? The second she walked in the door, all I had was entitlement to a dinner she would make for me. She was my mom. That’s just what she did…
This essay slapped me in the face. It helped me see homemaking in a saintly light. It helped me see a stay-at-home mom as one who choose to spend her time and talents in tending to the duties of a “servant.” They were humility personified, doing the dirty work that often went unappreciated. It put an homemaking in the limelight of greatnesss: “But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:43-44). It reminded me that humility was an important and brave attribute. Not one of weakness.
The third experience happened on my mission, years after I thought I had come to terms with gender roles. At this point, I had decided that it was fine for me to be responsible for nurturing the children and staying home with them, but as far as the homemaking responsibilities went, I wanted to work that out with my spouse. I still held that nowhere did it say that because I was the woman, I had to do the cooking and the cleaning. What I felt was that if I chose to be a stay-at-home mom, then it only made sense that I would do the cooking and the cleaning and all that jazz because I was the one who was home, not my husband. If he and I were both working, I would expect us to share more of the responsibilities of homemaking. But I didn’t believe that homemaking was a part of my role as the woman. It was only part of what needed to be done and it made sense to do it if I was home most. Which I still think is rational.
Then I was reading in the booklet the Relief Society had recently come out with called Daughters in My Kingdom. And I read this quote from Julie B. Beck, who was at the time the General Relief Society President (which, even back then, Julie B. Beck was my homegirl): “To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers [should] create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes. Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence; therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world. Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate. Nurturing mothers are knowledgeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth. … Nurturing requires organization, patience, love, and work. Helping growth occur through nurturing is truly a powerful and influential role bestowed on women” (Ch. 9).
There it was. Doctrine that homemaking was a woman’s role. And I was shocked! I just stared at the page, pleading inside, “No, no, no! Heavenly Father, this is not real!” I had worked hard over the years to accept gender roles. And I was satisfied with my progress and my mindset. But here, my pride was checked. And that’s really what it was: pride. Staring back at me was the one thing I had refused to believe, yet here it was. Spelled out clearly. As a woman, I am a homemaker. It took me several days to calm my feminist down. But as always, with prayer and a desire to have a humble heart, God teaches His truths. I tried to understand a doctrine I didn’t originally understand, and as I did, the mountains of my doubt were moved. Slowly, but surely, my mind was enlightened and my heart softened.
This post is unfinished. It’s already massive. I end tonight where I thought I understood enough to accept homemaking as part of myself. I’ll share in a later post what I have come to learn about the doctrine of homemaking, especially since I have strived to make a home, because truly, living doctrine teaches the truth of doctrine best (John 7:17); but for now, I end with a quote from Bonnie L. Oscarson, General Young Women’s President: “We need to take a term which is sometimes spoken of with derision and elevate it. It is the term homemaker” (“Defenders of the Family Proclamation”). It really is so much more than my young feminist mind ever gave it credit for.