Chapter 12

 

How Women Started the Culture War

 
Modernization brings about a novel dichotomization of social life. The dichotomy is between the huge and immensely powerful institutions of the public sphere…and the private sphere. -Peter Berger
  • The fact/value split is not merely academic. It has been incarnated in modern social institutions as a split between public and private life–which affects even the relationships between men and women.
  • Once the evangelical movement had embraced spiritual populism, it was difficult to contain the logic of equality to white males. In terms of sheer numbers, the Awakenings reached more women than men, especially younger women. The revivalists also permitted women to pray and speak publicly, and even to become “exhorters” (teaching assistants), which scandalized critics. Moreover, because the revivalists stressed the emotional side of religion, their message seemed to be pitched especially to women. they began to speak of women as being more naturally religious than men, and urged wives to be the means of converting their more worldly husbands.
  • American churches still typically attract more women than men, giving rise to the stereotype that religion is for women and children. This pattern is so widespread that some have spoken of the “feminization” of the church. “Men still run most churches,” one study concludes, “but in the pews women outnumber men in all countries of Western civilization.
  • Historically speaking the key turning point was the Industrial Revolution, which eventually divided the private realm of family and faith from the public realm of business and industry.
  • Impacts of the Industrial Revolution
    • Main impact: to take work out of the home. This apparently simple change–in the physical location of work–set off a process that led to a sharp decline in the social significance accorded the home, drastically altering the roles of both men and women.
    • Gave way to impersonal relations based on wages.
    • In the old handcraft tradition, a single craftsman would plan, design, and then carry out a project. But under capitalism, there arose an ever-increasing class of managers and contractors, who took over all the creative planning and decision making, while leaving workers with mechanical tasks divided into simple, repetitive steps–the assembly line.
    • The new workplace fostered an economic philosophy of atomistic individualism, as workers were treated as so many interchangeable units to be plugged into the production process.
    • Wasn’t long before a great social outcry was raised against this new and alien work style, while large-scale efforts were mobilized to restrict its de-humanizing effects.
    • Laws were passed limiting the participation of women and children in the factories. This was followed by an outpouring of books, pamphlets, advice manuals, and sermons that delineated what historians call a doctrine of separate spheres: The public sphere of business and finance was to be cordoned off from the private sphere of home and family–so that the home would become a refuge, a haven, from the harsh and competitive world outside, a place of solace and spiritual renewal.
    • How they affected Men
      • Men had little choice but to follow their work out of households and fields, and into factories and offices. As a result, their physical presence around the household dropped sharply. It became difficult for them to fulfill their traditional responsibilities in the home.
      • Fathers simply no longer spend enough tie with their children to educate them , enforce regular discipline, or train them in adult skills and trades.
      • For the first time, we find sermons and pamphlets on the topic of child-rearing addressed exclusively to mothers rather than to fathers or both parents.
      • Men began to feel connected to their children primarily through their wives.
      • Before, the culturally dominant definition of masculinity before the Industrial Revolution was “communal manhood,” a term coined by Anthony Rotundo in American Manhood. It meant that a man was expected to rank duty above personal ambition. To use a common phrase of the time, he was to fulfill himself through “publick usefulness” more than through economic success.
      • After, the masculine character was redefined as morally hardened, competitive, aggressive, and self-interested as men went forth to do battle in the tough, competitive world of commerce and politics.
    • How they affected Women
      • Instead of developing a host of varied skills–spinning, weaving, sewing, knitting, preserving, brewing, baking, and candle-making–women’s tasks were progressively reduced to basic housekeeping and early childcare.
      • Instead of enjoying a sense of economic indispensability, women were reduced to dependents, living off the wages of their husbands.
      • Instead of working in a common economic enterprise with their husbands, women were shut off in a world of private “retirement.”
      • Instead of working with other adults throughout the day–servants, apprentices, clients, customers, and extended family–women became socially isolated with young children all day.
      • They experienced a drastic decrease in the range of work available to them in the home–while, at the same time, experiencing a dramatic increase in responsibility for the narrow range of tasks that remained.
    • How they affected both
      • Men were called on to maintain the home as an area cordoned off from the competitive, dog-eat-dog ethos of economics and politics.
      • Women were to cultivate the softer virtues–of community, morality, religion, self-sacrifice, and affection. They were urged to act as moral guardians of the home, making it a place where men could be renewed, reformed, and refined–a place of “retirement” from the competitive, amoral world outside.
      • Women were called upon to be the guardians of morality–to make men virtuous.
      • This is the origin of the double standard, and on the surface, it may appear to empower women. After all, it accorded them the status of enforcers of virtue. But the underlying dynaic was actually very troubling: in essence America was releasing men from the requirement to be virtuous. For the first time, moral and spiritual leadership were no longer viewed as masculine attributes. They became women’s work. “Women took men’s place as the custodians of communal virtue,” Rotundo writes, but in doing so, they were “freeing men to pursue self-interest.” In other words, men were being let off the hook.
  • The Church
    • Sadly, the church didn’t stand firmly against the “demoralization” of the male character. Instead it largely acquiesced in the redefinition of masculinity.
    • After centuries of teaching that husbands and fathers were divinely called to the office of household headship, the church began to pitch its appeal primarily to women.
    • The ministry lost a “toughness, a sternness, an intellectual rigor which our society then and since has been accustomed to identify with ‘masculinity,'” and instead took on “feminine” traits of care, nurturing, sentimentalism, and retreat from the harsh, competitive ethos of the public arena, said Ann Douglas.
    • The churches were releasing men from the responsibility of being religious leaders. They were turning religion and morality into the domain of women–something soft and comforting, not bracing and demanding.
    • As the leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union put it, women must seek to “make the whole world Homelike.” Thus it was largely women who fueled the widespread reform movements of the progressive era in the nineteenth century.
  • Masculinity’s decline
    • The progressive era marked the birth of the secular feminist movement. Most of these early crusaders were definitely not feminists: They did not base their claim to work outside the home on the now-familiar argument that there are no important differences between men and women. Just the opposite: They accepted the doctrine that women are more loving, more sensitive, more pious–but then they argued that it was precisely those qualities that equipped them for benevolent work beyond the confines of the home.
    • The very concept of virtue, which had once been primarily a masculine trait, defined as courage and disinterested civic duty, was transformed into a feminine trait, focused primarily on sexual purity.
    • Ultimately, the attempt to make women the moral reformers of men was self-defeating. Why? Because when virtue is defined as a feminine quality instead of a human quality, then requiring men to be virtuous is seen as the imposition of a feminine standard–a standard that is alien to the masculine nature. Being virtuous took on overtones of being effeminate instead of manly.
    • By the late 19th and early 20th century, a reaction set in and men began to rebel against female efforts to reform them. Men began to worry that boys were not growing up far too exclusively under the tutelage of mothers and female teachers, with the result that they were becoming soft and effeminate.
    • In reaction, a new emphasis was laid on the wold, untamed masculine nature. This is when legends of the lost frontier became popular–the lives of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. Theodore Roosevelt went west and began to celebrate the “strenuous life” of the outdoorsman. Ernest Thomas Seton dressed up in an Indian costume and founded the American Boy Scouts. So-called “bad boy” books became popular, the best known being Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer  and Huckleberry Finn.
    • Some writers began to celebrate the male a primitive and barbarian, praising his “animal instincts” and “animal energy.” The Tarzan books, featuring a wild man raised by apes, became immensely popular. This new definition of masculine virtue reflected in part the influence of Darwin’s theory of evolution. For if humans evolved from the animal world, the implication was that the animal nature is the core of our being. This was a startlingly new concept: From antiquity, virtue had been defined as the exercise of restraint of the “lower” passions by the “higher” faculties of the rational spirit and the moral will. But now, in a stunning reversal, the animal passions were held up as the true self.
    • Even churches sensed a problem and began recasting religion in a more masculine tone. “Mascular Christianity”– a concept that combined hardy physical manliness with ideals of Christian service. This promoted a manly religion that emphasized strength and social responsibility.
    • The emphasis on male strength was tainted by the continuing theme that genuine masculinity is attained only by resisting “feminine” standards.
    • The theme was that family life and values are imposed by women, but are oppressive to men.
    • For the first time it became socially acceptable for fathers not to be involved with their families. By the 1920s and 30s in urban areas, the father had become the secondary parent who covered the “extras”: hobbies, sports, trips to the zoo. As one historian describes it, fathers were reduced to entertainers–Romper Room Dads.
    • There emerged the now-familiar image of fathers as incompetent bumblers in the home, who are patronized by long-suffering wives and clever children–the image popularized today in the comic strip Dagwood Bumstead, Al Bundy on “Married with Children”, and the beleaguered Father Bear in the popular Berenstain Bears picture-book series.
    • As fatherhood lost status, not surprisingly, men showed a decreasing investment in being fathers. From 1960 to 1980 there was a striking 43% reduction in the amount of time men spend in a family environment where young children are present. For many women today, the problem is not mail dominance so much as male desertion.
  • Feminism
    • Feminism was marked by considerable anger and envy–not toward individual men so much as toward the fact of the opportunities available to men in the public sphere.
    • Since the problem began when work was removed from the home, the solution, as feminists saw it, was obvious: Women should follow their work into the public arena. That’s what men had done; why not women? Even science supported the idea of getting out of the house. The Social Darwinists of the day explained that the reason men were superior to women (a premise they did not question) was that, from their brute beginnings, males had fought for survival out in the world, where they were subject to competition and natural selection–a process that weeds out the weak and inferior. By contrast, women were at home nurturing the young, out of the reach of natural selection, with the result that they evolved more slowly.
    • Radical feminists like Charlotte Perkins Gilman concluded that women would never undergo evolutionary progress as long as they remained isolated in the pre-scientific environment of the home. Gilman urged that all the functions remaining in the home should be removed and put under the care of scientifically oriented professionals. Only when taken out of the amateurish hands of the housewife, she said, would any progress be made in cooking, cleaning, or childcare. That may have sounded radical at the time but in our own day many women in essence follow Gilman’s recommendations: Many rely on prepackaged foods or fast-food restaurants for much of their family’s food; they hire crews to clean their houses; and hand their children over to be raised by day care workers.
  • It is clear that we cannot understand the changes in women’s roles and circumstances without relating them to parallel changes in men’s roles. The two are intertwined in a dynamic interaction. The Industrial Revolution caused both men’s and women’s work to contract and become more specialized; the work of both sexes lost range and variety, and became more intensely focused. Men lost their traditional integration into the life of the household and family. They lost the close contact they once enjoyed with their children throughout the day, and as a result experienced a sharp reduction in their function as a parent and teacher in the home.
  • For their part, women at home lost their former participation in economic production, along with the wide range of skills and activities that once involved. The loss of women’s traditional productive role placed them in a new economic dependence: Whereas the pre-industrial household was maintained by an interplay of mutual services, now women’s unpaid service stood out as unique, feeding into a stereotype of women’s character as selfless and giving–or more negatively, as dependent and helpless. Women also became more isolated: They lost their easy contact with the adult world, while at the same time, their responsibility for child rearing actually increased, since it was no longer shared by fathers and other adults in the household.
  • It might be asked why, since both sexes lost much of the integration of life and labor characteristic of the preindustrial household, only women protested. The answer is that the contraction of women’s sphere was more onerous because they were confined to the private sphere–which means they suffered from the general devaluation of the private sphere. The home was cut off from the “real” work of society, isolated from intellectual, economic, and political life, at the same time that the church was.
  • Politics, economics, and academia were beginning to declare autonomy from the old controls of religion and morality, and evangelical Christians were fighting back.
  • Yet there was a gender dimension to this conflict: Since men worked in the public sphere, they were the first to absorb the ethos of modernity–while social reform was largely fueled by the efforts of women (backed by the clergy). Thus, to be more precise, it was largely an attempt by women to remoralize the public sphere and draw men back to traditional values.
  • A third theme should e obvious: This strategy did not work and ought to be abandoned. Men perceived the attempt at remoralization as an attempt to impose “feminine” values, which they were bound to resist. The consequent male rebellion against religion and family led to a devaluation of both–a trend that continues even today.
  • Men will be drawn back into family life only when they are convinced that being a good husband and father is not a manly thing to do; that parental duty and sacrifice are masculine virtues; that marital love and fidelity are not female standards imposed upon men externally, but an integral part of the male character–something inherent and original, created by God.
  • The failure of the strategy of separate spheres illuminates why the feminist movement grew rapidly in the 1960s. In short, they refused to maintain the double standard. Secular feminists urged women to leave the empty husk of the home and to stake out a claim in the public arena, where “real” work was done and where they could regain some respect.
  • There was one small problem–young children. Who would take care of the children? That’s why it became so important to radical feminists to gain control of their reproductive lives through contraception and abortion; and when they did have children, to demand state-sponsored day care.
  • A better course would be to challenge the trend toward emptying the home of its traditional functions. On the conceptual level, we need Christian economists willing to rethink the modern economy from the ground up, and creatively craft a biblically inspired philosophy of economics. Christians also need to challenge the “ideal-worker” standard in American corporate culture, which decrees that an employee should be available for full-time (even overtime) work without permitting his personal and family life to interfere–because he has turned all that over to a home-based spouse.
  • The ideal-worker helped create America’s rootless, mobile society because it required workers to be willing to move anywhere at any time–tearing apart extended families and stable neighborhood communities.
  • Christian organizations ought to be the first to debunk the ideal-worker standard as harmful to families.
  • Christians must not fall into the trap of assuming that paid employment is the only thing that will give women a sense of dignity. That’s a mistake secular feminists often make. Instead, Christians need to challenge the prevailing ideology of success by insisting that individuals are most fulfilled when they enjoy a sense of calling or vocation–whether in paid or unpaid work. We all long for a sense that we are contributing to something larger than ourselves, to a greater good, to God’s purposes in the world.
  • “The fissure in society divided the sexes,” explains Newbigin: “the man dealt with public facts, the women with personal values.” We can better understand secular feminism by realizing that it was an attempt by women to cross this troubling chasm in order to join men in the public sphere. A better route, however, would be to find ways to close the gap itself, recovering some measure of integration of work and worship for both men and women.
  • Through young adulthood, most of us have been carefully primed for participation in the public world–while growing out of touch with the private world of babies and families. Our identity and sense of self-worth has been built primarily on our public persona and accomplishments, especially at work. By contrast, motherhood is still individual, personal, and private. As Cusk puts it, “In motherhood, a woman exchanges her public significance for a range of private meanings” for which she has not been prepared.
  • It is enormously difficult for fathers in a modern industrialized society to function in the strong parental role that Scripture calls them to–and as they did in earlier historical periods. It is likewise difficult for mothers to raise their children well, and still be faithful in honing their other gifts in a Christian calling. The distance between home and workplace, between public and private spheres, means most of us are required to specialize in either one or the other, at least for a substantial period of our lives.
This post contains quoted and paraphrased passages of Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.