A friend introduced me to this story a few months ago, and I’ve mulled over the different ways I could go about processing it. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a school not too far from where we live now, started offering a concentration in “Homemaking” around 2007, a degree program meant to prepare women for life in the home.
Here is the official mission statement of the program:
“The purpose of the Homemaking Concentration is to prepare women to model the characteristics of a godly woman as outlined in Scripture. This is accomplished through instruction in homemaking skills and developing insights into home and family, while continuing to equip women to understand and engage the culture of today. We uniquely recognize the need to challenge women both intellectually and practically. Our mission is to equip a woman to impact women and families for Christ.”
Essentially, there are two perspectives on the effectiveness of the “Homemaking Concentration”: 1) it is a course of study that introduces women (no men allowed, unfortunately) who are interested in remaining in the home to practical skills necessary for the approximately 92-hour work week required for most homemakers (statistics courtesy of the Today Show); or 2) it purports to teach skills that cannot be acquired in a classroom, and it diminishes “homemaking” to meal preparation and ironing socks.
As for my own perspective, I have to return to the program’s mission statement: the phrase “while continuing to equip women to understand and engage in the culture of today” carries what seems like a very forward-thinking tone. The goal, apparently, is not to throw Christian women back to the 1950s; rather, it is to shape them into homemakers for this particular culture. Now that I think about it, I could have used a course on “Meal Preparation,” one of the required classes for the major; and yet I think my cooking skills turned out just fine despite my lack of coursework.
So here’s my dilemma: can we earnestly justify a degree program that is dependent upon whether or not a woman gets married following graduation? The women in this program (based on the coursework) are not looking to take this particular skill set to their future bachelorette pad. No, the fulfillment of this degree requires a husband, and eventually children. I think that the message of the program is honorable, but I am still suspicious of the inherent expectations that these undergraduate women might project onto their degree: i.e. Will this degree make me a more attractive potential spouse?
I should qualify here that this is merely a “concentration.” The degree is actually labeled under “Humanities.” This, of course, indicates that this is not a terminal degree; if a woman (sorry again, men) chooses to go on toward graduate education, she still maintains all of her credentials. Although, I do wonder what graduate admissions committees would think when they see “concentration in homemaking” emblazoned across her transcript.
Now that I’ve looked a little closer at this program’s website, I can’t help but think about the women in the program. Was this what they had in mind for college? Do they feel as strongly about this course of study as I did about mine in undergrad? Is this a response to a particular upbringing, or did this desire burgeon amidst their own individuality? Are some of them already engaged? Even married?
I want to linger on those last two questions for a moment. What if this is a degree program that is made up almost entirely of women who are either engaged or already married? Then the concentration transforms into a remarkable support system: women around the same age working together to better understand the vocation they’ve chosen for themselves. If that’s the case, then Southwestern Baptist has managed to craft a pretty powerful and unique community, even if it does exclude men.
When I was engaged, I didn’t have a community quite like this; in fact, I would gather that the vast majority of married women didn’t as well. What does this pre-marriage community look like? How does it function? I imagine it would be a particularly safe space for dishing about one’s concerns, expectations, and joys. And perhaps the safest place to exchange those sorts of thoughts is in a small group of women, especially women who are entering the same season of life as yourself. Theologically, I don’t see my own beliefs about the Biblical model for womanhood aligning very well with this particular program, and yet our common ground is in the fact that we all have to care for a home, whether we share the responsibilities with our partners or not.