Homemaking Daughters

I want to preface this blog by saying that I’m about to throw around a couple of terms that I don’t use much.  The terms are “constructivist feminist” and “essentialist feminist.”  The difference: constructivists would say that a hotdog is a hotdog because it is persistently dressed in a bun and condiments, whereas essentialists would say that the hotdog’s hotdogness is the purest reason why that particular hotdog would identify itself as a hotdog. Now replace that hotdog with a lady. 

I picked up Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin’s So Much More (2005) because of its supposed influence on the stay-at-home-daughter movement, a movement which encourages unmarried daughters to continue living and working with their family until they are married.  The daughters participate in their father’s work, helping him with his business or ministry so that the family can not only grow closer together, but also so the work of the family as a unit can potentially affect change on a larger scale.  Usually this means no college and no career training for the daughters, but those two goals are irrelevant when compared to the larger calling these young women see for their lives: the work of a wife, mother, and homemaker.  It’s more cultural work than spiritual work, challenging contemporary social expectations to an extent that decries progress because of its deviance from their perceived God-given model.

I should qualify here that I have a great deal of respect for the Botkin sisters’ decisiveness — it’s clear that you would have a hard time changing their mind on any of these points — but there are moments in the book where I see the limitations of their environment bearing down on the breadth and depth of their research, much to the detriment of their argument.

In particular, the Botkin sisters have a lot to say about the “selfish, family-hating moguls” of mid-twentieth-century feminism, but it’s clear that their understanding of feminist theory (in all of its varied manifestations) is limited to what’s been presented to them — not necessarily what they’ve found.  As a researcher, you can’t help but be suspicious when all of the quotations about feminism that an author uses are from a collection of passages posted on an affiliate of her publisher’s website.  In So Much More, the divisions between essentialist feminism, constructivist feminism, and all of the feminisms in between are lost on the Botkins.  They attach themselves to the words of radical feminist writers as their justification for its denunciation, and they even offer a rebuttal to the question, “Has feminism brought women any good things?”

Yes.  Yes, yes, yes.  It has.  But the good that it has done does not apply to the Botkin’s cultural and spiritual paradigm.  As a reader, I accept that, but their answer is insufficient for my paradigm — and mine is no less valuable than theirs.

Although I appreciate how the Botkin sisters have thoughtfully gone about addressing what they see as part of a cultural and familial infection in Western culture, I think they miss some important points about the theoretical model they so vehemently reject.

The Botkins like to talk about Marx.  A lot.  So much so that I would often flip ahead to see when the Marx-talk would come to an end.  Although their connection between Marxist theory and the history of feminism is correct, they seem to miss the fact that it is primarily linked to the constructivist position of feminism, not an essentialist perspective (remember the hotdog?).  I’m not a pure constructivist, which means I don’t believe that every component of my personal femininity is constructed via cultural conditioning, but I do see aspects of it in my everyday life.  Here’s a silly, but relevant, example: Why is it considered “feminine” to paint your nails?  Painting our nails is not linked to a feminine essence.  It’s an “act” that has been repeated long enough to become feminine.  Do you see my point?

Now what does this have to do with homemaking?  I think the ideas in this book have the ability to stir up a great deal of conversation about what homemaking is and why we do it.  When we call ourselves homemakers, we are participating in a ideological and cultural tradition that emphasizes a specific model of “doing life.”  Aristotle would call it a “being at work of the soul,” a phrase that (I think) links your discourse, your beliefs, and your work to the values you advocate.  The intentionality that the Botkins infuse in their conception of homemaking is beautiful, but my own interpretive strategies for reading scripture don’t align with theirs — and that’s okay.  Regardless of whether we identify ourselves as homemakers or not, if we have autonomy over a living space then we will inevitably engage with “homemaking” faculties.  Maybe it’s a good thing to recognize some of the ideological/spiritual perceptions associated with homemaking, especially if they seem distant from our own.

So far, I’ve cited the Botkins very little, which I think is bad form.  Here are two passages that are directly related to their conception of biblical homemaking:

“Women were designed by God to be the happiest, most fulfilled, most productive, most appreciated, and most honored as homemakers.  No other career can come close to the importance of homemaking.  Most other careers actually undermine God’s order by cheating women out of their first and best calling and taking civilization in the wrong direction.  This is because homemakers are so central to guiding and shaping civil society.  When women leave that domain to pretend to be men, it’s not just silly, it’s detrimental to a woman’s life and her culture” (111)

“God did not create the home to be a “house” or a cage for women, or a place to keep women because they weren’t allowed anywhere else.  But devoting herself to any other sphere would be a waste of her time and her life and would keep her from realizing her full potential.  The home is the best workplace for her abilities.  The home is where she can give the most glory to God, because she is embracing His wonderful design for women.” (117)

There’s a lot I could push back on in these passages, but that’s not exactly what I want to emphasize here.  The phrase, “[H]omemakers are so central to guiding and shaping civil society,” is a powerful claim, one that I would stand behind.  Cultural work (good and bad) happens in homes because having a home is almost always a  universal experience.  These authors are correct in stressing that.

Now if they could just talk a little less about Marx…

{You can learn more about So Much More at www.visionarydaughters.com}

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