“Stay at Home” Parent Isn’t a Real Thing

the old family

If you have any worries about your role as a full time Dad, rest easy–any cultural pressure to “bring home the bacon” is based on myth.

The woman in the center is my great-great grandmother. Based on her face, would you dare call her a “stay at home” Mom? Was “stay at home Mom” even a phrase in her time? I strongly doubt it. Everyone worked. Everyone played a part. I know there wasn’t a level playing field for women (with legal and institutional exclusion of women from the workforce) but I bet no one accused women of not working hard like some of the Men’s Rights crowd does today. Why? Before there was electricity, gas, washing machines, dishwashers, irons, et al, household work was hard. This is of course in addition to the OBVIOUS task of raising that many children and being pregnant for 11 years of your life while butchering chickens and hoeing the garden. Take this back a few hundred thousand years and you get a feel for what is the true nature of being a human family on this planet — not the crap fed to you by the Mad Men era. (And by the way, being a woman and raising family is STILL a hard job in 2015.)

This idea that there is a stay at home person who “gets it easy” is only seen after industrialization. This false imagery of a the real “man” going out to support the family is so ingrained we forget it isn’t fact. For thousands of years the gathers (the women, the “stay at home” crowd) brought home all kinds of meat for the family like snails, crabs, turtles, you name it. And when the hunter did slay a 250 lb beast did he bring it home alone? No. He waited for the help from the rest of the family or community to haul in the heavy load.

Our thinking of historical gender and family roles is built on some very recent lies. This is important to think about not only for feminism, but also the full time father. We are often pegged as taking a less masculine role, or within ourselves we battle the notion that we should be out there “hunting” and being the main income provider. This perception is all rooted in myth.

I am on to this because of an important essay from Rebecca Solnit in the June, 2015, issue of Harper’s titled “Shooting Down Man The Hunter.” She lays out this case for rethinking our past. Check out this excerpt to get a taste of what she is saying:

For most of history, housework was much harder than it is now. It involved shoveling coal or chopping wood, stoking fires, pumping water, emptying chamber pots, washing everything by hand, and making bread, clothes, and much else besides from scratch. There have often been women of leisure, of course. But they were usually married to men of leisure. And their leisure was made possible not by hunter-mates but by servants, many of whom were also women.

In any case, leisure was not the primordial human condition, nor is it the condition of most women around the world now. There was a brief era in the Western world when many middle-class women weren’t part of the wage-earning economy and industrialization had made running a household a bit easier. You could look at some of these women as non-producing consumers, though to do that you’d have to discount the labor involved in raising children and keeping a house. This period lasted several decades, but it didn’t start 5 million years ago, and it ended when declining middle class wages sent many more women into the workforce.

So there you have it. Our concept of the family is just a blip on the scene. This imagery of the wife preparing the martini for the guy coming home from selling insurance should no longer be perpetuated. It wasn’t that way before and it won’t be that way in the future. Men never “went out to hunt leaving the weak women at home”. This puts to bed any useless discussion of how masculine caring for the family at home is or is not.

Please check out her essay in full.  The myth of man the hunter is so strong and a part of my schooling. I never knew how easily it can be torn apart.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s