rity perpetuates itself from generation to generation.
The underfathered boy develops a fragile, ambivalent
male identity. To compensate for this insecurity in
adolescence and adulthood, he distances himself from
women and "women's work." And what is most obviously women's work? Caring for young children. So
he avoids nurturing contact with his own sons and
unwittingly contributes to their development of insecure masculinity, dread of women, and woman-rejecting behavior.
is there any escape from this vicious circle?
Since cultures differ in the extent to which they emphasize the private/public split, it may be instructive
to look at one culture that minimizes the gender roles
between men and women. 1 will draw on my own research experience with the Pygmy nation o\ Central
Africa, who live as hunter-gatherers.
Among the Pygmy there are some gender role
differences, but the smallness and mobility of the group
require close cooperation among all members. Women
and children help with some of the hunting, and a
woman can call on her husband to care for an infant
while she is cooking. Grandparents of both sexes care
for toddlers while both parents hunt and gather. Here
the public/private split has very little relevance
Of particular interest is the tact that huntei-gatherers' flexibility in gender roles and cooperation is
accompanied by greater intellectual similarity between
men and women.
What can we learn from this about our own situation? Some cultural anthropologists say that it is imperative to move in two directions: Men must be integrated into the domestic sphere, sharing in the socialization of children and performing domestic tasks;
and women must participate equally with men in the
public world of work and culture. Only then can
women's status be elevated.
Such changes do not turn men into women and
women into men. What is vital in upgrading the status
of women's work is not eliminating the presence of
gender roles, but rather the degree of proximity, cooperation, and role flexibility that men and women share.
In fact, even when men and women do perform a
common task—such as child care—they approach it
rather differently, and many of these stylistic differences turn out to be very much worth preserving.
—Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen
Daughters of Sarah
Twentieth century housework:
Less drudgery, but just as much work
Excerpted with permission from the forthcoming book Gender
and Grace- Love. Work, and Parenting in a Changing Work!
(Intervarsity Press.DownersGrove,Illinois,1990). This excerpt
also appeared in the Christian women's magazine Daughters
of Sarah (Sept./Oct. 1989).
• One in four Texans of voting age is
functionally illiterate, and that number is
Advances in household tech-
nology during this century have
had two principal effects. i he
first is further separating the
work ofmenandchildrcn from
jthe work of women; the second is greatly increasing the
productivity of the average
housewife. Prior to industrialization (which, in the United
States, is prior to 1860). American households produced
goods intended for sale in the
marketplace, but they also
produced goods and services
that were intended tor use at
home: foodstuffs, clothing, medicines,
meals, laundry, health care, and much more.
Durinu the second phase ol industrialization (after 1910), the household con-
tinued to be where meals, clean laundry,
healthy children, and well-led adults were produced*—housewives continuing to be the ones producing them. What did change, however, was the
level of productivity; Modern technology enabled
the American house wife of 19M) ;o do singlehandedly
what her counterpart of 1850 needed a stall of three
or four to do-maintain a middle-class standard ol
health and cleanliness.
Modern household technology has created two
misconceptions about housework. One is that households no longer produce anything particularly important, which leads to the second misconception, that
housewives no longer have that much work to do.
Both notions are false, deriving from an incomplete
understanding of the nature of these particular technologic al changes. Modem labor-savingdeviceselimi-
nated drudgery, not labor. Before industrialization,
women fed^ clothed, and nursed their families by preparing (with the help of their husbands and children)
food,clothing, and medication. In the post-industrial
age. women feed, clothe, and nurse their families
(without much direct assistance from anyone else) by
cooking, cleaning, driving, shopping, and waiting.
The nature of the work has changed, but the necessity
to do it remains.
It is questionable
if all the mechanical
inventions yet made
have lightened the day's
toil of any human being.
John Stuart Mill
—Ruth Schwartz Cowan
Excerpted with permission from More Work for Mother: The
Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the
Microwave, by Ruth Schwartz Cowan. Copyright ©1983 by
Basic Books, hu ..New York.