Kirche, Kuche, und Kinder, “church, kitchen, and children,” is the old German classic definition of a woman’s role in what the German’s considered a traditional marriage. This classic definition was also prevalent in the 1950s, where June Cleaver, the wife and mother in the television series “Leave it to Beaver” was always the mainstay of the house, and always at home for her men folk, wearing a prim half-apron, which was in style then. Women generally didn’t work outside the home but they did most the main household chores. A book from that time, Helping Daddy, depicted the man of the family doing what were considered typical male chores: mowing the lawn, raking, and fixing things in and out of the house.
My home, from the start, was a bit atypical. Married in the 1970s, I came to our marriage with a hammer, pliers, and other sundry tools. I also mowed the lawn, painted the house (inside and out), and in general did what was considered typical ‘husband’ jobs. Even before our marriage I was up on a ladder painting the eaves of my mother’s house, while my husband, Avi, held the ladder. He didn’t mind my doing what might have been considered male jobs (it was actually better for him), nor did I. However, I also had the traditional female role of nurturing our son, David, which I loved.
Then when we moved to another house which was replete with centipedes, Avi started doing all of the laundry as I had a morbid distaste for the basement where the washer and dryer were. After he retired from his 7-5 job he also took over the cooking for our Sabbath meals and did all of the baking. Why not? He was a much better baker than I was.
My cousin, Jack, had been the caregiver in his family almost since his first child was born. He had majored in history, and outside of a job as a security guard, there wasn’t much he could earn a living at. His wife, Debbie, however, had become a gynecologist, and so she produced the children that Jack did such a great job of raising. It worked out wonderfully, and he did the household chores as well. At the time, Jack was the only male in a neighborhood baby club where mothers got together with their children to socialize.
Though Jack was the ‘househusband,’ he never felt, nor did anyone else feel, that his masculinity was diminished by his caregiver role.
According to a recent issue of the UK Daily Mail,
The number of househusbands has tripled in fifteen years. This follows a recent survey which also found that there are 1.4 million men across the UK whose main role is primary carer for their children.
Among the fathers, 43 per cent said they felt lucky to have the opportunity to stay at home and bring up their children, but 46 per cent said the decision to stay at home was taken to allow the family’s main earner to keep working.
Though these were trends from the United Kingdom, they are probably true in the U.S. as well. Sometimes it may be a temporary change of traditional roles for whatever reason, like either spouse finding a job first, or it may be permanent.
These reasons make so much sense that it is hard to understand why anyone would still rigidly define a wife’s household jobs or a husband’s household jobs. It certainly doesn’t diminish a strong family situation. Women who have held what are traditionally considered male roles are not unique to the 21st century. In the Middle Ages women took over the management of their husband’s estates when the men were off on their fighting trips. This was especially true when so many nobles left their properties to join the crusades from the 11th through the 13th centuries. Widows also had to take over the management of their properties so they had to be competent managers. The larger the property and holdings, the more executive duties they had to wield. They had to work with tenants, purchase supplies, make sure the buildings were maintained, and also take care of the management of the household itself.
Women of the lower economic stratus often had to be part of the work force as well. They certainly had to work in the fields if the family needed their economic assistance. Some women, though few, were even part of the craft guilds. The name Brewster is derived from female beer brewers; the word seamstress came from women who were tailors.
So the myth of women doing only womanly duties can be debunked. Women have always had their hand in men’s work throughout the ages.
There have been many female rulers throughout the ages, including Hatshepsut, the woman who wore the Pharaonic beard and ruled Egypt; Queen Elizabeth the First; the Queen of Sheba; and Boadicea, the first century Queen of ancient Britain, who almost defeated Julius Caesar.
So today, if your husband minds the kids and you go out to work; or if you mow the lawn and he does the wash, or if you mix or match any of the so called traditional male and female household roles, your family will still survive. Neither the husband, which includes the Old English word hus for house, nor the wife will be less masculine or less feminine and the children will certainly not get confused as to gender words.
I’m still waiting for the book Let’s Help Mommy showing mommy hammering and sawing and mowing the lawn. Perhaps I should write it!
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