A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

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No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Propositions of the Proverbialist Manifesto I

Though my previous post on the Proverbs 31 woman didn't actually list the sorts of statements a "Proverbialist" woman might make about gender, family, and work, I want to do a little of this here. I suspect this will be an ongoing project, as I'm certainly not going to think of everything right now, and my wording is highly unlikely to be right the first time. Feel free to add your own propositions in the combox. Maybe someday I'll put it all together into an actual "manifesto." Then we shall take over the world. Yeah, baby!

1. Proverbialist women are committed, first and foremost, to be being molded into the image of Christ. This means that their relationship to God, in Christ, as members of His body the Church, is to be their first priority.

2. Proverbialist women are committed to the spiritual, emotional, physical,
[fill in the blank with adjectives I'm missing] and economic well-being of their household. This means that in general, the good of the household holds priority over individual goals, except when those individual goals are necessary for fulfilling Proposition #1.

3. Proverbialist women and the men who love them
(ah, I love that I get to use that phrase) believe that the good of the household is one which rightly belongs to both spouses, though that responsibility may be exercised in different ways, due to the Scriptural ordering of families (Ephesians 5), divine gifting of individual talents and abilities, and specific personal or cultural circumstances.

Thus, questions such as "How do I balance work and home life?" must be asked of husbands and fathers as well as wives and mothers. Husbands may be equally guilty of failure to prioritize the good of the houshold.

4. Proverbialist women believe that the Biblical call for women to work for the good of the household, as demonstrated in Proverbs 31, includes economically productive labor (making cloth), business transactions (buying or selling land), and the work of managing and maintaining the household. All of these types of work are thus appropriate and may be fitting for a married woman. Neither wives nor husbands have a monopoly over any of these types of work.

5. Proverbialist women and their counterpart husbands recognize that the division of labor has shifted over the last few centuries. In the past, men and women might both be able to work from the home, and children were incorporated into the household workforce, rather than undergoing educatation outside the work force until (or after) adulthood. Today's situation, in which work and education generally are separated from each other and both take place "outside of the home," presents new complications. Divisions of labor which worked in the past may require revision. This change influences' mens' labor as much as it does women: it is no more natural or desirable for men to be gone from the home 40-60 hours a week than it is for women to do so.

6. Keeping in mind both Proposition 4 and 5, Proverbialist women would argue that it does not follow that a married, Christian women must necessarily dedicate her life primarily to the maintenance of the home or the education of her children. The assignment of these duties as the sole or primary work of married women is a historical construct, not a divine mandate. At the same time, Proverbialist women agree that any economically productive labor must be undertaken for the good of the household. Pursuit of work in a way which causes serious injury to children, spouses, or the Proverbialist woman herself is to be avoided.

Thus, although historical and Biblical examples suggest that it is normative for married women to care for their households through economically productive labor (producing goods or services which might be either used by the household or exchanged for wages), Proverbialist women understand that this is not always possible or ideal in individual cases today.

At the same time, though it may be preferable for both men and women to work with the household, rather than away from it, it is understood that this is often not possible.

7. Male and female equality in terms of responsibility and rights is not understood by the Proverbialist woman to indicate sameness or likeness in all aspects of behavior. A woman's unique role in pregnancy, breastfeeding, for example, may require special consideration, as may the strong emotional need for provision of their families which many men experience. At the same time, care must be taken to distinguish between culturally-constructed stereotypes and an individual's own preferences and abilities. Not all women are gifted with the desire to care for their homes; not all men are gifted with a greater capacity to provide for their families.

8. Taking all of that into account, Proverbialist women do not condemn women's involvement in such possible lifestyles as these: "staying at home" to care for children and maintain the household, working for financial gain from the home, involvement in a family business, or work "outside the home" for wages. They do, however, condemn any view which limits women's roles in an unbiblical and historically misinformed way.


Anonymous nanhuff said...

One comment on women's role: While Proverbs 31 is a good guideline for trying to be a Godly wife, it is not the only one. We can also look at life and contemplate how God created it and what it means that he created it that way. I.e., women bear children, they nurse children (in an extended manner if they're following the natural way of doing things), and they have a singular attachment to their children. This means first that they must BE with their children (in order to nurse them). Then, just naturally, the woman's mind turns to her children and family first. Then let's consider what happens in the natural order (with any sort of family planning or contraception). That is, when one child is weaned, the mother gets pregnant again. That is why she stays at home, because she continues to bring forth new life and nurture it. Granted, we don't all have the gift of creating beautiful home environments or even being the best mothers, but we try, and our hearts tell us where our priorities are. Personally, although many times I have wished that I had pursued a career more diligently, many more times I have wished that I had stayed home longer with the kids without working. Those were the times that we were "real".

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Bob The Baker said...

I have a bit of a problem with some of this.
You seem to be exhibiting the same sort of surrender to the world that is oftimes seen in "liberal" theology. That is, you surrender to the idea that "the economic realities of this age are so very different from the past." People who say this are very often trying to dismiss the past as irrelevant to the present. While it may be "Different"* to try to arrange your household in a way that is similar to one that would appear in an agrarian society, it is not impossible. I know of several families who have removed themselves out to "the sticks", and who have set up nearly self-sustaining family farms. I know one of these families personally. They're not crazy, they're just dedicated to living a "whole" family life. This is something that is a viable option to Christian families who want to be "in the world, but not of the world." Some may say, "Sure, but that's not what I want to do with my life. Farming? That sounds like WORK!" What we want to do and what God calls us to do (i.e. To be a sign of contradiction.) are often very different things.
In this "re-agriculturalization", these families have found a way to incorporate the effort of the whole family (not just Dad) into the economic viability of that family. Dad's job isn't just a paycheck, and Mom's job isn't just a womb/babysitter. And children are a blessing, not a burden (spiritually AND economically). Thus, the whole family finds purpose and satisfaction in work as well as prayer. This works well, not just 200 years ago, but now. The world is not so different than it was. People are not so different than they were. We have an obligation to conform the world to Christ's image, not to be conformed by the world. If we so desire (and work towards the goal), we can create a pastoral society once again.
I will close with a bit from the 1986 movie "The Mission" (a great movie that everyone should see many many times).

Hontar: "We must work in the world, your eminence. The world is thus."
Altamirano: "No, SeƱor Hontar. Thus have we made the world... thus have I made it."

PLEASE NOTE: The author is NOT a Luddite! The author does, however, hate "cubicle world."

*Different- in today's world, often meaning: weird, odd, extreme, un-American, psychotic, stupid, etc....

10:34 PM  
Blogger Teresa H.T. said...

While it may be "Different"* to try to arrange your household in a way that is similar to one that would appear in an agrarian society, it is not impossible.

I think you misread me. I'm certainly not saying it's impossible to duplicate an agrarian life, and I'm not going to stand in the way of anyone who wants to do so. You're absolutely right that there are people who live this way. Families might be stronger if more of them were willing to consider it.

Nevertheless, our culture IS different from the past. The effects of the industrial revolution, in combination child labor laws and 20th century employment customs, all render it more difficult for households to live and work the way they used to. I'd like to see those work conditions change, but in the meantime, I don't believe that people MUST make "radical" lifestyle choices in an attempt to live as if the Industrial Revolution had never happened. I don't see God calling us to do that. (Reread the ending of Stephen Clark's Man and Woman in Christ if you don't want to take my word for it.)

I certainly agree that we are all called to work, but I think that if God intended us to do the same kind of work, He would have given us the same kind of abilities. That He did not -that He gives different people different capacities and different proclivities- indicates to me that He intends us for different purposes.

10:55 PM  
Blogger Teresa H.T. said...

That is why she stays at home. . .

I think what you're missing is that in the past, most work took place in the home. So yes, we can say that women are supposed to stay home. . . but so are men, most of the time. Not all of the time, of course: the Proverbs 31 woman DOES leave the home to buy and sell property, just as her husband leaves it to engage in politics. In the Biblical model, then, BOTH parents leave the home part of the time to engage in communal activity, either of an economic, charitable, or political nature. But as far as I can tell, neither parent is gone for a 40 hour work week.

The problem is that, since the industrial revolution, most work takes place outside of the home. But this is as much of a problem for men as it is for women: men aren't supposed to spend 40 hours in an office, either. It isn't "natural" for either gender. To allow men to leave the home to work while women stay at home may have seemed like a reasonable way of coping with this situation, but it is not, I think, a good long term solution.

In any case, what I'm more concerned with is the bad theology some people use to shore up arguments about women and work. I'm not trying to prevent women from staying home if they feel it's best. I'm just trying to prevent them from making unbiblical arguments about why they do so.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous nanhuff said...

My point wasn't that women had to stay in the home but that women are by nature designed to be with their children most of the time.

I definitely think that our society is all out of whack with regard to the setup for the family. Women who stay home are too isolated, there aren't very many ways for either man or woman to earn a living working at home, and nobody realizes it's not normal to leave your child in an institutional daycare for 10 hours a day.

Although I'm no expert on B.C. Palestinian culture, I would guess that the family living arrangement would be similar to what it's been for centuries: The sons of a family stay with their parents; the daughters are married off and live with their in-laws. The daughter in her mother-in-law's home has very low status until she has a child (probably a male child being the highest status). They didn't live in isolated nuclear family households, but rather in a family compound with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The woman of Proverbs might be the matriarch of such a family, or maybe not. But she definitely had the support of others with regard to watching her children. My guess is that she either took the children with her or left them with some other adult in the home for the short amounts of time that she was gone. And speaking of which, I'm pretty sure that a respectable woman wouldn't be out in public without a companion. The Taliban's idea of women's place is but an exaggeration of the overall Mideastern attitude.

While I'm not really advocating all generations living together in our culture, I do think young mothers need lots of support from family or friends. Just the fact of having another adult in the home takes a lot of stress off the mother (or father if he's doing the child care).

8:44 PM  

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