Who belongs at home?

Traditional roles for men and women shift with the times.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, home life was markedly different. There were no modern conveniences and no fast food. That meant a great deal of time was spent on “staying alive” tasks. And those jobs involved both men and women. For instance, most families had an extensive garden that required constant upkeep by all members of the family. The garden was a large portion of their yearly food. The family livestock (chickens, pigs and cows) took hours of care to provide things we can hardly separate in our minds from plastic jugs and pre-packaged cartons.  If there was a family trade (blacksmith, carpenter,etc) it was located at the homestead. This necessary agrarian focus kept the family home-bound and together.

When factories were invented, men started to leave their homes to work the line. The shift into industry removed men from the home sphere for most of the day. What was once shared labor at home is now shouldered by the women left behind. Men GO to work. Women stay home and work. Even though there has always been distinctions in man’s work and woman’s work, it has only been in the last 200 years that the work required differing locations.

World War 2 scrambled things  further. All the young men vacated the factories for uniforms. The call went out to women to fill the gaps they left open. The women tied their polka dotted kerchiefs  and entered the workplace in droves. They set about their work vigorously. Their arms were strong for the task! (Prov 31:17) While the men fought the Nazi evil, women were learning they were equal to men in most tasks. This education changed the workplace, the home and the core of our culture.

Not only had the men left the home, the women were leaving it as well.

The woman’s place is at home!

The problem began when the young soldiers began coming home after the war. Where would they work? The women had taken all their jobs. So to make space for the returning male workforce, society began to push the ladies back home. Appealing home designs, new appliances and TV show icons were the propaganda on the fifties.   Thank you very much for your service to the country in time of need, but the woman’s place was at home. Of course, the jig was up. Women had realized they could have pursuits and passions outside the domestic realm and they weren’t going back into the box without a struggle.

Enter the women’s liberation movement of the 60’s and 70’s. That’s a whole ‘nother subject, so I’ll skip it today.

What are the traditional roles?

In the argument over what the traditional gender roles are, it helps to understand history. The emphasis on the domestic realm for women did not occur prior to 1800’s because both genders were at home. The home was the center for life, literally. Machines and cities altered home life by removing the father for long periods of the day. The extra responsibilities his void left were filled by the wife. When machines began to lift some of the wife’s responsibilities at home, it is only natural that she began to look around and wonder if she too could move away and pursue other jobs.

Is it unfair to remind women of their “traditional” role without reminding the men that their “traditional” place was at home as well?

3 thoughts on “Who belongs at home?

  1. Before labor laws were passed, the Industrial Revolution took men, women and children out of the home for 12-16 hours a day, six days a week. The era of the 1950s, when urban households could live on only one income, was a very short period in American history. Evangelicals who look on the 1950s as the “traditional” norm that we need to return to, should learn more about American history.

    It also might behoove them to examine what the results of unregulated business actually were. Sweat shops with child labor, no safety precautions, no worker’s comp, no wage-and-hour protections. A factory full of women seamstresses dying in a fire because the business owners had locked all the doors from the outside to keep the workers at their machines. And no fire escapes.

    It was partly the labor protests of the 1930s and 40s that brought about the happier work environment in the 50s. There is a strong tendency to greed and selfishness in human nature, that will run rampant unless curbed. Those who consider all regulation to be “socialism” would do well to remember this basic tenet of the Christian faith.


    1. Reading the stories of those early factory workers is heart wrenching. I think of all the Christian women at the turn of the century who spent their lives working with and for the “mill girls.” The stories of the babies being left with 5-year-old siblings all day so mom could work makes me sick to my stomach.


  2. Loving this series! I hadn’t thought about things in this way…

    When evangelicals say “tradition” they usually just mean the 1950s and the 1960s, I’ve found. Coincidentally(?), that’s the childhood days of all the men that started the evangelical movement.


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