Laura Perrins: The Big State is the inevitable result of chaining women to the work station
December 9, 2015 25 Comments
Many of us here are interested in how we got here. Not least because here is not a very good place to be, and perhaps we should consider how we could return to another, perhaps better place. Laura Perrins of A Conservative Woman has some thoughts about that, and I think we should listen.
Stop complaining about ‘The Big State’. It is here to stay without a serious regeneration of the private sphere.
Late one evening I stumbled across the Victoria & Albert Museum website which has some very interesting discussions on gender in the Victorian era. Perhaps much of it is disputed elsewhere by another historian, but it makes for gripping reading even though it comes from a feminist perspective.
The sections set out, in Victorian times, that women were viewed as subservient to men. However, the huge amount of work carried out by women, unpaid and in the private sphere, is what caught my eye. Women of all classes ran their homes, cared for the young and old, were active in their communities and carried out serious works of charity, effectively in place of social work and I would add, the welfare state.
“Throughout the Victorian period, when family needs allowed, women undertook unpaid work in a variety of fields, known collectively as philanthropy. Typically operating at local level, often through Church structures, these activities might today be classified as ‘social work’. They included distributing clothes, food and medicines; teaching literacy, home care and religion; and ‘parish visiting’ of the poor and infirm.”
This even included communicators, “while men customarily undertook business communication, social networking thus fell to women.”
Many women did indeed work, such as running the family business, but once dangerous jobs were regulated and work and home became separate post the industrial revolution, many men worked very hard so their wives could care for children and run the household.
The author, Professor Jan Marsh tells us, “Generally, male workers strove to secure wages that enabled wives to be full-time mothers”, but Marsh confirms her prejudice by adding “an aspiration in tune with bourgeois notions of orderly domestic bliss.” (What is wrong with middle-class, domestic happiness, I ask myself? I strive for it everyday.)
Gender equality was slow coming, says Professor Marsh, and was resisted by some – even women!
“Those defending the status quo – who included a substantial number of women – argued that male duties to support families and to fight for their country were responsibilities, not privileges; and that British women possessed incomparable moral influence and power.”
That is us, I thought! That is us a hundred years ago!
Think about that penultimate sentence for a bit. British women (and by extension American, as well, the cultures then, as now, cross-pollinated quite a lot) possessed incomparable moral power. She’s right, they did. Many of us remember Abraham Lincoln on meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe in the White House commenting that this, “is the little woman that caused this big old war.” As much as any one person did, she and her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin did.
But there is something else there. There weren’t all that many people starving in the streets in Victorian times either, likely there were some, and likely a good many of those were mentally unbalanced, as is true now. But the gigantic, intrusive, degrading, and expensive, ‘nanny state’ did not exist. How can that be? A two-word answer, The Church. Actually, pretty much all of them. They simply, out of their own resources, took care of it, locally, quietly, and to the best of their ability. Was it perfect? Probably not. And yes, one usually paid for help by listening to a sermon or three, and that may well have helped to make it a short term problem.
And who ran those churches, pray tell? The women. Yes, the priests, ministers, preachers, vicars, and all were all men, but I’ll tell you something, they did pretty much what the ‘church ladies’ told them to. You know it, I know it, so why deny it.
And you know something, it worked, in fact, it worked far better than the ‘nanny state’. And because we didn’t have all those government functions, taxes were low, and a man could make a living for his family, so his wife could be free to be the moral leader of the world. A Golden Age? No, there were always problems, and heartbreak, and angst. But I think it was arguably (at least) a far better solution than what we have now.
It was also far better suited to a free people.