Most of this chapter is, from my point of view, almost entirely normal. It’s the same sort of things that I’ve heard my entire life about what it means to be a “keeper at home.” She makes the same argument that I’ve heard from numerous pulpits, countless books, and endless radio programs and lectures. Some of it could even be considered good advice– her tips on how to get organized seem to be pretty standard fare on all those organization shows I’ve watched on TV.
The problem comes from the basic assumption of the chapter, which she explicitly states at the end: all women with “worthy character” want to be a domestic goddess, and being a domestic goddess always look exactly like this with absolutely no exceptions.
The “no exceptions” part is what frustrates me the most, because people are not all exactly the same, and expecting every single last woman on the planet to be what Helen describes as a domestic goddess is harmful. For many women– many women that I know and love and admire– following what Helen proscribes in this chapter is literally impossible for a variety of reasons. Not every woman can do everything this chapter says, but Helen doesn’t acknowledge that, and in fact argues that any woman who doesn’t do what she says has “a weakness of character”:
Poor homemaking is usually traced to self-centeredness . . .
Failure to follow [God’s example of orderliness] indicates lack of character . . .
Poor homemaking may be due to a lack of knowledge . . . but when she makes no effort to learn, it indicates a lack of caring, and therefore a lack of character . . .
When a sense of responsibility is lacking there is a deficiency of character . . .
In addition, the woman who will not care for her family because she is lazy demonstrates a lack of love for them, a lack of concern for them, a lack of character.
That’s all on a single page. She’s just spent the entire chapter detailing what it looks like for a woman to “care for her family,” and saying that not doing it her way demonstrates a lack of love for her family is cruel. If my mother had to make from-scratch meals every single breakfast, lunch, and dinner (pages 259 and 260) . . . if she was never allowed to make mac n’ cheese and hotdogs and serve corn out of a can, her physical and mental well being would have been threatened, and she would have been carrying around a completely unnecessary burden of guilt and shame. If using “frozen dinners, cold cuts, packaged mixes, canned foods, macaroni” is a “complete failure in meal preparation” and somehow meant that my mother didn’t love her family? That’s just beyond ridiculous. And it’s not because she was lazy — it was because she was not healthy and was very busy. But there’s no room for that anywhere in this chapter– or this book.
Helen’s ideal woman is a white, wealthy, healthy, fit, reserved, timid, and childish person. Anything else– any other kind of person– doesn’t exist. They’re just people with a lack of character.
And that’s a message I’ve heard a lot in a bunch of different churches, from a variety of books and magazines in more mainstream Christian culture. Women are bludgeoned endlessly with Proverbs 31 (which she says we should read as part of our “assignment” for this chapter), and which is no longer the glorious poem husbands would sing to their wives, but is now a precise checklist for everything a Christian woman is supposed to be and failing to live up to the “standard” of a woman whose “price is far above rubies” is now one of the worst things a Christian woman can do.
And the vision of “biblical womanhood” and “godly motherhood” and “homemaker” that I’ve heard and read all my life is echoed in these pages. Mingled in with lessons on making sure your house is always spotless (but accepting that your husband is going to be messy and not cleaning up until later because he’ll divorce you), all meals are from scratch, your house is decorated (she specifically mentions tablecloths four times), and your children are well-dressed is this idea that being bored with any of that or needing fulfillment in something besides housework is wrong. The problem, Helen says, is your fault:
Many women fail to find happiness in homemaking because they only go the first mile. They only give the bare stint of requirement . . . Women who give just enough to get by never enjoy homemaking. You have to go the second mile to enjoy anything.
So, if you’re longing for something besides keeping your house clean and cooking food? Work harder. Starch those collars, make fresh bread everyday. Do more. Go farther. You’ll never be happy unless you’re constantly working your fingers to your bone– and if any of it is “drudgery”? Still your fault.
Many of our duties [changing diapers, scrubbing floors] are a source of real enjoyment. Caring for children, cooking delicious meals, and cleaning the house can be pleasant experiences . . . Actually little of our work is unpleasant . . .
If you think any of this is boring and you would like to spend a little less time on it to do things you do like to do, like reading books? That’s just something that “robs you of your time” and causes you to be “in a rush for the important things” like making sure your silver is sparkling and labeling plastic tubs for storage.
In short, if you’re not June Cleaver, you’re a failure.