OPINIONS

A Woman's Place


"A woman's place is in the home." This is a very old saying, and has today I think come to mean something very specific. When people use this expression today, it is usually in ridicule of someone else, and suggesting that they have very old-fashioned and reprehensible beliefs. The notion is that people who actually believe that the saying is true, believe that all women should be forced to stay in their homes, and not go out to work, or have careers, and that they should busy and content themselves with tidying up and decorating the home, to make it a pleasant place to be for their husbands who will appreciate this. On top of this, they must do the cooking and washing. If this is what the saying means, then I disagree with it.

The saying refers to a very large and complicated topic: that of people's roles in society, and if I were forced to state that I either agreed or disagreed with the statement, then whichever answer I gave would be a simplification so great that it would be untrue. However, I may surprise you by stating that I am more in agreement with the statement than against it.

The standard modern belief seems to be that the saying is wrong. Modern people also seem to believe that those who agree with the saying have old-fashioned views. Actually, I think that there is a confusion between modernity and older ways on this issue. The notion that a woman must stay at home and have no occupation, and instead make a nice nest is a modern one, not an old one.

Before the industrial revolution, and right back to the start of farming, the home was not as it is now. There were no factories. Clothing for everyone was made in homes. There were no machines for spinning yarn, no automatic looms, no huge workplaces employing hundreds of people dyeing and sewing cloth. Instead, there was what we now call "cottage industry". A region's cheeses were made in the homes of the locals. A woman who was good at making cheese or sewing could earn money this way, and she would work at home. There was no divide between the home and work. There were no office blocks, people did not commute, and no one was stopping women from working by confining them to their homes.

Similarly, the modern home, in which a couple might live, is a modern thing. Homes until very recently were places where many people lived. Rich people had servants, and poor people had extended families, lodgers, and took on the task of looking after each others' children. Homes were not lonely prisons as they can be for the modern housewife.

The idea that the home is a nice place to stay in and be proud of, and spend money on, is also quite modern, and of great convenience to the various DIY chains around today. Some great houses of the very wealthy were show-pieces, and used for entertaining, but for the common man, the house was a place where the roof kept his bed and belongings dry, and the floor was made of earth, and one room was a pig pen, and another was for weaving.

My feeling is that people should act in whatever way is most likely to make them happy. Coercion tends to prevent happiness, and freedom tends to promote it. I do not think that a woman's place should be forced on her, I think that women should be free. I also think that if they were truly free to pick the path that would for them lead to the greatest contentment, that many more of them would end up not going out to work.

The housing situation in modern Britain strikes me as inconvenient for the fostering of happiness. Whereas once a man could with a simple job support himself and his wife and family in a home, today most couples find that both of them have to work full time to afford a decent house. How can this be a good thing? Do women go out to work at the check-out counter of a supermarket because they love it? No, I suggest that they do this because they think that they need the money. Would it not be better that they did not have to do this? If they were free, would they not prefer something else?

House prices rise and fall dramatically. In recent times in Britain, they have risen very sharply. They have been subject to a inflationary force peculiar to themselves. In a given area, there are only so many houses. If everyone buys a house there for 10,000, and each home is paid for by one person's wages, then perhaps this situation could remain stable, or just follow the general pattern for inflation. But if later a couple, both of whom are working, buys one house for 12,000, then the next person in the area selling his house will know that it is possible to get 12,000 for it, and so will instruct his estate agent to get this amount for him. Soon, all the houses become "worth" 12,000, and the cycle repeats, with the prices going ever upward until after a while the only way to afford a house there is to pay for it with the wages of two jobs, and all the women have to work. Are the people of that area now richer? Are they happier? Some of them might be, but for most the situation is that they do not have much or any more spending money, but instead money tied up in the same homes as before that today cost more, and now the women are all working, which makes everything difficult. Very few of the women will work at home, so the house will be empty most of the time. The thing itself that all this is for - the house - gets enjoyed less not more. Childcare becomes a huge problem. Many women will find themselves chasing their tails, trying to earn more so that they can afford to pay for child carers that they need because they are at work trying to get enough money to pay for childcare.

People who argue against a woman's place being in the home are often well-educated people who take great interest in their careers. It should be remembered though that most women are not highly career-oriented, educated and intelligent. Working the till at a supermarket is not a career, it is a job. Whereas an educated woman might get great fulfilment from working as a doctor in a hospital, I do doubt that this is why many women choose to scan in tins of baked beans for a living.

Half of births are male. This is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. There are areas in Britain where the traditional male jobs have disappeared. Mines and steel works have closed, the army is now very small, and machines have taken over the jobs of many men in what few shipyards and car factories are left. Nevertheless, men still seek these sorts of job. Most new jobs are taken up by women. In many places, this leads to a great amount of male unemployment, and a discontented underclass of unemployed males is not good for a stable and peaceful society. Would it not be better to have those men doing something useful that gave them self-respect and purpose?

Men have evolved instincts that make them do things for women. They may not always realise that what they do is for women. Quite often, they may feel that the reverse is true. Men drive recklessly. This is not good for society. Evolution has favoured men who take risks and show off, however, because in the past these men passed on the most genes. Today, selfish men drive too fast and endanger us all, but the drive in them that makes them do this comes from the fact that women of the distant past were impressed by skill and daring. Today, men get a kick out of being able to support women. They also get a hefty kick in the confidence and self respect if they cannot do this.

It is commonly remarked that men do not like to marry women who earn more than they do. Society at large does not respect the kept-man. Given that this stems from deep-rooted instinct, it is incredibly unlikely that this will change in the near future. We could try and educate people to respect kept-men, and kept-men to be happy being kept, but this would be going against the grain of human nature. Surely it is much better to go with the grain of human nature. This way, rather than having a population that can tolerate the situation, you will have a population that will be happy.

This may strike you as a ridiculous opinion, and an entirely subjective conclusion, but I must point out that there is a fundamental difference between the two states of being. In one, you have people who know that they ought to believe a certain thing because they have been told to, and who perhaps (though probably imperfectly) go along with this. With the other, you have a population that gets an endorphin rush from what it does.

In our ancestral past, people did not have to fill in forms. They did have to copulate in order to pass on genes. Consequently, we did not evolve to get a natural mental high from form-filling, but we did evolve to get something of a pleasant sensation from copulation. Today, we have to fill in forms, but no amount of education can make form-filling fun, because our brains simply do not have a mechanism for releasing pleasure chemicals for form-filling. Our brains do, however, have very strongly hard-wired mechanism for rewarding sex. By the same logic you cannot educate men to be happy about being kept or women to be happy working in an office while a stranger looks after her kids.

You can, of course, find exceptions. Somewhere, there is a happy kept-man, and a woman for whom photocopying forms is a continuous source of joy. I am writing about the great mass of people.

One thing about the saying "a woman's place is in the home" is that people find it belittling. To them it suggests that women are lesser things, not clever enough to do anything more than dust and cook. There is nothing in the statement that says this. If another saying were "a man's place is in the army", or "a man's place is in the factory", would people similarly think this an insult to the intelligence of men? I think not. There is nothing innate to the saying "a woman's place is in the home" that means that women are stupid. That association comes from the history of ideas - from old arguments that have been used to suggest that women are inferior. Let us forget them. An awful lot of work has been done on human intelligence, and one consistent result is that the average man and average woman are of equal overall intelligence.

Success these days is rated in male terms, it seems. To become high rank in an organisation is high status and good, and to be applauded. To earn lots of money is impressive too. To be high-profile, assertive, and otherwise masculine receives praise and to be domestic and content is seen to be contrary to this. It is a great shame that women seem to see success in the same terms. To be self-respecting, they now are made to feel that they have to succeed as men. That they usually find that they are not as good as men at being male they often put down to prejudice and unfairness in society. If the only way they can succeed is at being male, and they are competing against men, then they will always lose. Similarly, men competing in a female world will always lose. Indeed, society is biased that way too, as any man who has tried to get custody of his children after a divorce will tell you. If women will always lose, then they are likely to end up discontent. Surely it would be better to go with the grain of human nature, and offer them a feminine form of success.

We live in a money-driven economy. To eat, most people have to buy food from shops. Mothers need money to raise children. For the typical woman, there are two ways of getting it: from a man, or by earning it herself. Clearly the better of the two is from a man. You may be shocked to read this, but I really do mean it. If a woman can delegate the task of getting money to someone else, and by this method end up with the money she needs, then this is surely easier and better for her than having to manage the simultaneous tasks of bringing up children and working. People may admire working mothers, and say, "how ever do you manage it?" but I do not believe that these women chose their way of life for its ease and convenience. So, it is better for the mother and her children to get the money from a man. Men might prefer to spend all their money on themselves, but this does not mean that it is better that they do. Men do get a reward in self-esteem from supporting their own children, and surely it is good for a society that they do. It seems that it is better for women, for children, for men, and for society that women get financial support from men.

This is all very well, but unfortunately, life is enormously more complicated than this may suggest. Marriages break down very often. One major reason that divorce is on the increase, is that women are more financially independent, and can afford to divorce. In a modern rich world, their children will not starve. After divorce, the typical woman is considerably poorer, and the typical man richer, but still women divorce their husbands. A society that forces women to stay in marriages they hate would be sub-optimal, but so too surely is a society in which marriage is close to meaningless.

It could be that we have fallen into a post-industrial trap. The invention of farming was a bit like a trap. Before farming, people did not own land, and wandered around hunting and gathering. The population was low and scattered and free. Once farming started, people had to stay put to farm their land, and to guard it from pests and thieves. They had to regard the land they farmed as their own. Farming increases the number of people who can live in a given area of land, and after not many generations, it was impossible to go back to hunting and gathering, because the population was then too large to support that way, and the rest of the land was being farmed by people who didn't take kindly to poachers. The result was that people who were once free were now trapped in the back-breaking world of farming.

Perhaps our economy will make it impossible for houses to be affordable for typical single wage earners. If enough people stay together for long enough to pay enough joint mortgages, then house prices can stay inflated. Governments could not simply intervene and lower the price of housing. Attempts to force people to sell things for less than they could get for them always fail one way or another. Something is only ever worth what someone else is prepared to pay for it. It could be that men have ended up in a world where male virtues are criticised in all but the successful few, and in which their male instincts cause them to pursue lives that will bring them little pleasure. Meanwhile women cannot feel respected without independence, but cannot get enough money without dependence on a man who might be gone tomorrow, and so still they have to go out and get jobs.

There must be a better way.



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