Thursday, March 09, 2006

Short Takes

Jim and I had a debate about dual-income families and working wives a while back (my post here, but see the comments thread here). But I think we could both get on board with what Bradford Wilcox says in this interview. Highlights for Jim:

Lopez: Could the subtitle of your study be "Betty Friedan was wrong?"

Wilcox: Not quite. I think that Friedan was right to point out that a lot of married women at home — especially well-educated women — experience very real frustrations. Being at home with small children is challenging for anyone, especially someone who has enjoyed a rich and rewarding career outside the home.

and for me:

Lopez: The [single] most surprising [finding]?

Wilcox: Even feminist-minded women are happier when their husbands take the lead in breadwinning.

But the really big finding that Wilcox emphasizes is: marital commitment matters more for her happiness than does her labor-force status.

If you'd like to think the world isn't totally irrational, read this interview.

And about that debate with Jim: one thing it showed me is the difficulty of consensus when reading the Bible "sociologically". To do so, you have to translated Biblical categories into modern categories, and that translation can be done differently. Take Proverbs 31 and a working wife with a demanding outside-the-home career, say, as a lawyer. Jim "translates" the wife's work in Proverbs 31 primarily in terms of income: she's earning money, so for him the Bible says a wife earning money (e.g. as a lawyer) is admirable. I "translate" the wife's work in Proverbs 31 primarily as income saving and generating work at home: making clothes, gardening to save money on fresh foods, careful shopping, and so on. Since a wife who is a lawyer has no time for this, Proverbs 31 would be against that.

I still think I'm right, but I have to admit, it's not a case I can argue apart from broader considerations. I can't just wave Proverbs 31 and say, "I'm right!" -- but then neither can Jim.

And finally, what did I say about the idea that "once we had community and now we've lost it!" history? Well, the Crunchy Cons are at it again! Bruce Frohnen writes:

The Puritans didn't go out into the wilderness to be alone with their families; they built their houses next to one another and COMMUTED out to the fields because they were afraid of Indians, afraid the Devil (literally) lived in the forest, and wanted to keep an eye on one another. For a good 150 years the pattern remained one of town life. And it was only after Thomas Jefferson's big land grab (Louisiana purchase) and French Revolution-inspired system for laying out land on a grid that left no room for towns that we started losing the habit of living in towns.

This is the perfect Fall story: once upon a time we lived in harmony. Then a big bad authority figure (and Crunchies attacking Jefferson strikes me as not very wise) did the evil deed, and now we are simply living in the ruins of the Fall.

Trouble is, not all American colonists were Puritan! Let's take a look at Albion's Seed. He defines four different cradle-cultures in Anglophone America: Puritan-Yankees in New England, Cavaliers in the Chesapeake Bay area, Quaker-Pietists in the Delaware Valley, and North Britons-Scotch-Irish in the Appalachian back country.

About the Puritans Bruce is right: the Puritan ideal was a town (the reality was a hamlet). But the Virginia "Cavaliers" preferred peasant (or slave) cottages around a manorial big house, far from any towns, in the Delaware valley they preferred small farm communities, and for the back country the ideal was living alone in the midst of a wilderness, lord of all I survey (since it's mostly unoccupied wilderness anyway). And any historian of colonial America will tell you that land speculation (buying up wilderness land and waiting until it was settled, before selling out big and using the proceeds to buy more land beyond the frontier) was one of the great constants. The Puritan clergy and town fathers didn't like it so much, but others were not so scrupulous.

And lest you then say that the great Fall occurred in the settling of America, first note that Bruce Frohnen is right about the Puritans. And then that the other three patterns, like the Puritan one, were all imported from Britain! Back in 1600 in Britain, some sub-cultures prescribed close-set towns and villages and some sub-cultures didn't!

Like I said, the past is diverse. Bruce is right to see (often ignored) "Crunchy" elements there in America's past. But he's wrong to say that's the only story.

Well, that's it for my "short" takes!