Are Gender Roles Kosher for Passover?

Derek Thompson writes about the decline of marriage in the Atlantic, and while the general problem as we have it now is one with which I agree, and while I think that the best way to not be poor is to get married (and stay married) before having children, I take issue with something he said. Specifically:

Once upon a time, the typical marriage, as Justin Wolfers has explained, involved special roles for the husband and wife. He would work. She would stay home. It was an efficient arrangement where opposites attracted. Men who wanted to be executives would marry women who wanted to be housewives. And, since almost half of women had no independent earnings 40 years ago, there were a lot of women who just wanted to work at home and raise a family.

So, this. Now, Thompson is correctly and accurately describing a certain period in American history, for the middle and upper middle class households. He’s completely omitting the experience of the lower-class households, where both parents have always worked, because they haven’t had a choice. But my bigger complaint with the paragraph is this: he’s describing the period roughly from 1930ish to 1970ish, and acting like it was the whole of human history.

So, before the industrial revolution, you had agriculture or cottage industry, where parents and children worked together in their fields or houses. Fathers and mothers may do different jobs, but there was no concept of not working- but nobody is getting a salary either.

Once the industrial revolution hits, you have fathers, mothers, and children working together in the factories, basically until the child-labor laws put a stop to that. Around then you do start to see a lot of gender segregation of employment, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, but everyone is getting paid.

Upper class women start (late 19th) getting pulled back from work, and that’s around when the suffrage movement starts getting some serious steam. Women were absolutely working supporting families in the teens and twenties: my grandmother a”h was a Bell telephone operator, and there were lots more like her.

Only in the 30s, with the mass layoffs of the depression, (with the Rosie the Riveter interlude) followed by the post-war return, did you start to see the idea of the GI housewife really take hold in the way he’s describing, at least en masse.

So for most of human history, the roles are something other than what he’s describing: really, the lesson could better be that (to quote Peart) “changes aren’t permanent, but change is”. Perhaps we need to accept the shifting nature of the roles of husband and wife- accepting that there *are* roles, but that one roles change, and then perhaps we can make peace with the mythical past, to better understand the future (let alone the present)?

Those who forget history are, well, something or other happens to them, I don’t remember what- it’ll come to me eventually, around the same time that it comes to Mr Thompson.


About thegameiam
I'm a network engineer, musician, and Orthodox Jew who opines on things which cross my path.

One Response to Are Gender Roles Kosher for Passover?

  1. Foxfier says:

    Housewives became much more important as people lived further away from family– you couldn’t have your mom/sister/aunt/greataunt watching the little ones.

    Also, the wives that weren’t being paid for an out-of-house job were usually still doing things– from running the household which may or may not have included a little farm, or the famous “taking in laundry,” to volunteering their labor for various functions.

    The decline of jobs were you can have the kids along with you most of the time, and the rising insistence on kids being directly supervised later and later in age, also makes it so someone has to do the “housewife” role. (it’s to the point where my family can’t afford to not have me as a housewife….)

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