Today's typical Christian critique of feminism with respect to the family rightly insists that the mother belongs in the home but it fails to insist that the father also belongs in the home doing his work there with his wife as his helper. This probably sounds strange to most of you, but prior to the early nineteenth century the typical work situation was a family business in which the man worked at or right next to his home with his wife as his helper. This fact, well known to historians but little known to the general public, is discussed with great intelligence in an excellent scholarly work by Robert Bellah, et. al., entitled Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Univ. of California Press, 1985). This is an extremely unusual work, because, unlike most sociological studies, this book (1) discusses important matters rather than trivia, and (2) actually advocates the right thing (!), namely, a return to the older American values (which the authors refer to as "Biblical and republican traditions") which constitute what sociologists call a Gemeinschaft type of society as opposed to today's Gesellschaft type.
The authors' lucid and poignant discussions get to the root of the Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft degeneration. In the Gemeinschaft stage the economic and political facets of life are under the control of the family and church. Businesses are family businesses, churches function like families, political decisions are mainly made at the local level by communities which are themselves networks of families and churches, and the church attempts to apply Biblical principles to all of life, including the economic and political matters of the community. Gesellschaft begins when work is split off from the family so that the man has to leave home to "go to work" and the wife stays home to run the family. The result is a split between the man's sphere, regarded as rational and selfish, and the woman's sphere, emotional and self-giving: women have callings as homemakers, but men have jobs or careers. Love rules the family, and money rules the world. The family, instead of being the determinative social force, becomes a mere haven from a heartless world (pp. 86-90). And the resulting clash of conflicting interests in the world leads to an end of the "politics of community" and its replacement by a "politics of interest" (pp. 200ff).
With the breakdown of the community and the loss of authority of Christianity over all of life, the church becomes part of the segmentation and is restricted to individual self-control and family life. Sermons become more emotional and sentimental. The church, instead of upholding and directing the entirety of a unified community life, becomes, like the family, a haven of love in an overall segmented, loveless society. With the family regarded as the woman's sphere and love being seen as a feminine quality and with the church being removed from the public sphere and restricted to private and family concerns, the result is what Ann Douglas refers to as the "feminization" of American religion in the nineteenth century. In the resulting compartmentalized Gesellschaftic society religion can no longer challenge the dominance of selfish utilitarianism in the world. It can care for the casualties of the world but it can no longer challenge the assumptions running the world but has to operate within them. This kind of religion became a precursor of the psychotherapeutic enterprise of today (pp. 222-224).
This complex of trends — work being separated from the home, the home and church being havens from a heartless society, and religion being pushed out of its formerly dominant social role to become a private, subjective, emotional, and mainly feminine affair — began in the early nineteenth century (and was noted already by Tocqueville) and became complete by the late nineteenth century. This complex of trends constitutes the essence of the Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft degeneration. And since this degeneration is the most important sociological factor and is the basis for the rest of the sociological changes, the authors are quite correct in regarding it as by far the most marked change in American history, even more so than the changes occurring today (p. 42). We are constantly being bombarded today with claims that we are living in an age of "rapid social change." While this is, of course, true, we must recognize that these contemporary changes are — sociologically speaking — superficial changes. The really radical, significant sociological changes were those involved in that complex of changes which occurred in the Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft degeneration during the nineteenth century.
First, we need to recognize that the Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft degeneration involved a perversion of the meanings of the terms that we have been using to discuss that degeneration, namely work, family, masculinity, femininity, church, public, rationality, and love. The new meanings of these terms created by the rise of Gesellschaft are perverted meanings of these terms, not their true meanings. Love means a keeping of God's commandments — all of God's commandments (including those pertaining to economic and political matters), not just those pertaining to the family and to the so-called "private" life. Therefore it is more than sentiment. It involves clear, logical thinking, because it requires a knowledge of exactly what God's laws are and how to apply them. Rationality does not mean a cold calculation of self-interest and monetary profit. True reason is God's reason, and this reason includes an understanding of God's values and their implementation, centered upon the glory of God and the true benefit of his creatures. Work is a calling from God and involves all that men and women do, child-rearing as well as business. And business is to be done by the family under the headship of the man with the woman as his helper. The Christian church is to be the spiritual force forming the society in all its aspects into what God intends. It is not supposed to restrict itself to "private" life and to Heaven. And masculinity and femininity are to be defined Biblically, not as per the Gesellschaft mentality.
We need to keep all this in mind lest a misunderstanding occur when we speak of such things as work being "masculine" and the family and church becoming "feminized" under the aegis of Gesellschaft. This kind of femininity and masculinity is not the genuine article, but is a perverted conception. Consequently before we encourage so-called "working" women to return to the "home"; we need first to establish the right kind of work and the right kind of homes, namely homes where the man is present doing his work and the wife is helping him and where both man and wife rule the children under the headship of the man. It is not enough just to get the mother back into the home. The father also needs to get back into the home, and do his work there with his wife helping him. That is, his wife is to be his "secretary" or "administrative assistant." In contrast to this, in the Gesellschaft society a man has one woman as his helper (his secretary at work) and another woman (his wife) as his sexual partner and child-rearer. Because that in the divine design a man's wife is intended to be his helper (Gen. 2:20), his secretary at work is relating to him in a way which only his wife should. This is probably why there have been so many problems with adultery between men and their secretaries—the woman who helps you is the one you wish to unite with.
It is not just enough to get the mother back into the home. The father and his work also need to return there or the problem really won't be solved.
- Forrest W. Schultz
Forrest W. Schultz has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Drexel University.