Bricks without Straw: Feminism and the Workload Problem
You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don't reduce the quota. (Exodus 5:7-8)Women's liberation has been both a blessing and a curse to the average woman. While many women have taken on work outside the home, the workload at home was not reduced. Exhaustion and frantic schedules are among the most common complaints, along with less time for the family.
Feminists v. Family and the Priority of Love
When someone speaks dismissively of "women's jobs" and "women's roles", much less "making sacrifices for the family," it's a safe bet that the one voicing disdain is a feminist. The feminist has often insisted that family life is at worst demeaning, at best unnecessary, and at any rate undesirable. The liberal women's movements can give the impression that staying at home and raising children is a benighted throwback to an unenlightened age, an oppressive condition from which someone could only wish to be liberated as from a prison, something that amounts to embracing a second-class subservient status. Here the feminist has not only failed to understand the voice of the average woman, but has considered it unworthy of consideration.
As long as feminism is antagonistic towards family life, it will be opposed to large numbers of women who enjoy family life at least as much as their careers. A healthier and more mature feminism must make room for women's dignity to include a love of family. Feminism, as it comes of age, must become comfortable with the other members of a family: it must become comfortable with children, and it must become comfortable with men. The assessment of children must be expanded beyond "expense" and "career distraction." The assessment of men must be expanded beyond "oppressor" and "competitor." The feminist assessment of life must also expand to include love as a legitimate part of life in addition to accomplishment and status. Failing to do so handicaps feminism's applicability to real life, and handicaps the lives of those who embrace feminism above love. Christian feminism -- especially in the form of Christian feminist theology -- could easily elevate itself above secular feminism by embracing a solid family model. It is difficult to see how a view based on Christ's teachings can avoid the priority of love for very long; one of Christ's most prominent and distinctive teachings is the priority of love.
What can the leadership do?
Back to the day-to-day issues of exhaustion and frantic schedules. There are some practical contributions that the church leadership -- whether pastors or theologians -- can make in this situation. We can follow the Bible's lead of including family and household concerns among the pastoral and social justice concerns of the church:
- Encourage employers and managers to be compassionate about family time, not to set obstacles for parents caring for children, not to begrudge adequate leave to workers who have children.
- Encourage Christian employers to seek out ways to make their family policies a blessing to their workers. For example, employers could make arrangements for part-time workers still to have health insurance coverage under employer-based group plans, or could grant an automatic half-holiday for a child's birthday or an anniversary. I wouldn't want to limit the conversation to ideas that suggest themselves to me based on my own situation. As Christian employers, not only justice and hard work but also kindness and grace should be evident. We should make our management policies such that all people wish they had a Christian manager, CEO, or HR Director.
- Make justice in the home a priority. Encourage parishioners to review home workloads whenever exhaustion is a problem for anyone in the family. Have each household make sure that the workload is distributed fairly and that unnecessary work is eliminated.
- Encourage realistic measures of how fairly household chores are distributed. Here is one possible test for whether work is distributed fairly: if one person is often still doing chores after the rest have sat down to rest, then that person is likely doing more than their share of the work, and the others less than their share.
- Make mercy in the home a priority. Encourage people to take notice of tiredness, to take seriously the need for rest, for sleep, and for peace and quiet.
- Making blessing in the home a priority. While not descending to a legalistic view of the Sabbath, be the good shepherd who makes the sheep lie down in green pastures and leads them by still waters. It restores their souls. If the sheep look harassed and helpless, that's the shepherd's cue to do something about it.