Guest Post: A Convenient Truth?

by Corktree

Corktree is an emerging Feminist struggling to find peace as she seeks truth.  She has three strong headed daughters, an infant son and a patiently supportive husband.   Aside from her family, she is passionate about science and natural health practices and hopes to merge those with her Feminist vision by going into practice as a Midwife when her children are all in school.

What would you do if your house literally cleaned itself?  What if you never had to go shopping because you could program a machine to make your dinner out of nothing but raw molecules, and you had about 75% more free time on your hands?

I’ve been thinking about the role that technology and human innovation plays in our lives as mothers, wives and just women in general.   Has anyone studied how much more free time we have today compared to 2000 or even 200 years ago, all because of modern conveniences?  Just a few generations ago, the lives of women were still completely bound to housework and all that was required to keep a family alive, clothed and fed.  No one asked how their day was or what they did all day, because everyone had pretty much the same routine of living (barring the disproportionately wealthy, of course).

In many ways, the issues of gender equality were hard to imagine, because the roles that men and women played were largely determined by biology.  Even though most household duties could physically be performed by a man, the act of child bearing and nursing could not, which is what put women (and kept them until recently) in the home.  Their sphere of influence, and the jobs they could perform grew naturally from this center and kept them from moving too far away from it.  It also kept them busy with these chores from dawn to dusk.

Until progress came along. Washers, dryers, vacuums.  All to aid in shortening a woman’s workload.  The inexpensive food and product industries allowed home production to become a luxury, not a necessity.  Birth control gave us the freedom to choose our children.  Even formula, though debatable as a superior food source, has allowed women to cut the chains that kept them home, if needs be.

More and more, the roles that we play can be acted by men.  And vice versa.  And I’m of the mind, that as long as SOMEone is filling the role of nurturer, it doesn’t matter who.  It is also my opinion that technology and progress, when properly employed and treated as a stewardship, are given to us for reasons.  They are part of the plan, and they are the tool of blessings when in the right hands.  So why has God allowed for “women’s work” to become so automated?  Are we obsolete?  Is it a compensation for the billions of women that have had so much less than we?  Is it a reward for making it this far down the evolutionary path?

Or is it a tool placed in our hands that allows us to move further upward?  Are we supposed to do more with the time that has been freed?  I’m not against the increase in self indulgence or the return to self reliance.  I think it’s essential to find passion and fulfillment.  For some that will be in a return to home production and crafty skills.  For others, it will be a time to increase education.  But for some, could it mean that we are finally in a position to change the world?  That with all the time that we have that our foremothers didn’t, we could be doing more to influence the future of this planet and it’s vast inhabitants?  Could that be God’s plan for us?  Could it be that the natural order of progress demands that we step up and push for the change that everyone else will soon be ready to embrace?  We are a church of line upon line, precept upon precept.  And I think the world is finally ready for us to take the next step.  To add the next line.

When I look at the history of this world and how things have changed, this is what I see as the next step in our collective earthly progression.  I see our gifts of time and resource and knowledge as responsibilities to those who have, or have had less.  Who knows what the future will really look like?  I don’t, but I like to imagine.  I do know that it will follow this trend.  That our daughters will have more of all that we have, and that they will do and see more than we will.  We are not inherently incapable of doing all that we deem possible.  And in my crazy view of the future, it isn’t hard for me to imagine a woman as President, Prophet or Pope.


Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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33 Responses

  1. Alisa says:

    Corktree, it’s wonderful to have a post from you! It’s an interesting topic, and in connection with it, I thought I’d post a link to this NY Times article, one of many sources saying that mothers today are spending as much or more time with their children than they were 40 years ago, despite the majority of mothers being in the workforce ( I wonder if the automation of housework has a lot to do with freeing up one’s time to spend with the children after work is done.

    • Corktree says:

      Thanks for the link Alisa. It certainly seems likely that one of the reasons for increased technology would be to allow for more quality time in the home as we get pulled in different directions, though the article seems to be suggesting a shift in priorities as the cause.

      I have to admit, I was thinking of SAHMs as the ones that could potentially be using the extra time for a larger purpose. Working mothers are already contributing to a larger shift, regardless of what their work is I think, and that’s a good thing, and something that progress has also allowed for. I don’t think one investment of time is better than the other, just that it’s important to see our time as valuable to the cause. A representation of what we’re capable of I guess.

    • Stephanie says:

      When I picture an older generation of mother, I picture a mother working all day while the kids run free over the meadows. The stories told by older adults of being told not to come back until dusk. I can’t let my kids run free like that, so, by necessity, I spend more time with them – which means that I get less done. In all honesty, I wouldn’t mind if they were out of my hair a little more so I could get a little more done. But, practically, it won’t happen for a while.

  2. Sue says:

    /delurk ” That with all the time that we have that our foremothers didn’t, we could be doing more to influence the future of this planet and it’s vast inhabitants?” I love this idea. Fantastic post. I’m at work and can’t respond very well right now, but I wanted to at least say that I loved your thoughts here and hope it sparks a great discussion. /relurk

  3. Alisa says:

    I forgot to say congratulations on your new baby boy. Congratulations!

  4. EmilyCC says:

    What a great post, Corktree! My grandma often has talked about how her mother made sure she had 1 hour to read a day. The rest of the time she was cooking or doing laundry. Sometimes, I feel like that’s all I do, too, but I look at my Kitchen Aid kneading my dough or my food processor making pesto (not to mention my washing machine whirring away in the background), and I get an idea of how much more time I have.

    But, I hadn’t really thought about what my responsibility is to do with that extra time. What an important added dimension!

  5. spunky says:

    I don’t have any thoughts on this at the moment, but I would argue that the lesser chore load isn’t necessarily attributed to “technology”. This article argues that smaller families, later marriage, etc. have a dramatic effect on household chore loads. From a personal perspective, I would also suggest that the decline of some basic women’s arts (sewing, knitting) has resulted in “less” housework- i.e. we don’t buy patterns to make garments, we just buy them online, and western women don’t make most of our clothes ourselves. With increased education and the ability of women to enter the workforce, mass clothing production developed, and decreased the cost of clothes, making it (IMHO) just as, if not more expensive to make our underwear than it is to buy it. Therefore, “housework” decreased. Not sure if that is technology, or changes in western society. Sorry to be pedantic. Anyway- this is an interesting article:

    • Corktree says:

      Thanks for the comment and link, spunky.

      I did mention innovation as a factor in the progress we’ve seen in western society. I still think a lot of it is technology, but certainly not all, and that’s not really the point. The point is that all these advancements that you mention (even the decrease in family size is contributed to modern science as much as cultural acceptances), are changing the balance and shifting the need for women to be in the home. It’s getting harder and harder to argue that the home is the place where women are needed because in many cases men can and do perform these jobs just as well (if not better in some unions). So what is it that keeps us from the areas of life on earth that we are still excluded from? Nothing logical IMO. So it comes down to whether we are really divinely MEANT to be excluded.

      And I just realized that a vast amount of the earth’s population hasn’t caught up to our level of advancement. Maybe our more immediate job is to make that a more common reality for our sisters around the world. It’s certainly something that many of us can (and I know we already do in many ways) actively help the cause of Feminism. I know the church doesn’t like to look like it’s following the world, but certainly one area of Feminism can lead to another.

      Maybe we still need to reach a critical mass before change can be made officially.

    • Corktree says:

      “From a personal perspective, I would also suggest that the decline of some basic women’s arts (sewing, knitting) has resulted in “less” housework”

      This is something else I was thinking about when I wrote the post. I’m not sure what the actual numbers are, but there’s a good amount of women out there with Etsy shops and the like, selling their home grown creations, and it tells me that they are using their free time to go back to the past traditions of sewing, knitting, etc. But it’s a luxury now. This is part of what got me thinking about how much life has changed on the home front, and what that means to our own evolution as a group.

  6. Corktree says:

    I also wanted to say that a lot this makes more sense to me when I follow the arguments down the natural path of time and progress to some imaginary but probable future if this earth continues for another 50 – 100 years. Technology is going to increase exponentially and the future of our sci-fi movies is going to be closer than we think. So it seems fair to postulate how that will affect society as well, and the church is not immune to such changes and adaptations, as our relatively short history has already shown.

  7. Naismith says:

    There’s a chapter in THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE about this, though, and Friedan argues that housework expands to fill the time available.

    This is particularly true of Mormon women, because despite modern conveniences we are expected to garden/can/grind wheat/dehydrate fruit/sew/ etc.

    • Corktree says:

      That’s true, Naismith. But who is telling us to do those things? I don’t really want to be so pessimistic, because it’s not how I generally feel, but isn’t that just a way to justify keeping our sphere of influence close to home?

      And just because we are all experts at dragging out the laundry or dishes or weeding, doesn’t mean that this is the way it has to go. I’m just suggesting an alternative way of looking at the components that define our “roles”.

  8. IdahoG-ma says:

    Great post Corktree. I think that while many things have changed that free up time, and especially in the mundane, labor intensive area’s, other things have come in to take up time that never plagued our ancestors. Still, there is time, and that is a gift that can be used for helping the world. Likewise, that time could be used to make it worse. We are no less responsible for the future then our ancestors were. If we believe that we are a spiritual beings having a temporal experience, then we must realize that the temporal is our job for now. I wonder sometimes if our ancestors were cognizant of the path they were forging. I think some were and some were not. What about us?

    • Corktree says:

      Great question Gma. What *about* us? That’s the key. What are we doing and what will we do to make a difference and bring the changes we want to see?

      And I agree that life is not just a bowl of cherries these days compared to our grandmothers times. I certainly feel the stress that comes as a price for progress, but I think a lot of it is mental and that we can turn things around to our advantage with a different perspective in some cases.

  9. Stephanie says:

    But for some, could it mean that we are finally in a position to change the world?

    I got a little thrill when I read this. I love being with my children and taking care of them, but I want to change the world, too. I have a good friend with a lot of kids who is really embracing her SAHMhood and learning all the homemaking skills. She enjoys it and it makes her happy. I feel restless. I want to change the world (and my patriarchal blessing kind of hints at this, too – at a bigger purpose for my life. In fact, it doesn’t even mention motherhood at all, but it has two pages about my “calling” in life. It frustrates me a little sometimes, and I try to be patient).

    • Corktree says:

      Thanks for commenting Stephanie. It was actually one of your comments on a recent thread that contributed to some of my thoughts. Something about the woman being the more natural choice for staying back at the cave while the man went out for food? I’m extrapolating, but that was what I got out of it and it got my gears going.

      I do really think that many of us, actually probably most of us that participate around here, are being “called” to these issues in a way. I believe God is calling out to those who will listen and asking more of us because we are ready, and God wants us to help others be ready too, or at least find their voice. So many amazing women are doing this right now, and making it easier and easier for us to join in and lend a hand – to take our time and put it to use. Maybe this is a new kind of “women’s work”.

  10. Melissa says:

    I don’t know how much world changing I’m doing over here. I have often thought about modern conveniences and technology though (and how I’m fairly certain I was placed in these times for at least the reason of certain death by housework had I been living in a time without everything).

    Mostly what I think about this is that it’s awesome that we have the ability to choose what we do with our free time. Women of the past didn’t have a choice, it was pretty much survival then. I like having the choice (even though I lack in the world changing area).

    • Corktree says:

      Thanks for commenting Melissa! And, like Juliane says below, you can change the world in the way you raise your children, and I don’t doubt that you will teach them well.

  11. Juliane says:

    thanks for posting this, it got me thinking. I do feel that we as women have much less hard manual labor to do than our foremothers. I also agree with Naismith on the Friedan quote that housework and chores expand to fill the time allotted to them.
    I do feel like I am changing the world WHILE I am staying at home and raising my daughters. I feel peace and war start at home and that the way I raise my girls has an instant ripple effect every day that touches our families, friends, neighbors and perfect strangers.
    I did get excited with you though about the world possibly being ready for a big shift and women like you and me being able to ride out that wave and be a part of it, advancing the cause of balance, equality, unconditional love, acceptance, truth… is thrilling and yes, I think it is coming and more and more women will stand up and be counted.
    Anyway, have a fabulous night 🙂

    • Corktree says:

      Thanks Juliane. I’m sorry the focus got tied up in housework. I actually read somewhere else (TopHat’s blog I think) that in the last century the time given to housework is the same as it was 100 years ago. I’m sure that’s true (and very interesting to consider), but I’m looking further back than 100 years and looking at larger trends. I’m still not sure it makes sense that we fill up our time with the housework regardless of how much is actually getting done. Why does it have to be that way? Just because Friedan says so? I personally like to get it all done as fast as possible so I can have time for things like this. 🙂 And I’m not a corner cutter, either. How else do we explain the time some of us have for blogging? I just can’t imagine my great grandmother being able to devote any time to frequent discussions like this.

      Which reminds me. These posts and comments that we all put so much time and effort into – they are a form of the work that I am talking about. In their own way they contribute to the awareness and necessary discussion that will lead to change, and already is.
      And yes, raising our children with this awareness is absolutely a monumental addition to the shift that is occurring, and in many ways the best that we can hope to do.

      • Juliane says:

        the way I understand the Friedan quote (I’ve also heard it in a different context at a time management seminar) is a little different from you. To me it means that if I allott 2 hours to clean my bathroom, I will use up all that time to clean. However, if I will allott 20 minutes, I will get it done in that amount of time. This concept of course has its limit. I personally won’t be able to get it done in 5 minutes even if I am motivated to do so 😉

  12. Jenne says:

    Corktree, I’m so proud that you got to guest post!

    I’ve thought the same things you’ve expressed in this post, and you certainly said it better than I could!

    Needless to say, I absolutely agree and everything I’m involved in is evidence that I really do think I have the time to change the world from my pajamas on my laptop.

  13. Kirsten says:

    I’m a SAHM turned professional volunteer. My kids are in middle school and high school– a time when many women who have been at home are going back to work. I am in that transitioning process, but feel the need to still be around for them. Since quitting my out-of-house job to stay home when my kids came along, I have put much of my energies into doing work I’m passionate about. I’m on our school’s non-profit educational foundation board, PTO president, on a high-ability learners committee, marching band uniform mom, quilt guild show coordinator, etc. With many of these volunteer opportunities I am able directly effect the education of the children in my area. Others allow me a creative outlet for my fabric passion. I am so grateful for the modern conveniences which allow me the time to do this.

  14. Rebecca says:

    I’ve been thinking on your post all day. So many interesting ideas. I keep thinking about how it relates to the slow movement. I read a book called In Praise of Slowness a few years ago and it talked about some of the things we’ve lost as the result of our fast paced, technologically enhanced lifestyles.

    A quote from the book reads, “In this media-drenched, data-rich, channel-surfing, computer-gaming age, we have lost the art of doing nothing, of shutting out the back ground noise and distractions, of slowing down and simply being alone with our thoughts. Boredom – the word itself hardly existed 150 years ago – is a modern invention. Remove all stimulation and we fidget, panic and look for something, anything, to do to make use of the time…” There are statistics about how the average American spends 72 minutes a day driving in a car, or but only devotes 30 minutes a week to making love.

    There’s a focus on how to slow down and enjoy life more. It’s something we try to do, and it usually involves getting away from technology when we can. Take an evening stroll around the neighborhood. Sit outside and read a book. Take the time to have a leisurely meal where we sit around the table and enjoy a good conversation. Keep things simple. So, I guess I’ve come to have sort of a love/hate relationship with technology. On the one hand, I’m grateful to have a machine that washes my clothes so I can go on that evening stroll, but I frequently feel like my most enjoyable days are when we are all unplugged. Most of my joy happens when I’m not worried about multi-tasking, or being efficient, or wishing for an even faster internet connection. I think in many ways technology has created a more and more hectic pace to my life.

    I agree with the idea that technology can be a huge blessing to us, as it removes some of the time-consuming chores of the past, but I think it’s created some problems to. Maybe it’s more of a challenge to step back and stop worrying about saving time and maximizing efficiency. To stop looking at my watch while I’m reading to my child. Gandhi said “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” I think that’s something I need to remind myself of. I’m starting to see technology as more of an enemy than a friend.

    Great topic Corktree.

    • Corktree says:

      That’s an important reminder, Rebecca, thank you. Technology can absolutely be a burden and a source of stress if we don’t keep it under control. I think the key is to consider why we are using it. Is it allowing us to progress or just check out? Great comment.

  15. Sijbrich says:

    I had thoughts along the same lines as Rebecca. Technology is a huge blessing, but can also be a hindrance. I cringe when I see mothers post things on FB, lamenting the large pile of laundry that is bothering them. Really? All you have to do is throw it in the machine and push a button. There are still millions (billions?) of women that are hand washing their clothes today (not to mention, they could never afford to own as many clothes as are lying in that pile on the laundry room floor). The irony is that these mothers are on Facebook and like me, are probably wasting more time being entertained by technology. It’s a tough balance to find. I myself am always struggling to find it.
    But I loved your empowering message and how we do have the power to cause some major change in this world.:-) Let’s get to work!

  16. Jenne says:

    Corktree, I think you may be right that we are not simply feeling led to do the things we are doing now because it benefits us as individuals and we are not as isolated as we think in being led to do these things. It may be that there is a group of women being prepared to work together on these issues and its because we have greater freedom of choice in how we use our time than ever before.

    I think however that in someways women have been doing this throughout history and we can find instances where women did have the freedom of time to pursue service outside the home. I do think its a form of privilege that in recent centuries facilitated it (thinking the suffragettes) or out of necessity and cultural values (thinking midwives and godsibs in Europe throughout the 1500-1600’s). There are also instances throughout history of how women squandered the free time they were privileged to enjoy. Noble women of medieval Europe hardly did any childcare or housework as it was delegated to wetnurses and servants who then in later years became governesses and housekeepers. And yet we don’t have many historical examples of women working to serve others in need. Instead, we see them bolstering the roles assigned to them as excellent in all things “ladylike and noble” embroidering, making tapestries, etc. Not that I find those excellent forms of art unimportant or beautiful, but many women likely found that work dreary when it was all they were allowed to do.

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