Assume that a housekeeper is female and I’m sure there’s someone who’d shudder: “How dare you limit others with your gender expectations!” and so on and so forth. Yet for myself, a millennial female who is choosing to stay at home and even consider homeschool, I find myself in an ironically traditional role. The last time I found myself caught in this conflict was when I cooked dinner for co-workers who had come over after school (the expat teaching life has such friendship opportunities) and a male co-worker remarked, with some measure of surprise, that I was actually quite domestic. I was preoccupied with darning one of Jack’s socks at the moment so no witty reply, but the moment has stuck with me. Apparently darning socks was at odds with being a part-time school administrator.
Dr. Levene addresses such conflicts in her book Cake: A slice of history (2016). She references Flanagan (2006), who points out that we often overlook the fact that career-able women might still be attached to ideas of homemaking even if unfashionable. Of course, a feminist might well argue that feminism is about giving women opportunity to do whatever they want, whether that be a career or a homemaker. In Cake, Levene concludes that we should view domesticity as a sort of discipleship for all peoples, a way to help others make homes and feel comfortable, as a means of pairing baking and the female identity without flouting female power.
Do I feel the conflict? Absolutely. I fight often in my head to see the world in binary (except for on certain topics), as if mothers can be sorted into career women or housemice, and especially when I turn the lens on myself. There’s nothing wrong with being a traditionalist, but will others not think of me as an ol’ fuddy-duddy if I continue in this role as a stay-at-home mother? What will my daughter think of me when she grows up? Will my choices limit her or enable her to have an enriched life that fulfills all that God has planned for her? Sometimes these arguments keep me up at night.
What keeps me going, however, is the lady found in Proverbs 31:10-31. Industrious, money-savvy, skilful, charitable, strong, dignified, wise, productive, and above all, God-fearing — when I keep my eyes on this passage, I find that many of my worries (with regards to gender roles and perception) fall away. Making these qualities focus in my mind’s eye is much more inspiring than worrying about whether my career aspirations are endangered by my hobbies and interests. Working towards becoming this sort of woman would mean that I’d be equipped to be in the workplace or the home, and I believe that there is no clear rule in the Bible about that because God uses women everywhere. I leave the whole of the text with you for your own pondering.
10 A wife of noble character who can find?Proverbs 31:10-31. NIV.
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.