Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I am not a kitchen wife

Oh, the scandal! The blogosphere is all abuzz. Carolyn Custis James, a theologian and speaker, dares to have this blurb listed about her:
Carolyn is her husband's favorite theologian. She is not a kitchen wife. She does not keep house, cook, clean or sew, but she reads an awful lot and often talks to women (and sometimes men) from all over the world about women's struggles within the evangelical church. Lately, she has been reading a lot on the plight of women in the Middle East. She helped establish Synergy Conferences for women seminarians and women in vocational ministries, which is sponsored by her ministry organization, Whitby Forum, in alliance with Campus Crusade for Christ International and RTS/Orlando.
Tim Bayly wrote:
The flap is all about a woman listing her credentials in such a way that prominence is given to her evident disdain for, and denial of, domesticity--cooking, cleaning, and being what is called a housewife--when the world is filled with other godly women who pray each day that God will give them the holiness not to despise such menial tasks despite their high IQs, their deep biblical knowledge and understanding, and their yearning to play the man on the stage of the wider world outside the home and family confines.
Those who know anything about me know that I have made some lifestyle choices that are socially unacceptable (family size, for starters). What you may not know is that I struggle continually with the job description of "housewife" (if I were to pick the job for which I am most unsuited, it would be this one in which I am stuck either until death or physical collapse). Because of those two factors, I am tired of all the whining about someone supposedly denigrating menial household chores by choosing not to center her life and identity around them.

Many women like me have absolutely no desire to "play the man". Ick. (Sorry, men, but I have thanked God many times that He, in His love and wisdom, did not make me one of you.) Neither do we want to be restricted by some outmoded fantasy idea that we should be pretending to be June Cleaver clones or that we should behave as some ridiculously shallow housewife in a commercial who goes into raptures of delight over new toilet cleaning supplies.

Menial tasks are just that --- menial. They do bring some people a certain amount of satisfaction and joy. I knew a man who thought that the best way he could possibly spend his life was pulling weeds and planting and transplanting stuff in his garden. (On a vacation, he once joyfully pulled weeds in someone else's yard --- just for fun.) Unfortunately, his high tech career limited his hours to do the "important stuff". But most people are not like that.

If we truly believe that household drudgery is so wonderful, we should not complain about those who suggest otherwise. When people mock me for having so many children, I just smile. It doesn't make me question my choices or feel denigrated. These poor people don't have my kids --- or they probably would be taking extraordinary measures to have even more children than I do. (After all, most women do not fear labor as much as I do.) I wouldn't trade my children for all the riches in the world.

I think the reason that so many women are reacting so strongly to James' words is that they strike a chord; they express a longing that so many women do not even wish to articulate. Hence the struggle of godly women to pray daily not to despise menial tasks, but to embrace them.

Years ago, I tried that approach. I prayed desperately that God would help me to love cleaning toilets and changing diapers. Instead, with each child, my stomach grew weaker and diaper changing became even more unpleasant. (Ever changed a toddler diaper while trying not to retch with morning sickness?) There is no way to "pretty up" this task --- which is why most husbands I know refuse to change diapers unless nagged to death by their wives. It's worse than menial. Now that my children are out of diapers and I am thankfully retired from this task, I have let it be known that I will not change diapers. Does this mean I am denigrating those who do? Not at all. But let's be honest --- no one is "called" to diaper changing. It's not some wonderful thing that women everywhere need to embrace, wax eloquent over, and find their identity in. We are not especially suited to this task. (If anything, men are --- they don't have to deal with all-day-long sickness.) It's another one of those awful tasks that need to get done; another one of those trials we endure, hopefully with cheerfulness, out of love for our families.

Even if every other woman in the world would proclaim, "I am not a kitchen wife", I'd still cook dinner tonight. I'd probably say, "I hear you, ladies!" But their proclamations would not make my menial tasks any more or less menial, any more or less pleasant. It is just something that has to get done. I don't need applause; I don't need the women of the world joining me in the kitchen in solidarity; I don't need a sense of "finding meaning in the pots and pans"; I don't need to flatter myself by pretending I am embracing some "high calling"; I just need to get in the kitchen, stop being a whiny baby, and cook dinner. Do I view this as my calling in life? No. But my family is hungry and I'm usually the one with kitchen duty. Whatever my hand finds to do, I should do it heartily unto the Lord. But I shouldn't let this make me arrogant and disdainful towards those who choose to let their hands find other tasks. (Read that last sentence again. Let it sink in. Years spent in household drugery do not give any of us the right to be puffed up with pride and a critical spirit. Nothing does. Not even changing icky toddler diapers and cleaning up vomit while pregnant and suffering with the flu.)

Let me make this clear:

I am not a kitchen wife, either. I'm married to neither kitchen nor house, no matter how much of my life is filled with those menial tasks. If I define myself by household chores, I am indeed to be pitied.

1 comment:

  1. Amen, sister!!! You have said what I've been trying not to say for so long, now I don't have to say it, I'm just going to link to you!

    I don't like housework and that doesn't make me any less a woman, or any less a Christian. And I'm not a kitchen wife either.