I saw a mention of a book called Created to be His Helpmeet today, and that title is…well, it is exactly the sort of title to provoke outrage and indignation from educated women like myself, and not without reason.
Now, I haven’t read the book, and I almost certainly will never read the book. But I do think of myself as my husband’s helpmeet. The thing is that I also think of him as mine.
In this modern life, there are two big things that need doing: the first is the bringing in of money (it would have been the bringing in of food, I guess, in some long-ago time) and the second is the keeping of the home. As a culture, we tend to celebrate the former and denigrate the latter, but the keeping of the home is important. It is what makes a family and makes a good life for that family. I don’t believe that a well-kept home has to be, in the manner of the stereotypical 1950s housewife or of people who have many servants, constantly scrubbed to a shining perfection, but it seems obvious to me that everything goes better in life, for everyone, if the home is a reasonably clean and comfortable place to be. Along with this goes the preparation of nutritious and tasty food, the raising of children, the tending of any outdoor space you might have, and keeping tools and the like in good condition, among other things.
In my mind–and, thankfully, that of my husband–the keeping of the home is a job of equal value and importance as the bringing in of money. In many ways, it is more valuable, though one does need money, however vexing that might be. We see ourselves, then, as the two halves of a whole. I do most of the keeping of the home (not all), and he does most of the bringing in of money. He helps me and the children by bringing in money, without which, of course, our lives would be pretty awful. I help him and the children by keeping a decent home (I am not a good housekeeper by nature, but I’m working on it. I do better with the cooking and raising kids issues). We’ve divided up the labor of life in such a way that we function as a cooperative unit, with neither role dominating. This may be the one big secret to a happy and successful marriage; certainly, our agreement about this keeps us from having many of the arguments married people seem to have, about who isn’t helping enough and so on. Most of those arguments occur either because both partners are trying to be the breadwinners and so no one is really keeping the home or because the one who is charged with keeping the home is or merely feels undervalued, as if that work weren’t as important as the work of the partner who earns the most money.
It isn’t that I think women “belong” in the home. It’s frustrating to be a woman–especially if you did not have the idea to become a housewife and did want a career and so on–whose existence is dictated by the routines (many of them very boring and repetitive) of home-keeping. I think probably most women would benefit from working part-time in some capacity while also being the primary keepers of the home. (I also have nothing against men who stay at home to do that work, but I think it is noteworthy that most such men do have some kind of part-time or freelance work that they’re doing at the same time, while many women who choose to stay home give that up.) But we have too much tendency in our pursuit of ever-greater material wealth to neglect the home, to neglect our food and family, to let our inner spaces become uncomfortable or to let the people in them go their separate ways and ignore each other. Then people become resentful and families start to fall apart, to the detriment of everyone.
In that sense, I don’t think the book is entirely wrong, even though I think its apparent focus on women as the helpers instead of the family unit as a cooperative whole is wrong. I do think that the point that making and keeping a real home is worthwhile work bears repeating. Not because we all want a Martha-Stewart-like perfection, but because the home is the place where we tend our relationships and where we are most able to be who we truly are. There is value in that, even if it isn’t a monetary value.