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Lessons from the 1940s Woman – Woman’s Work Is Good Work

She’s canning. In a frilly apron. And she’s smiling.

To the 2010 woman, this image looks hokey. Doesn’t she know that kind of work is drudgery? A waste of her potential? Beneath her?
While the women’s movement opened up traditional men’s work to women, somehow in the process, traditional women’s work was demeaned. Child care, cleaning, laundry, and routine cooking are now seen by most women as drudge work. When I gave up a promising full-time career in pharmacy to stay home with my children, I was told I was wasting my education and intellect, and I’d be bored out of my skull.
In the 1940s, women saw all work as good work. They knew raising children was an honor and privilege. They knew their labor in the home benefitted the family and society. Because they saw the inherent value of their work, most women found it fulfilling. For further fulfillment, women volunteered with civic and church organizations, or engaged in arts and hobbies.
Women can now work outside the home in traditional men’s jobs. That is a good thing. Single women don’t need to marry in order to eat, and married couples have options, especially welcome in a tough economy.
But why must we demean housework to gain that option? Why is traditional women’s work of less value than traditional men’s work? Isn’t that attitude, in its essence….sexist?
I’m as guilty of that attitude as most people in my generation. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that all work has an element of drudgery to it, whether it’s scrubbing toilets or passing paperwork from the inbox to the outbox. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that all work has value and benefits the family and society as a whole. If we cling to this, maybe we can find joy and fulfillment in our labor, whether paid or not.
I’m off to fold laundry. With a smile. But I’m not doing the frilly apron.

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