May 17

“The Realm of Domesticity”

2006 at 5:31 pm   |   by Nicole Whitacre

Yesterday’s dual-applause for domesticity reminded me of a fascinating email we received several months ago from one of our readers, Alisha. She wrote to tell us about “the realm of domesticity,” an early-American idea she learned about in college:

“It stated that men are responsible for all that is decided in the world at large (politics, business, voting for leaders, preaching etc.) but that women are responsible for things that occur in the home (training the children, furnishing, meals, clothing etc). The philosophy argued that woman did not need the right to vote because they were considered to have the ability to influence their family so that they would eventually vote along the political lines of the mother. The woman of the house was also assumed to vote similarly to her husband due to this influence, and therefore only one vote was needed. This essentially means that we, as woman, shape, influence and hence rule the world right from our home. We raise the next generation. My children will probably think as I do about the world. My son will go on to lead using those ideas. My daughter will pass those ideas onto the next generation. My influence will spread! What an awesome responsibility we have as women. What power we have in our hands! I only pray that God would help me to use that power and influence to His glory.”

Author Cokie Roberts concurs with Alisha’s understanding of history:

“There was [in 18th century America] an elaborate view of ‘spheres.’ The men were in the world, while a woman’s place was the house, the ‘domestic sphere’….The men handled relations with England—deciding whether to declare independence and what kind of government should be formed; the women handled pretty much everything else. That’s not to say that these women were unaware of the sphere outside their homes, quite the contrary. Their letters and diaries are filled with political observations.” Cokie Roberts, Founding Mothers (New York, NY: William Morrow, 2004), 14).

Now, we here at the girltalk blog are not advocating for Congress to repeal the 19th amendment. I for one am grateful for the privilege to vote. And of course I don’t condone the oppression of women.

The question I want to ask is this: In all the campaigns for “rights” for women, have we lost sight of the fundamental principle of a woman’s influence in the home? Have we forfeited our God-given calling to shape destinies for a seat at the conference table and a corner office?

Taken alone, the effect of a wife’s gifts and counsel upon her husband’s life-course is remarkable. But as Alisha rightly points out in her email, when we exercise our influence for the good of our children, our legacy will extend through many generations. Our influence will also be as wide as it is long. It will touch the life of every person our husbands and children and eventually grandchildren come in contact with. And so the effect of our domestic efforts multiplies. What mind-numbing power is resident in this realm of domesticity!

How should we respond to this weighty influence with which we’ve been entrusted? Alisha shows us how when she concludes: “I only pray that God would help me to use that power and influence to His glory.” Amen, Alisha. May God help us all!