Monday, February 13, 2012

13 February 1933 “The View of Freedom and the Homemaker and the Facts of the Cost of that Freedom”

Since I began my project the one thing I often find interesting from peoples comments, rather in real life or in letters or comments to me, is the great divide between reactions to a SAHW. These seem to be either Black or White.

I am either told how little freedom I must have. How trapped or unfulfilled I must be ‘forced’ to be in all the time. And how boring and non stimulating it must be. The other extreme is the often misconstrued vision of the endless freedom bordering on slovenly laziness. Sitting on sofa’s all day eating chocolates and watching soaps, was and sometimes is the general view of a woman ‘at home’. Yet, the reality is, there is a great grey area, much as there is in any life.

I thought of this disparaging crevasse of view today when I read this comment. Now, I am not saying this is a bad comment nor did I take it that way. It was simply a statement of their perception of my life, and in many ways it simply speaks the truth. So, do not think I am ‘picking’ on this commenter.

I am so envious of your life. You get to live in what ever decade/time period that you like, get to change home decor, cooking, and clothing styles. Not have to worry about caring for children or working outside of your home and get to blog as much as you like about what ever whim comes your way. I wish that I had the luxury that you have to indulge in what ever whim of the day I feel like. Such a carefree me-centered life, wow! –anon

This was my response:

anon-yes, I am lucky. I am very grateful for my opportunity. Having a loving husband who understands AND appreciates that what I do do at home is a job. It is true that I get to structure my day, though I still have to work around a schedule ruled by meals as to when hubby goes off to work and returns.
Though, I must say that it isn't as glamorous as it might sound all the time. Blogging all the time is rather hard work. Especially as I spend quite a bit of time studying, researching and just endless going through dry boring bits of knowledge mixed in with the fun stuff. It is very much like being at university and writing your papers or being a journalist. I give myself deadlines, have to try and check facts.
Though, of course, we all live ME centered lives, how can we not? I do still have others to consider. My family, though I have no children, still exist and I do have to and often consider and plan for them as well. I wish, sometimes, that we were blessed with a child. But, with the economy as it is and our continuing look at the coming future mixed with the devaluing of the dollar, and the increase in food costs and university, were we to have a child I would alas have to leave the poor thing to others care. And, to us at least, that just isn't what we would want as parents.
Now, I am not saying that is bad for those who have chosen that role, good for them and they are far stronger and possibly much more clever than I. But, for us, a child would benefit from my being home to teach and love and care and provide stability. In our current climate that is not a viable solution in our income bracket. It rather makes me sad, really, that in many ways the US has changed so drastically that that joy of a child, in the way it once was, has been taken from many of we middle class folks. But, what can one do? I cannot change the whole world and many of the things that lead to it continue to happen. And even the changes those they are happening to could do to try and change it refuse to see it, so we are at the whims of the few and the actions of the masses.
But, yes, overall I am very lucky. And I am very appreciative of my life. There isn't a day that I send hubby off that I don't stop and think, "I am lucky".

It got me thinking again about that perception of one working at home. Now, were I to work outside the home, say even a non professional job such as working at a local grocery store all day, then coming home and sitting in front of the computer while I eat heat up food, this would actually, in many cases, be viewed as a harder worker than I. Now, I am not saying that such a person is NOT a hard worker. But sometimes simply doing a job assigned to you CAN be easy, while have to structure your day to get all that NEEDS to be done so that you can have time for your WANTS does take more skill than some might know.

Now, I don’t want this post to seem to be one of those where I try to defend myself. I have no need. I am unapologetic for my role as a stay at home wife. It works for our family and husband and I are both happy with it. But, it does make me consider that again, there may be many women out there who would love to still become stay at homes. And it makes me sad when we start looking at all the obstacles to that.

First off, I think, there is the obstacle of perception of others of you. That, I think, should be tossed out the window for anyone who really wants to try their hand at SAHW or SAHM. One must, in today’s world, be like a ducks back for such thoughts that you are lazy, for they will surely come. Now, getting to grips with that is much easier than the simple hard facts of just living in today’s world.

That fact being, of course, money. We must have it to survive. There really is little chance for anyone to ever be truly self-sufficient again, for there will always be taxes, and inflation of our money, and various costs to simply own a car or home. Nothing is free and very few things are actually owned. Even when we buy a car it is not done for, as we have to continually pay insurance on it and inspection fees. These are costs that have NOTHING to do with the actual running of the car, yet we MUST or we CANNNOT have one.

I was really thinking of this lately as I begin to look more and more into costs during the Depression. What keeps coming forward to me is that despite our view of it as such a hard time, which it was for many, the standard middle class family fared so much better, or rather had a better chance of getting started, then than now. The simple facts of less cost and there being less required costs for everything simply meant one’s dollar was stretched further. And, of course, the relative value of that dollar was, of course, stronger. It was even backed by gold, which we have not had since 1971 in this country.

We all need some basics to survive. Food, Shelter, and Clothing. These are the basics and quite literally all other is simply the icing on the cake. Various degrees of icing, surely, but lets look at these basics.

Food: We all need it to survive. In 1933 many who hit hard times found they were without much of it but they made do with what they did have. And often had to resort to the help of their community in the forms of bread and soup lines. One thing those folks did have, however, is the ability to cook generally. The skills of the kitchen were more a normal part of most people’s lives. There was never a chance to get used to microwaved foods or fast food restaurants for, they simply did not exist. SO, when prices rose and jobs were lost someone, usually mother, were able to look in the bare pantry and consider ways to make the food stretch. I have heard of pancakes being used as a replacement for bread, as they use less ingredients and can be made to be stretched with the addition of more water. These could have items such as a thin slice of lard in and rolled and taken in the pocket to school or to look for work. The truth being that the carbohydrates of the bread and the protein and fat of the egg and lard would carry a soul further than say a quick ‘energy bar’ today which is mainly carbohydrates. And I wonder how many modern sensibilities would be able to consider even eating such a thing.

Now we can continue down and down the rabbit hole on even the simplest of things when we look to the past. For example the right and ease to have that lard in your pantry. Then one had more rights to ownership of said animals. One could keep them in more places and also be allowed to feed them what they like and to, if they needed, sell off what they could of it to help aid the failing family budget. Today, such actions would have the FDA on you so fast you’d haven’t a chance to even think. That ability of self sufficiency again just a bit further away. One might laugh at such a concept, keeping a hog. But if one were worried of the future and that basic element of food think about it for a moment. One hog would not only feed the family basic meat, it would supply the fat you would not only use for making pastry and bread, but that very same fat, mixed with lye or caustic soda, is all that is required for soap. That soap would clean you and your family.

Now, I am not saying all should have a pig or a be a farmer, but if one wanted to spend less and have more at home to care for to be allowed to stay at home, one simply by law, not do so. Just think that you would literally be breaking the law to simply live as our forebears had. That is a scary and rather shocking realization. And I come upon it often when I am studying the past.

Much goes the same for growing your own food. What if you haven’t the time, but your neighbor does and wants to sell some off or barter to help ends meet. If such a concern becomes big enough for attention, we are now at the whims of the bureaucrat who are paid tax dollars to come around and inspect and make sure we are not breaking the continually increasing laws. Though, as far as I can tell, the large corporate farms seem to have carte blanche to spread and spray chemicals proven to do harm in scientific experiments on food that is eaten by all including the sick in hospital and children in schools, yet one could be in trouble for raising a chicken in your yard, killing it and selling it to your neighbor. Again, we have moved away from the ability to self survive and to exist at a smaller communal level. The very way in which, when times get hard, we must often turn to survive. But, I digress.

It just rather upsets me and really makes me sad the more I look into the past further and further back to see the freedoms the average person had really dissolving. Certainly we have made strides in racial and even female rights, but so much of the average rights and the abilities to CHOOSE to stay at home or try and live more self sufficiently are simply gone. And, of course, the more this happens of course it is not only easier to simply work and work and pay and pay, but it becomes more of a Need and less of a Want. And it is no wonder so many waste hours in front of TV, Computer and phone screens. There is little freedom and hope so one must find the diversion.

Let’s look at some facts. Here are some actual ad prices for homes for sale in the 1930’s. I will do the conversion of inflation from then dollars to now in brackets [].

1933 Sheboygan Wisconsin
10 acre chicken farm large basement barn and small house
$1,900  [$31648.38 would cost today]

  1933 Fitchburg Massachusetts
6 room Cottage, garage and large plot
$2,800 [ $ 33314.09 would cost today]

1934 Oakland California
5 room stucco bungalow , breakfast room , separate garage, delightful location
$3,750 [ $62463.91 would cost today]

Now, to understand how much money we were earning in order to buy or rent homes lets look at income.

Average Median Income Then and Now.

1933: $1970  [$32,814.0 in today’s money]

2011: $31,111

(that number is per earner so a median two income family would presumably earn twice that. It is also of interest to note that the avg median per household in 2004 was $44, 389 thus, much like the beginning of the Depression, earnings are going down)

So, here we see a similarity in earnings in 1933 to today per earner, yet we have two earners as the norm in today’s family, so why is there less chance to stay at home? Well, the house costs is the first indicator. One could own a home with about 1-3 years salary. Surely we could add up today's salary three years and thing that might be enough for a home, but there are endless costs one did not have in the Depression. As stated in a previous post just the costs in insurance, fuel, inspections. Now, add to that the increase in things we ‘need’ such as computers, TV, cell phones for all family members, cars for more than one family member, increased costs in health care and insurance for home, car, payments on credit cards. And, well, I am hardly saying anything we don’t already now. The list goes on. Simply put:

More things, more ‘needs’ =higher costs

more laws requiring payments and more loss of freedom in food production= less income to keep.

higher inflation= less purchasing power of the same dollars as yesterday.

Sometimes, as well, I feel we attack one another rather than think of attacking those very issues which are actually affecting our choice to stay home or our ability to do so. Even in this online world we now exist there is a level of anger and entitlement that just didn’t exist before such technology. Others begin to expect what they want when they want it and if it doesn’t immediately go there way or fit into their current realm of thought, they attack it. It is almost, in many ways, quite animal. One views the opponent either they are friend or foe if foe, then attack! I suppose it is the anonymity of the thing that allows one to feel more brave to say cruel or hurtful things to one another.

We are lucky here on my blog as we often have such lovely comments or if we disagree we do so with decorum and sense. We do not resort to name calling or simple hurtful replies. But, could you imagine in the past, the ‘old days’ as it were, someone coming into a shop or someone’s home and just demanding to be entertained or agreed with immediately? They would be seen as crazy at least.

Well, again, I seem to have wandered off my point. I can continue to list the various costs of things then and now and compare how much more it simply costs  to live today and that many of those costs we cant even do away with as they are required by law. We can, however, choose drastic things as I have, such as one car for the family. Almost no extraneous shopping save for what is needed in the basics of food and shelter and saving up one’s pin money for that special hat or scarf we find at a yard sale or local thrift shop.

But, quite honestly, the vigor with which I started this post is now quite gone due to the commenter above now stating the following to me:

How can you claim that you have choosen to be child-free due to the economy. Thant is one of the most selfish cop-outs I have ever heard. if you choose not to have a child that is your right, but do not blame it on the economy. Think of how many families with a lot of children survived during the depression, and without government handouts. I think that your biggest challenge to mother hood would be giving up your "you" time and unplugging and really doing something productive and meaningful.

Now, I know you shall say don’t let such things bother me. But, I must. I see such responses as the very core of what it is we have become. We feel the need to force and judge at every turn. Really, I can’t imagine why it should seem odd that I have chosen a list of criteria for a child and finding myself wanting chose not to do so is somehow bad? Perhaps it is and as the commenter states, surely I am selfish. But, by that very point, I should make a wretched mother and I find myself back to the same decision. Here was my comment back:

First off, I wasn't aware we were not allowed to have any reason we choose to not have a child. A family should make sure they feel comfortable with the choice, I feel. But, I am afraid anon, that for our reasons I do , indeed, blame the economy. Now, we certainly could go ahead and have one. Many do and, as I said, I applaud them. They are made of stronger stuff than I. I am, perhaps, far too selfish in that way and thus, by that very admission, might make a wretched mother anyway, don't you think. Certainly if you think me incapable of my not being selfish you should be quite glad I have chosen not to be a mother. For what a mess of it I shall have made. No, I shall let other better mother's do their job and be happy and proud for them. But, for my own criteria for Me personally for having a child, I do and will blame the economy. Only because those are part of the set of criteria we, as a family, have set down. Were we more certain of the future, were it say actually 1955, I would, without a doubt, have a child! But, it is not and I am, as you say, self interested. So, there you are and her am I , childless. Yet, I don't think I have less purpose or am less a productive member of society. We cannot all be mothers, can we? It is one of the hardest jobs and requires the best of women and they deserve much praise. And believe you me, I happily give it. But, alas, I could not for myself have a child and then go off to work because I AM selfish and would WANT all the time with the child. I am just sad that we do not live in an economy that would allow me more opportunity to make that very choice, but c'est la vie, what can one do.

I think today, after this nonsensical rambling of a post, I shall just end here. I am off to be with some of my friends today and hubby, we are to our local tea shop. Pretty hats and fun clothes and good conversation. Selfish it might be, but I find myself increasingly wishing to retreat more and more into what is important to me and that being simply enjoying what it is we CAN control within the small framework we are allowed by today’s standards. I hope all have a lovely day, I know I shall.

I shall return to simple posts of fun facts about 1933 and perhaps try to do more daily simple postings, less involved, but more simply stated. I am rather becoming a bore or worse yet, a dilettante. For that, I ask forgiveness.

Happy Homemaking.

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