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Part Three: Work & gender Roles in the Family
One role of the traditional family was to give prestige and status to it members. A person was "less an individual and more a member of a family." Each member of the family had a job, a position, a status.
Chores are fairly clearly divided by ones gender role in the Amish home. The man usually works on the farm, with the wife helping from time to time, if needed. The wife does the cooking, washing, cleaning, etc. Children grow up identifying with the parent of their sex. Boys tag along behind father, and girls stay indoors to help mother. There are, of course, many exceptions to this, but father is to be the head of the household.
In an Amish family I knew, father nodded his head at the beginning of a meal for silent prayer, and shuffled his feet or cleared his throat to end the period of prayer. He was mainly in charge of financial matters and writing checks. His wife would consult with him before making certain purchases, perhaps asking his opinion concerning buying a particular item. When there was disagreement, a point was reached where she would fall silent, and the final decision was made by the husband.
An article in the Amish monthly magazine Family Life discussed this matter of the man as head of the home, and the woman being subordinate to the man...
"Christ is the head of man, and man is the head of woman. One of the greatest needs of our time is men who will assume the responsibility which God has placed on their shoulders. Not to accept that responsibility is to lie down on the job, to fail God’s will."
Concerning the issue of equality of the sexes, another writer noted that...
"It’s not a question at all of whether or not women are as good as men. The Bible teaches very clearly that men and women are equal. But being equal in worth does not mean being the same in calling. Each has been assigned separate and distinct roles by the great Creator. If marriage were to be 50-50, that would result in two people being the head of the home. Not only is that not Scriptural, it isn’t even workable."
Another writer, however, stresses that...
"Subordinate does not mean inferior... The citizens shall be subordinate to the government, but this does not make them inferior citizens. The lay members should be subordinate to the leaders of the church, but this does not make inferior people out of them. Even the most brilliant pupil should be subordinate to his teacher, but this does not make him inferior. The same thing applies in the home between children and their parents, and between man and wife."
There are problem marriages, of course. Yet most Amish women seem to accept their position, although at times housework is boring and tiresome.
One Amish woman noted that she and her husband were opposites. She got up bright and early, but he was slow to arise. He had no concept of time and was forgetful, but each night she planned what she would do the following day. Her final comments are not uncommon ones by women writing to the editors...
"By now you’re wondering how we can stand each other. It took a while, but one thing we have always been able to do is talk things over, and that’s one of the keys---communication. I remember well the time he told me, 'How would you like to be like I am?' 'Impossible,' I answered. He then explained that that is what I am trying to do to him, trying to make him like I am, and he said that’s impossible, too... I began to realize we can complement each other... It is very essential to give in to each other, but it is not necessary to lose one’s individual identity."
In the 1970’s, when communes appeared in many parts of the USA, some "discoveries" were made by modern non-Amish in their attempt to return to nature and be self-sufficient. A visitor to a farm commune in California wrote that...
"It becomes clear why, in a community like this, sex roles are so well-defined and satisfying. When men actually do heavy physical labor like chopping trees, baling hay, and digging irrigation ditches, it feels very fulfilling for the women to tend the cabin, grind wheat, put up fruit, sew or knit. With no supermarkets and banks, there is a direct relationship between work and survival. It is thus possible for even the most repetitious jobs such as washing dishes or sawing wood to be spiritually rewarding."
Finally, concerning the elderly, Dr. John Hostetler notes in his book Amish Society that there are many advantages to growing old in Amish culture, such as prestige, economic security, and social and family continuity. "There is little problem with loneliness. Older people are assured of meaningful social participation." Published with permission from the Amish Country News. www.Amishcountrynews.com
Part 4 of this Amish series will return on June 15
|Next Friday a new post from old order Mennonite Martha on Buggy safety|