Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Doctrine of Separate Spheres

Doctrine of separate spheres is an old common law principle that wives are limited to the personal or domestic sphere and that husbands had control of the public sphere. According to this early-19th-century doctrine, the woman’s place is in the home, and the man’s place is in the workforce earning money for the household and providing for his family.

I am two women.  Lately, these women have been at direct odds with one another, and the ensuing battle is leaving me ragged and tired and a little broken.  I think you would be very interested in reading about these two women (really, you's okay to admit it), so I will tell you their life stories:

Woman One has four beautiful children.  She stays home with them.  She cooks their meals and does their laundry (Wait, did I say four children?  She has five, if when referring to cooking and laundry, you include her husband).  She is a member of the PTA.  Her kids are involved in activities to which she drives them.  She takes her children to church, and while there, teaches Sunday School to other people's children.  Woman One is a Mom.  A big, giant Mom.  Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom.  All day long.  Mom.

Woman Two graduated Summa Cum Laude (that means 4.0, if you are keeping track) from a nice university with a major in Religious Studies, a minor in Social Science and an academic focus on Spiritual Development.  She is funky and weird and has tattoos and spiky hair.  She knows that God is calling her to some pretty cool stuff right now, and she is excited about doing it.  She reads a lot, and considers herself to be fairly cerebral.  As of now, Woman Two desperately misses school and the opportunity to be really immersed in higher level learning about that which she is passionate.  Woman Two is ready to take on the next phase of life, ready and willing to do the things God is calling her to do... And she thinks she could be really good at them.


Put those two women in a boxing ring, and you have me.  I am a woman with a degree in religion teaching Jesus to two-year-olds. 

The issue at hand is stated above.  I have instituted in my own life the Doctrine of Separate Spheres.  At some point, I completely eradicated the hope that I could be both of these women.  Instead, I swing, in giant pendulum style, between the two.  The mom part of me is all mom, and she stays home and takes care of babies and is (really) quite precious. The other part of me is pretty hardcore and passionate about things, and frankly, a lot smarter than Mom Me.  Let me give examples of my life right now:

  • Woman Two is reading a book on Old Testament Theology, she is interrupted by Woman One, who needs to read Mr. Brown Can Moo for the 700th time today to a screaming toddler.
  • Woman One is at church and Woman Two comes out and volunteers for something because she wants to be useful and engaged.  People tell Woman One that she "already has her hands full" and thus Woman Two is disregarded.
  • Woman Two offers up some solid thoughts on something, and people raise an eyebrow because what does Woman One really know about things.  This may, or may not, be accompanied by a smile of condescension.
  • Woman Two cannot attend anything of consequence, volunteer for anything of consequence or serve in any capacity unless Woman One can find a babysitter.
  • Woman Two is frequently judged by proxy as people somehow assume Woman One is a teenage mom because she looks like Woman Two.
  • People treat Woman One like some sort of invalid and/or martyr for choosing to to have a lot of kids which, in turn, makes both women feel marginalized.
  • Woman Two tries to Blog about religion and faith.  Woman One tries to Blog about motherhood.  Subsequently, blog's dashboard is filled with partially completed blogs about both...and neither.
  • Woman Two tries to explain the concept of the Trinity to Woman One's Children.
  • Woman Two argues with Woman One's six-year-old when she says David wrote all the Psalms.

Now, I would like to point out that I do not, in any way, resent motherhood.  I chose motherhood, and I enthusiastically embrace my role in such.  However, I am not only a mother, and at some point, I think I have become pigeonholed.  I am as guilty of this as those around me.  As I said, I created a Doctrine of Separate Spheres within myself.  These two women live almost entirely independent of one another.  One is the man of the Victorian Era principle, and the other the woman, and I really need them to get married.  But I honestly don't know how.  This has been my struggle of late.  I'm engaged in an internal battle of epic proportions because I don't know how to make myself get married to myself.  I need to smash my spheres together into one big crazy sphere, where I can be a Mom who is smart, who is serving her family, and serving God (and please don't give me the "serving your family is serving God" line, because I know that and it really isn't what I mean, and you know what I mean, and shut up.).  I know my life is currently a gigantic lesson in patience and grace, but part of that grace is allowing myself the necessary room to be Woman Two as well as Woman One.  Maybe it is pride, but I want to be known as "that lady that's really great to go to about spiritual stuff" as well as "that lady with all the kids." 

So, I am now dedicating my energy to creating a Doctrine of Venn Diagram Spheres.  See, if my life were a Venn Diagram, I have info for each sphere, but nothing for the overlapping portion in the middle.  I propose to begin filling that space.  I just don't really know how.

Oh, by the way... I don't think men have this problem, but I would welcome commiseration if you do.


Kim said...

Sarah, my love, you're preaching my gospel! Couldn't relate to you more on this. The only thing I would add is that my Woman One could really use a swift kick to the vag. That is all.

Jill Couri said...

My circumstances are, ironically, vastly different but in that difference, they are startling similar. Ooooooh! Look at me trying to be poetic and wordsy! Lol.
But fo' real, someone hit pause on my Woman Two. She doesn't know the right people to employ her to use her skills. And honestly, my Woman One really, truly, desperately NEEDS her services to focus on the child they share. Woman Two sows seeds of doubt and fear that focusing on said child isn't "doing enough" for God's Kingdom.
Loves and hugs my friend. It is a constant prayer of submission for me because I have to set aside my Woman Two.

SarahRushly said...

Jill, I think that you, like me, have to come to find the balance. You need your second woman because she empowers your first. I think we all need to find the way to become both mother and individual. God gave each of us these gifts on both sides, and I believe he gave us the ability to balance them, but somehow, we seem incapable of culturing that ability in our lives. I seem to know very few women who are really GOOD at being both "working woman' and "mom." Most end up feeling like they are failing at both, so they choose sides. This is why there is such a crazy battle between working and SAH moms. I think if we could all find the balance...become Venn Diagram Women, we could all be happier for it. Your time as an educator has greatly informed your ability to raise Hayden, and your creativity that comes from theatre is certainly an asset to your motherhood. It is feeling like you can express those attributes outside the role of mother, and continue to develop those skills that becomes difficult. For example, I know that my passion for and knowledge of faith is a tremendous asset to my role as mother, but I don't want to ONLY use those skills to mother! We are in the same boat, my friend.

And Kim... That is as funny now as it was last night. And I think maybe only you and I can really appreciate why you said that to me.

leiamarie82 said...

I am weeks behind on my blog reading, and I picked yours first because it is Easter, and I think if we lived closer to one another, we could have discussed whether the writer of Hebrews was a woman while our kids hunted eggs together in the backyard.

So, sorry I didn't read this earlier, and right on, sister. There a lot of us out there in the same boat, and we're going to figure it out together.

MUCH, MUCH love to you and yours today!

Ariel said...

I think that a lot of the perception and respect problems come from the traditional "wife and mother" role being perceived as a single, one-size-fits-all role. If you are a wife and mother, you have X education and Y opinions and Z skills. Fathers and husbands are roles that fit comfortably with a wide variety of personalities and skills. Fathers and husbands are also primarily defined in society by their occupation (which can be an entirely different sort of psychological burden for men), but wives and mothers are socially defined by their role as a wife and mother (whether that is their full-time occupation or if they have an additional job). Because the role of wife and mother is so narrowly defined, plenty of women who are great partners to their husbands and awesome moms to their kids may still feel uncomfortable with the June Cleaverish persona that society wants wives and mothers to squeeze themselves into. Furthermore, because raising children is not a highly-paid job and does not require elaborate credentials, many people notice a woman's primary role as a stay-at-home mother and assume that she is not educated and has no interests outside her children. I think that a lot of women who reject the ROLE of wife and mother make the mistake of rejecting actual wives and mothers, thus making it worse for everyone.

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