What’s Wrong with the Cult of Domesticity?

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Where Barbara Welter got the “Cult of Domesticity” wrong and why we need these virtues even more

The ‘Cult of True Womanhood,’ written by notable historian Barbara Welter, points against the prevailing “Culture of Domesticty” or Biblical womanhood.

Based on Christian values, Biblical womanhood is far from oppressing women. Understandably, liberal women find gender roles in scriptures abject.

The cult of domesticity has been used to invalidate the Bible and make it appear that Biblical patriarchy is oppressive.

Popularized during America’s second “great awakening,” labeling the “Culture of Domesticity” as a “cult” denigrates conservative Christian values.

What is the Cult of Domesticity?

Barbara Welter, in her seminal essay “Cult of True Womanhood,” written around 1820-1860 wrote a critical perspective on the gender norms prevailing in her era.

The hippie and flapper eras

Welter’s essay was first published in 1966, a time when the hippie culture actually reduced womanhood to sex objects.

Earlier in the 1920s, the “flapper era” was then the subculture. Western women flaunted their disdain for the Victorian era, where women were prudes and well-covered.

“Flappers” defied societal norms. Most of them wore knee-high short skirts, bobbed hair, and smoked.

Hence, the “Cult of True Womanhood,” coined three decades earlier, was the birth pain of women who wanted to be free from rigid religious adherence, particularly the limited role of women in society.

Today, the issues of toxic masculinity, pay gap, and inequality all points in one direction, which is to push down on Biblical values and call it oppressive.

What is the Culture of Domesticity?

The Culture of Domesticity (Biblical womanhood) defined the role of a 19th-century woman as a homemaker, wife, and mother, emphasizing their duties within the household above personal pursuits outside the family.

Womanhood in Christian culture

The Judeo-Christian Bible says a wise woman builds her house, which implies doing chores and nurturing. Conversely, husbands are to love and honor their wives.

In a nutshell, domesticity helps build a happy home. In contrast, Welter suggests that the religious piety of women is inherently destructive.

Proverbs 14:1
The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands, the foolish one tears hers down.

1 Peter 3:7
You husbands, in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman, and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life so that your prayers will not be hindered.

The cardinal virtues of a “True Woman of Domesticity

The virtues of a proper woman were piety, purity, and submission to a “loving husband.”

Religious piety, the core of a woman’s virtue, is the source of her strength. Young men looking for a wife were cautioned to look for piety. “If that were there, all else would follow.”

The “Culture of Domesticity” isn’t limited to ordinary people. It was widespread even among the elite, except that they had servants. (PAINTING: Chalon Family in London (ca. 1800) painting in high resolution by Jacques–Laurent Agasse.)

1. The “Culture of Domesticity” does not hostage women

Welter refers to religious virtues as “peculiar susceptibility.” Because of religious devotion, “It did not take a woman away from her proper sphere,” her home (Pages 152-3). Thus referring to domesticated women as “Hostages at home.”

Mothers have cared for the home and their offspring for thousands of years while the husband works in the field. While the roles can be reversed, it makes sense for strong men to do hard labor.

True to Welter’s claim, women were stereotyped in magazines and Christian literature. It alienated women who wanted to excel and do more. However, it doesn’t invalidate the virtues of domesticity.

In 2019, a Gallup poll indicated that 56% of American women prefer to work rather than be homemakers. Technology has enabled them to do more but has compromised proper nurturing.

A growing number of women in the U.S. opt not to have children, an increasing trend in the recent decade.

women were stereotyped.

female ad
Wives are often portrayed as “homemakers” in vintage ads. Although more women are proud of their role, feminists resent the stereotype. The Bible designed wives to help the husbands, the husband to love and honor his wife.

2. Feminists disavowing domesticity are pushing decadence

Christianity views women, especially mothers, as the “light of the home.” But for radical feminists, domesticated women who cook, clean the house, and take care of kids are an insult to women instead of a virtue.

Labeling domesticity as a cult and associating it with whites and protestants is the perfect springboard for returning to Biblical feminism. Neo-feminists don’t hide their view of religion as sadistic and immoral. Moreso Domesticity.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) is considered the earliest feminist who was also an atheist. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who published a women’s Bible (1895, 1898), viewed religious orthodoxy and masculine theology as obstructing self-sovereignty.

A woman’s dignity

What used to be a virtue, such as virginity, is shamed and scorned. The opposite is celebrated, and sexual immorality is justified.

In Biblical times, purity is indeed essential before marriage. But you don’t need Christianity to say that chastity is reverent.

As in many other conservative cultures, the lack of virginity can only mean impropriety—and there lies the problem with liberal feminists like Welter.

Purity was as essential as piety to a young woman, its absence as unnatural and unfeminine. Without it, she was, in fact, no woman at all but a member of some lower order… (Pages 154, 155)

Today, teenage sex isn’t only the nightmare of conservative parents but gender dysphoria, the transgender craze, a sudden increase of mastectomies, and a slew of unheard societal dilemmas.

The cult of neo-feminism

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RGB) is the “great equalizer.” A hero to women with a cult following of her own, says writer David Kinder. After all, RG is a neo-feminist icon who fought for women’s place in modern society.

RGB was a crucial vote in allowing same-sex marriages. Also, she would rather have abortion legalized than allow all unborn persons to live.

Left-Liberals alike call these moral equalities and laws. In the Bible, these are the marks of disobedience that usher in a decadent and godless society.

No wonder liberal radical feminists and militant gay activists are atheists or less religious or lean [Pew]

3. Women of domesticity is not oppression

In 1890, women high school graduates began to outnumber men. They started to fill new jobs in offices, stores, and classrooms. Likewise, women without formal education began to have jobs, and roughly 70% of the employed servants were women in 1870.

The point is that women of domesticity were never prevented from doing what they liked outside their homes or families.

Domesticity is not about gender inequality

Renowned psychologist Jordan Peterson referred to the biological differences between men and women as critical to their chosen skills or careers. He also debunked the women’s pay gap that neofeminists blame on gender inequality.

God created males and females for particular roles that were never intended to abuse one another, as the cult of domesticity presupposes.

There are things women can do better than men—which does not disable their ability to be wives or mothers. Admittedly, patriarchy was abused. But it doesn’t mean God approved of it.

In the Bible, submission to the husband also meant loving the wife—more precious than a jewel—not shackled. (Proverbs 31:10)

Women’s empowerment is vital

Today, we have nations led by women. When Queen Elizabeth II died in 2022, millions worldwide remembered her fondly. She is known for her filial piety and openly declared her faith in Jesus.

The Bible, too, is filled with women like Queen Esther, Hanna, and Mary Magdalene, who helped forge societies and made a difference in their sphere of influence.

Women who were both housewives and achievers

  • Catherine Booth co-founded the Salvation Army with her husband, William, in 1865. The couple raised eight children while evangelizing and working among Britain’s poor. 
  • Margaret Thatcher was a devoted mother and wife. The “Iron Lady” was a homemaker yet was able to manage a country with her husband by her side. 
  • Ruth Graham gave up her missionary dream for her husband, Billy. She shouldered, often by herself, running the home and rearing five children. Still, she managed to be a crucial part of the success of her husband’s evangelical mission.
  • Kara Kennedy, daughter of Senator Ted Kennedy, chose to be a full-time homemaker. Still, she managed to get involved with civic organizations.
  • Before Corazon Aquino became the 11th President of the Philippines, she was a housewife who cared for the kids, cooked, and ensured their house was in order.

The bottom line is that the Culture of domesticity is not a cult that hostage women

Domesticity is not for everyone. However, to blame coercion because of religious (Christian) piety is ridiculous. Many other cultures practice it out of love and devotion.

Studies show that children raised in intact families, i.e., two con­tinuously married parents, tend to fare better on several cognitive, emotional, and behavioral outcomes than children living in other family forms. [Heritage]

Their accomplishments cannot be measured in wealth or career but by how their children have turned out and their marriage intact.

A Scottish Blessing
If there is harmony in the home, the nation will have order. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.

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