If you are a “typical” middle-class American mom (pretty focused on home, kids, and family, whether you work or not) you might be aware that you owe some ideological allegiance to your nineteenth century sisters. In Britain and America around 1830 or so, the wives of well-to-do working men spawned what cultural historians call the Cult of Domesticity.
At this time – for the first time – middle class women had a little time on their hands. The main change was that due to industrialization, they didn’t have to make everything themselves. You could actually buy stuff like clothing and blankets and food – exciting! And, their men were bringing home the bacon, so the more affluent among them had servants too.
So they got really into their homes and their kids. These ladies saw their homes as refuges from the scary new industrial cities and the riffraff found therein. With some notable exceptions, they were not terribly involved in the world outside their front door. Instead, they opted (well, society opted for them) – to be queens of their own domestic domains.
A lot of us, myself included, still worship at the Cult of Domesticity’s altar in some ways. I have a career outside the home, but I also find great satisfaction in making my home comfy and my family happy. It is satisfying to be able to control your own little world, to try to make life better for those closest to you.
I can certainly relate to the idea of making my home a refuge. For me, a big bugaboo is all the unhealthy “food” stuff that’s in our faces out there every day. (You knew that I was going to get there eventually, right?) I know that I am not alone in this.
It’s become second nature for us to go about our days saying “no” to what’s around us in the outside world: the convenience store slurpies the kids are begging for, the yucky school lunch, the fast food places we pass every day, entire sections of the grocery store.
Back home, in the queendoms we’ve created, things look different. There’s fruit on the counter and veggies in the fridge. Like a lot of my Subaru-driving, Athleta-wearing sisters, I spend an unhealthy proportion of my paycheck on free range chicken breasts from the local CSA and organic produce at Whole Foods. We grind our own natural baby food, send Junior to school with veggies and hummus and eat so much kale I’m afraid we’ll have to start importing it from China.
We put energy and passion into engineering those healthy home environments for our families. Its satisfying and absorbing, so much so that we might forget that there is another option: helping to make the world outside our doors healthier.
Schools are a place to start. If you don’t let your kids drink soda at home, why shouldn’t you say something when the PTA wants to serve it to other people’s kids at a school function? Or how about your child’s sports team? True, some people are going to think you are an uptight b***h for asking that each week’s “snack mom” bring only healthy snacks for the games. But others are going to be glad you spoke up, because they were afraid to.
Do these things seem too trivial? Well they’re not, especially for kids who don’t leave school and go to homes where “the health police are on patrol” (charming direct quote from my child). Each seemingly small issue – like the ones I just mentioned – adds up to an atmosphere that feeds the epidemic of chronic disease and obesity.
Speaking out wasn’t an option for many nineteenth century domestic goddesses. Most were focused on their home because they didn’t have any place else to go. No jobs, no vote, no power, little education.
Nonetheless, some of these ladies with talent and passion found ways to circumvent the system and they led what eventually became highly successful movements for women’s rights and other forms of social change. It goes without saying that we’ve got a lot of advantages these women didn’t have. We’ve got the vote, we’ve got degrees, we’ve got Twitter. Lets get out there and work on making our communities and schools as healthy as our homes.
Here are a few places to go for ideas and inspiration:
Momsrising.org – Healthy Food For Kids – advocacy info focusing on food in schools
Action for Healthy Kids – great resources for parents who want to promote healthy lifestyles and wellness policies in schools
Empowered by Play – advocacy resources for recess and PE
Let’s Move – a wealth of ideas and inspiration for promoting physical activity and healthy eating in families, schools, and communities – even child care.