Prudence never pays…Posted: February 20, 2008
Ah, Dave Sim. I’ve spoken (posted? written?) about him before and it seems he’s back at it. It seems that he’s out and about on the internets promoting his latest project. And as anyone who even casually follows Dave Sim that means he must pontificate. And make himself look like a sexist asshole.
Last time we checked in on Sim he was using strange metaphors to defend the patriarchy, today instead he’s out with unhistorical arguments!
Let’s start here:
There is an intrinsic nobility for a man in working hard to provide for himself and for his family, to improve their lot and give them every advantage in life. But I think I’m safe in saying that for most husbands and fathers, The Job was the means to the end, The Job was not an end in itself. The end was the home and the family. “This is why I work this hard.” And on the part of the wife and mother there was an ancillary motivation. He is working terribly hard to provide for us, so I, too, will work terribly hard to make A Good Home with all that that entails, a place of rest for him from the dog-eat-dog world. This is what he is doing it for, so I have to do my part to live up to that.
Your grandmother and your great-grandmother didn’t see it as being “stuck at home all the time.” The idea of “stuck” and “home” being used in the same sentence would have struck any good Christian woman as ludicrous. How dare you say about My Home -the home I have made for my family, with all that that entails with regards to aesthetics, decor, cleanliness, craft, cookery,etc. etc. etc. that it is a place to be “stuck” in? It is a never ending challenge to maintain and improve, certainly, but “stuck” in? Never.
Of course our grandmothers and great grandmothers had centuries of tradition that were handed down carefully: how to do this more effectively, cooking and baking secrets and so on. They couldn’t have conceived of being “stuck” at home: every season had its own attendant problems and disciplines to enact as they had been enacted for untold generations.
There are a couple of obvious things here…
No women “back in the day day” ever felt “stuck in”? Never? That’s a large paint brush you’ve got there Mr. Sim. No women, even a “good Christian woman”, felt “stuck in”. I guarantee there are people who could easily correct this misunderstanding.
Just to pull an obvious example completely out of my ass (thanks Google!); I guess Abigail Adams wasn’t feeling “stuck in” when she asked her husband to “[r]emember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors” and give women the right to vote? Was she not a “good Christian woman”? Could Adams have wanted more for herself than to just be John Adam’s wife? 
Of course Mr. Sims whole argument here rests on the idea that gender norms and gender responsibilities are historical constants. Which is fundamentally not true. Gender is a concept that is constantly in flux, depending on time and place. What’s masculine and wants feminine shifts based on economic, social, and religious forces. The amount of control the patriarchy has over society at any one point is variable, sometimes it will be weak other times very strong.
Thus for Mr. Sim to go around claim that women always felt this way or experienced this or did that is wrong and unhistorical. The patriarchy was felt differently by 4th century Christian women, 19th century American middle class women, 16th century Native American women, and 21st century women in Africa (and so on). The gender norms that Mr. Sim seems to cling to so fiercely (the separate spheres of work/responsibility for men & women) originated in really in the 19th century. Which in the scheme of things really isn’t all that long ago. Not mention that those norms have morphed and changed to fit new circumstances that have emerged in the 20th and into the 21st century
I’m not sure it would surprise Mr. Sim to discover that for example, in the early Christian church women often took on leadership roles! To quote (and hopefully not toot my own horn too much) from an paper I wrote for my undergraduate European Women’s History class:
Christian doctrine held all women were equal to men in baptism and in these communities women often played central roles in gaining new converts, financing the Church, and serving as protectors for fledgling communities and leaders.  The New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles shows an example of this dating back to the time of Paul. Lydia, a “seller of purple goods”, was converted by Paul’s preaching then returned home and converted her entire household.  Wealthy Christian widows and wealthy virgins who inherited parental estates were able to bequest monies to the Church. This “problem” got so “bad” that the Roman Emperor Valentinian ordered that male priests and other Church leaders could not “hang around” the homes of women in order to petition for bequests.  The Emperor felt that the Church was getting money at the expense of the virgins’ and widows’ relatives.  High ranking women could protect Christian thinkers and leaders from trouble with the government.  Women like Blandina, who endured “every kind of torture in turn from morning to evening” yet held to her faith, were on the front lines of martyrdom in the Early Church.  Thus women played a central role in promulgating the new Christian faith and preserving it through troubled times.
Were these women, Mr. Sim, not “good Christian” women? Of course this was a long time ago but it does go to show that gender norms, even religious ones, are far from permanent.
Here’s another bit from Mr. Sim:
The definition of a feminist is of a woman who believes it is universally sensible for women to work outside the home just as men do, for them both to be breadwinners and pay someone to rear their children for them.
This is a strangely limited definition of feminism. To me the goal of feminists in trying to get women into the workforce was just a means to an end; the end being gender equality. Personally, the key to me is not that women go to work for the sake of work but that they have an opportunity to do so if they wish and not be stigmatized as ‘bad mothers’ or ‘ambitious bitches’ for it. What goes hand and hand with that, to me, the ability of men to stay home with the children and not be stigmatized, as ‘cuckholded’, for that choice too.
Patriarchy is not just bad for women but for men too. It limits the choices that everyone has, it forces people into roles they may not be suited for or happiest in. Of course, this is the “gender interchangeability” Mr. Sim spends so much time railing about.
I think that’s enough about Dave Sim for now.
Notes 2-7 were adapted from my paper “Women in Early Christian Life & Thought” written for Dr. Sally Brasher’s ‘Early European Women’s History’ class at Shepherd University, offered Fall/Winter 2007-2008
 I know the Abigail Adams example is the most obvious and also not the best but it was the easiest. I apologize for my laziness
 Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom (Cambridge, 1996), p. 50-53
 Acts 16:14-15 RSV
 Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (New York, 1987), p. 309-310
 Ibid, p. 310
 Ibid, p. 281 & 309
 David Ayerst & A.S.T. Fisher, Records of Christianity, Vol. 1 (Oxford, 1971), p. 77