Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I am, I am SuperWoman... or not.

SuperWoman Syndrome

The romantic ideal that women of the past did all the cooking, cleaning, sewing, child-rearing, gardening, entertaining... for their families without resorting to Professionals. Did it perfectly. Did it from scratch. Did it without mistakes. All while passing on the homey values to the next generations.

Were there women who were SuperWoman in the 19th century?
Yes there were. We have Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, Oprah. 
They had Eliza Leslie, Elizabeth Acton, Miss Beeton, the local woman every woman loves to hate.
Most women, though, were not SuperWoman. They may have made the best pie in the county, but had to hire out their sewing. They may have put the local tailor to shame, but everyone was scared to visit her house until The Girl came by to "help" with cleaning.

Newbies, you do not need to be SuperWoman either.
As a matter of fact, it would be more accurate if you were not.

Almost all women could do the "basics" of cooking, cleaning, sewing, and child-care. They had their focuses too. 

  • If you do not sew, keep the professionals employed. (Most will work long distance and attend lots of events, the better to reach their customers in person.)
  • If you do not cook, make arrangements with someone who does.
  • If you need help at an event with your children, chances are good other mothers will too, so get a co-op play date together.

...and what you tell the Public does not need to be the arrangements you as a re-enactor make for the event.

In many cases, it over-represents SuperWoman for you to tell the Public that you have made as much of your family's clothing as you have. We don't have the same ready access to professionals, ready made shops, and second hand markets, so we have fewer choices. 

I am a tailor. I spend the majority of my time clothing menfolk. Did I make my dress? Yep, sure did. But I look the Public in the eye and say that I employed the local dress-maker... who got a nice frock for her husband in exchange and the transaction was happy on both sides. Does this "hide my light" on my dress-making skills? Yep, and sometimes that is needful to present history as it was instead of stroking the modern pride. Besides, tailoring and dress-making utilize different sewing and patterning skills and knowing one does not mean one knows the other.

We have examples of 19th century women who made the clothing for their family, including tailored garments. In many cases, it was the necessity during the war years that caused women to think "yes, I think I *can* do that." So in post-war years we see many more home-crafters daring to make their own clothing, using professionals less, and professionals using machine work. It's part of the innovations the war years caused on garment manufacture (like standardized sizes in menswear.) Look carefully at those sources and how often the author mentions extended family and neighbors doing household/farm work for her. She's not really SuperWoman either.

In short, though, Dearest Newbies You do NOT need to be SuperWoman to be a re-enactor.

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