The Home Economics of Testosterone

On occasion of ECS’s post on Feminist Mormon Housewives about the benefits of home economics, I remembered how my father had taught my brother and me how to maintain our wardrobes.

My father was a career soldier. Of course, every soldier has to be able to maintain his gear in the field and to appear properly dressed on the parade ground.

It would be hard to find a modern institution that embraces male gender stereotypes more enthusiastically than the military. At the same time, the military could never work if it did not incorporate and celebrate behaviors that are supposedly female.

Look at a uniform, for example. I have never seen a woman as dolled up as General Petraeus witnessing before Congress last week: all that shiny stuff on his uniform emphasizing group membership, hierarchy and merit. It’s better than make-up.

And speaking of make-up, soldiers wear that too. Only the Queen wears better hats than military personnel, and the military is even into choreography.

And without home making skills, soldiers cannot sustain themselves.

If you don’t polish your shoes then you will get sick from wet feet. The same is true if you cannot keep your jacket closed because you tore off all your buttons. If soldiers don’t clean the latrine, cholera will soon claim more victims than the enemy.

Home economics is similarly important to fire fighters and, may be, to a lesser degree to police officers. Of course, in most countries there are female soldiers, fire fighters, and police officers today. The point that I am trying to make, however, is that gender stereotypes really do not make much sense when stereotypically male enterprises cannot be sustained without carefully integrating stereotypically female qualities.

When it comes to Mormonism, I probably agree with eighty percent of General Relief Society President Julie Beck’s advice during general conference. She is demonstrably wrong, however, when she limits her advice to mothers. Our mothers and grandmothers could not live that way and neither can we.

Not only shouldn’t we limit women so narrowly but men have to master the basics of home economics to survive and prosper as well. Since these skills do play a role in various professional environments and since we are living in a time of transition with respect to professional gender roles, it is probably fair to say that fathers have to play a special role in teaching home making skills and their application in various professional domains to their children.

Seeing young men in white un-ironed shirts, missionaries in dark suits but unpolished shoes is simultaneously amusing and sad. It is amusing because it is a manifestation of the bizarre results generated by the pedagogy of check lists that is so popular among Mormon leaders and their manuals. It is a sad commentary, however, on our parenting efforts.

Those phenomena reveal a lack of manners and the absence of a sense of propriety among our children that reflect poorly on parents and LDS youth programs.

Neither my father nor my family were perfect. In fact, he was a troubled person who made matters difficult for us and himself. However, there were some lessons that he taught us well. That includes basic home making skills that are relevant in many endeavors from serving in the military to operating in a bureaucratic environment, entertaining at home, and to asserting one’s autonomy as an individual.

With notable exceptions, it is probably safe to say that manners and dress code are not a strong suit of corridor culture. May be, some of that has to do with the confused notion of gender roles that LDS leaders are trying to propagate.

PS: Wanna see some guys in make-up? Youtube presents Panzergrenadiers like my dad. Can you feel the testosterone?

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