Saturday, September 22, 2012

Barefoot and Pregnant



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During the past week I suggested to my wife that she should leave the thinking to me and that her role was to be “barefoot and pregnant”. Fortunately she took it in the humorous way it was intended but she did ask me to look into the origin of the phrase. . . 

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The full phrase is “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen”, also sometimes “in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant”. 

The meaning of the phrase is that a woman’s role within a marriage is to stay in the home and not socialise (therefore barefoot), do the housework and cooking (kitchen) and to have children during her child bearing years (pregnant). One commentator expressed it as “young, dumb, knocked up and kept at home”. 

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The earliest recorded use is in a 1949 article: "By early 1949, TWA was—in the words of its new president, Ralph S. Damon—both 'barefoot and pregnant.’" 

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A 1958 newspaper article by one Dr Joseph Peck, MD, It’s All Right to Keep Her Happy But, Men, Don’t Do Her Chores, Part 8 of 15 parts, can be read at: 

and contains the following: 

When man’s inventive genius relieved wives of the drudgery of housework by giving them mechanical gadgets, the womenfolk found time hanging heavily on their hands; so, to keep busy, they started sniping at man’s traditional position in society – which was in the saddle. With characteristic female guile, they infiltrated rather than battled it out in a fair fight. 

Man became perhaps not a willing but at least a nonresisting serf. The results would be ridiculous were they not so tragic. 

Thirty years ago divorce was uncommon, desertion was purely a male prerogative, and homosexuality was something we read about in French novels. Today, women collect more divorces than Indians collect scalps; wives run off and leave their husbands to care for their kids; and every hamlet has its queers. All because the old buck lost his horns. 

I am sure that women are more horrified by what has happened than are men. 

Some forty years ago, Dr Hertzler advanced a hypothesis which young women of today seem bent on proving correct, ‘The only way to keep a woman happy,’ he said, ‘is to keep her barefoot and pregnant.’ 

You can keep your wife contented, if not happy, without keeping her barefoot and pregnant, and the time to begin is before the bloom of the honeymoon fades. 

The rest of the article gives advice to husbands as to what chores they should do and what should be left to wives (“Have separate accounts but insist she pays as she goes”). There is also advice on how to treat wives (“Never get sore and cuss her out. Scold her but scold her gently.” “Remember, custom decrees that women must struggle a bit before they give up anything. Her surrender is her own form of enjoyment.”)

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The phrase has been linked to farming families in lower socio-economic areas, in days when farmers sought to have sons to help with the farm. In the words of one commentator who experienced it personally: 

It's just some old southern thing. Back in the day when farmers would drop 18 kids just so they had someone to help with the farm, the typical scene was daddy and the older kids in the field while momma was in the house the with rest of the kids literally barefoot and pregnant. Some women were pregnant damn near their entire lives back then. All the old pictures I have of my grandma are of her standing in front of that old piece of shyte shack my mom was raised in, barefoot, pregnant, with a kid in each hand. She had 10 kids and all my aunts and uncles worked the fields when they were growing up. They were poor as hell back then. This is before the government started paying people to have children (welfare).


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In 1963, Arkansas State Senator Paul Van Dalsem addressed the all-male Optimist Club in Little Rock and commented on the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which had lobbied the state legislature for improved educational opportunities for African Americans: 

We don't have any of these university women in Perry County, but I'll tell you what we do up here when one of our women starts poking around in something she doesn't know anything about. We get her an extra cow. If that don't work, we give her a little more garden to tend. And if that's not enough, we get her pregnant and keep her barefoot.

The women of Perry County responded by picketing with signs that read “We've been pregnant—by choice, not by force." 

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The phrase has also been associated, in both meaning and words, to the German phrase and concept “Kinder, Kuche, Kirche”, meaning “Children, Kitchen, Church”, dating from the later 1800’s. That phrase described what was perceived to be a woman’s role in society. A similar phrase in Asian culture – “Good Wife, Wise Mother” – was popular in Meiji Japan. 

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"I think people honestly just want to see me as a mom and married and barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. And I just want to say, 'Everybody, relax! It's going to happen.' " 

- Jennifer Aniston, 2011


8 comments:

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  8. Too bad the original source of the phrase is so hard to run down. I looked in google books, but didn't get any farther back than this 1958 article.

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