The Progression of Disrespect

The Progression of Disrespect Damages Us

Women need respect because women are humans.   Humans need respect because, as communal creatures, the opinions of the people around us determine our incomes, our positions in society, how much we are given (leeway, grace, casseroles), how much is expected of us (excellence, time, amusement), how we marry, and how our children move through the world – just as a start.  It has been said that women value love over respect, which may be true – but it doesn’t mean that the absence of one or the other is an acceptable way to live.  If women are not given respect for what they do, they will do something else until they find that respect… or a facsimile thereof.

I’ve pondered the respect issue for quite some time.  If you look back on history, you won’t exactly find that women are considered the equal of men, especially in public life.  However, what you will find is that women were respected for being good at women-things.  A good wife is worth more than rubies… can she bake a cherry pie, Billy boy… is that girl you’re staring at going to make your life run well?   It’s not like you can write off the contributions of half the human race and get anywhere.  That’s ridiculous.

A Progression of Disrespect

Can we pinpoint, exactly, when respect dissolved?   No.   However, a pattern emerges – a progression of disrespect, if you will.  In the base state of things, everyperson’s competence at doing life is assumed.  Individual differences of course – Bob is better at building houses than Larry, and Mary is a much better cook than Diane.  But we assume at this base state that Larry can build and Diane can cook, even if they’re not the best in the world.  They’re competent.   I don’t wander in and tell Diane how to sift flour just off the street.  When we assume competence, the position of advisor must be earned.

The first stage of disrespect is “experting”.  This feels helpful.  I have a library of books on “how to” do things.  But experting goes beyond just a “how to” book, and sets “should” standards.   Consider child-rearing manuals throughout the 20th century (and shudder).   The experts know more than you do, and their way of doing things is the Only Right Way.  Now, as an “expert”, I can order Diane to sift her flour three times before even considering baking a cake.  Instead of summarily throwing this stranger out of her house, as I am an expert she’ll bow and scrape – and do exactly what I tell her to.  Relationship?  I don’t need one.  I’m an “expert”.

The second stage of disrespect is out-sourcing, which comes with a set of sub-stages.   In out-sourcing, as an expert, I start by telling dear Diane that the only way to bake a really lovely cake is to buy my cake-flour.  It’s too much trouble for her to sift it, and she’s never going to do so properly.   But I, and my flour, are here to save her.   In subsequent stages of outsourcing, I gradually take over other parts of the process until Diane, knowing her own innate incompetence, gives up and buys cake from my bakery.  

The third stage of disrespect is denigration.   Baking is for losers.  It’s a waste of your time and effort.  Now that the entire process is out of sight, now that Diane (or more probably, her granddaughter) is utterly unfamiliar with the ingredients and wouldn’t recognize the difference between a Twinkie and a homemade sponge cake, now she’s going to start looking at cake as just another commodity.  Cheapest, quickest, most convenient.   Because she’s buying like that, fewer and fewer quality options become available.   Because what she’s buying is very low quality, it is only natural that Diane Jr. thinks of baking as a waste of time.  She does more important things, like filing papers and answering phones.*  Baking is out of sight, out of mind – and so is the baker.

Clothing as Example

Originally, women were in charge of the entire process of making clothing, from growing flax (or keeping sheep) through making cloth and sewing it up.   This very valuable commodity, cloth, was so ubiquitously in the hands of women that “distaff” (which is a term for the stick you hold your fiber-to-be-spun on) is a synonym for “pertaining to women”.   The cloth trade is recorded as far back as 1900 BC, there are notes about this in Cuneiform (from a woman to her husband – so much for treating women’s contributions with disrespect). 

Gradually, clothing became “experted”.  Books and articles were written to teach women how to sew “properly” – with details that extended to stitch length and direction.   Magazines circulated with the latest fashions, and women were expected to dress like other ladies of their social class.   Colors, hemlines, even modesty was determined by experts – not the women themselves.

The first stage of outsourcing was a dependence on dressmakers and tailors, at least for certain articles of clothing.   These professionals had the tools, materials, and skills that a woman at home would be unlikely to have at her disposal – if she had the time to create more than basics.  (From experience, I can tell you that sewing a wardrobe, even with modern appliances, takes a lot of time.  It takes me a full day of work to sew a shirt for my husband, for example).  

The second stage of outsourcing was the introduction of ready-made clothing.   This occurred not more than 150 years ago – it hasn’t been long!  While women retained their skill at sewing, they could recognize well-made garments.   I can recall being shown the difference between a well-sewn and poorly sewn seam (in the era before sergers) and taught how to check the quality of fabric.   I also remember buying fabric with my mother, as she had it made by a dressmaker (the expert) instead of being dependent on the department stores.    At this point, although most of the work was done by experts, good work was valued and understood because of a basic understanding of the task at hand.

Eventually, almost all of us bought most of our clothing ready made, and fewer and fewer could so much as sew on a button.   The sewing trade disappeared behind closed doors, and then those doors moved overseas.   Creating clothing is out of sight – out of mind… and horrors ensue.   Clothing is worth nothing.  Creating clothing has been reduced to a hobby.   The respect for the process of making the sort of clothes we wear on a daily basis has completely eroded.  The progression of disrespect completes with vast heaps of discarded clothing crowding our landfills and filling our water with microplastics.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Where you spend your time is where you give attention.  Attention begets respect.   As “real life” moved out of the home and into the office, our attention moved to how to win respect in that venue.  All humans require respect – and women gradually had respect withdrawn from their lives.  Where once we were needed and relied upon for our skill, wisdom, and productivity, we became mere ornaments –   “Angels of the Household”.   The less time spent at home, the less respect was given to homemakers – and soon, housewives were considered a luxury good, a waste of a good mind.

Is it any wonder that women, given no respect for what they’d been doing for thousands of years, stopped doing this work and clamored for work that would bring them respect?   Occupation that would bring them into association with others, connection.  Humans need community.  Year after year, homemakers became progressively more isolated.   They complain of never having adult conversations and suffer from loneliness and self-doubt.   The progression of disrespect has reaped a fine harvest.

So we must ask ourselves, is the work of homemaking worth doing?  If, upon careful examination, we decide that we do need someone to concentrate on raising children, to foster social connection within community and extended family, to keep a close eye on the food we nourish ourselves with and be conscious to minimize waste and maximize resources, we will need to return respect to the position.  We require nourishment to the spirit as well as to the body. 

If we decide that none of these things are important, we can go on as we have.  Soon enough we will own nothing and care not – because our homes will be irrelevant.   Totally dependent on what we find in the marketplace for our food, the coverings for our body, totally dependent on experts to raise our children, we will take what is on offer because we will have no capacity to do anything else.  And where will the progression of disrespect take all of humanity, when that is complete?

Choose you this day… personally, I think developing respect is a wiser plan.

*I have spent plenty of my professional life answering phones and filing papers.  Work done well is honorable.  But do you really think filing paper is more important than the food you put in your mouth?  If so, we need to talk.

NOTE: I brought over this piece because 1) I know the audience here is more varied than my other online spaces. I’d like your input. 2) I feel like this is important and of interest to this audience.

If this interests you, come chat with us over at Locals. I put up regular locals-only content as well as the articles I share elsewhere, and Locals is the place to discuss, to post your own ideas, or even to argue (courteously).

Locals is a members-only platform, so you do have to register. However, I have a trial code, so that you don’t need to pay for your first month. HISTFEMTRIAL16 goes through 12/9/22. I hope to see you there.


10 thoughts on “The Progression of Disrespect

  1. Ame

    Very, very perceptive.

    Reading this piece (recommended by Elspeth) reminded me that another place where respect has been eliminated is in the divorce system, the very lucrative divorce system. Once a divorce is filed, the parents are no longer the ‘experts’ on their own children. Now, ‘experts’ are called in and upon to determine what is best for your own children. It’s terrible. There were many things I had to do once he filed for divorce to appeal to the ‘experts.’ For example, I was required to use gov’t approved medical professionals as ‘experts’ or how I medically cared for my daughters could be brought into question, contested, and had a court ruling for or, more realistically, against. That’s just one example of many.

      1. Ame

        Yes, it is truly awful. Divorce is just … bad. I know there are times it seems preferable, but it’s choosing the best of the worst in those cases.

  2. Ame

    I was pondering this post some more …

    It’s interesting the seemingly very s l o w progression.

    I’m sure there are examples that pertain to men, but just focusing here on the ones you’ve listed: clothing/textiles and food, which pertain mostly to women … and pondering how in Genesis 3 we learn that women are more susceptible to being ‘deceived’ by something that seems better and more glorious and easier to supposedly make us happier … hummm …

    NOT saying I’m ready to give up indoor plumbing or my HVAC unit 🙂

    Just … wonder at how all these ‘short-cuts’ have actually affected us over time … more time available to do … any number of various things.

    IDK. Sin is not unique to post modern conveniences, so this might not even fit in here. Just some random ponderings.

    1. hearthie Post author

      Good thoughts.

      I think of the overall culture as the soil in which the seeds are sown. It takes a very good seed, with excellent caretaking and a lot of external input to grow well in garbage soil.

      Modernity’s soil is garbage – at least if you want to grow a culture centered upon the home. This happened to men too, before it happened to women – once upon a time, most men were home-centered too. (Farmers, craftsmen). As their income streams moved outward, as their sociability moved outward, their locus of respect moved outward. Most men now prefer their women acquire green paper rather than make a home – because home = house, and nothing more. Caring for children is an excuse to stay away from paper – but home-centric itself? That’s a vanishingly small interest. If you don’t value the end-goal (home) how could you possibly value the skillsets that go into creating that end-goal?

      Not on the time stream, but in an entirely different cultural context, consider the ancient Greeks – they hadn’t much use for their women, because their locus of worth was the public square. But at least the women had one another to define what was skilled and what was not. (One will note that Biblical descriptions of Greek women from a few centuries later did not encourage this disregard).

      So, if you are thinking, “sin” – well, is it sinful to work outside the home? It is not. It is sin to be disobedient and unsubmissive, yes. I think we are entirely in agreement that women in the home creating HOMES are of great value… and this is being lost, But it would, to return to our metaphor of plants, take a very, very strong (aka convicted) seedling to grow in such a soil, and a lot of external input (water, compost = community support, good teaching) to bear much fruit.

      Why are women working outside the home? The thesis of this post is that a good chunk of the reason is because something they needed (respect) was only attainable outside. And *that* is a problem we can fix. Once fixed, I think we’d find more women returning home, and with that return, a harvest that benefits all of us – men, women, children, elders, etc. etc.

      We won’t get that if we pretend they are just playing house.

      1. Ame

        I fully agree.

        Brilliant work of Satan to pit women against other women … “I’m a SAHM.” “Well, I’m a Mom, too, AND I work outside the home!” ‘So, there! I work HARDER than you, so I’m BETTER than you, because I work INside the home AND OUTside the home! Ha! Try to top THAT!’

        Not too far from reality.

        I discerned later, after he left us, that my first husband may have wanted me to become a career woman despite agreeing that I should be a SAHM. There were little things I looked back upon that indicated this. He seemed to want someone he could brag about their accomplishments to colleagues, and being a SAHM was no longer a bragging ‘career.’ Caring for our home, for our house, for our family, always home-cooked meals ready when he came home, doing all the shopping, caring for the children, designing our space and always making it warm and welcoming to him and anyone who came by, sewing, crafting, designing, cooking. It wasn’t enough to ‘brag’ about. Anyway, he’s been dead many years now, so I cannot confirm.

        Another brilliant work of Satan in pitting woman against each other … we tend to glorify being stressed and exhausted from taking on too many responsibilities and demean those who stay ‘in their lanes’ because they are often content and peaceful women. It’s more ‘glorifying’ to be all-a-flitter because we’ve over-extended ourselves. It’s *not* so much ‘glorifying’ when your simple life is overwhelming, after all, one cannot compete with another who has oodles of responsibilities and is over-worked, when one’s simple responsibilities become overwhelming (ill child, etc).

        I’ve often said that my plate is full … it’s a small plate, smaller than most, but it’s still full. Or that’s how I’ve described it to those who want to demean my difficulties when I cannot compare to their mounds of over-stressed responsibilities.

        Perhaps a good place to begin having respect is to teach women, probably more by example than verbal instruction, to respect those women who are striving for the simple life of staying happily married to one man, to keeping a warm and happy home, to raising their children, to keeping their lives simple and free of clutter.

        I’ve often thought of change like this as moving the lanes on a highway. We’ve lived in areas where there is continuous highway construction. It always amazes me how the construction workers will go in at night, reroute the lanes, and the next car that drives there follows the redirection without question. Suddenly, all cars are driving the new route. People are like that. If one person changes the route, everyone follows. I try to be the person to gently change the route for the positive when given the opportunity. I think that’s how God designed His people … to be lights in the darkness … to be salt in the earth … a little bit of leaven changes the whole loaf of bread. We tend to get caught up in how big the ‘thing’ is, when God is calling us to be something more simple and seemingly small … a little light … a little bit of salt … a little bit of leaven. Return love and kindness for evil. Pray for those who persecute you. Love God, love yourself, love your neighbor. (NOT saying to place oneself in danger or to become a victim).

        Anyway, rambling … tired this weekend 🙂 … perhaps some of this makes sense.

  3. Ame

    Another thing I’ve noticed overall – not a hard-fast rule, but a general rule. When a woman has a good, close relationship with her mother, or another maternal figure, she is often less ‘needy’ than those who do not. Codependence? Perhaps.

    So now we have a whole generation or more of women who were raised with distant mothers, who are seeking to have that need fulfilled. And they don’t have guidance to know where to have those needs fulfilled. They see their mothers in careers, working for respect, so they follow along, not knowing there are other options. In a sense, to go back into the home would be a sign of ‘disrespect’ to their mothers who ‘forged’ paths for them, as women – ‘Go girl, I worked hard to cut out a path for you to become anything you want to, so don’t you dare stay home and do nothing!’

    Cill at Spawny’s has often said the best way to be successful is to choose your grandparents wisely 🙂 … Since we cannot do that, those of us who do not have positive lineage can determine to become the parent and grandparent our children and grandchildren would choose if they had everyone out there to choose from.

    Sometimes these changes take time. Some we can make immediately.

    1. hearthie Post author

      YES. Sometimes change takes time. It took time to set this up (something you noted in your original comment) and it will take time to turn it back.


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