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Baptist Seminary’s Homemaking Degree Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Just as exciting as Messiah College students being able to take classes from yours truly, this fall also brought undergraduates at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary the opportunity to concentrate in homemaking while earning a humanities degree.

For women only, the concentration teaches cookie-baking, conversation-starting, child-raising, husband-supporting and the patriarchal theology that makes each of those tasks so fulfilling. The program has received more attention since this LA Times coverage.

When my senior class asked Dr. Hurd, our anthropology professor, what we could do with our major, he answered, “Pump gas in a cross-cultural gas station.” A homemaking concentration, on the other hand, prepares women to be wives, mothers and homeschoolers.

When I was 20, I mocked my domesticity-focused peers–women should get out of the kitchen and change the world! Now a wife, mother and anthropology professor, I’m still glad I majored in anthropology, but maybe I should have minored in homemaking.

Rather than taking a both-and approach, I overplayed the importance of achieving parity with men in the public sphere and underestimated the world-changing dimensions of being a good wife and mother.

If college should shape young adults who will positively influence society, then a homemaking concentration is timely; the family is among the most-needy social institutions.

Even more liberally-minded colleges offer courses in family studies, interpersonal communication and relationship enhancement, though they do so with more science and theory and less prescriptive theology. I think this academic program is, in part, an aggressive strategy on the part of seminary and denominational leadership, but being part of the liberal artsy crowd, I can’t argue with its existence.

And regardless of my opinion, it stands to influence millions of Americans, considering the 16 million Southern Baptists and their friends and neighbors. Of course, I could wonder whether women are equal to racial minorities, and therefore hierarchical, exclusionary theories about their social roles are no longer acceptable…but I wouldn’t want to be called a radical.

My unsolicited advice to the Southwestern curriculum committee is not to abandon a homemaking curriculum, but to go even further.

First, I believe college courses should focus on topics poorly dealt with in the informal sector, such as finances: purchasing a home, doing taxes, investing and retirement. A financial course could also teach women how to gently guide their husbands toward wise financial stewardship, which would contribute to a good outcome without violating patriarchy. (Even if men took a course in finances, 50 percent of them would be in the bottom half of the class and could use their wive’s support.) Mothering and cooking are taught and learned best in community; formalizing education and social support reduces the informal sector’s participation. When a woman needs to remove a stain or find a quick substitute for buttermilk, she should call a friend, neighbor or relative.

Second, the curriculum should include advanced topics related to the absence of men. A 300-level course titled “Cheating, Leaving, Dying: What To Do When He’s Gone” would cover most of what I have in mind. Reserved for the 400-level is “On Your Own Two Feet or By Your Man: Where to Stand” in which women discuss strategies for coping with sexual addiction, gay husbands, straight affairs and financial scandal. The other 400-level is “Why the Bleep Am I Still Single?” Most women enrolling in the homemaking concentration will be anticipating a future of mothering, wifing and homeschooling, but some of them will not marry and some of those married will not parent.

Third, there ought to be a parallel academic concentration for men, beyond a course in theology of patriarchy. A few essential courses could include: “Basic Home Repair,” “Achieving Financial Stability” and “Being a Song of Solomon’s Lover.” Perhaps egalitarians and complementarians can agree that women deserve satisfaction in things financial, electrical and sexual.

I’m glad I majored in anthropology at a liberal arts college, and I’m also glad my mother taught me to can applesauce, reupholster furniture and get dinner on the table for my dad. A liberally educated mom like me can read peer-reviewed research to her children while they bathe, contemplate Aristotelian spirituality while doing dishes (truth in the immanent), and remember that whether her hands bless the many in public service or the one, two, or three in the highchairs, it is love that changes the world.

Jenell Williams Paris is professor of sociology and anthropology at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. This column is adapted from her blog, The Paris Project, and is used here with permission.

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