The Powers of American Matriarchy: A Myth of the American Household
America is a free society unlike any other: an enterprise of exponential potential. The American Dream is all anyone could ever care to know: a life dedicated to the pursuit of happiness. The American Dream equates to the ideal illusion: everyone is entitled to everything—that is, as long as it sustains and strengthens their socially‑imposed roles. Employing the techniques from Roland Barthes’ book, Mythologies, I will correlate aspects of a traditionalized matriarchy as it relates to the realization of the American Household; by applying specific cultural constraints, I will depict and illuminate the powers of American Matriarchy. Utilizing a synchronized series of the “image‑at‑one’s disposal”, I will expose “the inoculation” of the American people; in so doing, American society will be seen as one stuck forever seeking the sensible stability of suburbia. Envisioning this collective understanding of how true American home‑life ought to be, “I shall henceforth not ‘act the things’ but ‘act their names’” (Barthes 146, 150).
The American Household is the ideal abode; one with a hardworking husband, happy‑housewife, and proper, obedient children. With this image in mind, imagine this habitation within the settings of sweet suburbia: white‑picket fences, perfectly kept lawns, pretty painted houses, smiling faces, cycling citizens, youngsters in the yard, and the sun shining bright—here is the heavenly utopia! No crime; no stress; this is the bliss all must aspire to—the bestowal of the American Household. But how do we construct this perfect paradise? Well, that’s simple…through the powers of American Matriarchy.
Matriarchy is a social‑order that moves by the motives of women, especially mothers. Women make the world go ‘round and mothers mold the minds of all. American Matriarchy emphasizes the woman’s role as a model of grace and duty. In order to understand matriarchy in America, we must identify the separate sphere in which all worthy women belong: the American Household. Certainly, the domestic domain is predetermined as the nurturing nest of humanity: home is where the heart is. Justly, “every myth can have its history and its geography; each is in fact the sign of the other: a myth ripens because it spreads” and contributes to the many “myths of the Order” (Barthes 149). When a myth becomes a matter of social convention, it shapes and shows how society should seem.
American Matriarchy reinforces the basics of a functional society. Mothers act as agents of ideologies based in loyalty, servility, and honor, with every lesson guided by the love of faith, family, and country: “Motivated by self-sacrificing love, and joined to one another by its cohesive power, people will perform their duties willingly and with pleasure … [in] an atmosphere of mutual confidence and good fellowship everywhere” (Tompkins). Indeed, the formative years of every individual should be set within the American Household; this is where we develop our ethical principles, contributive behavior, sound health, political positions, exceptional educations, and plans of prosperity. In fact, mothers make America: they give birth to its future—the American Dream.
For all intents and purposes, the “apron matrons” of America are masters in maintaining the ideal illusion: a picture‑perfect populace prescribed by the cares of community, courtesy, and consistency (TV Tropes). The American Household is the moral center, with American Matriarchy as its holy “minister” (Beecher, Beecher Stowe). Logically, all mothers are made to preserve the home, produce offspring, and please their spouse—this arrangement makes sense; nevertheless, captivated by this limited sphere of power, women will tighten ranks to form and foster the foundation of a fortified nation. Undoubtedly, the model homemaker is expected to be an ambitiously cheery conformist whose life depends upon catering to the integrity of the household, hereby including its endless occupants and objects.
Moreover, this same unit of thought establishes the American Household as the typified property of a mini‑militia; together, the unit members are equipped with the moral fortitude to defend what’s deemed socially right and proper. Stationed in suburbia, the American Household is a fort figured by constraints; it is designed to cultivate the dignified character of all its occupants. The powers of American Matriarchy are not ways of “indulging in narcissistic fantasy … or a turning away from the world into self-absorption and idle reverie”; conversely, “centering on the home … is the prerequisite of world conquest—defined as the reformation of the human race through proper care and nurturing of its young” (Tompkins). The powers of American Matriarchy are political, in that they perpetuate a particular people: saintly soldiers regulated by a sterilized American Dream.
In America’s commitment to stripping the world of evil, matriarchal militancy establishes transformative principles into the heads and hearts of society. Henceforth, by “the training of our race . . . by means of the self-sacrificing labors of the wise and good”, the American people can thrive and help humanity as a whole (Beecher, Beecher Stowe). Fortunately, to undergo such a feat, there are guidebooks for homemakers to rule by; one such example is the vision‑plan written by Catherine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, The American Woman’s Home. Although varied by content, such domestic manuals are commonly equipped with practical advice, time‑management suggestions, holistic remedies, do‑it‑yourself activities and repairs, food and drink recipes, along with tips for proper home design and efficient execution of services. The American Household relates to the sanctity of the American system; everyone must know their role and play their part; if not, the dynamics of the home and the moral alignment of society are at risk.
“To the Women of America, in whose hands rest the real destinies of the republic”, no substitute track exists—women must fulfill their vocation and become the mothers of America’s future (Beecher, Beecher Stowe). For this reason, women secure the front lines of society’s cultural wars; figuratively, they must fight the many fights of their fate. For one thing, there is no running away from the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood because society won’t allow it; really, the option of sinful single‑life or deadly divorce is purely inconceivable. Once the American Household is made, the unit must remain intact: the husband is the head, the wife is the neck, and the progenies are condensed as the body of a fruitful future. In any case, for American Matriarchy, broken homes bring about broken identities—America is not suited to either.
Nonetheless, the domestic domain is decreed as one of necessary duties and decorous results. For American Matriarchy, efficiency is everything! The experienced homemaker is a manufacturing machine: bearing, raising, and educating children, healing and preventing ailments, organizing and accomplishing chores, experimenting with cleaning supplies, investing in new appliances, laundering and sewing clothes, fixing food with “ornamental cookery”, and instituting rigorous spiritual devotion (Barthes 78‑80). Truly, spectacular homemaking is a business of knowledge and product; this approach is personified by contemporary figures, such as Martha Stewart, or widespread magazines, like Women’s World and Good Housekeeping. American Matriarchy embellished itself as a commodity—professionalized, preferred, and possible.
Notably, this “statement of fact” is ordained for every woman: American Matriarchy is a mandate, a moral machine of the nation, here to tend to everything and all (Barthes 154). Every woman must follow this path…there’s simply no other way. Or is there? Simply put—of course there is another way! Not all women are made for the powers of America Matriarchy. So, what happens to these rebellious rejects? Wretchedly, these women are ostracized as outsiders who threaten the threshold of the American Dream. Women belong in the home; anything opposing such a fact is unacceptable. By all means, this myth of the American Household is a relentless contraption that runs by the powers of American Matriarchy.
Markedly, what happens when the mythical powers of American Matriarchy actually surface in society? Here, in parody and in truth, I insert the revelation of the consequential community—the socially Stepfordized suburbia (TV Tropes). The Stepfordized suburbia is a place where women are a mix of brainwashed robots and mindless zombies, all of whom are molded and manipulated by their circumvented existence. Referencing the popular book and film, The Stepford Wives, we can see the petrifying powers of American Matriarchy come alive. In this contrived world, women will never be anything more than the privileged convenience of a mythical social convention.
Essentially, the Stepfordized suburbia is illustrated as a dreamland filled with lovely, docile, domesticated dolls; these women are dominated by men and they are permitted no free thought, no free expression, and no freedom away from the American Household; all the while, every man is encouraged to play with his prized trophy‑wife and prolong the fantasy. Utilizing this extreme, it is clear: as a myth of the American Household, the powers of American Matriarchy exemplify the effects of repressive regimes and unwavering philosophies, as well as the lasting impressions of those who blindly fall into their socially‑imposed roles. As if by silent expertise, these women reduce themselves to the epitome of the “Extreme Doormat”, by which they are “completely hollow inside” and “will obey just about any command”; in like manner, these women are grouped together as a body of the “Stepford Smiler”, by which they are “bright, chipper, and … all‑around pleasant [people]”; these women are “obsessed with projecting an image of wholesome happiness”; by yearning “to be accepted”, these subjected and subdued “slaves” uphold the effective prominence of this cultural myth, along with its substantial social impact (TV Tropes).
In spite of the aforementioned effects, the powers of American Matriarchy within the American Household are often characterized in much more appealing terms. Case in point, we can see television programs that are pierced by the pleasure of the exemplary homemaker, such as June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver or even Annie Camden from 7th Heaven; these women view motherhood as a wholesome blessing of opportunity and pride (TV Tropes). Again, what about the females who refuse such a picture‑perfect position? Can such females even be seen as women? Accordingly, no: “make no mistake: let no women believe that they can take advantage … [they must submit] to the eternal statue of womanhood. Women are on earth to give children to men … let them not depart from it” (Barthes 50). Naturally, those who can’t fall in line are useless to America and are better off exiled.
All in all, I put forth this document as a testament to the contrary: I am a woman, I am free, and I refuse to be fettered to the fates of American Matriarchy. I advocate for those who define their destiny by pursuing their own adaptation of the American Dream; everyone should be allowed to think, speak, and act unto their own free‑will. No one should be exploited by social pressures and circumstances. In explicating “the inoculation” of this particular cultural myth, the powers of a collective system can be exposed as those which make or break a people (Barthes 150). When we become aware, we awaken alternative perspectives. As can be seen, our options must be openly offered to us; if not, our insightful capabilities are limited and we lose ourselves to the scheme of social constraints. So, whether people become liberal loners, lost lovebirds, or Stepfordized androids, the good of society is upheld by our right to write our own role; no matter how off‑beat or unconventional it may be, everyone deserves the right to their own American Dream.
Works Cited & Consulted
Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Trans. Annette Laver. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972. Book. 2013.
Beecher, Catherine E. and Harriet Beecher Stowe. “The American Woman’s Home.” 30 September 2002. Gutenberg.org. Web Page Document. October 2013. <http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/6598/pg6598.html>.
Blum, Deborah. “Both Biology and Culture Help Establish Gender Roles.” Egendor, Ed. Laura K. Male/Female Roles: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc,, 2000. 25.
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Levin, Ira. The Stepford Wives. 1st. Random House, 1972. Print Novel. October 2013.
Library of Congress. Books that Shaped America. 2013. Web site. October 2013. <http://myloc.gov/Exhibitions/books-that-shaped-america/1850-1900/ExhibitObjects/American-Womans-Home.aspx>.
The Stepford Wives. Dir. Bryan Forbes. 1975. DVD. October 2013.
Tompkins, Jane. “Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Politics of Literary History.” 1985. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860. Oxford UP. Web Page Document. October 2013. <http://web.princeton.edu/sites/english/NEH/TOMPKINS.HTM>.
TV Tropes. TVTropes.org. n.d. Web site. October 2013. <http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Tropes>.