Thursday, 29 November 2012

Women in Amish Society

The way of life of the Amish is deeply rooted in the Anabaptist tradition, which, in turn, stands firmly on the Word of God. Yesterday, I posted a guest article that summarises Anabaptist thought on the matter; today, I am going to talk about women in Amish society.

Amish families are generally run on ‘traditional’ lines, the woman stays at home to look after the children and the home, while the man is the ‘bread winner’. Divorce is unheard of; marriage is for life; remarriage only takes place after a husband or wife has died. The husband is the head of the home and he makes the final decisions. The church is likewise led by the men.
If that was all there was to it, then outsiders might be forgiven for thinking the Amish live a strict, regimented life that is little but drudgery for the wife. But that is not all there is to it. Women are not treated a servants or slaves; they are allowed to speak their minds and they do far more than ‘just’ keeping house. She finds fulfilment and security in the way of life handed down through the ages and based in Biblical teaching. While the husband has the final say, he does listen to the views and concerns of his wife and takes these into consideration when he makes his decision. In practice, important decisions about the family are made jointly.
Amish men and women usually assume traditional and well-defined gender roles. Husbands carry the primary responsibility for the financial well-being of the family. Wives typically devote themselves to housekeeping and motherhood. As in most families, gender roles in Amish marriages vary by personality; there are shades of dominance from husband to wife across a wide spectrum with many variations. In non-farm families, typically the husband is the primary breadwinner, but in cases where a wife owns a business, she may provide most of the family income. When husbands work at home, there is often considerable cross-sharing of roles—women assisting in the barn or shop, and men in the garden or around the house.”

“Amish women share in household decision making and child discipline, even as they affirm the man’s role as the religious head of the home. Although the man serves as the spiritual head of the home, mothers are very active in nurturing the spiritual life of children.”

The same is true of decisions in the church. Women are allowed to recommend men to be leaders of the church and take full part in any voting:
“Likewise, within the church, the role of the woman is important and respected but limited. For instance, women participate in nominating the ministers, deacons, and bishops as well as voting on other community affairs. However, they are not given any leadership roles themselves other than as Sunday school teachers, song leaders, worship leaders, and church elders.”

The woman sees her role as homemaker as being of the utmost importance and runs her home efficiently, in line with Proverbs 31. She looks after any children, does the cooking, sews the clothes (all Amish outer clothing is homemade), does the shopping, plants a garden to help feed the (usually large) family, cleans the house, and she might start a business of her own, such as baking, rug making, or quilting.

“Amish women are esteemed in Amish society for the contribution they make to home and community. They are mothers, managers of the household, and play an important role in maintaining communal ties. As the home is considered in some ways the centre of Amish life, her role in maintaining it is highly important.”
She will assist her husband with the farm chores and might have some animals to tend herself, such as chickens. But even though the roles are clearly differentiated, a husband will help with child rearing, cook meals when necessary, and help clean the house. Any money she earns is her own, unless she needs to supplement the family income (something that is becoming increasingly necessary in today’s economic downturn).
Modern women and those who study patriarchal societies consider that Amish women are oppressed and down trodden and therefore need ‘rescuing’. Amish women on the other hand feel mostly fulfilled and do not see them as oppressed at all.
“However, the perception of the Amish woman as necessarily oppressed is one which ignores the reality of her position, as well as Amish values.”
They relish their way of life, even though it is hard work, and believe they are acting in God’s will. In response, the Amish find today’s women foolish, striving to be in the place of men. Amish women do not need ‘liberating’; they find themselves liberated enough within the boundaries of their society. She has a respected role and she as well as the rest of Amish society considers that her work is important. Tasks such as washing, mending and cooking are not seen as menial and drudgery; they are vital for the proper functioning of society. Where would they all be if no-one looked after the home or the children? They see modern society as failing in this regard and speak of the state of today’s youth as evidence that something is wrong. There is very little teenage rebellion in Amish society, while it is much more prevalent in the wider population.

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