Over at the Christian Pundit, Rebecca VanDoodewaard, wife of Professor William VanDoodeward of Puritan Reformed Seminary, has written an article calling for the return of clerks. Mrs. VanDoodewaard is concerned with the number of young men who are unemployed and who lack the experience typically required for most jobs. She believes that if businesses would begin to replace secretaries with clerks, then these men would be gainfully employed and gaining experience to allow them to work their way up in the business world. These men should be given priority in hiring over married women, all other qualifications being equal, because “a man could support himself and maybe a wife with the job that is simply supplementing a married woman’s household income.” Mrs. VanDoodewaard also believes that male clerks would reduce the temptation towards adultery in the workplace:
Think about it: having a woman who is not your wife helping you day in, day out opens up a huge avenue for emotional entanglements which often lead to physical ones. A clerk, while not removing the sin in your heart, will remove the opportunity, and that’s half the battle (Matt. 5:28-30).
I have a few observations I would like to make. Before I do so, I would like to make a disclaimer. I am not a feminist, in any way. I am blessed that my husband’s income provides for us in such a way that I can be a stay at home mom and homeschool our children. In a culture that ridicules men and treats husbands and fathers with such disdain, I believe there is great need to stand up for and show our respect for husbands and fathers. I also think it is important for all women to consider if the work they are doing (both inside and outside of the home) is helping or hindering their family.
That said, I will move on to my observations on Mrs. VanDoodewaard’s article. First, I’m not sure I understand why a new position of “clerk” needs to be created (or brought back). In most workplaces today, “secretary” has been replaced by “administrative assistant.” Can men not apply for these positions? Given that there are male admin assistants in many businesses across the country, I have to assume that men do indeed apply for these jobs and that they are being hired for them.
Second, I am greatly disturbed by Mrs. VanDoodewaard’s belief that women in secretarial jobs are “simply supplementing” the household income. She does note that the income may be needed, but she goes on to say that men should be hired preferentially, all other factors being equal:
But there are women working as secretaries whose income supplements their husband’s. I’m not saying that they don’t need the money, I’m not saying they should not work. I’m saying that where a man could support himself and maybe a wife with the job that is simply supplementing a married woman’s household income, then the man should get the job, competence being equal.
How exactly should businesses go about determining if woman is working to “simply supplement” her husband’s income or working because without her income there wouldn’t be food on the table or a roof over their heads or clothes on their backs? For example, my mother has worked nearly 40 years “simply supplementing” my father’s income so that he could pastor small congregations that had difficulty supporting a pastor. It was not about living a certain lifestyle or having nicer things. My mother’s income made sure we had clothes, food, and other basic needs.
While I’m sure there are women who are working for purely selfish reasons, the majority of women who work low-paying, secretarial jobs are working to help provide for their families. What does Mrs. VanDoodewaard suggest these women do instead? In the current economy, two incomes are often a necessity, not a luxury. Which brings me to my next observation.
There seems to be a desire by some today to return to an ideal society where men outside the home and women take care of all things domestic. I’m not suggesting that Mrs. VanDoodewaard has this desire or even expressed this desire in her article. There is, however, an underlying current in some circles that has an overly romantic view of how things used to be. In an predominantly agrarian society, like the colonial or pioneer eras, men mainly raised the crops and the livestock, and women mainly took care of the domestic chores. But all of the family worked hard to provide food, shelter, clothing, and other basic needs.
Industrialization brought changes, but the main tenet still held: all of the family worked hard to provide for the needs of the family. Only women in the upper classes could stay at home and tend to their families without a thought to providing income. Women of the lower classes worked. They worked as domestic help, in factories, in shops, as child minders, as teachers, as laundresses, and as seamstresses to name a few of the respectable jobs. The income of these women has never been “simply supplement.”
I’m sure Mrs. VanDoodewaard is correct that work place adultery is a serious problem. Given the number of women bosses these days, I’m afraid that male clerks would not necessarily create less of a problem. Men and women have to be careful and use great discretion in the workplace. I’m not sure that simply removing women from secretarial jobs will solve the problem given the numbers of women working professionally in all industries.
Lastly, I noticed that Mrs. VanDoodewaard is also a free-lance editor. Assuming she’s paid for this work, I wonder if there is a man who is unemployed and lacking experience who could benefit from her job?