7/7/08

Obedient Daughter-in-Law

Back when I was still working, which means going on six years ago, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal about a village in west Africa where the citizens collectively purchased a peanut grinder.

The main export of this particular village was peanuts, but they learned they could demand much higher prices for processed peanut butter rather than whole peanuts--a first step in owning the means of production. Farmers paid an hourly fee to grind their harvest, and the entire village benefited from the increased revenue this one machine provided.

What stuck with me about the article was one woman's description of the peanut grinder. She called it "an obedient daughter-in-law."

Not only is this a wonderfully poetic phrase, it provides amazing insight into the cultural dynamics of that village. One can immediately understand the plight of women and the power structure of their lives. Young girls would grow up, get married, and have sons, never achieving a measure of autonomy until those sons married. Then comes power and influence. Until that time, they would live under the boot heels of their parents, their husbands, and their mothers-in-law. What an amazing incentive to bear sons...and to live long enough to see them wed.

I bring this up because, as I type, my dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, and bread machine are all running. They are my obedient daughters-in-law. I always think of that phrase when I operate more than one appliance, contemplating how my life would be different if I had to do those tasks by hand--and under the watchful gaze of my husband's mother.

I am lucky in that technology does most of the labor for me, and I'm lucky to live in a society where pesky, overly-controlling mothers-in-law are problems to be solved by Dr. Phil. I love my mother-in-law dearly, just as she loves hers, but the freedom to establish one's own household is as easy to take for granted as the time-saving devices that fill our homes.

What about you? Have you encountered a phrase or image that has stayed with you through the years?

Well, I hear my mother calling,
But I don't need her as a friend.
Every girl I go out with
Becomes my mother in the end.
"Mother" by The Police

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