8 Myths About Our Grandmothers’ Lives That We Still Believe
“Women are too lazy!” “Our moms raised us without multicookers and were happy.” These are common phrases we hear from both men and women today. They imagine a world with strong peasant women breastfeeding their babies and their older daughters milking cows with a happy smile. They believe that everyone was actually happy and lived to be 100 years old back in the day. And of course, this is not true — the situation was quite different.
Bright Side was curious to know whether life in the past was better or not, and what stereotypes we should finally stop believing.
“Women were incredibly pretty. Modern girls with ’botox lips’ can’t compete with them.”
Let’s start with imagining a normal day of a woman at the end of the 19th century. Women living in cities worked as nurses, conductors on trams, typists, and secretaries in factories. Those who lived on the countryside took care of cattle and worked in fields.
Hard work, the scorching sun, frequent childbirth, and poor medicine affected women’s health, and by the age of 30, they used to turn into old ladies. Ethnographer Olga Semenova Tyan-Shanskaya studied the culture of people from Eastern Europe, and here’s how she describes women living in villages:
“Peasants’ views of beauty are quite primitive. Women are really good-looking at age 15-16 (after 16, their bodies change because of hard work). The earlier a girl gets married, the quicker she becomes exhausted.”
“Marriages were stronger as there weren’t so many divorces.”
At the beginning of the 20th century, arranged marriages still existed and entrepreneurs’ sons married industrialists’ or vendors’ daughters. A divorce was really uncommon due to several reasons: society’s condemnation, religion, and legal issues. To get a divorce, a woman would need to have strong evidence: her husband’s infidelity or violence. The process was also expensive and only wealthy people could afford it.
“Women used to give birth to children in fields and everything was fine.”
Women gave birth to many children, but let’s keep in mind the level of child mortality. For example, famous inventor and military engineer, Mikhail Kalashnikov, was the 17th child in his family. In total, there were 19 children and only 8 survived. Children usually died before they turned 1 year old due to infection, poor hygiene, and a lack of food. What’s more, is mothers often didn’t have enough knowledge on how to take care of children properly.
Giving birth was also a risky process. Women died due to infectious diseases like sepsis (puerperal fever), pneumococcal infection, and peritonitis. The reasons were different: doctors used to touch wounds with dirty hands or non-sterile instruments, for example.
“Giving birth on a regular basis rejuvenates the body, and it’s the reason women didn’t suffer from oncological diseases.”
People have always suffered from oncological diseases. The early symptoms of cancer were noticed in Ancient Egyptian mummies. In the second half of the 19th century, scientists learned to diagnose and cure breast cancer. The attempts weren’t always successful, and only city residents had the opportunity to try this method of treatment.
In the countryside, medicine wasn’t good, and most diseases weren’t diagnosed at all. Because of frequent childbirth, the lack of food, and hard work, women suffered from uterine prolapse. Infectious diseases were also really common like smallpox, tuberculosis, dysentery, measles, cholera, and typhus.
“Women didn’t work, they were housewives as it was easier.”
Feminists deprived women of the opportunity to stay at home, cook soups for their husbands, and babysit their children. So now women are forced to work as men do. This myth is actively supported by books, film, and pseudohistory.
In fact, women who lived in cities worked in factories, were teachers, nurses, and secretaries. Mainly women and children worked in the textile industry and their salaries were way lower than men’s. In the few days before giving birth to a child, a woman would be allowed to take maternity leave.
On the countryside, the situation was slightly different. The next day after giving birth to a child, a woman had to take care of all household duties like chop wood and bake bread, and she started working in fields in just a few days. Women used to take their babies with them or leave them with grandparents or older siblings.
There was no difference between men and women’s work. There were only 2 restrictions: women weren’t allowed to lead a horse or work at a forge.
And let’s keep in mind that women were also responsible for taking care of the laundry, cooking, and cleaning the house, while men weren’t involved in those processes at all.
“Women breastfed children for up to 3 years and were good mothers.”
Motherhood was a woman’s main duty. In 1919, the first ever laws aimed at protecting women before and after giving birth were developed. As a rule, after her maternity leave, a mother got back to work. Siblings, grandparents, and other relatives took care of the child. In cities, there was an opportunity to bring a child to a special care institution (kindergarten’s predecessor).
In Eastern European villages, women had to get back to work right after giving birth to children. Olga Semenova Tyan-Shanskaya writes in her book:
“A child spent hours crying in the mud. To make them stop crying, a baby was offered a baked potato, an apple, a cucumber, etc. The child, trying to crawl over the high doorstep, fell down and hurt their face. Of course, a potato or a cucumber was all covered with dirt and dung, and the child ate it and drank water from a pig’s trough. Sometimes children ate ground.”
“Everyone ate healthy food and was safe and sound.”
At the beginning of the 20th century, life expectancy in Europe was 31 years, but by the ’60s, the level was increased by 2 times. High mortality was common mostly among children under 5 years old. The lack of food affected children and women’s health a lot.
Famine was one of the most challenging problems of the 20th century. Around 70 million people died from hunger (the majority of them were countryside residents). Thus, famine in Germany killed more than 500,000 people.
The food was more natural, but people suffered from vitamin and mineral deficiency, which is why scientists tried to develop vitamin supplements to solve the problem of avitaminosis.
“Urbanization set women free from household duties.”
Yes, moving to cities made women’s lives easier, but they didn’t get rid of their household duties, and men often didn’t help them.
At the beginning of the ’20s, women spent around 95% of their free time doing housework, and in 55 years, they had to spend 58% of their free time cooking, doing laundry, and so on.
Despite all gender differences being neglected in the modern world, women are still responsible for 60% of all household duties. On average, men spend 15 minutes on housework each day, while women spend 45 minutes, but the gap is getting narrower.
What stereotypes about the past have you faced? Tell us about it!