Barefoot and pregnant

"Barefoot and pregnant" is a phrase most commonly associated with the controversial idea that women should not work outside the home and should have many children during their reproductive years. It has several other meanings as well. It is a figure of speech.

The phrase "barefoot and pregnant" was probably coined on August 27, 1963, by Rep. Paul Van Dalsem, an Arkansas state legislator. Van Dalsem, frustrated with the efforts of the Arkansas Division of the American Association of University Women, told a Little Rock civic club that in his home town that if a woman "starts poking around in something she doesn't know anything about," then "We get her pregnant and keep her barefoot." Van Dalsem's comments were reported by the local media and later picked up by national press. Van Dalsem lost his seat in the state House of Representatives three years later following court-ordered legislative redistricting. He returned to the Arkansas legislature in the 1970s and actually co-sponsored a resolution in favor of the federal Equal Rights Amendment.

Negative connotations

A common assumption is that the expression relates to housewives not leaving the home, and thus not needing shoes. Indeed, in the sex discrimination case of Volovsek v. Wisconsin Dept. of Agric., No. 02-2074 (7th Cir. September 18, 2003), the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that a woman who allegedly overheard her manager using the phrase could take her case to a jury. However, the court also dismissed the remaining claims on summary judgment with respect to both discrimination and retaliation against DATCP for lack of evidence.

Feminists often cite the phrase in a negative context. Stella Ramsaroop, for instance, writes that "The old adage mandating a good wife to be 'barefoot and pregnant' is even more humiliating. It reduces women to nothing more than a tool used for producing a son to carry on the family name or for working in the field." The Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women annually awards a Barefoot and Pregnant Award "to persons in the community who have done the most to perpetuate outmoded images of women and who have refused to recognize that women are, in fact, human beings. Shinine Antony wrote a collection of short stories entitled Barefoot and Pregnant and later said in a 2002 interview, "Barefoot And Pregnant is a phrase that pokes fun at chauvinists who want their women barefoot (so that they are unable to socialise) and pregnant (helpless).

Some feminists associate "barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen" with the phrase "Kinder, Küche, Kirche" (translated "children, kitchen, church"), which the Germans under the German Empire and later used to describe women's role in society.

Another variation of the saying is "Keep them barefoot in the winter and pregnant in the summer."


Related terms

  • An old Spanish proverb advises La mujer, la pata quebrada y en casa ("Women, broken paw and at home").

See also

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