In the Same Kitchen.


The paper discusses power among women in the rural family. "Mother-in-law" is a cultural stereotype which is charged with negative meaning. Being a mother-in- law is at best something ambigous. In peasant culture this ambiguity is visible because the mother-in-law is both the one with power and the one who teaches the daughter-in-law how to be a skillful farm woman. The relationship between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law may be studied as a part of the gender division of labour. It has much in common with the relationship between the mistress and the female servants. But unlike the maid, the daughter-in-law was not paid for her work, her labour contract being founded on emotional premises. When you are searching for a collective rationality behind the behaviour of more or less "difficult" mother-in-laws, it becomes apparent that economic and emotional motives comprise individual solutions. Therefore, an understanding of the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law may be established within a polarity determined by economy and love. Such a polarity is loaded with tension which in turn is avoided via "common behaviour" which functions like a lightening rod. The myth about the evil mother-in-law makes women responsible for the exploitation of female labour, and thus conceals the patriarchal structure within the rural family. This myth has served as a barrier against alliances among the female generations within the family. It nourishes the assertion that women are their own worst enemies, and thus contributes to keeping this idea alive.

How to Cite

Thorsen, L. E., (1990) “In the Same Kitchen.”, Ethnologia Europaea 21(1), 33-46. doi:



Liv Emma Thorsen (University of Oslo)


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