Keepers of the home looks at issues of identity and gender roles and questions how other cultures perceive freedom of choice within conservative social environment.

The role of Mennonite mothers is at the heart of defining an identity and maintaining a tradition. Mothers teach their daughters that if they have children, they should stay at home and raise them. They teach them they must learn how to saw and how to cook. At the age of 16, all Markham Mennonite teenage girls must make a choice; to get baptized, get married, have children and take up the role of motherhood, or leave the church and find a career.

Gender roles within those communities are clearly defined from a young age. they live according to a strict interpretation of the bible. Girls are taught how to quilt, cook, clean and are given dolls to learn how to look after babies. Boys are taught how to farm and drive tractors. Children are given their future identity from the day they are born. Girls are conditioned to believe their main duty is motherhood and home care. For the outsider, this social hierarchy is seen as patriarchal with limited choices. For the Mennonite community it is seen as having lots of choices with distinct roles and responsibilities that compliment each other.

Girls are dressed in similar clothing, and are not allowed to use makeup because they learn to be equal to others, that they are not better than their peers. Mothers don’t want their girls to be hung up on the way they look. Their personal is the social. their identity cannot be separated form their family or community. These are cultural notions that we can either question or borrow. If I compare that to the way I grew up, I am constantly told how I should dress, look and act. I am confronted with questions of my own identity where individuality and free thinking is seen as a virtue. I question what is assumed by choice and what is given. I question whether my choices are really my own or are they the result of the social and peer pressure I am subjected to.

We as people are shaped by history, community, environment, technology and economy. The world is constantly changing. As we grow up, the way we project ourselves to the world will change too. Can we maintain the same identity with all the different roles we have to play in a world where current events are ever changing. Is our identity governed by our culture, our marital status, our age and our life cycles.

These images are the story of Hollie Martin, a 13-year-old Markham Mennonite girl. I started taking her photos when she was 12, and I will continue taking her pictures until she turns 16 in 2021 when she must make her decision; get baptized and have a family or find a career. 

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