A little while ago I said that I would post a series of cock-eyed philosophies on homemaking. However, life got it the way (as it so often does) and I was unable to post anything but unrelated bits and bobs until now. Now, I have the time to write, and hopefully discuss with others, a series on the general theory of homemaking.
First, I wanted to talk about "what remains unsaid" about homemaking, perhaps the more politically controversial aspects of the vocation. I warn you, this is a long read!
I think it's fairly obvious to say that having a home is a basic human right. In fact, we in the west see homelessness and dispossession as a terrible social ill. To be homeless is to be without hope. But we need to really define what a home is, because I do think that all of us feel that a home should be much more than a dwelling place, that there are intangible emotions and feelings we often associate with a true home, that home is still an ideal. What I have learnt, from collecting my vintage and antique homemaking books, is that many women throughout the centuries have been attempting to make those intangible emotions we relate with the word home, become more tangible, that we have been attempting to define "home" in a less clinical and more meaningful way, a way which is not simply associated with bricks and mortar but health and comfort.
It is fair to say that the Victorians were the most successful in defining home in more meaningful terms. For them, home was a sanctuary, a place of peace, a place of order and beauty and importantly a place distinctly different from the the workplace. Victorian Britain was a tough place to live and work, the industrial revolution and the concurring social and cultural revolutions meant that the populations had to be increasingly adaptive and creative. The pastoral way of life which the vast majority British people lived before the agricultural and industrial revolutions was in the process of vast and irrevocable change: people flocked to towns and cities, places like Birmingham were just villages in the early 18th century; men and women were beginning to no longer make products themselves to be sold by themselves at market, that is to say the role of the artisan was dwindling; and finally the workplace and the dwelling place became separated. It is no wonder that the cultural ideal as the home as a haven became prominent in the Victorian era, they needed this ideal of an unchanging place of peace in a world of change and turmoil.
However, what the Victorians left us with was the notion of "the separate spheres". When the workplace and the dwelling pace became separate, for example weavers left their small looms in their small cottage to work in huge mills in the industrial north and midlands, the workplace (at least for the middle classes) became a place for men, and home became a place for women. Men felt they were protecting their women from the moral and commercial uncertainties of the Victorian workplace, and the woman, as home-maker was a necessary part of the commercial machinery - how else were the workforce to be properly nourished and rested, if not for the woman at home?
Of course, this is not how my Victorian ancestors lived. My female relatives made underwear in one of the local factories, all of this whilst working alongside their older daughters and keeping house for the miner husbands. But, you can't dispute the fact that the home as haven and the separate spheres were a reality for the middle classes and the cultural ideal for the lesser orders. And, here lies the rub. By the end of the century many middle class women were anxious and desperate for more autonomy. The cultural ideal of the home being exclusively a woman's sphere had intensified to such an extent that women were prohibited from taking part in a cultural life which wasn't related to home and home-life, and many women, although not all, began to fight for access to the universities, professions and political life. Pity the poor Victorian spinster, intellectually capable of having a professional life but absolutely reliant on male relatives for her financial support, Victorian society was heavily skewed against the intellectual, middle class woman's needs, just as it disregarded the terrible hardships of work and home and family the working class woman had to endure.
Well, you know what happens next. First, women being accepted to the red-brick universities, then women being given degrees at Oxford and Cambridge (Dorothy L Sayers being one of the first) and then older women got the franchise and finally the franchise became on a par with men. Yet, amidst these new freedoms people did not loose a sense of the home as a haven, and home as a woman's place. Indeed, the idea that working class women should give up work upon marriage became increasingly popular, and it was not until the second wave of feminism came along in the early 1950s onwards that "home" became the monkey on women's backs it is today.
It is probably only fair that I should explain what I mean by that. The second wavers fought for parity on all fields with men, and for the early radicals the biggest stumbling block to economic, intellectual and sexual parity was the notion of home. Traditionally we have had a sense that a home and family are the foundations of a civil society, but building a home and raising a family takes work and sacrifice, and for the early radical feminists the sacrifice was entirely the woman's, and not just the woman as an individual (whom De Beauvoir concedes probably enjoyed her role as wife, mother and homemaker) but women as a whole, en masse, as it were. That is to say, the early theorists believed that for women to achieve true social parity the notion of the woman as homemaker needed to be attacked. The theory was that if women were to uniformly give up work upon marriage then the professional work of all women will bee seen as being lesser to men, that if the home was given such prominence in women's lives then their intellectual and professional capabilities were always going to be seen as "not their real job/position/place." The only solution to this would be for all women to work, for men to share household tasks equally with women, for childcare to be outsourced and the fabricated and idealised Victorian notion of the home haven to disappear into the history books.
I'll take a break from the extremely potted social history now, and I also want to apologise for condensing and the theoretical beginnings of an entire political movement into two paragraphs.
So where are we today? And, importantly why did I title this post "Something Which Often Remains Unsaid". Well, although some of the early aims of the feminist movement have not been achieved, I would say that the sisterhood has been largely successful. I did not have to fight for my place at university, and my vote (thank you Mrs. Pankhurst, thank you Mrs Henry Fawcett) and my husband sees me as his intellectual equal (thank you Ms De Beauvoir), neither does he see it as my place to clean the toilet - even though it is my job! (thank you Ms Friedan), but conversely I was never informed that being a homemaker was a suitable job for a woman. I was never told that the home and family were indeed the building block of a civil society. I was never told that leaving my children in the care of a paid professional would be so bloody heartbreaking. I was never told the sense of satisfaction and peace I would get through making a home for my husband and children. I was simply told that I was a child of reasonable intellectual capability and that I should go to university and upon leaving enter a profession. What we have to acknowledge is that in its formation feminist theory was based on getting women out of the home, whether they wanted it or not, and for a time the notion of a traditional home became taboo, derided, discounted and then, as the rhetoric mellowed, it became something that was just there for people to go back to after a day's work. Whilst our fore mothers strove to make home a tangible ideal, for us home is something either mythologically intangible or something to be bought and sold as a whole life-style package (as the property boom and bust has shown us). However, what our society shows us time and time again is that a good home is necessary for all our well-being, particularly the well being of our children.
Now, despite my love of vintage I do not see any particular period in history to be better than the one we live in now. I think there's a passage in Ecclesiastes which says we shouldn't yearn for the past. The past had it's own social ills, often far worse than our own. Say what you like about the 1960s radicals but they were primarily responsible for ridding our society of formal racism and other social inequalities, and for that I thank them. But unfortunately our post 1960s liberal society has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. By downplaying the role of home and home life in society we have increasingly commericalised our lives. That is to say, by promoting work life to the extent that it must be put above all other human considerations, we have little idea what to do with our free time other than spend the money which we have earned. We are increasingly unlikely to spend our time on family projects and community projects and we see ourselves as increasingly individual rather than part of something larger. We have become defined by what we do for a living, what we spend our money on and what we do as individuals. We no longer gain social status from being a good wife, husband, mother, father, daughter, son and neighbour - we are no longer relational. When we downgraded the role of home in society we downgraded the role of relationships, because what homemaking is, what it really, really, is, is the formation of strong, peaceful and loving relationships between a group of people who see a particular dwelling as a place of comfort.
I want to leave ideas upon how we go forward, how we can promote good and rewarding home lives, which benefit individuals, families and society in general, without treading on people's individual freedoms, to you, gentle reader. Then once the discussion has come to an end in the comments section I'll collate the ideas in a formal post. However, before I leave I would like to say thank you for getting through this mammoth ramble of mine.