Thursday, December 1, 2011

Domestic Feminism?

A few days ago, I posted on a discussion in another blog about feminist views of domestic lives.  The blogger, Dissenting Justice, contended that feminism has never devalued domesticity.  I disagreed.  My last comment is long enough to be a stand alone post.  So from Dissenting Justice's comment thread: 

One of the foundational tomes of feminism, The Feminine Mystique implied that a women doing housework was like a mindless animal. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of domestic work, and Betty Friedan spent considerable time in her later years trying to rehabilitate domestic lives which had shockingly, to her at least, been abandoned by women. (I think Jonah Goldberg said it best when describing some sixties advances. They sought to burn out undesirable elements of our culture but couldn’t manage a controlled burn and scorched the landscape instead.) 

More recently, Linda Hirshman made quite a fuss about the damage wrought by what she saw as the newly fashionable and immoral “choice feminism,” which is the feminism you describe. Hirshman and some of the older line feminists think that the women of Gen X forward are betraying the cause by wearing high heels, embracing the “lavender menace” (their term, not mine), and staying at home with children. It is immoral for PhD’s to wipe butts. You can see similar themes from rank and file feminists in the pop culture examples I mentioned, and I’ll get you a few links soon as I’m finishing up my post on the movie and will find some examples, I’m sure. 

Beyond the blunt Linda Hirshman types, the take home message of even choice feminism is that a domestic life is beneath intelligent, educated women. It condescends, as Chronicler so aptly noted. (I forgot I had another take on domestic work here.)

Look at the lives of modern women. Why do we seek advanced degrees, delay marriage, and childbearing, sometimes to the point of impossibility?  Because we are told from an early age to establish our careers, to experience life ourselves, to do our thing before becoming tied down by a child. Why are children often viewed as a burden, pregnancy as punishment? Because they keep us from doing things which are implicitly better. Why did we even coin the term 'stay at home mom'?  Because, among other things, the domestic flavor of the word ‘housewife’ was degrading. 

From childhood on, we have been told by parents, teachers, and peers that we can be anything we want to be. We were encouraged to get advanced degrees, to do something more than mere domestic or traditionally female anything. To do otherwise was a waste of our life. My dad, hardly a left leaning guy, arranged an intervention when I wanted to be a nurse because it was too domestic. It involved changing “bed pans and bedsheets.” Women who get married before 28 are pitied. Others who might desire to leave work when they have children are paralyzed by worries that they will be bored. Girlfriend interventions are often scheduled then. The idea, the “click” moment of that a domestic life is mind-numbing--its in the water supply. It informs everything modern women do.

In the feminist world, a domestic life is a second rate life, and only among young feminists is it accepted for the sole purpose of child rearing, by the way. (A quick search turned up this illustrative gem.) As the article that so annoyed you took pains to point out, she was home for her children’s nutrition and education. She focused on one of the creative tasks of domestic work, cooking. Had she mentioned anything about being home also to make sure the toilets got cleaned or that she wasn’t too tired to engage in maintenance sex, she would have become a pariah--among women.  


M said...

Second wave feminism was definitely about devaluing domesticity. However, I think the pendulum has swung back considerably from that most extreme position amongst many feminists. A life of domesticity ought to be no less feminist that any other type of life - unless the circumstances in which the woman finds herself were not of her own choosing or otherwise enforced by 'the patriarchy', if I might use the term. This is the ideal, criticisms of choice feminism aside.

AHLondon said...

I agree it has swung back and choice feminism is trying to trump. But feminists opponents to choice, led by Hirshman, are pushing back. The feel of the issue in the culture, however, is still that anything domestic, other than child enrichment and enjoyment is second, rate. Even the creative cooking and gardening exceptions are only exceptions if a woman does them for participating in the outside world, starting a business.

nooneofanyimport said...

I clearly don't know enough about feminism. It seems very complicated, lol.

My life seems pretty much post-feminist. Among my on-base neighbors are the working types, the stay at home types of all stripes, and everything in between (meaning a lot of scentsy and pampered chef parties, ha).

Military life ends up bringing us all together, I reckon.

Our husbands work with career girls of all type: old, young, married, single, single mom. Heck, they deploy with them. So we all gotta put up with each other at some level, I guess.

Makes the feminist angst about "obligation v. choice" seem kind of silly. These ladies need to find something more important to worry about.

And I had never considered WHY "stay at home" was regaining value: for child rearing purposes only. You are absolutely right. It's the "for the kids" theme that makes it okay. It sure ain't the toilet cleaning.

Great post.

AHLondon said...

Regarding military life, I reckon you are right. The military is always an anomaly in these social debates because military families simply don't have the time or luxury for such nonsense. And the elite nonsense of modern feminism is really something to behold. Who but affluent well educated women have they kind of problems modern upon which modern feminism focuses?
As for the Sahm or housewife stuff, check out Caitlin Flanagan in the Atlantic, Housewife Confidential and The Wifely Duty, the former of which is the reason I used housewife in my blog title. She turned those articles and a few others into a book To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Your Innerr Housewife. Do you want to know how popular she is among feminists?

AHLondon said...

Here is the Housewife Confidential link:

edgeofthesandbox said...

Great post. I wonder if you saw this essay by Penelope Trunk. She suggests that mothering will take toll on one's career no matter when one decides to have children. Better do it before 35:

AHLondon said...

Sandbox, I had not seen Penelope Trunk before. Wow. I agree with much she writes--not sure about the plastic surgery bit for one or her timeline that obviously assumes only two kids for another--but it is so un-PC heads in my set might explode. I'm tweeting it now.

AHLondon said...

Oh and I find number 5 on milking maternity leave particularlly loathsome. Me, me, me writ large.

edgeofthesandbox said...

She writes for women who are not planing on having large families. I agree about plastic surgery and maternity leave. I can't say I "milked" my maternity leave, but I since it's me who paid for it (out of my wages) I, of course, took it. I'm not too keen on the whole idea about getting fired. It's dishonest, not to mention that it's too much drama for a new mom.