Thursday 9 October 2014

Conversion to Domestic Divary

I grew up in a traditional household in which Dad went out and worked at a career which afforded him great satisfaction and money to support his family and Mum went no further afield than the supermarket and the ice hockey rink, while doing all the indoor household chores, plus banking and gardening.**  Until I was told differently, I thought this was perfectly normal. And, indeed, on a deep level, I still feel this is perfectly normal. It takes tremendous effort to wrench my brain into a "But I need to carry the financial burden, too" state, and then I get a bit depressed and "Oh, why wasn't I more PRACTICAL when thinking about university?"*

But as it is, I am a writer, and I write from home, whereas my husband leaves the house and goes through the woods to his office where he performs various labours of Hercules for his salary. When he comes home, he is tired, so relaxes before the internet with a beer before embarking on his hobby of making supper while listening to BBC Radio 4.  The shine comes off his fun if the kitchen is a mess, so even before I decided I really ought to begin a daily housework onslaught, I tried to make sure the kitchen was reasonably clean before 6, all dishes washed. 

As B.A. has to leave the house every day to work for a salary under a real boss and management hierarchy, with all that entails, and I don't, it seems to me that the least I can do is two hours or so of housework every day. To feel happy and secure, I need to know my husband is working at a career which affords him great satisfaction and money to support us, and he needs the flat to be tidy. The poor chap told me this many times over the past five years, but it took the Moth Emergency for me to take serious, life-changing action. Really, I am a bad wife. Thank heavens I am reasonably good-looking.

Anyway, to answer a Reader's question, I have a lot more energy and sense of satisfaction now that I have been following this housekeeping schedule for a few months. Even if I don't get down to my next novel, I have at least got the laundry finished and the bedroom, library, sitting-room and closet in order by Tuesday at 1 PM. I am certainly on the internet less--a very good thing because I was really on the internet, thief of time, much too much. 

And being organized has helped solidify my other conversion--that of writing down every penny we spend--and concentrate the time I spend on Polish to a profitable hour or two every morning.  

One of the problems we women face about housework is that it is terribly devalued. It is difficult, and it is necessary, and it guards human health and happiness, and yet because it doesn't make any money, if one does it oneself, it is considered unimportant and a waste of a fine female mind. Women dread being "just a housewife" even more than they feel embarrassed before employed women for being "just a stay-at-home mum", as if legions of employed women wouldn't give their back molars to be stay-at-home mums. 

It helps, however, to have a friend or two who are so reactionary, that they think it is wrong and immoral for married women to work outside the home at all, stealing money from the working man and his children and disrupting the fierce, competitive masculine world of finance, etc. Although most women would probably like to slap such reactionaries upside the head and throw drinks on them, I find it novel and sometimes even refreshing. 

"I think I should try to find a proper job," said I to such a reactionary during my birthday party one year. 

"Why?" demanded the reactionary.

"Well," I said, too nonplussed to say "Money", "I have much too much free time."

"Then you could can fruit and make cordials," he said. "You shouldn't get some job."

At the time, I wanted to kill him---oh dear, and now so will poor B.A. But now I have actually made cordials, which is terribly fun to do.  Naturally my reactionary friend was wrong--("You SEE?! You are a FEMINIST!!!!")---but it is nice to know that someone out there thinks that I am more moral by staying at home pouring vodka on fruit than by earning an honest dollar/50 p.

The first push, as my brother Nulli reported of himself (yesterday's combox), was pretty awful, I must say. My hands started to crack and bleed, which was awful, for my mother has suffered from contact dermatitis most of her adult life, and I am terrified of developing it myself. However, I got myself some good washing-up latex gloves, and my hands recovered. And, like Nulli, I discovered that I could do household tasks faster and faster, in part through practice, and in part because there was less to do. 

Spiritually, I think more about B.A. and appreciate more how he has to put up with the challenges and difficulties of the contemporary work world, whereas I don't. And I do my housework with a glad heart because I know he appreciates that, too. 

Do I think I am more suited to household tasks because I am a woman? I have to say "yes", but only because women, as a group, seem to be better at it, more meticulous. We also tend to have maternal traditions to look back on, and thus think about/commune with our loved ones while doing our housework. My mother does the washing on Monday; I do the washing on Monday. 

B.A., who was mostly raised by women (i.e. great-grandmother, grandmother and mother, with his grandfather to provide masculine example and advice regarding women), also has domestic traditions, but they come from his grandmother. One of my first, and most painful, adjustments  to married life was to stop washing dishes like myself (with the two sinks, we do not have) and begin washing dishes like B.A.'s late maternal grandmother.

**I do not think my father could have achieved everything he has achieved, or enjoyed as comfortable a life as he has enjoyed, without my mother's constant, unpaid labour.

*I often have to remind myself that I do, in fact, earn money.


  1. do you wash dishes with only one sink?

    Also, I'm glad that I don't (as far as I know) know any men who think that it's immoral for women to work outside the home. Or at least I'm glad that they don't express that belief to me (not that I really care, since I'm not married to any of them and my father isn't one of them.) Good grief. Many, many, many families can't survive without two incomes. This includes the family I was raised in, and my father is a tertiary-educated professional with a full-time, well-paying job. Australia is an expensive country, and without my mother's income, we would have been at a disadvantage. My mother took care of her family by earning money for us. And she did it by doing a highly-specialised job that she enjoys, which was just as well for her and for us.

    I don't think it's wrong for mothers to choose to stay home full-time, but I don't feel for a second that I've suffered for having had a mother who worked full-time (in a very cool and demanding job, by the way.)

    Believing that women working outside the home is immoral (aka a sin) in thoroughly un-Catholic, too. Do these guys seriously believe that a woman should, like, go to Confession and confess to having worked outside the home? Because if it is a sin (which it isn't), that's what they'd need to do. Are your reactionary mates really suggesting that?

    I don't consider myself a feminist, and I resent the idea that your buddies would be prepared to label me a feminist and lump me in with all the pro-choice man-haters just because I don't think it's wrong for women (married or unmarried, mothers or not) to do work outside the home.

  2. Julia, I've met very few men who think this way. And because they are so much in the minority their thinking this way does not effect you or the great majority of women one little bit.

    I think it is an interesting point of view, especially as it was shared by the great majority of middle-class (lower-m, middle-m and upper-m) people up until the Second World War. My pal might argue that Australia was not as expensive to live in before middle-class women joined the workforce en masse. He might be right. I am not an economist, so I have no idea. At any rate, I am glad that reactionaries are still free to say and think whatever they like. And I imagine any number of women would love a great, water-tight excuse not to go out to work, but to stay home and do fun home things... and maybe go out and volunteer for the national opera company or the local hospital....

    Personally, I feel badly for women who do not have interesting careers or jobs but boring or painful jobs they can't afford to leave.(For some reason I can not easily explain, I don't feel as badly for men in boring or painful jobs they can't afford to leave.) My years as a pink-collar worker inspired me to gamble all on academia because I never, EVER, EVER wanted to return to the file-room again.

  3. But, yeah, it is very annoying to be lumped in with the pro-choice-to-have-an-abortion crowd. VERY ANNOYING. However, sticks and stones...

  4. Thank you! I'm very interested in your thoughts on this subject- one I think about a lot. Why don't you think we should expect men to do housework? And are there other books you'd recommend on housekeeping?

  5. I do wish people would acknowledge that housework is actually quite a bit of work! I have started a new (extremely time-consuming) job this fall and although I am a single female with no one else to take care of but myself, I have been joking that I need a housewife! There is no time for ironing, grocery shopping, cooking, vacuuming, or laundry when one is at work for 12 hours a day. I really don't know how people do it and I really admire households where everyone works outside the home and still manage to keep the home running...

  6. Mary-Jane, I think in such families, weekends are dedicated to house-cleaning and the washing machine hums every evening!

    Anamaria, I don't think we should expect men to do housework because the statistics show that, no matter what, women do most of the housework. Naturally there are some men who DO do housework and even enjoy it--they should not be discouraged! But, honestly, the idea that husbands should be expected to do 50% of housework is nonsense. And screaming at them about it is not conducive to marital happiness. Better just to crack on with the job and appreciate them for what they DO do, like household repairs.

    My own husband, like my father, does the household repairs. My father also does the yard work; because of our rather unique circumstances (i.e. gardeners we don't have to pay for), B.A. doesn't do yard work.

    So far no other books I can recommend on housekeeping. "Home Comforts" is such a heavy and detailed tome, I haven't finished it yet. I would like to get a contemporary British one, though, as the British housekeeping situation slightly differs from the North American (e.g. products, terminology, pests).

    1. How about Mrs.Beeton? It's old but probably still in print.
      Aged P

  7. I was going to say the obvious, but our bit of the house is from 1820, so actually Mrs B might have some good tips for me. I'm interested in blacking the fireplaces.

  8. "But, honestly, the idea that husbands should be expected to do 50% of housework is nonsense."

    I agree 100%. I read somewhere that men will never do housework to women's standards. They'll do the job, but they'll cut out every step of the task that they see as unnecessary. The problem is that those little steps that men cut out are viewed by women as 10,000% necessary, and so in women's minds, the task isn't "done",
    but the men think they've done it and what on earth is her problem anyway?

    If I get married, I'd prefer to do all the housework myself. I don't really care (I think) if my husband doesn't do any of it, as long as he doesn't unnecessarily contribute to the workload by, say, upending a box of cereal on the kitchen floor or leaving empty coffee mugs around (they still have to clean up after themselves to a basic level, I think.)

  9. Although they certainly didn't intend to do so, working women did drive up the cost of living. Their presence in the work force brought an end to the idea of a "living wage" for the family breadwinner.

    Before women's liberation took hold, a man might make (say) $5/hour for doing a job in a factory because he was a breadwinner, while his single, male coworker might make $3/hour, and his single female coworker made $2.50 because she was (presumably) being supported by her father, or somebody. All this was not only legal in many places, but was the result of hard-fought battles by workers' unions. Then along came 2nd wave feminism, arguing that just because a woman was not married and had no children, she should not make less money than a man doing the same job.

    Bosses looked askance at their female workers as the new demands hit. What should they do? Eventually, intense pressure forced them to raise the wages of married and single women and single men, rather than raising them only for women who were themselves the sole breadwinners of their households.

    Thus the goals of the labour movement (which were to make things easier for families with male breadwinners) and the feminist movement came into conflict, and the former lost. Women could make as much money as men, but suddenly the concept of the "living wage" was gone.

    The consequence of this change from the idea of a living wage for a breadwinner to that of "equal pay for equal work" for two (or more) family members was that some families now had 2 incomes, thus earning a sizable amount compared to what they might previously have expected to earn in a year. The producers of goods like food, housing, heating, transportation and clothing raised their prices because these families could afford to pay them; those who could not afford to do so with only one breadwinner quickly fell behind, finding that the food and housing available to them were of a lower quality.

    Sigh. I am not happy about it, but "women's liberation" is actually one of the principle factors behind the problem of growing "inequality" that progressive journalists like to talk about today.

    Alias Clio

  10. Thank you, Clio! ( And good to see you! :-D ) I've often wondered how it was that in the 1950s a married working man (like a builder) could support his wife and five kids on just his salary, while today both parents have to work to support two kids! And I'm also rather staggered by contemporary house prices.

  11. I'm pleased to be able to contribute something to the discussion. It is of course a complicated issue and not easy to pin down, but the rise of dual incomes, especially among "professional" couples, did have a highly inflationary effect.

    If you want to read a truly fascinating set of documents, go to the link I am including here, and read about how the American organized labour fought against the "equal rights amendment" on *feminist* grounds through much of the 20th century, a fact I never learned of despite having been force-fed literally hundreds of works of women's history in the years I was a graduate student. The unions objected on the grounds that hard-won *special protections* for female workers, especially those with families, would be threatened by the Equal Rights Amendment, which was indeed so vague that it could have been used for almost any purpose.

    Anyway, here's the link, which will take you to some documents I found of particular interest (it's a google books link) and also to many related documents:

    Alias Clio


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