Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Cult of Domesticity and Feminism in the Modern World

Often times I find myself sitting in a coffee house or sifting through sales at the mall with a friend I haven't seen since high school, and invariably I get the comment, "I never thought you would get married and take care of a man. You used to be such a feminist." Usually I brush away the comment, knowing the friend didn't mean any harm by it. But those comments are starting to concern me more as I get older, especially as those old high school friends change and develop into the people they were meant to become. They've missed the mark somewhere. Their naivety has become ignorance and I really feel something should be said about it.

Brent and I were married when I was 19 years old. I've always been stubborn and opinionated and wild and, despite all those things, an old soul. He knew this about me before he decided he wanted to spend eternity with me and asked me to marry him anyway.

My husband is beautiful. He's the kind of person who exudes kindness. He's compassionate, friendly, helpful, warm. He's the kind of person who, when he walks away from a group, leaves behind the happiness that overflows his aura on a regular basis. And more personally, he's the kind of man who will work a 40 hour week and still offer to clean the dishes in the sink, or watch the baby because he wants me to have time to create and sew, or get out of bed to get me a glass of water because I forgot to do it and it's too cold to leave the toasty covers. He's amazing.

Now, the root of feminism is the woman's right to chose for herself. I'm not entirely sure I would consider myself a feminist. I'm not one to attend bra burnings and I really don't read up on the subject all too often, but I do believe women should have the same rights as men. And just because a woman does, well, womanly things, doesn't mean she's a submissive Stepford.

I don't love ironing Brent's shirts, but I do it because I want him to feel good about himself at work. I don't always want to cook dinner, but I do it because I like my food MUCH more than Brent's. There is nothing in me that yearns for yard work, but often times I will go out and scoop poop or pull weeds or, in much rarer cases, mow the lawn, not because I feel I HAVE to as the SAHM, but because I want to. I do it because I love my husband and doing things for people is how I show my love for them.

Brent and I don't follow gender roles. I don't do the dishes. The thought of using my bare hands to wash away someone else's coagulated spit off a fork they were too lazy to rinse for themselves makes me physically sick. Brent knows this about me and always offers to do the dishes. I clean the toilets. I have no problem with toilets. Probably has something to do with the long stick brush that keeps me a few feet from the actual mess at all times.

I cook. Brent bakes.
I handle vehicle maintenance. Brent takes out the trash.
I dust. Brent vacuums.

We are a team. We work together to make our home function smoothly. Where I am flawed, Brent steps in.

Like many of you, I sew. I quilt. And sometimes, that means I fix ripped jeans and make Angry Birds stuffed toys for Brent's friends and iron his shirts. Like many of you, I like to DIY. Like many of you, I am an artist. I make cards, scrapbooks, baskets. I spray paint just about anything I can get my hands on. I have a weird fascination with chalk and paper tape and I like to make my own bubbles for my daughter. I'm a hands-on mom. All these things, however, do not add up to my lacking feminism.

I had grand plans as a teenager. I was going to leave this state, see the world, become a doctor. But the truth of the matter is, I grew up and realized I didn't really want those things at all. I had read so many amazing stories I wanted to emulate, but I was looking at the glorious end picture and not all the strokes it took to make it. I didn't travel because, as it turns out, I'm terrified of the ocean (TERRIFIED. That's a long story. I'll save it for another day.) I didn't become a doctor because, as it turns out, I don't like bodily fluids. Remember the whole spit thing? I was pre-med for two years and I swear I almost didn't make it through that last biology class (we have to type someone else's blood?! Are they crazy?!) I'm still in Arizona because, as it turns out, I live in an amazing state, full of natural beauty, great hiking spots and a thriving cultural center. And my family is here. And my friends. And everything I've ever known. My dreams changed as I grew up and I'm living them now.

I could have been the career type. I worked in the business world for a few years, long enough to know I didn't like the person I was while I worked there. I'm a good leader. I pay great attention to detail. I finish my work and have no problems letting colleagues know when they aren't doing their share. I was a great employee but I wasn't a great person. Working in business changed me. I know I could have been promoted quickly. I know I would have found great amounts of success, but I also wanted a baby, and I didn't want my baby to know this version of me. It was then I realized I wanted to be a SAHM. And Brent, being the aforementioned AMAZING person he is, said that he wanted whatever I wanted, and so we began to plan.

We paid down debts and put the dreams of buying a huge house on the back burner. Losing my income wasn't easy, but we manage. We keep to a tight budget and thankfully have not incurred any major costs since Maze was born. It took me two years to get pregnant with her. I know many people struggling to get pregnant, and I know our wait was nothing compared to what some couples go through, but it was a lifetime to me and I wanted her more than she will ever know. Wanting a child does not mean I am against feminism.

In the 1950s, a cultural phenomenon swept the nation known as The Cult of Domesticity. I won't go into a long-winded history lesson here (even though I SO want to) but basically, here's what happened:

- WWI ends. Country goes all crazy, banning alcohol and whatnot. Women's skirts get shorter. Promiscuity ensues. The Great Depression hits. Bam.
- Some women are forced to work to help care for their families. WWII begins. America watches from the sidelines. Economy is growing as America ships parts to other countries. Women don't have to work as much. Women told to get those hemlines down.
- Pearl Harbor gets blasted. America joins WWII. Women turn around and go back to work.
- WWII ends. Men come home. Women turn around and go back to the homesteads.
- 1950s. Hollywood shows nip, tucked, and starved women dressed to the nines baking cakes, mending clothes, and keeping garden. Suburban housing communities start showing up. The neighbors get a refrigerator. Now you need a better refrigerator. Lady neighbor wears a new dress she made to trim the roses. Now you need a new dress. And roses. Keeping up with the Joneses becomes a "thing".

Women in the 1950s were expected to tend to the home and children, and since suburbs were becoming more popular, women started trying to out-do themselves (or at least the woman next door). They cleaned. They sewed. They cooked. They baked. They were machines. They were programed to do these things by society, hence: The Cult of Domesticity.

Then the 60s happened. Then the 70s. 80s. 90s. You get the idea. Things changed.

Nowadays, I've seen this resurgence of home-making; of women WANTING to stay home. Women WANTING to cook. Women WANTING to sew, to organize, to decorate. Women are being called back to domesticity, but instead of the "Cult" part looming, I've been seeing modern women enjoying these tasks.

And I believe that is where I am.

I ENJOY all these things but I still sew in my sweat pants. I go to the farmer's markets in my band tees from 10 years ago. Sometimes I wear make-up, but only when I want to. I clean my house before people come over, but if I'd rather be doing something else, I don't clean my house and my guests just have to step over toys and shoes. I haven't been forced into any of this by someone else and I don't let my "responsibilities" to my house ruin my life. Brent does not dictate what, when or how I do anything. As I mentioned before: we are a team. We both do whatever is necessary to keep things moving smoothly. I GET to stay home to raise my children, I don't HAVE to. I GET to clean and decorate my house the way I want it, I don't HAVE to. I GET to be myself.

So, am I domesticated? Yes. Do I need your pity? Absolutely not. And I don't want it. I may not call myself a feminist, but that doesn't mean I am a mindless body doing what I am told to by a man. I am a strong, educated, confident woman who just so happens to also love to cook, clean, sew, and love my man.

And there's nothing wrong with that.



  1. Fabulous post! I did a much more ranty one almost two years ago when yet another person with an opinion told me to get a job. I have a job and I love it. I stay home from choice too, and wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Any more than you or I would tell a career fulfilled woman to quit and stay home because that is where she belongs. each individual makes choices according to their needs, wants and circumstances. I respect others and wish they would respect me, and you.

  2. So, uh, will you come live here and clean my loos? 'Cos I don't mind dishes, but loos I have issues with...

  3. Amen! I'm 44 and almost the whole time We've been married I've stayed at home. There have been times where I've worked just so we had extra money to "do things" and at one point I had to go back to work because we really needed the money. I stayed home the whole time our kids were young. Still, even now sometimes I think "Maybe I should go back to work" but my man talks me out of it. We do okay on his income alone so it doesn't take him long to talk me out of getting another job.

    I agree with everything you wrote. Even members of my family or long time friends who know that I love being at home and taking care of home and hearth have said "What happened to that strong, opinionated, take charge sister/daughter/friend I used to know?" Like there is something wrong with me staying home, not being an opinionated jerk (which I know I used to be) and being mellowed out in my old age. I still have opinions and I'll fight to death if I am absolutely right about something but an opinion is just that and I don't find it attractive in myself or others when an opinion becomes "law". I didn't like the me I was when I was working full time and making the dough either. Life is much less stressful now.

    All that said my hubby and I mostly stick to traditional gender roles. I cook, clean, garden and all the women's work. He brings home the bacon, mows the grass and takes care of the vehicle. It's not that either of us can't do what the other one does, it's just that we have chosen this way and we are both rather pleased with the way it is. I don't think there is anything wrong with it! :D

  4. What a great post! It is sometimes difficult to be a woman, no matter what you are doing in life. There are so many pressures to do whatever you do perfectly. Though we love it, the blogosphere and Pinterest certainly don't help matters. If you are not married, people wonder what is wrong with you and condemn you for not being "able" to have a successful relationship. If you don't have kids (especially if, heaven forbid, it's by choice!) people tell you you're selfish, and if you'd just have them, you'd feel differently. If you're a wife and a mother, there are tons of messages telling you how much better you could be doing at it.

    A friend of mine (and SAHM of 2.5) recently posted on FB that she had noticed that when people asked her what she did, she said "I stay home with my kids, but I used to be a teacher." The last part of that made her really think--was she saying that because her former career was an important part of her identity? Or was she saying it as a way to ward of criticism from people who don't see being a SAHM as a "real" job? Or, was she doing it to squelch lingering doubts in her own mind? The conversation that followed in the comments, as you can imagine, was both impassioned and interesting.

    I found it intriguing, because as someone who is not married and who is in a PhD program, I feel a lot of pressure the OTHER way, because most women my age (28) are married and churning out the kiddos. Though I know their hearts were in the right places, the women who posted some variation on "Don't worry, you're doing the MOST important job in the world!" were, I think, as much a part of the problem as someone who would have made my friend feel small in the first place because she chose to stay home with her children.

    I think there is just a lot of potential angst no matter where we are, and unfortunately, I think a lot of it is brought on by other women. Why do we do this to each other? I wish very much we'd think more about what we are implying when we make judgments (particularly qualitative, but not exclusively) about how people choose (or just as often, how they don't choose!) to live their lives. Ideally, we could just ignore naysayers and just feel confident and proud of whatever we happen to be doing with our lives--though of course this is often easier said than done.

    Also, how weird is it to hold you to what you were like in high school? Teenagers are weird, exploratory, and often foolish. I don't think we should be held to anything we said during our teen years--or I'd be in big trouble. ;)

    Haha, sorry for responding to your blog post with a mini one of my own in the comments. :) Anyway, good post!

    1. P.S. Not that your teenage opinions on this subject were weird, exploratory, or foolish--just that it seems a rather unfortunate period of life to be held to. At least, it would be for me! I was an idiot. ;)

    2. LOL! I was also an idiot as a teen!! I agree with you. My oldest son and his wife have decided not to have kids. Who am I (just because I want a grandchild) to make them feel bad for the choice they are making. I don't think that anyone who doesn't want kids, or a husband, or a hamster, or a goldfish, or, or, or...... should be made to feel guilty about it. It's their life, not mine!

  5. Who needs a label. Be what you want to be, do what you want to do!

  6. I love your writing so much! This is such a brilliant post Danny. I too choose to be a SAHM, and am thankfully surrounded by friends who choose the same role. I feel incredibly lucky that we are in a financial position to be able to have me looking after our kids rather than someone else. Although it can be frustrating at times, and isolating, I love it. I hate that people don't consider it a 'real job'!

  7. Well said!! I would love to stay at home full time but with nursing if you don't do it you lose skills. I only work three days a pay now (when Brandon was little it was full time and then some) but I still feel terribly guilty every time I leave to go to work. I leave the house before he gets up and get home just in time to tuck him in at night :( Stay home with Maze as long as you can... She will grow up way too fast!

  8. Well said, enjoy what you do, you deserve it :)

  9. This was so well said and I only have one correction...You CHOOSE to stay home! It is a conscientious choice and not only a privilege of the wealthy. We, as SAHM and wives give up a lot to stay home just like the working moms give up a lot. We all have choices. Loved, loved, loved this post.

  10. After seeing both sides of the coin (working as a professional designer and then taking time off), I've found that people who make those kinds of inferences about your chosen path, especially in light of skewed ideas of feminism, are more likely deep down inside unsure of their own choices. It's incredibly hard to be the "have it all" career woman/mom/wife, and I think from my own observations no one can do it flawlessly. Everyone has to choose a priority (it's true), but no choice is across-the-board "right". A woman (or man) can have a rich and meaningful life caring for his or her family, as much and even more as any person working outside the home. At some point in your life you may decide to switch focus when it seems right and take a different path, and then again you may not. Both are perfectly fine and being centered in knowing that your choice is the right one for you will erase any doubt that other people and societal pressures may try to cast on you. Maze is lucky to have such a thoughtful, bright, and creative woman to help raise her. :)

  11. I loved reading this post, thank you for sharing it.
    I'm having issues understanding what feminism has morphed into in the last few years, growing up I thought it was about opening options up to woman that men have had available to them all along but now it seems feminism is more about specific life choices women make.

  12. That was an awesome post. I stay at home and feel lucky that I am able to. Most of my "issue" is put on me by MYSELF! I really struggle with being able to validate myself. Crazy, I know. And an ongoing struggle.

  13. Beautifully written! My mom is one of those darling women who had friends, raised kids, cooked, went to church, worked, and loved her man. She made it look so easy. In the same position, I now know it's not. It's a team effort as you said. Each side gives 125%. Good job, Danny.

  14. Love love love this post!!!!!! I'm right there with you, I may work from home, but it's my choice. My husband supports whatever I want to do 110% (except color my hair purple..I haven't convinced him on that one yet rofl). But yes, it's abotu being a team, not being completely dominated!

  15. Whata great post, and so true, I can totally empathise, when I was a teenager I thought how awful it would be to be stuck at home with kids, and I was damn sure I would go out to work, with kids etc, etc, and then when I had my daughter I rather liked the idea of being at home, and then it was the right to choose as you say to stay at home or go back to work. And that is exactly the point, it is a choice. I get so miffed when I get told by others how lucky I am to be at home, as they have all of the stress of juggling work and kids blah, blah, and then swan off on lovely expensive holidays, have money to burn on clothes etc. Hmmm, a part of that decision to stay home is accepting that we can't do many of those things anymore, but hopefully there are other advantages to me being here for my daughter when she needs me. That is my choice, in exactly the same way the back to work Mums make that choice, it is a hard choice, and i'm damn sure I shouldn't be made to feel guilty about my decision- maybe they should take a long hard think about their choice, and stop judging my decision. At some stage I might want to get a job, maybe not, but i have a brain and I am educated, and i don't intend on getting a menial job just to satisfy other peoples "need" for me to have a job. We work as a team in our house, and yes i do most of the housework stuff, but I also own a crap load of drills and tools, i can fix lots of things and I am more than capable of doing lots of practical stuff, I am not under anyone elses control- he wouldn't dare or cant to! : )

  16. You crack me up Danny! I too stayed home when the kids were young..though I couldn't wait to get to that they are grown and I am working..I wish I was staying at home again! I think I just want whatever I don't have! As long as you are happy, who cares what those not in the know think (LOL) they just aren't there yet! SMILE!


Comments make my day! Seriously. I love them.

Related Posts Plugin