Thursday, October 1, 2009

Homemaking and Feminism - Is There a Term for This?

I've been bothered for some time by some elements of feminism that seem to dismiss the value of work that's traditionally done by women. This would be things like baking, needlework, housecleaning, etc. All the stuff I'm learning to enjoy, value and am becoming increasingly determined my kids should learn.

I want my kids to learn those skills for two reasons. One, if you can cook your own meal, knit your own scarf and scrub your own toilet then you can live a life that's got a measure more of independence then many adults have these days. Two, if you can make and can some crab apple jelly, knit a scarf and bake bread then you always have skills that you can always earn money from.

Now, I do consider myself a feminist. I live a very traditional life, the SAHM who cooks, cleans and leads a Girl Guide troop but I firmly believe that my enjoyment of that life wouldn't be possible if it weren't a life I hadn't chosen for myself. Feminism is what made that a choice rather then an expectation.

But back to the elements of feminism that seem to dismiss those of us on the home front (I'm going to be very bad and assume that's the case rather then provide citations to support that assumption). I have to wonder if that element isn't some kind a capitalist-feminist subset. Because if we're devaluing basic skills then it's because we accept that it's preferable to outsource those skills (cleaning, menu planning) or simply buy the products (that those skills would otherwise produce - jam, mittens) a company has produced in a store. We're accepting a model where we show our real value to society in our jobs, in the productivity we contribute to the market, not in the building of a stable home, family or character. Even parenting seems to be falling into this. Daycare is really outsourced parenting, parenting we purchase with the rewards we earn from contributing to the market.

I hope I'm making sense. I'm only thinking this out as I type and I'm quite sure it's no revelation and that commenters will point out things I haven't considered yet or to the volumes of discussion and writing that's already been done on this subject.

Bottom line is, I guess, that that kind of thing doesn't seem very feminist to me. It's about ceding to the market and/or pushing to have women valued by traditionally male standards. It's less about supporting women in what they are doing, revealing the value of that work, in whatever sphere they choose to step into.

As I said, this is all half-formed and mushy and I'll probably be embarrassed about how ill-stated it is by the end of the day but darn it, I go to write posts like this all the time and delete them because of poor writing and reasoning and well, the writing and reasoning won't get any better if I never open it to criticism and discussion.


JJ Ross said...

I think you're right, Dawn, and that is is in fact capitalist but not elite Big Business laissez faire free market conservative capitalism. It's left-wing progressive, and primarily the younger feminists, who have learned to capitalize labor as effective hardball transactional politics but not to appreciate the value of values at home, the opportunity to choose having value in itself not matter what you choose. Not yet anyway but maybe they will.

Until then they are insufferable. To an old feminist like me anyway! Nance and I stumbled into a nest of them at Pandagon and Tiny Cat Pants. Blogged some of it it here.

JJ Ross said...

Sorry, second link broken: try this.

McMama said...

AMEN! I get into this conversation frequently with my husband because most of the internet will think I'm some kind of anti-feminist. I told him, I'm actually MORE feminist than the "feminists" because instead of using a man's job as a barometer of equality (women have to be able and allowed to do traditionally men's jobs - even WANT to do a man's job - to be worth anything), I think that traditionally women's jobs are just as valuable and that doing them is just as good if not better.

I also tend to believe that we are the way we are for good reason. Evolutionarily speaking, women are the ones who take care of the kids because we NEEDED to. We have the boobs! We're the feeders! We're the nourishers and so it would naturally fall to us to do the nourishing things, and the things it's easy to do while nourishing our little ones. Men need to do SOMETHING and we need to be fed, so they go off to hunt and whatnot.

I am all for feminism. I am all for the CHOICE of what to do. If a woman wants to be CEO - damn right I think she can/should/etc. But if a woman wants to be the CEO of her family and nothing else, then she is JUST AS GOOD as the CEO of a fortune 500 company. Don't devalue her work.

Luke said...

I think you've made an excellent point (or two or three [smile]). It's interesting because there are two extremes: The well titled "capitalist-feminists" who disparage "traditional women's work" and the "patriarchy" movement which decries women in the work force.

I'm very thankful that I grew up with a mom who struck an incredible balance between the two.


Lynn said...

I thought that kind of feminism went out with shoulder pads, only to be refashioned by traditional, conservative Concerned Women for America types. Though what do I know? Daughter has been threatening to sign me up for What Not to Wear for years now [sigh]. That said, my uninformed impression is that "putting food on the table" is the new black of feminism.