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Why feminists should do the dusting Home economics turned domesticity into a valuable profession

Dust up. Credit: Schweigmann/United Archives via Getty

Dust up. Credit: Schweigmann/United Archives via Getty


May 13, 2021   6 mins

Doing feminism can feel like doing the dusting. The sexism piles up, coating surfaces, hovering in the air. You run a cloth around, but the relief is only temporary. There will always be more of it soon. Or it’s like doing the dishes, or cooking dinner, or keeping up with laundry — all those tasks that need to be done again and again and again in the daily round of staying afloat.

Helpfully, feminism has a word for this kind of unpaid, unending work: it’s called reproductive labour, in contrast with the productive labour that generates goods or services in exchange for wages, and if you didn’t know that, you’ve demonstrated exactly what I mean about feminism being like dusting. Most movements have an institutional memory, a sense of where they’ve come from to underpin where they’re going. Feminism has the willed obliteration of its history.

A recent column in the New Statesman, for example, bemoaned the timidity of contemporary feminists. The author wanted to talk about the ills of BDSM and plastic surgery, but, she wrote, that urge put her in “strange territory” — because it aligned her with arguments made by bad old “dogmatic and exclusionary” second wavers. The cultural horror of allying with older women wasn’t because of sexism: it was the older women’s fault. Yes, the author conceded, they may have had some good points, but they weren’t very nice, so she couldn’t be expected to read them. “I can understand why a young person would observe that landscape and wonder why they would want to be a part of it, which makes me all the angrier,” she wrote. Feminism cannot have a history, because it will always be sullied and devalued by the women who make it.

It seems exasperatingly obvious that you cannot build on the past while repudiating it (and if nothing else, being angry at older women for failing to present themselves more ingratiatingly is a strange way to critique feminine aesthetics.) But then I read Danielle Dreilinger’s new book The Secret History of Home Economics and realised I’m guilty of the same ignorance. Did home economics even have a history? Surely it just sort of happened, like the dusting seemed to “just sort of happen” when I lived with my mum.

For me, at school in the nineties, home ec classes stood for everything I didn’t want to be. This was training for a life I had no intention of leading. The thought of running a household bored me — worse, it demeaned me. Domesticity was unimportant stuff for unimportant people, and if it had been pointed out that the “unimportant people” in this formulation were implicitly female, I would only have replied that I did not see myself as female. I saw myself as human. “Humans” didn’t do housework: women did.

My grandmother found my determined slatternliness shocking. When she was at school, she told me, girls were taught to sew and bake so they would be ready to keep a house, and this of course was precisely why I despised the whole subject: if I took home ec seriously, I’d be acceding to my part in the great drudge. What I didn’t know (but do now, thanks to Dreilinger) is that my grandmother and I were both wrong. Home economics never was intended to reduce women to domesticity; it was intended to elevate them.

Dreilinger’s account is US-centric, and begins with Catharine Beecher (sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe) and her programme of education for girls, which she summed up in the 1841 book A Treatise on Domestic Economy. While Beecher never challenged the idea that the home was women’s proper sphere, she argued forcefully for its importance: “It wasn’t just about how to care for a house. It was about the power of women to glue together a fragile society.”

Such a vital task could not be left to amateurs. There would have to be training, delivered by paid experts. “No one seemed to notice,” writes Dreilinger, “that while seeming to celebrate the home as a sanctuary, Beecher politicized and professionalized it.” Domestic economy was both an unassailably proper subject for girls to be educated in, and a potential career for women.

Under the auspices of home ec, women ran labs, entered universities, wrote policy, studied engineering, researched child development with actual “practice babies” (much sought after for subsequent adoption) andserved the military. Not everyone in the discipline embraced this capacity for liberation. At the 1902 Lake Placid conference on domestic economy (organised by Annie Dewey, wife of Melvil, the creator of the decimal system), one attendee declared: “Heaven forbid that the threatened emancipation of women should ever make it necessary for men to manage.” But another announced: “The final test of the teacher of home economics is freedom.”

This was true in a very literal way. Every chore rationalised, every bit of labour saved, meant a lighter burden for women. Domestic economist Louisan Mamer became an evangelist for home electrification in the 1930s. “The average farm woman worked sixty-four to seventy-seven hours a week, not counting the farm jobs,” explains Dreilinger. “Doing everything by hand the hard way and bearing a lot of children was killing women at an early age, Mamer thought.” Mamer’s “Electric Circus” — a touring canvas tent showcasing electrical goods — convinced rural communities to join the grid, and cut the toll on women.

Home economics could be morally uplifting too. Margaret Washington, wife of the black educationalist Booker T Washington, began teaching domestic economy at the Tuskegee Institute in the 1890s. Her household manual, Work for the Colored Women of the South, was a manifesto for self-improvement: “By changing personal habits, women could erase the traces of slavery from the body and house.”

This might be criticised as “respectability politics”, placing the onus on black families to earn their dignity rather than demanding it as their due (it’s the same fraught line between identity, culture and class in America that critics Margot Jefferson and Thomas Chatterton Williams have both written about in recent memoirs). Complicated as it is, however, it beats the Deweys’ downright racism. They ran a resort intended to demonstrate the height of domestic science, from which African Americans and Jews were banned, and Annie promoted home ec as a tool for the eugenics movement.

Dreilinger is frank about home economics’ mixed record on race as well as its sexism. It provided a professional path for black women, but (along with much of American life) it was often segregated, with black women hived off into separate organisations and denied affiliation to the major professional body. Those like the Deweys were content for it to stay that way. It was also used to impose pseudo-scientific disapproval on any deviations from WASP normality. One home economics teacher writing in 1929 portrayed the tortilla as a gateway to criminality. The “Mexican child”, left hungry by his inadequate lunch, grows lazy and resorts to stealing, she explained: “Thus the initial step in a life of thieving is taken.” The Jewish diet was attacked for its excess of pickles.

But crucially, and unlike many of her contemporaries, Dreilinger does not dismiss the whole subject over some of its practitioners’ lapses, and what emerges is a story of ingenuity, compromise and ambition. Where there are hypocrisies (as in the “radio housewives” of the early twentieth century, who made a living by propagandising the joys of not making a living — effectively proto-mummybloggers), she’s interested in teasing out the reasons for them rather than damning anyone as a liar.

Suggested reading
Why feminists should do the dusting

By Mary Harrington

By the end, Dreilinger’s history amounts to a manifesto for the revival of home economics for everyone. It feels timely: as she points out, lockdown has exposed the housework gap, with women breaking under the strain of running the home while working from it, while men broadly hold themselves apart from the domestic. Unpaid does not mean valueless, and efforts to calculate the worth of household work show an economy balanced on female backs.

The Daily Mail, for example, recently reported with some surprise that delaying women’s retirement had not saved the state money. Whatever was trimmed off the pension bill, it was more than made up for by the added cost of social care for elderly relatives who would previously have been looked after for free by their daughters and daughters-in-law. If only the government had asked a home economist first. Katrine Marçal’s Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, published in English in 2016, was a revelation to me for its clear explanation of reproductive labour and its value, but I can see it now as an extension of home economics.

The dust should not be allowed to settle too fast over this part of women’s history. Partly it deserves recognition because, as Dreilinger shows, it’s full of bold and unconventional women with rousingly pragmatic natures; partly because there’s always room for more recognition that housework is work. (Strangely, this slogan has never caught on in the same way as “sex work is work”: apparently it is revolutionary to treat women as service portals for penises but embarrassing to talk about the vast expropriation of women’s labour.)

My life did, of course, end up involving domesticity, and I still hate the drudge, but then so did most of the women who developed home economics. “Keeping a spotless house 
 was like putting pearls on a string with no knot at the end,” according to Lilian Gilbreth, who turned her instinct for efficiency to the home when she was frozen out of an engineering career in the 1920s. Like its inventors, a reborn home ec syllabus could be the model of practical radicalism that we need; it’s the science of seeing the unseen, valuing the unvalued, questioning the everyday.


Sarah Ditum is a columnist, critic and feature writer.

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Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
3 years ago

I have never understood how so many women (feminists) think that men go to work where it’s all fun and games. Furlough has really shown me how lucky my wife actually is, getting to stay at home with the children. Yes, there is hard work, we’re not on holiday after all but it’s hardly back-breaking. There are no deadlines, performance reviews, no forms to fill, no assessments to carry out, no endless back and forth between departments, irritating inefficiency and repetition, the morning (and evening!) commute, unpleasant customers, stroppy colleagues and distant managers, she has to deal with none of this. Instead she gets to do a little housework in the morning (one-two hours at most), pursue hobbies and even earn extra cash from it (pretty much for her own use), see friends, and cuddle three beautiful children who basically think she’s God.
I’m the privileged one of course 😉

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

Actually most women find housework soul destroying. And good luck thinking it takes 2 hours a day.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago

I suppose it depends on what one includes in the definition of housework, but (leaving aside the specific demands of caring for children) I’m surprised that any reasonable person would dedicate more than one hour a day to it, on average.

Why, to achieve normal standards of cleanliness and order, would one need to do more than that?

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Surely it will depend on the size of your home, and family, and how efficient you are
But on average, 2 hours getting your and your family’s personal things and surroundings clean and pleasant to inhabit really is’nt that bad out of a day consisting of approx.16 hours, that’s my experience anyway.

Last edited 3 years ago by Claire D
Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
3 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

I always found that my mother would report vacuuming taking two hours(!) whereas I could do the same rooms in 15 minutes.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

Your mother obviously did it ‘proper’-moving everything to clean not just clean round. I follow the Quentin Crisp method of just letting the dust settle and soon you never notice. My husband early in our marriage complained that his mother cleaned everything to a sparkling degree , even the skirting boards. I told him he was free to ‘sparkle’ away all he wanted-strangely he didn’t seem bothered. I think women do a lot of unnecessary housework for the wrong reason-to make themselves feel important. I stayed at home to look after the children , we went for walks and picnics on good days and read and painted on bad.I concentrated on doing a lot of home-cooking, everything was made including yogurt and bread to ensure a healthy diet. We all seem to have survived.

Alan Bright
Alan Bright
3 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

I had a female friend who ironed bed-sheets. The only ironing that happens in our house is me and work shirts (the few non-non-iron ones I have left)

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Bright

For my first year of work I could not take my jacket off, because only the two shirt panels at the front were ironed, and I didn’t see ironing as ‘my job.’ But there are laundries, and non-iron shirts, so it wasn’t a problem, really.

I eventually realised that Mrs A was actually rebelling against her mother, who ironed everything; bed sheets, socks, underwear, pyjamas. Even the cat looked nervous if she was in ironing mode.

J Bryant
J Bryant
3 years ago

Even the cat looked nervous if she was in ironing mode.
🙂

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Surely it will depend on the size of your home, family and how efficient you are.
But on average, 2 hours making your and your family’s personal things and surroundings clean and pleasant to inhabit really is’nt that bad out of a day consisting of approx. 16 hours. That’s my experience anyway.

(this is a repeat of my comment that is “awaiting for approval”)

Last edited 3 years ago by Claire D
Eloise Burke
Eloise Burke
3 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

No one mentions it, but children account for a good deal of housework that needs to be done. Putting away the kid stuff that accumulates on the stairs and the dining room table and at the front door, and collecting and laundering kid clothes and putting them away, adds up. Yes, maybe you can teach the little dears to do this themselves, but I found that a hard row to hoe too.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago

Housework is generally repetitive and boring – not quite soul destroying. A bit like mowing the lawn or cleaning the car – you know men’s jobs.

Today with all the modern gadgets, unless you only do it at six month intervals, or have a very large house (also known as a mansion) there is no reason for housework to take much more than a couple of hours a day.

Think back (I’m 70 so can remember) laundry done by hand, dishes washed by hand, mangle rather than spin dryer, floors swept using broom and dustpan and brush, shopping done daily because no fridge or freezer, proper meals cooked not instant meals bunged in a microwave or Just Eat called.

That is what is being referenced when “housework is hard work” is shouted.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
3 years ago

Oh whatever Lesley. Is that supposed to be a joke? Soul destroying indeed! #firstworldproblems
And when my wife does it, it’s less than two hours.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

Or want a clean house in seconds? Draw the curtains and put on the ray-bans.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

Soul destroying? Isn’t that a bit hysterical?

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

Most work is soul destroying. For men, it’s also often deadly as well.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
3 years ago

Absolutely. It is so time-consuming it beggars belief.
I am always tempted to go all Quentin Crisp, fold my hands foppishly over my lap, and watch the filth accumulate to a level where it can’t get any worse….then carry on doing whatever I was doing when it was all clean.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

No deadlines? Feed the kids maybe tomorrow or next week?

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Bung it in the microwave, call Just Eat – but yes I’ll give you a sort of deadlines for that.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Uh oh, we have smartass inbound. Not the same and you know it – not clever.

Last edited 3 years ago by Aaron Kevali
Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

Not the same? The details obviously differ, but if you postpone feeding your kids for long, they’ll complain as much as any boss, and if you do it repeatedly, you’ll be in trouble with the law.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

I don’t think you can count keeping your children from starving as “housework”, in fact if you don’t it would be criminal neglect and they would probably be taken away from you.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Whyever does feeding kids not count as housework? Whether you cook healthy meals with fresh ingredients, or pop pap into a microwave, surely it’s housework, very much what the whole debate around home economics is all about. The fact that postponing it often and long enough would be criminal neglect only emphasises how real the deadlines are.

julian rose
julian rose
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

You wanted children in the first place. Now feed them! If you donÂŽt want housework then donÂŽt breed.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Thank you Claire. Anyone who likens feeding their own children to a “job” has an interesting perspective on parenting.

Nigel H
Nigel H
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Surely you feed the children at the same time you feed yourself?

Last edited 3 years ago by Nigel H
Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Nigel H

I usually eat once a day, which isn’t enough for kids. And some adults get to eat at work, then have to prepare meals at home for their kids. Others might be going out for a meal, preparing meals for kids separately. The least fortunate might feed their kids and not themselves through lack of food. My point is, for a variety of reasons, adults might postpone their own meals, but kids impose deadlines.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ian Perkins
John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

Women work fewer hours than men because their husbands are putting in the extra hours to support them. This is why men earn more than women- there is an earnings gap, not a pay gap. It is also why women do more hours of housework- because their husbands are doing overtime instead.

George Bruce
George Bruce
3 years ago

I remember the wife of a friend of mine – late thirties at the time I think – bemoaning the fact that her great brain was being wasted at home on nonsense like looking after their two small children and running the house, rather than when she was working before that.
And what was her job in that more valuable and productive life before children? Marketting Speedo swimwear, I think it was.

Rob Nock
Rob Nock
3 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

Obviously selling swimwear is more important than bringing up children.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
3 years ago
Reply to  George Bruce

I shudder to imagine how poorly raised her children were if she thought doing it didn’t require engaging her brain.

Last edited 3 years ago by Seb Dakin
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
3 years ago

what i would like to understand is why,30 years ago, only one adult in a family needed to work fulltime to make ends meet – and now mostly 2 adults need to work to acheive that steady state situation ?? It seems as if the capitalist system just expands like a mutating virus to create ever expanding busyness and consumption which humans appear to be too busy (or uncharitably) or too thoughtless to comprehend….Just saying no cant work now if you want to have kids-the system has triumphed-there is no other option. Unless you choose not to have kids..

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Multiple factors, not least among them zero interest rates and endless money printing. As you say, it’s a horrible system.

Saul D
Saul D
3 years ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

The doubling of incomes went into the doubling of house prices.
Similarly, increasing single-person households (divorce or marrying late) increases house prices – whether buying or investing for rent. As does having greatly increased the student population with students living away from home. More buyers – higher prices.
By contrast, the family unit reflects a more efficient use of resources – lower heating and food costs, less transport, reduced duplication of purchasing, shared chores and mutual support. Sharing housing is greener than buying an electric car for instance, but it is undervalued economically.
Within this, who does the housework is irrelevant. But where one person wasn’t working, it often became a signifier for social standing – who has the whitest sheets and softest hands, or cleanest loo – a demonstration that you’re not lazing around all day, and a chance to show off. Now as single men and single women both do housework, houseproudness as a signifier of standing is now less important than the car in the driveway, or the brand of shoes on your feet.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Don’t forget the cleanest milk bottle outside the front door.

Alan Bright
Alan Bright
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

“Similarly, increasing single-person households (divorce or marrying late) increases house prices…”
And breakdown of non-marital relationships. Marriages are fragile; non-marital relationships even more so.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

The capitalist system does just expand like a mutating virus. Its proponents might prefer to phrase the idea differently, but even they rarely deny it.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

and for all its shortcomings, it remains the single best means of organizing an economy that has been devised by human beings.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Except that it is also destroying the environment in the process. There is a cost to unbridled expansion of industrial production, the cost to be born by our descendants forever.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

There are costs associated with anything. We’re not reverting the horse and buggy days, nor are people going back to burning wood for heat and cooking. There are also costs associated with the green movement – mining on a massive scale, often with child labor; issues with disposal of turbines and spent car batteries; and, so forth.
What is the better system? China has embraced some capitalist principles but its cities are far dirtier than any in the West. There is no perfect approach, but nothing in human history has lifted more people from poverty than capitalism.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

What good does it do to raise people from poverty if the cost is the habitability of the planet? No, we’re not going back to horse and buggy days- because we don’t have to. It is possible to produce enough energy from sustainable sources, require that all plastic be recyclable, and preserve the quality of the air, water and oceans while keeping the advantages of capitalism by making capitalists accountable for the hidden costs of production. Right now those costs are being paid by the environment. This is unsustainable.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

The planet is quite habitable. It is NOT possible to replace current sources of energy with wind or solar. Building wind turbines requires enormous volumes of steel, which requires coal for its production. Electric car batteries require extensive mining, not to mention a grid that could sustain the massive population that would be recharging simultaneously at night.
Quality of life is something people value and I don’t see many who walk their own talk by adopting a subsistence lifestyle. Most odd is that the people who talk the most about the environment are dead set against nuclear, a carbon emissions free energy source.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Wind and solar alone won’t solve the problem, that’s true- although solar has dropped in cost to the point of being less expensive than oil. You’re correct that there is a storage problem- but there are new technologies that can address the problem. Nuclear is now becoming a more viable option with the development of safer technology, including nuclear salt reactors.

But arguing about the merits of various technologies misses the point: what we are currently doing with fossil fuels cannot be sustained, not only because of the environmental degradation, but because sooner or later, we will exhaust the viable sources of oil. If we haven’t built a different energy infrastructure by the time of peak oil, we’ll really be stuck, with a poisoned planet and no resources to salvage it.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

If new technologies can be developed, great. As it is, we’ve made natural gas in the US very efficient and inexpensive. The enviros used to love it as an alternative to oil, until they realized how much of it there is.
Either way, innovation is going to come from a system based on markets and competition, not central planning. I’d like to see subsidies removed from ALL energy forms so we can get a more clear picture of costs and benefits.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I agree that central planning doesn’t work. That’s why I accept capitalism. But only if it can be controlled and held accountable. Social democracy with a green agenda might be the closest we get to a sustainable economy.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The enviros used to love natural gas? You can count me out. Some of us have said all along, for at least thirty years, we need to stop emitting greenhouse gases. Instead of which, our emissions have increased nearly every year. CO2 is CO2, whether it comes from coal or gas.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The planet is quite habitable.
It’s been estimated that large swathes of north Africa and the Middle East will be pretty uninhabitable in a few decades.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Really? That was true long before discussions about energy sources, so not especially relevant but thanks for playing.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I’m not sure what you’re getting at. These recent estimates are about extreme and prolonged heatwaves due to climate change making large parts of the region uninhabitable, so they’re highly relevant to a discussion of energy sources.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Every single story about climate change and its alleged effects is 1) couched in some qualifier: catastrophe may happen, is possible, could result, etc., and 2) is predicted to occur decades down the road. We’ve been told the ice caps will disappear, the coasts will be underwater, and polar bears will die out. None of those has happened. How many times must they be wrong before being viewed skeptically?
Yes, people can do better and we have, and we will continue to do so. The smokestacks of yore are no more. Leaded gasoline is long gone. There are more trees today than a century ago. And places like African and Middle Eastern deserts have always been barely habitable.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Actually, all of those things are happening right before our eyes. The deserts you mention have been growing, eliminating the viability of the land near them, forcing the native populations off the land.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Of course, there are costs associated with anything, but in some cases these costs are trivial, while destroying our environment is a cost our descendants may curse us for. And yes, there are also costs associated with ‘the green movement’, but that doesn’t mean we can just let capitalism keep on expanding like a mutating virus. One way or another, if we care about future generations, we have to face the fact that our planet has limited resources, and our economies cannot continue expanding exponentially.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

“Destroying the environment.” The world has enough drama queens as it is. If you’re uptight about emissions, go talk to the Chinese.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

What’s that supposed to mean? Emissions are emissions, whether from China or anywhere else.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

it means you are lecturing the wrong people. The US pulled out of the Paris Accords and reduced emissions more than the nations that stayed in it. John Kerry is justifying why it’s okay for him to fly hither and yon on multiple private planes, but the rest of us are scolded for driving SUVs.

Richard E
Richard E
3 years ago

One problem with feminism – they seem to disregard women’s traditional contribution to society while elevating men’s historical contribution to society.
So women’s role in building families, bringing up children, teaching young children and providing a home for them, and getting them through their childhood, feeding the family, providing clean clothes and care is written off as worthless.
While the paid labour that men traditionally provided is elevated to a degree that it is deemed as what all men and women should be aiming for.
A very small percentage of the male population – a tiny elite percentage – were free to write, become politicians, explore and invent, and then build statues to themselves and make a historical record of their achievements. (And many of these achievements were indeed achievements that helped the rest of the population), but typically 99% of both men and women, worked together – combining their strengths, abilities and talents – to building families and homes. This division of labour enabled the couple to maximise their resources, and maximise their chances of success in life.
On balance men and women have always been of equal worth and value. Feminists, misread this, because they fall for the self publicising of the 1% of men who were by definition free (usually because of their positions of wealth) to be out of the ordinary, and achieve out of the ordinary things.

Last edited 3 years ago by Richard E
John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard E

Well said.

Richard E
Richard E
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

The vast majority of the population support the original feminist cause (Real Feminism), which is simply equal rights for women and the right for women and men to do as they wish with their lives. And, part of this was overcoming genuine historic barriers and prejudices.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard E

I support the original ideas of feminism as well. The problem is that many of the historic barriers existed for a reason. Some of those reasons no longer apply because of the pill- without it, feminism is impossible. But even with more control over their fertility, women continue to bear the burden of biology. That’s in part why we see the new ideological trend to deny that gender and sex are real. Apparently biology is also a patriarchal construct….

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard E

Like any cause, feminism has degenerated into a racket. To hear today’s women makes one wonder if they ever spoke with their mothers or grandmothers, if they ever considered how many more options are available now than then. This is part and parcel of activism in general; there is no true endpoint where the participants can say “we won.”

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago

The fantasy of pretending that most employment jobs are not also “endless drudgery” has caused many problems.
For example, there is abundant data that clearly demonstrates that the outcomes for children in households where there isn’t a full-time home-based parent are much worse.
House prices have now happily accommodated all of the extra earnings (of those hoping to escape drudgery) at the expense of more settled family lives.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ian Barton
Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Well said. Women joining the workforce en masse was a terrible move by women themselves. Men did not want them to, but now women are moaning that men haven’t started doing more housework because women took a decision that we never wanted them to.

Last edited 3 years ago by Aaron Kevali
Bianca Davies
Bianca Davies
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Please provide a link to this ‘data’.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Bianca Davies

I don’t know about households without a full-time parent, but It’s certainly the case that kids with only one parent, usually the mother, do far more poorly in most measures. More girls get pregnant out of wedlock, more boys get criminal records, more kids abuse drugs… The list goes on. This is well-known among sociologists, but is not talked about in the media because it runs counter to the feminist narrative.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  Bianca Davies

Rather than a link, maybe start with the recent Sewell Report that shows the relatively poor outcomes of certain groups whose children are predominantly raised in a one-parent family – where that parent may have one or two low paid jobs.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

They can also keep the wages down as mortgages are now based on 2 incomes (often in many multiples ) rather than 3x the main breadwinner.Though ÂŁ40,000 is a decent wage , there aren’t any family homes for ÂŁ120,000 in London area.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Yup. So the result is house prices everywhere rising faster than even two incomes can carry for more and more people, confining mote of the next generation to being permanent renters.

The price of feminism keeps rising for everyone.

Waldo Warbler
Waldo Warbler
3 years ago

“Helpfully, feminism has a word for this kind of unpaid, unending work: it’s called reproductive labour, in contrast with the productive labour that generates goods or services in exchange for wages…”
Most men – focussed on getting stuff done and not getting killed at work – call this “house maintenance” (reproductive labour??) and most of us do it all the time. Many men who live alone do all this without the melodramatic commentary. I am married, and I do all the cooking, laundry, most of the food shopping, most of the cleaning. I did it all for myself when I lived alone, and I don’t expect anyone to pay me for it.

Last edited 3 years ago by Waldo Warbler
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

This article feels about 30 years old.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
3 years ago

Perhaps because the question of the (unpaid) labour of housework has not gone away or been dealt with. About 30 years ago a study was carried out by an insurance company in Switzerland to calculate how much this represented. The results were so startling that they were ‘swept under the carpet’ (to use an appropriate expression). My parents brought up four of us (2 boys 2 girls) to be equally undomesticated. This has been difficult only for the girls. Like many professional women I have recourse to a (paid) home help. At least the work is recognised as work.

Waldo Warbler
Waldo Warbler
3 years ago

“…the question of the (unpaid) labour of housework has not gone away or been dealt with.”
Unpaid by whom? Before marrying, I spent a long time choosing to live alone as a happily single man. Should I have been paid for all the cleaning and cooking I did? By the state?
Marriages are a partnership, and that entails division of labour. The work of life has to get done, and it is a matter for the couple as to who does what. The simple fact is that “…the question of the (unpaid) labour of housework” is very old, and long-ago resolved. It is astonishing that people still drone on about it.

Last edited 3 years ago by Waldo Warbler
Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Waldo Warbler

Pay the partner for housework and charge for housing, food, clothing etc?

Rob Nock
Rob Nock
3 years ago
Reply to  Waldo Warbler

Problem is exacerbated by people having to subsidise childcare for other people. Never understood why.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Waldo Warbler

Seriously! This whole idea is such a throwback. Your home is your home. Why would anyone want to pay you to clean it up? It’s your own home. If you don’t want to clean it don’t.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
3 years ago

I always thought it unfair that I could not “pay” my wife who looked after my children to do so and clean my half of the house and thereby she and I could make use of her tax free allowance.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

You can pay your wife if you want to.

Toby Josh
Toby Josh
3 years ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

I don’t see any advantage. You would be paying her from your post-tax earnings. You would also be required to make an additional NI contribution for her.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

What exactly is “the question of the labour of unpaid housework”? In most households of the past, men went into the labour force and paid the bills- including the mortgage, food, entertainment and clothing costs- all of which were given to the wife in exchange for her role in managing the domestic side.

Perhaps wives should have been paid by their husbands- then charged for their keep. On the other hand, he probably could have purchased all of her services far cheaper from the marketplace.

omuireartaigh
omuireartaigh
3 years ago

Thanks to science and technology, housework is most definitely not the drudgery it once was. People are going to start rediscovering the joys of staying at home.

Last edited 3 years ago by omuireartaigh
Waldo Warbler
Waldo Warbler
3 years ago

This topic should be extended. There is all that labour women do to maintain their appearance: hair lotions and potions, byzantine grooming rituals, activities, creams, masks, all manner of substances that men would usually not even recognise.
Presumably they should be paid to do all that too? After all, sex-workers are…
[Clarification for the stupid: this is intended as satirical]

Last edited 3 years ago by Waldo Warbler
John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Waldo Warbler

Don’t give feminists more ideas…

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

‘The dust should not be allowed to settle too fast over this part of women’s history.’
Well get Hoovering!

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

What is this”Hoovering” of which you speak ? 🙂

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

What happens if you have a Shark?

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago

It eats you………

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

Feminists don’t yet seem to have realized that they have “liberated” women from the “soul crushing” burden of housework- so that they can provide more labour to the capitalists they despise. The cost of this “liberation” is the undermining of the family, and ultimately to women themselves. “Liberated” from the “patriarchal institution of marriage”, millions are now living alone without a husband or children, freezing their eggs while desperately hoping that the Mr. Right they have been holding out for will suddenly appear… and marry them.

Meanwhile, men are realizing that because there are now millions of unwed women in the dating market, marriage is no longer necessary for them to obtain sex- the only currency that women had to barter with in the past to induce men to marry. Turns out that women have their own sexual needs, and that trying to convince them that lesbianism is a substitute for hetrosexuality isn’t working- because sexual desire is a biological, not social construct. Freed from the necessity of marriage, men can now keep all of their pay, sleep with a new woman every week, and be free to do what they want- all in exchange for a few hours of doing their own housework.

Maybe doing a few hours of housework in exchange for family, sex, food, shelter, clothing and security wasn’t such a bad deal for women after all.

Richard E
Richard E
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

“Meanwhile, men are realizing that because there are now millions of unwed women in the dating market, marriage is no longer necessary for them to obtain sex- the only currency that women had to barter with in the past to induce men to marry.”
This was the start of “pump and dump”, where men realised that they could keep all their freedoms, and income for themselves if they stayed single and hooked one or two women on the ‘promise’ of a potential relationship developing further down the line.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard E

It was feminists who convinced women to forget about marriage, and to treat sex the way men can- as if the consequences of pregnancy were equally shared. They’re not, which is why the traditional notion of women refraining from sex until they were sure of a stable marriage was a means of protecting them from the consequences of their own desires.

The pump and dump is the natural consequence of feminists depriving women of traditional safeguards. Women are now free to suffer the consequences of feminist ideology, which include ever-rising rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among young women.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
3 years ago

Never mind teaching girls home economics, I wish I had been taught home economics when I was at school.
All the time I spent learning Latin would have been infinitely better spent learning to cook and sew, which, as far as I can tell, are two of the most valuable life skills one can acquire.

I don’t know about the other stuff. To date I am still the only person Ihave met who has read The Female Eunuch. I have, however, met a many persons of the opposite sex who have read Fifty Shades of Grey.
I should have called it a day when I realised that fact, and decided never to try to understand ever again. Yet drawn am I to it, this female psyche, like a suicidal moth to a naked flame.

Last edited 3 years ago by Kremlington Swan
leigh.sue
leigh.sue
3 years ago

Interesting that most of the comments are by men. Housework is terribly boring and no amount of elevating it to the status of a worthwhile job will make it rewarding. I don’t choose to live in filth but getting my house clean is never that fulfilling. Much easier now that my children are grown and I live alone.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago

I think ‘division of labour’ sums it up better.

Last edited 3 years ago by Claire D
Dena Attar
Dena Attar
3 years ago

The book I wrote mainly about the UK, Wasting Girls Time: The History and Politics of Home Economics, was published in 1990 by Virago. But as you say, feminists have to keep doing the work over and over.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Dena Attar

And yet it never seems to get done.

Maybe you need to hire a man to do it properly….

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
3 years ago

“Unpaid does not mean valueless, and efforts to calculate the worth of houshold work show an economy balanced on female backs.”

Yes, but they are then in the position of being their own employers, whereas men have mostly been employed by others. As self-employed, though unpaid, women they can do, or not do, such ‘work’ as they feel appropriate in the house. No-one is legally forcing them to do certain things as in most forms of ‘work’. It’s their choice.

Last edited 3 years ago by Arnold Grutt
David Fitzsimons
David Fitzsimons
3 years ago

Didn’t the boys do home ec’ too? I certainly did. Also, being single, I do all my own housework and can therefore confirm that it is indeed a drudge.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago

I attended several schools. Most of them were all boys, and home economics was not an option. At my only mixed school after primary school, I was told boys could not take it. But that was fifty years ago; maybe things have changed since then.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ian Perkins
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

I thought exactly the same thing. Both boys and girls made pastry and sewed on buttons at our school. Therefore, I never thought about the feminist/anti-feminist implications of it. It taught us to make pastry, quiche and poached eggs and how to sew on a button. Tbh I think an entrepreurship class would have been more enriching for all concerned but that really is another issue.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Having been taught at home how to sew, knit (forgotten that through lack of practice), cook etc I never saw the need for it at school or university.

Nigel H
Nigel H
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I wasn’t taught at school, but we were taught to sew buttons on, prepare a meal, tidy up etc.
 in the cubs 45 years ago. Maybe if more children did that?
As long as the children area taught – I don’t think it matters where

Virginia Durksen
Virginia Durksen
3 years ago

I hope Sarah Ditum is delighted to find her article has inspired comments that are almost exactly like what happens after the dusting is done. The game is to find a spot or a streak rather than consider the overall view.
Which, in case anyone tripped over the trigger word and missed the final paragraph, seems to be this: “Like its inventors, a reborn home ec syllabus could be the model of practical radicalism that we need; it’s the science of seeing the unseen, valuing the unvalued, questioning the everyday.”
Surely such a practical, radical view could include all those hard working, self-sacrificing men who have learned to do the dusting—unpaid!—at home.

Waldo Warbler
Waldo Warbler
3 years ago

“…it’s the science of seeing the unseen, valuing the unvalued, questioning the everyday.”
We already have that. It is called “science.” We have absolutely zero need for a desperate politics to undertaken, and value, science.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
3 years ago

““Doing everything by hand the hard way and bearing a lot of children was killing women at an early age, Mamer thought.””

This would have surprised my great-great grandmother, who bore 14 children (of whom only 1 died, unusual then) and lived cheerfully into her 80s. No human is entirely a ‘victim’ of their environment.

Last edited 3 years ago by Arnold Grutt
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

They had to go all the way back to the 1960s to get an appropriate photo to go with this article. Tells you something.

Tony Reardon
Tony Reardon
3 years ago

My cleaner seems to get through all the cleaning in about 3 1/2 hours on a Wednesday morning once a week in our rather large house.