Put the kettle on (aubrem) wrote in fannish_parents,
Put the kettle on

The Devaluation of Domesticity

Hi, I just posted the following disjointed thougthts in my journal and it occurred to me that they might be appropriate here. I apologize in advance if they're not. : )

I have been rethinking the role of the domestic realm lately. In my youth a number of influences caused me to devalue domesticity. Historically, beginning perhaps with the Greeks, domesticity was relegated to the "private," while the "public," civic realm was viewed as a higher sort of sphere. Women of course were kept within the private household to carry out domestic duties, and men, as full citizens, were allowed to interact publicly.

Hannah Arendt, a 20th century political theorist, broke this take on the human condition down a little further. She divided human action into three levels: labor of the body (the sustaining of life itself), work of the hands (the solid things we build), and action - the political interaction of human beings. This division is strictly hierarchical as each level raises us from animal to fully human. Each level also takes us from the domestic and private to the public. Historically, those levels also "rise" from female to male.

1970s/80s feminism similarly disparaged the female/domestic/private realm and sought to move women into the public/male realm as the path to equality between the sexes.

This sort of cultural and intellectual conditioning combined with personal experience (I was a military brat, we moved every couple years, and my mother was never much interested in the "domestic arts") had me believing that keeping a home was a waste of time and energy, and that the greater work was to found in intellectual and political pursuits - or even in just making money. Even the rise of labor-saving devices helps to foster this attitude - the less time spent on keeping a home, the more time that can be given over to "higher" pursuits.

Time, experience and becoming a mother has made me question this hierarchy and even the divisions themselves.

Labor: the time I spend nurturing my garden - weeding by hand, "grooming" my roses, feeding, watering, digging and dividing - over and over, cyclically through the seasons - knowing that when I am gone it will all just likely revert to its wild state; learning that cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients tastes and "feels" so much better, that I eat more healthily when I *know* the ingredients and prepare them carefully, paying attention to and balancing suble flavors and textures; the discovery that a quilt, made by hand over a period of weeks or months is so much more satisfying to curl up in than any whole purchased blanket, no matter how soft or beautiful; the way my oldest son's eyes light up when I bake his favorite cookies and have them waiting for him when he gets out of school - and part of his pleasure is knowing that I took the time to do this thing for him; the reality that the household runs smoother and everyone's moods are better and homework and piano practice and everything else gets better focus when the laundry is put away and the house is tidied up and proper meals are on the table at a predictable time, and the fact that I feel *so much satisfaction* from having facilitated that.

Maybe it's just me but I feel such a drive to create a warm, smoothly functioning, stimulating, beautiful home that I can no longer devalue the activity. In fact it feels so natural that it seems to me to be an end in itself rather than just a means to a greater end. Really, what is higher than "love?" (That most private and domestic of emotions). What is the interaction of society except human beings ensuring the security of their private, domestic realm? Maybe Aristotle got it backwards. Do we keep households in order to support our public interaction or do we interact publicly in order to support our private households - where the real stuff of life happens?

To give Arendt her due, IIRC, she does not reject the lower spheres of action, but rather believes we all need to participate in all of them in order to be full human. But, why the hierarchy? If we all have a drive to life, to create, and to interact politically, why is the public the "highest?" For Arendt, she was reacting against Totalitarianism and the citizenry's failure to act politically at all. In telling us how to avoid fascism, she needed to convince us that each of us have an individual responsibility to be politically involved. That was a reaction to her time though. Now, I am beginning to wonder if the undervaluing of labor and domesticity has become as much a problem. There is much therapy to be found in nurturing and building a domestic space. I can say without reservation that going from being a commuting lawyer forever worrying about being happy to a stay-at-home mother of four who makes all her wishes on stars and pennies in fountains the same: "my children's health," has completely cured me of all existential angst. All you need for meaning is something outside of yourself to lose. So yes, life really is about the cycle of life. Work (technological achievement and progress) and political action (the ensuring of security, freedom and prosperity) might really just support the labor, the domesticity, the living of life.

I would like to add that while I mention gender, I am not convinced either way that this is a gender issue. But that's another discussion. Today I just want to object to the devaluation of the domestic. : )

Also, this bit of random thought was inspired by cordelia_v's recent posts regarding nazis and housecleaning. o.O I can tell you that I, for one, would have been carted off to retraining camp post haste.
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