Sunday, July 7, 2013
The Isolation of the Modern Housewife and Mother Part II
Read Part I here.
I've been reading a book for a couple weeks now which I find utterly fascinating. It's called Never Done: A History of American Housework, written by Susan Strasser. The book goes through the history of women's work in the US. The predominant trend is that jobs which were once done through much manual labor and products which were made at home from scratch have been one-by-one taken up by industry, and turned into consumer products, which must be purchased. With the obvious benefits this has brought in some ways (hey, no one ever complained about doing less work!), it has also meant an increased isolation and loss of a sense of purpose for many women who stay home. Women used to be personally responsible for so many of the necessities of life. Just washing the clothes (at a time when people wore many fewer than today) took an entire day of heavy labor. Ironing took another whole day. Food was often grown at home, or at least prepared and cooked from scratch three times a day - over an open fire which took constant tending. Water had to be carted in and out of the house 8-10 times per day (more if it was laundry or bath day). Fiber was spun and woven into cloth, which was then cut and sewn into clothing that women often designed themselves. There were no idle hands. When women got together, it was for sewing circles or quilting bees. And so much more. It's really made me think twice before complaining about all the work I have to do around the house.
I've been pondering so many of the facts and trends I've been reading about, and talked Tom's ear off incessantly with my "revelations." I am tempted to quote about half the book, but I'm going to restrain myself. I'll leave you with just this one for now.
"...as women joined the organized labor market during the decades before the Depression, the differences between motherhood and paid labor developed into problems. Mothering produced nothing tangible, whereas even sales workers - obviously not "productive" in the old sense - brought home paychecks. Full-time paid workers came home to recover from their jobs and to provide themselves with the essentials of survival, welcoming the products that freed them from the arduous labor of producing those essentials. As adulthood came to be identified with the economic independence that paid work offered and that gave people the means to buy things, mothers came to be excluded from the activities of other adults. They met each other in groups organized around their children's activities, not around their own adult work, as the sewing circle had been. Social life organized around spending money at movies and restaurants offered no place for small children, thereby excluding and isolating mothers even further." (pg. 239)
If you have an interest in history, non-fiction, or understanding what it means to be a housewife, I would heartily recommend the book.