Domesticity

(18 Posts)
ISaySteadyOn Fri 04-Nov-16 14:46:29

I've been reading a book about suburban architecture and home furnishings (am giant nerd, I know) and the author keeps making snide little asides about the frivolity of Victorian women's crafting (curtains, firescreens, cushions). It irritated me because some of these things are very hard to make. And it got me thinking.

It seems that sometimes not only is traditional women's work trivialised but it is also held in contempt. And why is that?

Also, I was in the Science Museum in London recently and discovered an exhibit in the basement called The Secret Life of the Home. This exhibit was about the development of home appliances like stoves, washing machines, driers, sewing machines, etc. It was really interesting, but I doubt anyone ever sees it because those things aren't glamorous and are maybe part of the invisible work in the home so no one is interested.

But yet most of these appliances have become essential for most of us so why isn't their development given more attention?

Just musing really. Also, am on my phone and am not too good at typing on it so I may not reply to responses as fast as people might like.

YonicProbe Fri 04-Nov-16 15:51:12

Great idea for a thread. I'll be back

mintthins Fri 04-Nov-16 15:58:35

I saw a short bit of a TV programme on Victorian bakers last night. I may have missed the point, but I think it said something about how Victorian women weren't allowed to make fondant icing, because sugar work was deemed too important and difficult. Women were expected to focus on the less glamorous things like making bread and pies. It is interesting therefore that you mention the embroidery etc, because logically it would follow that women ought not to be doing that because it required skill, but I suppose that it was/might have been more the middle and upper classes that were doing those, and the 'ladies' needed to be doing something when not letter writing or singing...

rememberthetime Fri 04-Nov-16 16:13:25

Isn't hand sewing, knitting and crochet to do with our tiny "ladylike" hands.

There's a great book about this - in relation to needlework - called The Subversive Stitch.

OneFlewOverTheDodosNest Fri 04-Nov-16 17:13:08

I believe we were supposed to be dainty and delicate remember and able to do things with better precision. Funny how that stereotype went out the window when it was necessary for "manly" occupations like being a surgeon...

There has been a long history of women's work being seen as basic and sneer worthy. I saw something recently that said that around the world the work of making fishing nets and doing the fishing had always been split with men doing the one and women the other. When men did the fishing that was considered very important, they were out there being skilful at catching fish whilst women just did the menial task of making the nets. But when women did the fishing they were just laying nets out into water and not really doing anything difficult, and they were benefitting from the work of the men who made the nets.

It's not particularly surprising and I think it still holds really true today. As an example, I can both fix (old school) car engines and sew complex clothes. The first, being traditionally a male task, is usually regarded as very difficult and worthy and sewing gets dismissed and seen as a frippery and a naice hobby. The thing is, I find mechanics quite logical and simple compared to sewing, which is only truly lauded when you talk about men's tailors making suits etc.

FreshwaterSelkie Fri 04-Nov-16 18:13:20

It's an interesting topic. The separation of craft (women's silly frivolous stuff) and ART (serious men's business).

But it has happened so often. Look at coding, for example - in the early days of computers, it was seen as something women were good at, and it was seen as low status. Then that all changed.

"During the 1940s and 50s, it was primarily women, not men, who were developing code for the nation’s first computers, and the accompanying pay and prestige were both relatively low. But as the century progressed and the field of computing became male-heavy, compensation and esteem both rose precipitously—despite the fact that the substance of the job remained similar."

From this article

VestalVirgin Fri 04-Nov-16 18:49:53

It is a really interesting topic.

Putting down "feminine" work is something I try not to do in my writing, but I have come to question the sources that told me that devaluing femininity is the same as devaluing females.

Because, as OneFlew described, one and the same task can be seen very differently depending on whether men or women do it.

If I portray "feminine" arts and crafts positively in a story, then that won't fix the underlying problem - it is little more than cosmetics. (Hypothetically, if I managed to make embroidery some highly lauded art by virtue of my description of it, this might lead to men taking it up and framing it as masculine.)

And course this "hate of femininity is the problem" discourse is part of the trans agenda. Sorry for derailing. sad

ageingrunner Fri 04-Nov-16 18:53:20

Thanks Buffy I've just ordered Subversive Stitch for my mum for Christmas 🎄

ISaySteadyOn Fri 04-Nov-16 19:42:33

It's interesting that you have all mostly focussed on the crafts. Maybe it is because I mentioned them first.

I was more bothered by the machines tbh. We take all of them for granted and, when you think about it, they are some wonderful inventions. A machine that keeps food preserved and cool so it lasts longer, a machine that washes your clothes for you and all you do is push a few buttons, an oven which you push a button and turn a knob to heat, etc. But the refinement of these inventions is hidden away in the basement. Which could be considering further invisibilising of traditional women's work.

Madinche1sea Fri 04-Nov-16 20:51:20

ISaySteady - I was thinking about this the other day actually. I find most vacuum cleaners are quite heavy, especially for stairs. Even the ones that claim to be lightweight. So I bought one of those cordless, chargeable ones which is great, except it only lasts 15 mins after being fully charged.
How can it be that we have developed the internet and can send people into space, yet nobody can develop a cordless vacuum cleaner that can last for longer than 20 minutes?

M0stlyHet Fri 04-Nov-16 22:12:33

I did go to some lectures a long time ago on the history of technology, some of which touched upon domestic appliances and gender:

Book - Domesticating Electricity

IIRC, one of the theses of the lectures was that domestic technology didn't liberate women as you might have expected - all that happened was that women were held to even higher standards as to how clean their homes and laundry was expected to be. (My feeling as a student, comparing the descriptions of the lecturers of life in the 40s and 50s with the advent of the twin tub etc., versus my working class grandmother's account of life with a boiler and wash tub, was that the professional historian's take was very "middle-class-centric", and that for someone like my gran, who literally had to pound the sheets herself in a washtub because she couldn't afford to send them to a laundry, domestic technology was indeed liberating.)

Madinche - your point about the weight of hoovers is a good one. It's something I've thought about more generally. We use tools to give a mechanical advantage for tasks which we can't do with bare hands. To me it's very telling, though, that the amount of mechanical advantage seems geared (pun intentional) to providing just enough assistance for a man to be able to do it - so torque spanners still require quite a bit of force, and can be too hard for women to operate easily, vacuum cleaners can be too heavy for women to move around easily etc. Tools are designed for men's average strength - but if you stop and think about the whole bloody point of a tool, there is no reason why this should be so!

SpeckledyBanana Fri 04-Nov-16 22:15:49

OP, I am also a giant nerd - book sounds interesting, what's the title?

YonicProbe Fri 04-Nov-16 22:37:41

Yy Het. Similarly for more elderly women and men, tools can be impossible. There was a great blog post about a journalist who couldn't use her camera phone features easily as her hand was too small.

ISaySteadyOn Fri 04-Nov-16 22:44:02

For those interested, the book is Suburban Style : The British Home 1840-1960.

Mostly, I could see where that thesis comes from, but that thinking bothers me because again it is dismissive and, as you say, doesn't take into account what it might have done for someone like your gran.

I wonder if Betty Friedan would have written The Feminine Mystique without a washing machine. Labour saving devices might have increased standards but they might also have increased time available for thinking.

EBearhug Sat 05-Nov-16 02:16:39

I wonder if Betty Friedan would have written The Feminine Mystique without a washing machine. Labour saving devices might have increased standards but they might also have increased time available for thinking.

Before about the mid-20th century and domestic appliances becoming really widespread, people with a bit of money would have had staff, rather than do all the drudgery themselves. So working women wouldn't have had thinking time, but middle class women would have. Though I think you mean time to write - I'm sure there's plenty of time to think while you're on your knees donkey-stoning the front step or whatever, but it will probably end up staying in your head, because you don't have time to write it because you need to black-lead the range.

ISaySteadyOn Sat 05-Nov-16 07:53:28

Yes, that is what I meant. Not only the time to think but the time to write it down.

Shallishanti Sat 05-Nov-16 18:53:57

I'm sure it's true about the raising of expectations in the domestic sphere though- my mum had a very basic washing machine and seperate spin dryer, she spent most of a whole day doing a weekly wash. We wore clothes several times before washing them, including socks and (I think) pants shock. With an automatic washing machine even a sloven like me puts her children in mostly clean clothes most days.

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